Google’s SECRET SEO Guide

Google’s SECRET SEO Guide

Did you know that Google actually publishes his own guide to SEO? Yep, this 176 page long set of guidelines is used to help Google tune its search algorithms, so you might be thinking, “Well, what’s the help of a savvy marketer? Reverse engineer this guide, apply it to their own website, and profit!” Yeah right, let’s do it now!

Alright, first up, what is this magical doc and why does Google publish it? Well, Google maintains a team of search quality raters. These people’s job is to analyze potential improvements to Google’s search ranking algorithm and rate the results. They do this by reviewing the websites that come up for different searches and rating them against a number of criteria. These ratings are then used by Google to assess any potential change in their ranking algorithms. This book, this is their guide. This tells those search quality raters what a good quality website looks like, i.e. the sort of thing Google wants to reward, and also what a bad quality website is, i.e. the sorts of thing Google wants to avoid like the plague or like attribution in featured snippets. LOL SEO jokes!

In fact, Google gives very specific definitions and examples of both low quality and high quality websites. So what we marketers need to do is look at those criteria and make sure that our website matches them. Now some of these criteria are really obvious. They’re painfully dull things like making sure that your main content (MC) is good quality or making sure your page isn’t covered with distracting ads, making sure you’re not just copying your content from other sources. But one thing that keeps coming up in this guide is this concept of E-A-T: E-A-T. E-A-T is how Google defines trustworthiness and it’s what it wants to see in every website result that ranks well. And E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust. And they even have this Venn diagram to show how it works.

So let’s go through each of these in turn and think about how we might apply them to our website. Starting off with experience…


Google added experience to its search quality rater guidelines fairly recently in December 2022. Before then, E-A-T was just simply E-A-T, which was loads easier to say! So what does experience mean and how do we use it to rank better? Well, experience means having first-hand or life experience for the topic that you are writing about. For example, if I tell you that this is a great pen and it feels really nice in your hand, it’s nicely weighted, it lasts for ages, and the writes really smoothly, you might believe me because I have direct experience of this pen. Whereas if I tell you how amazing it is to give birth, you may rightly be skeptical because I have absolutely no experience of doing that, as my wife reminds me frequently!

In the search quality rater guidelines, experience talks a lot in the context of product reviews. For example, a website lacking E-A-T might be a restaurant review written by someone who has never eaten at the restaurant, whereas a website that satisfies E-A-T might include original pictures and videos from the creator that demonstrates their first-hand, unique experience.

Okay, so what does this look like in practice? Well, if we do a search for something like “best running shoes for overpronation,” we notice that the top ranking organic result in the UK is this one here, Now on the surface of it, this article looks like a pretty sort of standard affiliate thing where all they’re interested in is linking you out to the shoes so that you can go and buy it so they can earn their affiliate commission. But actually, once you dig a little deeper, you realize that this is a really interesting article that’s taking a new angle.

So if we go down to the reviews themselves, you’ll notice that how they formatted these is they’ve given each of these shoes to some testers. They then write about the testers’ experience of these shoes. This is great, and this is exactly the sort of thing that Google wants to reward in E-A-T. But it’s also great from a user’s perspective because this gives their recommendations way more credibility and increases the chance that I’m going to click on one of these links and buy one of the recommended shoes because I can tell that these recommendations are coming from someone who’s actually done this thing before.

Now I’m not saying that this content is ranking purely because of the experience element, because this is actually something that is incredibly inconsistent across Google search results. For example, here is the website this ranking position two for that search, and it demonstrates absolutely no first-hand experience whatsoever. This is a much more generic article that is clearly just here to get the clicks and get that affiliate commission. And I’ll be honest, it can be quite difficult to find searches that seem to be rewarding the type of direct experience Google claims to want to reward in its search quality rater guidelines.

So does this mean we can ignore the first E in E-A-T or even the whole thing altogether? Not quite, and here’s why: Remember, Google search quality raters are using this guide to rate search results to help Google fine-tune its ranking algorithms. Experience is a relatively new component of this – it’s only really been out at this point for about six months. So it’s entirely plausible that it takes time for the principles in this guide to filter their way through various different tests and evolutions of the ranking algorithms into the results that we see.

Remember though, this is the direction that Google wants its search results to go in. So like a hockey player that’s moving where the puck is about to land, that’s what we need to do with our marketing. We need to make sure we’re on the right side of these guidelines so that when Google’s ranking algorithms do catch up, we are being rewarded.

Okay, so that’s experience. Let’s talk about expertise.


If we do a search for “how to pass a job interview,” you’ll notice that all of the websites ranking for this topic have expertise in this topic. We have Indeed – they are a job site, so lots of expertise around job interviews. We have University of North Georgia – the careers section again, lots of expertise around job interviews. We have wikiHow – now wikiHow is a fairly generalist site, but if you click on the article, you’ll notice it’s actually written by a career coach with lots of expertise in interviews.

And this is something that you might notice across lots of different search results – it’s very difficult to find not just a page that lacks expertise on the topic it’s ranking for, but actually a website where the business owner or the website owner is not known as an expert in this field. This wasn’t always the case. When I started SEO back in 2010, you could get ranking for pretty much whatever you wanted, regardless of whether you had any legitimate expertise in the topic at all.

Okay, so how do we demonstrate straightforward expertise in order to give our sites the best chance of ranking possible? Well, one thing that we can do is look to one of the most heavily policed areas of the internet on search, and that is your money or your life topics. These are topics typically financial and health related, where the penalty for getting the wrong information can be very costly. And Google has higher standards for your money or your live topics than it does for regular search results.

So it stands to reason that if we can obey the principles that the top your money or your life sites are applying, then we’re gonna be okay. Here’s a site called Verywell Mind, and they are publishing medical information, in this case about attention headache. Now we’ve got accredited author here with their byline and a bit of biography about them. Now whilst they’re a therapist, a mental health writer, they may not have the full medical qualifications needed for a topic like this. So Verywell Mind has also added a “medically reviewed” tag with a description of what that means and a certified medical professional who has reviewed this information.

So does the writer of this article have a lot of expertise on the topic? Absolutely!

Another way of demonstrating expertise is linking out to your sources. For example, if we search for “is social media addictive?” and we click on the top result, you’ll notice that this is a very well researched piece. Now how do we know it’s very well researched? Well, it’s linking to all of its sources. It’s citing scientific studies. It’s citing experts. And importantly, when it does, it’s linking to the source of that information.

That would be a great idea. But let’s contrast this with this website, which is actually cited as a specifically bad example in the search quality rater guidelines. This is symptoms of dehydration dot com, and the search quality writer guidelines say that this is an untrustworthy article because we don’t know who wrote this. We don’t know what their credentials or credibility is. We don’t know what their motivation is. All of the links seem to be internal, i.e. they’re not linking out to other credible sources. And there’s no information anywhere on this website about who runs it. As a result, Google has issued repeated savage beatdowns on this website’s traffic over the years to the point where it’s now effectively dead. Sad times!

Next up, let’s talk about authority.


Authoritativeness – and I think this one is really misunderstood. Authoritativeness in the context of E-A-T is often shortened to “authority” and sort of implied to mean anything that has high authority because it’s got good quality links or it’s a well-known brand or anything like that. Whereas my personal take of the search quality guidelines is that authoritativeness is a very specific and quite difficult to manipulate set of conditions.

The search quality writer guidelines talk about making sure that the creator of the content or the website is a go-to source for the topic and in particular it talks about topics where there is one specific authority on that topic. Okay, let’s think about this – it’d be a bit weird if you search for a brand and the website that was ranking wasn’t that brand at all, or if you search for opening hours for a local coffee shop and the thing that was ranking wasn’t that coffee shop’s page, it was somebody else talking about that coffee shop’s opening hours. That would be weird, right?

Just like if you search for “Exposure Ninja marketing review” because you wanted to get amazing 15 minute analysis of your website and your digital marketing, the potential, and what you should be spending your time on over the next 6 to 12 months to significantly increase your website and traffic. If you search for the Exposure Ninja website and marketing review, you would probably expect to see this page, which is the page for the Exposure Ninja free website and marketing review. And by the way, while you were there, you should probably fill this in as well! Did you spot that call to action? Seamless! It’s amazing!

Or let’s say that you search for “moon landing 1969” – who would you expect to rank? NASA, obviously! They did it! Or did they? I think it was the lizards personally, but I am not the go-to authority on that topic.

Let’s talk about trust.


The word “trust” appears 158 times in the search quality rater guidelines, and Google actually says that trust is the most important member of the E-A-T family. Now in some ways, trust is a combination of all the other elements, but trust is actually a lot broader than any of the other elements.

Look at what Google says: “There are many aspects of trust, some of which are not captured by expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Please consider other aspects in your overall trust assessment such as customer service information for online stores or peer-reviewed publications for academic authors. If a page is untrustworthy for any reason, it has low E-A-T.”

So what actually is a trustworthy page aside from everything else that we’ve already discussed? Aside from the obvious stuff like pages designed to manipulate, exploit, scam, and spam you, there are also some less obvious considerations here.

Look at this – pages that have inadequate information about the website or content creator for the purpose of the page. The search quality writer guidelines give this example, which by the way, like all of the examples that they give are super out of date. They never update these! But the reason that this site is failing on trust is that there’s no information about who runs it. It’s a site that sells Nike sneakers, but there’s no contact information and there’s no information about the business at all.

Meanwhile, this website is held up as a great example of a trustworthy site even though it looks like this. This is the “About Us” page for a local fish and chip store, and it talks about the story of the store, who was involved in setting it up, the sort of experience that customers get when they come along. And this is the type of thing that Google wants to reward and sees as very trustworthy.

So what do we take from all of this? Well, we talk a lot about trust signals on this channel – things like making sure your website has a prominent phone number so that even if you don’t want to get calls, potential customers know that they could call you if they had an issue. Or making sure that you’ve got loads of reviews, some Google reviews and Trustpilot reviews. I/O making sure you have automated processes to collect those reviews so you’re showing potential customers that you are a trustworthy business.

So my advice isn’t actually to think about trustworthiness from a search quality writer guidelines E-A-T perspective. It’s to think of it as a conversion perspective because guess what? When we’re trying to build a potential customer’s trust so that we have a better chance of converting them on our website, we are setting ourselves way higher standards than Google is in the search quality rater guidelines.

For example, look at this site which is advertising for conveyancing quotes. Now it has loads of the elements of trust that we would talk about in our reviews and in our videos – for example, they’ve got all these review stars everywhere, they’ve got some testimonials and some of them are recent, they’ve got information about exactly what’s going to happen, they’ve got pictures of people, they’ve got individual stories, they’ve got loads and loads of credibility devices built in on this page. Now it’s not perfect because it kind of looks a bit rubbish, it looks a bit generic, and it looks a bit old school. But this might pass the E-A-T test.

But if we analyze this from a conversion optimization perspective, we’d say this needs a bit of a brand refresh to look a bit cooler in order to build that trust. And then it’s going to shoot way past the E-A-T criteria. So chances are, if you’re already focused around conversion optimization, a lot of these trust things are going to be in play for you already. And that’s kind of the message here – whilst these E-A-T guidelines specify what Google wants to see from a search perspective, most of this stuff is just good marketing.

Share your first-hand experience because that’s a great way to build credibility with your audience. Share your expertise – if you’ve got credentials, use them on your website. Give people a reason to trust you. Demonstrate your authority – be the go-to source in your space. And of course, build trust through all the methods that we’ve talked about – build a brand, do loads of digital PR so you’re seeing all the different places that people look, make sure you’re handling all of the objections someone might have to doing business with you on your website.

Now before we go, Google is not perfect. Shocking, I know! Having great E-A-T, following these guidelines to the letter does not mean that your website will rank. Commonly, just as if you ignore E-A-T, it doesn’t mean that your website won’t rank. Remember that E-A-T and these search quality rater guidelines, these are not ranking factors. These are the standards that Google wants its algorithms to reach. And there are still plenty of examples online where websites directly contradict some of the principles in these guidelines and still win.

For example, if you search for “best WordPress themes,” this is one of the sites that ranks – Elegant Themes – and their best WordPress theme is Divi. Well of course it is, they own it! Second best website theme? Elementor. Of course it is, they are an affiliate!

But Google in the guidelines says “The website or content creator may not be a trustworthy source if there is a clear conflict of interest. Reviews by the product manufacturer (our product is great!) or reviews from an influencer who is paid to promote the product are not trustworthy due to a conflict of interest.” But that what that what?!

Rather than conclude that search quality rater guidelines and E-A-T is fake news from Google, it’s more accurate to treat these guidelines as the direction of travel. This is where Google wants its ranking algorithms to go. And in fact, some Google staffers have said exactly this in an interview with CNBC. Google’s Vice President of Search, Ben Gomes, says “You can view the rater guidelines as where we want the search algorithm to go. They don’t tell you how the algorithm is ranking results, but they fundamentally show what the algorithm should do.”

So with every algorithm update that Google rolls out, they are aiming to get closer and closer to the principles defined in these search quality rater guidelines. As marketers then, it’s our job to make sure our websites meet these standards, and that will give us a better chance of ranking today, tomorrow, and in all future algorithm updates.

If you want to learn more about the future of Google search, then check out this video. We break down the latest innovations in Google’s ST and talk about what this means for search marketers. Thanks for subscribing – that’s an assumptive close! – and see you next time.

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