The demands of Google are constantly shifting. Even for experts it can be a challenge to keep up to date with search engine requirements for your content, so that it demonstrates your value to the algorithms and quality ratings, while helping you broaden your audience.
The most recent iteration of Google’s qualification process is underpinned by the E-E-A-T acronym : experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. But what exactly do these factors mean, and how might they impact your content strategy?
By thinking strategically about E-E-A-T, you can address all the factors organically rather than shoehorning them in and potentially alienating your human audience. With Google at something of a crossroads, our Head of Digital and SEM, Laura Coles, spoke to our Marketing Manager & Writer, Charlie Cottrell, about the past, present and future of Google’s appetites – and what it all means for content strategy.
How have you seen Google’s appetites change in recent years?
The requirements of Google have really changed in the past ten years, and the factors that have influenced that range from user malpractice to global events like Covid.
Ten years ago, anyone could be a subject matter expert by creating long-form content. The algorithm wasn’t as sophisticated at the time, so you didn’t necessarily need to have the hygiene that Google requires now – as long as you were hitting the right keywords, and often. As a result, the practice of ‘keyword stuffing’ became commonplace. To prevent its search engine from being manipulated by these types of unethical practices, Google began to penalise websites it deemed spammy.
Now, the kind of content you need to rank well is completely different. It shouldn’t be unnatural or robotic, and additionally Google’s Search Quality Raters – people dotted all over the world who are well trained in the guidelines – will also apply strict parameters across a range of criteria to validate the trustworthiness of your content.
So, while you could previously rank well by gaming the search engine, this is no longer the case; Google’s appetite is much more quality focused than previous iterations.
Trust is imperative to Google’s qualification process. But how do you demonstrate ‘trust’?
Trust is really the foundation of E-E-A-T, in that experience, expertise and authoritativeness feed into it. But trust is where both the content and the technical sides of Google’s qualification merge into one. E-E-A-T does not directly impact rankings, but the on-site implementation of trust signals can.
From a content perspective, there are some key factors to address. Is your content up-to-date? Is it accurate? Is it credible? This is for the user’s experience of your web page. Then, you’ll also need to consider the technicals; is your website secure? Does your website have good page load speed? Does it render well on mobile?
There are metrics on both ends of the spectrum that you need to deliver on to successfully meet Google’s appetites for both quality raters and for ranking signals.
Is it easier to demonstrate ‘trust’ in some sectors than others?
It’s definitely easier to hit those credibility metrics when you’re operating in a B2B capacity. Take any one of technology, legal or financial services as example sectors; the people operating in those fields directly offer expert services to users . If a lawyer were to write an online piece, they have the field-specific terminology needed to credibly talk to law and legalities, and they’re also in a role where they offer immediate services to clients – so they have first-hand experience in the topic they’re writing about. So, from a content perspective, they can demonstrate the experience, expertise, authority and trust required of Google’s qualification process.
B2C sectors like travel can find it harder to meet these parameters. Often travel bloggers will write confidently about different areas of the world having never been there themselves, because they’ve been paid to do so. That nuance makes it far more difficult for a Quality Rater to validate a travel writer’s content than a lawyer writing about a legal issue that they deal with in their day-to-day work.
Does AI-generated content negatively impact trust?
The way Google perceives generative AI is still in development at the moment. What’s important to note though is that Google has by no means demonised AI. The company’s Public Liaison for Search, Danny Sullivan, said on X , “We haven’t said AI content is bad. We’ve said, pretty clearly, content written primarily for search engines rather than humans is the issue. That’s what we’re focused on.” So using AI is not a form of malpractice, and AI-generated content won’t be penalised in the same way that strategies like manipulative link building and keyword stuffing would.
However, Sullivan also reemphasised Google’s focus on content ‘by people, for people’. This makes sense, because AI doesn’t necessarily fact check itself correctly. It works in the same way as search engines, in that it scrapes the web for data and then when queried by a user, it reiterates the data that it has picked up. But in taking that data from thousands of different sources across the web, it will encounter conflicting information and subsequently serve something back to the user that isn’t necessarily accurate.
AI also isn’t going to capture things like tone of voice in the same way a human writer would, since the nuances involved are often far too complex and advanced for it to understand and recreate. So it can’t engage with different audiences in different ways, which is what a good copywriter can do.
Ultimately, while AI doesn’t go against any Google guidelines, you can’t just take AI content straight from the box, stick it on your website, and then expect that website to perform.
Before joining us as our Head of Digital, you worked on Stratton Craig’s SEO strategy for a number of years. How have you adjusted our approach to meet Google’s needs?
I was introduced to Stratton Craig in 2019 when the agency I worked for took them on as an SEO and development client, and I consulted on the overall SEO strategy. I joined as Stratton’s Head of Digital in early 2024. Over time, Stratton Craig have really honed an approach to serve users content that is specific to them. We’ve created a number of ‘hubs’, across technology, financial services, and ESG and sustainability, creating content that drills down into more specific areas than a single sector page might. With international subdirectories added, we also serve curated content to users in the US and Germany – in American lexis, and German language. We’ll potentially be looking to expand this strategy further, too.
Our approach to the type of content we serve has also developed with the needs of Google. Rather than simply hitting the right keywords, we’ve concentrated on regularly providing insight content that is genuinely useful, educational and expert-led, based on our main sector and service areas.
Finally, we’ve put a lot of work into the technical performance of the website. Site speed is fast, user experience is optimised, and we make it as easy as possible for users to convert with touch points across the site.
Rigorous testing – How Google Search works
How our Quality Raters make Search results better – Google Search Help