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There’s no shortcut to authority: Why you need to take E-A-T seriously

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Recently, I was talking to a client about a new project when he raised an interesting question. He was curious to know how I measured E-A-T, or “expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness,” in relation to SEO.

If you’re unfamiliar with E-A-T, it’s a term taken from Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines, a set of instructions that Google’s army of many thousands of human reviewers (known internally as “raters” or “Search Quality Evaluators”) use to assess the quality of web content manually.

Although it is sometimes difficult to understand Google’s internal processes, from what I’ve heard from reliable sources at Google, E-A-T is applied specifically to YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) websites, that is, to sites that offer medical or financial advice.

As you might expect, Google would rather not serve up misleading or unreliable advice that could affect your financial or physical well-being, so paying particular attention to the information touted on these types of websites is very important.

Now, my client’s website was not in a financial or medical niche, so technically these guidelines do not affect him directly. After all, Google – so they say – are not applying E-A-T across the board. But I didn’t tell the client not to worry about E-A-T.

Far from it.

In my opinion, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness are things that every business should be looking to build both online and offline. What business wouldn’t want to be recognized and trusted within (and beyond) their industry?

I asked my co-author on The Art of SEO, Eric Enge, to weigh in on this issue of E-A-T and whether it’s applied to YMYL only or more globally across the Web. He responded “Google is very technical and precise in how they use various terms. Within Google, as I understand it, E-A-T refers to something that they apply specifically to YMYL sites. But that doesn’t mean that the general ideas that we all associate with E-A-T aren’t likewise applied to other sites.”

In this excellent article, Chris Silver Smith argues that Google partly uses a numerical score to calculate E-A-T. When I emailed him, he replied that “If Quality (the combined E-A-T) is partly a numerical score as I’ve long theorized, then that factor is weighted much heavier for YMYL pages/sites than for things like entertainment pages, or articles about non-YMYL topics, etc. But, E-A-T still applies to things like e-commerce pages, even when those are not as high-priority as YMYL.”

So, if you believe me and these two highly regarded SEO practitioners, following E-A-T guidelines is good for SEO no matter your niche. In my view, even if E-A-T only applied to certain industries, the techniques used to build authority should be a part of every SEO strategy.

The problem is, E-A-T is notoriously difficult to measure.

How does Google measure authority?

If you talk to different people in the SEO industry, they will have different theories about the signals that Google uses to assess the authority of your site and assign rankings. We know that backlinks from authoritative sites are one way. CTR (Click Through Rate) is theorized as another, although Gary Illyes of Google contradicted that recently in his Reddit AMA. We also know that content quality is important. Online reviews may also have some impact.

Exactly how Google uses all these factors to make a decision is somewhat of a mystery, even to Google engineers. That’s because machine learning algorithms are opaque as to which signals they use. No one can see inside the black box – even the programmers who originally coded the AI.

In the aforementioned article, Chris Silver Smith argues that, rather than weighing one particular signal above all others, Google’s approach to assessing authority is more “holistic.” Google’s algorithms almost certainly use a wide range of signals and metrics to evaluate where a page might rank, meaning simply focusing on one signal while ignoring others is not a shortcut to results. Backlinks are crucial; but acquiring high-quality links to a site with shoddy coding, poor online reviews and spammy content won’t work.

Instead of looking for a “silver bullet” to achieve rankings and traffic, it’s important to pay careful attention to how you present your brand online. Overall, from the way your site is coded right up to your branding and PR strategies.

Holistic SEO

I’ll admit, saying that Google’s approach to rankings is “holistic” may sound a little vague and unsatisfying. It begs the question: what do you focus on if you want to optimize your site?

Thankfully, it’s not that difficult.

For the most part, building authority in your niche is common sense. If you’ve been working hard on gaining backlinks from quality sites, creating remarkable content, and ensuring your site is free from errors and thin content, then you’re well on your way.

But what can you do beyond the basics to ensure that Google sees you as a trusted site in your niche?

The answer is simple, but not easy. That is, do whatever it takes to ensure you have a solid reputation both online and offline.

On your site, be completely transparent about who you are. Create detailed “about” pages that put a human face to your company and tell your story (see mine as an example of such). Provide an excellent customer experience and respond to negative reviews online. Be open and honest about your processes and provide expert advice to your clients whenever you get the chance.

Link building is still a cornerstone of SEO; but gone are the days when you can simply spam people with generic emails offering content for guest posts. Instead, aim high and focus on quality over quantity. For example, I recently published an article in Harvard Business Review. Since this is a prestigious outlet that is very discerning about who it publishes, the link is incredibly powerful in the eyes of Google.

Building authority online takes time, but the payoff is huge. Start with the obvious questions. Is there an expert at your company who might be willing to do a TEDx talk? What’s the most respected publication in your industry, and how can you get published there? What about industry groups? What kind of connections do you have in the media that might be able to help you? Do you do any noteworthy charity/nonprofit work that has a powerful message that might be of interest to journalists?

If you’re not sure where to start, hire a PR agency or better yet, buy a book on PR and teach yourself.

Trust metrics

Fine, you might say. All this is good stuff, but (getting back to my client’s question) how do I measure the impact of this kind of work?

For one thing, a successful PR/link building campaign that lands you links from high authority sites will definitely begin to impact your traffic and rankings.

If you’re looking for more quantifiable metrics, then consider investing in tools like Majestic and LinkResearchTools. I find that Majestic’s “Trust Flow” and LinkResearchTools’ “LRT Trust” metrics still give the best indication of how trusted a particular page is.

Both these scores are based on your link profile. Although this is just one aspect of all the elements Google takes into account, it’s still the best indication that we in the SEO community have available to us on how much trust you are endowed with. In Majestic, I recommend aiming for a Trust Flow score of 50 or above (the highest score is 100) and an LRT Trust score of 5 or above (the highest score is 10). Make sure that you are looking at these metrics at the page level, not just the domain level.

As both of these scores are relatively high-level, it’s not possible to measure the incremental changes in E-A-T my client was interested in, as in every link he acquired and every piece of content he updated. Still, tracking your trust scores over time will give you a sense of whether your site is increasing or decreasing in trust. Some of the tools even provide a history of trust scores; Majestic, for example, goes back 18 months with their Trust Flow History Tool.

In addition, it is worthwhile to conduct regular surveys of your customers and reviewing brand sentiment metrics to get a sense of how people view your brand. If you see a lot of negative sentiment, you’ll want to take action to remedy it quickly.

As with most things SEO-related, it won’t be a single link or a piece of viral content that suddenly launches you into the pole position. It takes a sincere and sustained effort over months, even years, to get to the top.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Stephan Spencer is the creator of the 3-day immersive SEO seminar Traffic Control; an author of the O’Reilly books The Art of SEO, Google Power Search, and Social eCommerce; founder of the SEO agency Netconcepts (acquired in 2010); inventor of the SEO proxy technology GravityStream; and the host of two podcast shows Get Yourself Optimized and Marketing Speak.



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Restaurant app Tobiko goes old school by shunning user reviews

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You can think of Tobiko as a kind of anti-Yelp. Launched in 2018 by Rich Skrenta, the restaurant app relies on data and expert reviews (rather than user reviews) to deliver a kind of curated, foodie-insider experience.

A new Rich Skrenta project. Skrenta is a search veteran with several startups behind him. He was one of the founders of DMOZ, a pioneering web directory that was widely used. Most recently Skrenta was the CEO of human-aided search engine Blekko, whose technology was sold to IBM Watson in roughly 2015.

At the highest level, both DMOZ and Blekko sought to combine human editors and search technology. Tobiko is similar; it uses machine learning, crawling and third-party editorial content to offer restaurant recommendations.

Tobiko screenshots

Betting on expert opinion. Tobiko is also seeking to build a community, and user input will likely factor into recommendations at some point. However, what’s interesting is that Skrenta has shunned user reviews in favor of “trusted expert reviews” (read: critics).

Those expert reviews are represented by a range of publisher logos on profile pages that, when clicked, take the user to reviews or articles about the particular restaurant on those sites. Where available, users can also book reservations. And the app can be personalized by engaging a menu of preferences. (Yelp recently launched broad, site-wide personalization itself.)

While Skrenta is taking something of a philosophical stand in avoiding user reviews, his approach also made the app easier to launch because expert content on third-party sites already existed. Community content takes much longer to reach critical mass. However, Tobiko also could have presented or “summarized” user reviews from third-party sites as Google does in knowledge panels, with TripAdvisor or Facebook for example.

Tobiko is free and currently appears to have no ads. The company also offers a subscription-based option that has additional features.

Why we should care. It’s too early to tell whether Tobiko will succeed, but it provocatively bucks conventional wisdom about the importance of user reviews in the restaurant vertical (although reading lots of expert reviews can be burdensome). As they have gained importance, reviews have become somewhat less reliable, with review fraud on the rise. Last month, Google disclosed an algorithm change that has resulted in a sharp decrease in rich review results showing in Search.

Putting aside gamesmanship and fraud, reviews have brought transparency to online shopping but can also make purchase decisions more time-consuming. It would be inaccurate to say there’s widespread “review fatigue,” but there’s anecdotal evidence supporting the simplicity of expert reviews in some cases. Influencer marketing can be seen as an interesting hybrid between user and expert reviews, though it’s also susceptible to manipulation.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.



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3 Ways to Use XPaths with Large Site Audits

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When used creatively, XPaths can help improve the efficiency of auditing large websites. Consider this another tool in your SEO toolbelt.

There are endless types of information you can unlock with XPaths, which can be used in any category of online business.

Some popular ways to audit large sites with XPaths include:

In this guide, we’ll cover exactly how to perform these audits in detail.

What Are XPaths?

Simply put, XPath is a syntax that uses path expressions to navigate XML documents and identify specified elements.

This is used to find the exact location of any element on a page using the HTML DOM structure.

We can use XPaths to help extract bits of information such as H1 page titles, product descriptions on ecommerce sites, or really anything that’s available on a page.

While this may sound complex to many people, in practice, it’s actually quite easy!

How to Use XPaths in Screaming Frog

In this guide, we’ll be using Screaming Frog to scrape webpages.

Screaming Frog offers custom extraction methods, such as CSS selectors and XPaths.

It’s entirely possible to use other means to scrape webpages, such as Python. However, the Screaming Frog method requires far less coding knowledge.

(Note: I’m not in any way currently affiliated with Screaming Frog, but I highly recommend their software for web scraping.)

Step 1: Identify Your Data Point

Figure out what data point you want to extract.

For example, let’s pretend Search Engine Journal didn’t have author pages and you wanted to extract the author name for each article.

What you’ll do is:

  • Right-click on the author name.
  • Select Inspect.
  • In the dev tools elements panel, you will see your element already highlighted.
  • Right-click the highlighted HTML element and go to Copy and select Copy XPath.

2 copy xpath

At this point, your computer’s clipboard will have the desired XPath copied.

Step 2: Set up Custom Extraction

In this step, you will need to open Screaming Frog and set up the website you want to crawl. In this instance, I would enter the full Search Engine Journal URL.

  • Go to Configuration > Custom > Extraction

3 setup xpath extraction

  • This will bring up the Custom Extraction configuration window. There are a lot of options here, but if you’re looking to simply extract text, match your configuration to the screenshot below.

4 configure xpath extraction

Step 3: Run Crawl & Export

At this point, you should be all set to run your crawl. You’ll notice that your custom extraction is the second to last column on the right.

When analyzing crawls in bulk, it makes sense to export your crawl into an Excel format. This will allow you to apply a variety of filters, pivot tables, charts, and anything your heart desires.

3 Creative Ways XPaths Help Scale Your Audits

Now that we know how to run an XPath crawl, the possibilities are endless!

We have access to all of the answers, now we just need to find the right questions.

  • What are some aspects of your audit that could be automated?
  • Are there common elements in your content silos that can be extracted for auditing?
  • What are the most important elements on your pages?

The exact problems you’re trying to solve may vary by industry or site type. Below are some unique situations where XPaths can make your SEO life easier.

1. Using XPaths with Redirect Maps

Recently, I had to redesign a site that required a new URL structure. The former pages all had parameters as the URL slug instead of the page name.

This made creating a redirect map for hundreds of pages a complete nightmare!

So I thought to myself, “How can I easily identify each page at scale?”

After analyzing the various page templates, I came to the conclusion that the actual title of the page looked like an H1 but was actually just large paragraph text. This meant that I couldn’t just get the standard H1 data from Screaming Frog.

However, XPaths would allow me to copy the exact location for each page title and extract it in my web scraping report.

In this case I was able to extract the page title for all of the old URLs and match them with the new URLs through the VLOOKUP function in Excel. This automated most of the redirect map work for me.

With any automated work, you may have to perform some spot checking for accuracy.

2. Auditing Ecommerce Sites with XPaths

Auditing Ecommerce sites can be one of the more challenging types of SEO auditing. There are many more factors to consider, such as JavaScript rendering and other dynamic elements.

Sometimes, stakeholders will need product level audits on an ad hoc basis. Sometimes this covers just categories of products, but sometimes it may be the entire site.

Using the XPath extraction method we learned earlier in this article, we can extract all types of data including:

  • Product name
  • Product description
  • Price
  • Review data
  • Image URLs
  • Product Category
  • And much more

This can help identify products that may be lacking valuable information within your ecommerce site.

The cool thing about Screaming Frog is that you can extract multiple data points to stretch your audits even further.

3. Auditing Blogs with XPaths

This is a more common method for using XPaths. Screaming Frog allows you to set parameters to crawl specific subfolders of sites, such as blogs.

However, using XPaths, we can go beyond simple meta data and grab valuable insights to help identify content gap opportunities.

Categories & Tags

One of the most common ways SEO professionals use XPaths for blog auditing is scraping categories and tags.

This is important because it helps us group related blogs together, which can help us identify content cannibalization and gaps.

This is typically the first step in any blog audit.

Keywords

This step is a bit more Excel-focused and advanced. How this works, is you set up an XPath extraction to pull the body copy out of each blog.

Fair warning, this may drastically increase your crawl time.

Whenever you export this crawl into Excel, you will get all of the body text in one cell. I highly recommend that you disable text wrapping, or your spreadsheet will look terrifying.

Next, in the column to the right of your extracted body copy, enter the following formula:

=ISNUMBER(SEARCH("keyword",A1))

In this formula, A1 equals the cell of the body copy.

To scale your efforts, you can have your “keyword” equal the cell that contains your category or tag. However, you may consider adding multiple columns of keywords to get a more accurate and robust picture of your blogging performance.

This formula will present a TRUE/FALSE Boolean value. You can use this to quickly identify keyword opportunities and cannibalization in your blogs.

Author

We’ve already covered this example, but it’s worth noting that this is still an important element to pull from your articles.

When you blend your blog export data with performance data from Google Analytics and Search Console, you can start to determine which authors generate the best performance.

To do this, sort your blogs by author and start tracking average data sets including:

  • Impressions – Search Console
  • Clicks – Search Console
  • Sessions – Analytics
  • Bounce Rate – Analytics
  • Conversions – Analytics
  • Assisted Conversions – Analytics

Share Your Creative XPath Tips

Do you have some creative auditing methods that involve XPaths? Share this article on Twitter or tag me @seocounseling and let me know what I missed!

More Resources:


Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, October 2019



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When parsing ‘Googlespeak’ is a distraction

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Over the almost 16-years of covering search, specifically what Googlers have said in terms of SEO and ranking topics, I have seen my share of contradictory statements. Google’s ranking algorithms are complex, and the way one Googler explains something might sound contradictory to how another Googler talks about it. In reality, they are typically talking about different things or nuances.

Some of it is semantics, some of it is being literal in how one person might explain something while another person speaks figuratively. Some of it is being technically correct versus trying to dumb something down for general practitioners or even non-search marketers to understand. Some of it is that the algorithm can change over the years, so what was true then has evolved.

Does it matter if something is or is not a ranking factor? It can be easy to get wrapped up in details that end up being distractions. Ultimately, SEOs, webmasters, site owners, publishers and those that produce web pages need to care more about providing the best possible web site and web page for the topic. You do not want to chase algorithms and racing after what is or is not a ranking factor. Google’s stated aim is to rank the most relevant results to keep users happy and coming back to the search engine. How Google does that changes over time. It releases core updates, smaller algorithm updates, index updates and more all the time.

For SEOs, the goal is to make sure your pages offer the most authoritative and relevant content for the given query and can be accessed by search crawlers.

When it is and is not a ranking factor. An example of Googlers seeming to contradict themselves popped this week.

Gary Illyes from Google said at Pubcon Thursday that content accuracy is a ranking factor. That raised eyebrows because in past Google has seemed to say content accuracy is not a ranking factor. Last month Google’s Danny Sullivan said, “Machines can’t tell the ‘accuracy’ of content. Our systems rely instead on signals we find align with relevancy of topic and authority.” One could interpret that to mean that if Google cannot tell the accuracy of content, that it would be unable to use accuracy as a ranking factor.

Upon closer look at the context of Illyes comments this week, it’s clear he’s getting at the second part of Sullivan’s comment about using signals to understand “relevancy of topic and authority.” SEO Marie Haynes captured more of the context of Illyes’ comment.

Illyes was talking about YMYL (your money, your life) content. He added that Google goes through “great lengths to surface reputable and trustworthy sources.”

He didn’t outright say Google’s systems are able to tell if a piece of content is factually accurate or not. He implied Google uses multiple signals, like signals that determine reputations and trustworthiness, as a way to infer accuracy.

So is content accuracy a ranking factor? Yes and no. It depends if you are being technical, literal, figurative or explanatory. When I covered the different messaging around content accuracy on my personal site, Sullivan pointed out the difference, he said on Twitter “We don’t know if content is accurate” but “we do look for signals we believe align with that.”

It’s the same with whether there is an E-A-T score. Illyes said there is no E-A-T score. That is correct, technically. But Google has numerous algorithms and ranking signals it uses to figure out E-A-T as an overall theme. Sullivan said on Twitter, “Is E-A-T a ranking factor? Not if you mean there’s some technical thing like with speed that we can measure directly. We do use a variety of signals as a proxy to tell if content seems to match E-A-T as humans would assess it. In that regard, yeah, it’s a ranking factor.”

You can see the dual point Sullivan is making here.

The minutiae. When you have people like me, who for almost 16 years, analyze and scrutinize every word, tweet, blog post or video that Google produces, it can be hard for a Google representative to always convey the exact clear message at every point. Sometimes it is important to step back, look at the bigger picture, and ask yourself, Why is this Googler saying this or not saying that?

Why we should care. It is important to look at long term goals, and as I said above, not chase the algorithm or specific ranking factors but focus on the ultimate goals of your business (money). Produce content and web pages that Google would be proud to rank at the top of the results for a given query and other sites will want to source and link to. And above all, do whatever you can to make the best possible site for users — beyond what your competitors produce.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz is Search Engine Land’s News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on SEM topics.



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