In the early decades of the internet, search engine optimization looked a lot easier. Website developers and content producers studied their competitors in search listings. They figured out how to beat the algorithm. They realized they could primarily focus on the number of keywords and backlinks to achieve top rankings for Google searches. However, that narrow perspective didn’t consistently deliver the results searchers expected or trusted.
Naturally, search engine users began to complain about the quality of their results. Front-page links led to nonsense, spam, and even malicious websites. The situation reflected poorly on search engines and even the entire internet. In turn, Google generates revenue from advertisers, and advertisers need people to view their ads. Google needed to please humans and not SEOs to maintain its market share.
Thus, the search engine giant worked on finding ways to measure their user’s experience. Humans should have an easier time understanding what pleases other people than machine bots. However, history teaches that understanding and pleasing people often appears more complicated than satisfying an algorithm. Effective SEO relies on understanding the human experience and how Google measures it.
Does E-E-A-T Measure the Human Experience?
About a decade ago, SEOs noticed that Google emphasized E-A-T as a guideline for their human search rankers. The acronym stands for expertise, authority, and trust. Late last year, the search engine giant added another E for experience to the acronym. Understand the terms included in E-E-A-T like this:
- Expertise: The website or page demonstrates the author’s credibility in offering content about the topic. For instance, an endocrinologist or other medical professional would have the authority to speak about diabetes treatment.
- Experience: The author has first-hand knowledge of the topic. The author might not have an MD but could have experiences to share about their experiences as a patient undergoing medical treatment or a medical journalist with bylines in authoritative journals.
- Authority: Other relevant and authoritative sites link or cite the content or website. Examples include links or citations from industry or scientific journals, educational websites, or credible blogs.
- Trust: The site protects user information, appears ethical and offers accurate information. Some examples of trust signals include third-party verification, customer testimonials, or case studies.
Regarding the old or new acronym, Google spokespeople have clarified that they don’t calculate or store an E-E-A-T score. Instead, they always want to put people first. Thus, Google used the concept to explain the principles that made websites look credible to human visitors.
How Does the Google Algorithm Measure the Human Experience?
Google might not have coded specific E-E-A-T ranking factors into their software. The company always keeps its exact algorithm a secret, partly because they want to emphasize the importance of developing websites for people rather than for bots.
Still, Google spokespeople have confirmed a handful of critical ranking factors that their algorithms consider the best way a machine can determine which websites follow their principles.
Yes, backlinks still matter. However, the quality of links matters significantly more than the quantity. Links that can send traffic and not just send ranking signals will offer the best value. Links from other high-quality, relevant sites will add the most juice.
Certainly, searchers want to find pages related to their searches. To understand relevance, SEOs also need to determine what Google has already determined about search intent for specific kinds of searches.
For instance, searching for “stomach flu” returned top results for diagnosing gastroenteritis. Many of the links came from the websites of clinics or hospitals. Still, the top pages typically offered information about the disease and only incidentally included links to schedule an appointment as a call to action. Thus, Google has determined that most people wanted information about their symptoms to decide the best way to treat them.
Typically, search engines crawl updated websites the most often. Still, the algorithm only tends to favour the freshest content when it matters most. For instance, many top results for “backgammon rules” appear on websites that look like clean designs from Microsoft FrontPage, discontinued in 2003. In contrast, many listings for “what’s on TV” display dynamic content with daily updates.
HTTPS adds a layer of encryption and security to sites over the original HTTP protocol. Google has noted that security certificates may factor into ranking for several years. Today, this feature has emerged as a significant trust factor. For example, many browsers warn users that the website isn’t secure if it doesn’t have HTTPS. Those warnings can send users scurrying for another website.
Google has encouraged developers to create mobile-friendly sites for years. Today, people spend more time online on their mobile devices than on PCs and laptops. For the past few years, mobile usability could also impact search rankings on laptops and desktops. On the positive side, Google makes this factor easy to check with their Mobile Usability Report.
Internet users have developed a reputation for impatience. In turn, Google considers page speed a main ranking factor and relies on Core Web Vitals (CWV), as captured by three metrics. The measures have somewhat obtuse names, as briefly described below:
- Largest contentful paint: Load speed
- First input delay: Interactivity
- Cumulative layout shift: Visual stability
Google’s John Mueller confirmed that website owners should note positive improvements after improving from poor to good scores. Web designers don’t have to sacrifice features to achieve maximum performance. The search engine may add a demerit for poor scores but not for good-enough performance.
Google defines intrusive interstitials as overlays that block the content from view. Think of those frustrating popup ads or subscription forms that block articles. Google Search specifically discourages the practice. After all, search engine users arrive on the page to view the topic they want to research. Blocking that content with an advertisement feels like a broken promise, and Google believes it reflects poorly on the site and its reputation.
The company recognizes that some pages can benefit from popups or other overlays, but it suggests keeping them from blocking the content that the searcher arrived on the site to see. If marketers think a large overlay improves conversions enough to risk discouraging some users, try testing another version of the page with other traffic sources, like social networks. Otherwise, use banner ads and smaller popups for a call to action.
Does Google Demand Too Much?
When pleasing Google bots boiled down to keywords and backlinks, it took much less time to explain SEO. At the same time, Google draws most of its revenues from search ads. Humans use the search engine for free and might click on paid ads, generating revenue for the company and their paid advertisers, another set of customers. The company must maintain its leading market share by focusing on pleasing its customers.
Google’s mission statement says the company wants to organize information to make it useful and accessible. Core values include pleasing the user first and trusting everything else to follow. Google doesn’t consider SEOs as their customers so much as partners who may share the bounty of search engine traffic. Still, it has provided plenty of tips and tools to educate website developers and SEOs about the factors they deem most important in succeeding in their overall mission.
Some practical SEO tips to help improve a page or site’s ranking include these:
- Start by improving one or two factors at a time, especially Web Core Vitals and Mobile Usability.
- Keep the E-E-A-T principles in mind to ensure high-quality content earns the respect that it deserves.
- Pay attention to the types of pages that rank well for relevant searches. Google adjusts its focus according to its determination of search intent for typical users who use specific terms.
- Also, just like ten years ago, keywords and backlinks still matter.
Most of all, Google doesn’t expect every website to excel at everything. The search engine often rewards websites that achieve a few critical goals very well. Again, consider the high-ranking backgammon rules site with an archaic design and simple architecture.
That old website delivers on its promise. It describes a 5,000-year-old game, so Google figured it didn’t need to be fresh. Otherwise, the old page loads fast enough. It offers text and graphics to explain the rules and appears as immortal as the ancient game. Websites in more competitive and dynamic niches may need to invest more consistently to achieve and maintain their ranks.