Google has always been famously tight-lipped about its algorithms and preferences, but they can't leave it a complete mystery. If they didn't share any details or guidelines about their algorithm then content writers and SEOs would be fumbling around in the dark, but if they laid it all bare tomorrow then most content writers and SEOs would be out of a job.
Google instead strikes a balancing act by occasionally releasing guidelines and tips to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Their EAT framework (Expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness) was formally unveiled back in 2014, and for nearly a decade it has remained unchanged.
So it was a surprise to some people (and not remotely surprising to others) when Google added an extra E onto the framework at the tail end of 2022 – Experience. To quote straight from the horse's mouth:
“Now to better assess our results, E-A-T is gaining an E: experience. Does content also demonstrate that it was produced with some degree of experience, such as with actual use of a product, having actually visited a place or communicating what a person experienced? There are some situations where really what you value most is content produced by someone who has first-hand, life experience on the topic at hand.”
Has everything changed, or is it business as usual?
It's a good time to be authentic
Google haven't confirmed or denied anything, but the EEAT update was almost certainly in response to the rise and spread of AI-generated content.
Where a business owner would once need to spend hours writing original content or their hard-earned money hiring a content writer, they can now use ChatGPT to generate a whole site's worth of content in just a few minutes.
The issue with AI-generated content is just that – It's artificial intelligence. Everything ChatGPT and the like generates is the most inoffensive, middle-of-the-road content possible. They draw upon data stores, which draw from websites, which draw from people. That's 3 degrees of separation between the content AI generates and the genuine human experiences that inspired it.
ChatGPT can write content for a plumber, but not for Greg Davies, aged 27, plumber in Enfield, who has been on the tools for nearly a decade and holds 4 different industry qualifications.
An authentic website that feels like it was written by a human, like Greg's, is going to be considered more ‘helpful' to the reader in Google's eyes.
Personal branding is in vogue
A website like Greg's, to keep running with this example, is what can be considered a personal brand.
‘Personal brand' and ‘personal branding' have subtly different definitions depending on who you ask, but generally speaking it refers to a business with a human face and identity.
You don't have to be a multimillion follower Instagram influencer to be a personal brand. You can be a solo trader, solopreneur or similar one-man band who puts their name or their face to the business in some fashion, be that your name, writing the content in first person or having your grinning face be the first thing a visitor to your site sees.
When you position yourself in this way, you're positioning yourself as the expert in your field. This is the kind of thing Google is coming around with, with their emphasis on ‘experienced' and ‘expert' content.
Lean on what you know
As Google's guidelines ask:
“Which would you trust: home electrical rewiring advice from a skilled electrician or from an antique homes enthusiast who has no knowledge of electrical wiring?”
To continue with the example of Greg, he probably knows things from his near-decade of plumbing experience that the average Joe armed with Google or ChatGPT does not. Search engines and AI can tell you about the step-by-step process for installing new piping – But they might not be able to tell you how long it takes, the best sort of piping for the job or how you prepare for the plumber.
This kind of ‘insider knowledge' is invaluable for helping you stand out from the crowd, both in the eyes of the Google algorithm and that of your customers.
But have things changed?
The truth is no, not really.
These guidelines have likely been the status quo at Google for years, and they've only just formalised them with the announcement of EEAT.
Google tends to generate something of an organic feedback loop when it comes to search results and what gets preferably ranked. The more people like something, the better Google ranks it – And the better Google ranks it, the more people like it.
The additional E in EEAT isn't anything new. People tend to trust things – businesses included – that they can put a face to.
When your package is delayed in the post or your insurance provider has cancelled your coverage, you blame the company at large. When you finally get through to somebody on the phone it becomes scarily easy to blame them, because now your frustration has a human it can pin everything on.
Google has always preferably ranked experience-based content, but so do people – a face, a name, etc; creates a feedback loop (the more people like, the more Google likes it, the more Google likes it, the more people like it)
So, in a sense, nothing has changed. Websites that lean on their experience, authenticity and specialist knowledge have always done well, and will continue to do so. The only difference is that we have confirmation from the horse's mouth.