Google updated their search quality rating guidelines in July. These rating guidelines, which you can view here, are used by humans to rate the quality of web pages as search results for specific queries. These ratings are used to guide how Google’s search engineers improve their search engine.
Soon after the update to the guidelines, Google introduced a broad core algorithm update circa August 1st, most likely to ensure that the search engine was returning results that reflected the changes to its guidelines.
One of the most important changes to the guidelines was a greater focus on Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T), as well as a focus on applying this to individual authors—not just brands or web pages.
E-A-T is important for the ecommerce industry because shopping pages are considered by the rater guidelines to be “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) pages, and these types of pages are held to the highest quality standards. For that reason they are also expected to have the highest E-A-T.
If you want your shopping pages to show up in the search results, you will need to identify how to maximize your E-A-T score for Google’s hypothetical human quality raters, which Google’s algorithms are designed to emulate.
Let’s talk about how to do that.
Which content is Google taking into consideration?
The expertise, authority, and trustworthiness of a page are determined primarily by looking at the main content on the page. What counts as main content is obvious when we are talking about a content site like a blog, but which content are Google’s quality raters taking into consideration on your category and product pages?
The first important thing to recognize is that “content” is not limited to text. The rater guidelines explicitly state that “webpage content includes … functionality (such as online shopping features, email, calculator functionality, online games, etc.).”
So raters aren’t just being asked to evaluate text. They’re being asked to evaluate your site’s functionality. It isn’t just the text on your page that needs to be high E-A-T, it’s the design, interface, interactivity, useability, and other features.
For example, raters are explicitly asked to “put at least one product in the cart to make sure the shopping cart is functioning.” They are reminded that “high quality shopping content should allow users to find the products they want and to purchase the products easily.” I highly recommend meeting these basic functions expected of the modern ecommerce site in service of that goal:
- A persistent shopping cart that stores the products you are planning to buy
- The ability to create a wishlist
- The ability to sort category pages and search results by price, weighted relevance, review score, best sellers, and similar criteria
- The ability to filter category and search results by product features and tags
- A responsive design that looks good and functions well on mobile devices
- Modern search capable of interpreting queries and dealing with misspellings rather than simply matching text exactly to what is found on the page
Google provides quality raters with some examples of main content. In an example featuring a product page, they consider the content behind the reviews, shipping, and safety information tabs to be main content:
The rest of the content on the page is considered “supplementary content.” This is because the purpose of the shopping page is to sell or give information about a product. Everything directly involved in serving that purpose is considered main content. Everything peripheral to it, such as suggested products and navigation, is considered to be supplementary.
For a page to receive a good quality score, raters are asked to look for a “satisfying amount of high quality content.” They give an example of a shopping page that includes “the manufacturer’s product specs, …original product information, over 90 user reviews, shipping and returns information, [and] multiple images of the product.” High E-A-T isn’t going to get you far enough if the amount of content isn’t satisfactory for the purpose of the shopping page, so this is where you need to start.
For quality raters to determine the E-A-T of your shopping pages, there are a few things they need to be able to find to give you a positive score at all.
When raters are evaluating shopping pages, the guidelines ask them to “do some special checks” for “contact information,” including “policies on payment, exchanges, and returns,” suggesting that this information will most likely be found under “customer service.” Make sure this information is present and easy to find.
What is expertise in the ecommerce industry?
The rater guidelines offer an example of a shopping page that earns a high quality score because of its high E-A-T:
They say that the page has “high E-A-T for the purpose of the page” because they have “expertise in these specific types of goods.” They mention that many of the products sold on the site are unique to this company, presumably as evidence of this. They also mention that they have “a positive reputation.”
This suggests that what counts as expertise for a shopping page, according to Google, is the expertise of the manufacturer and the brand regarding the products being sold. The fact that they have a good reputation and exclusive products are used as evidence of this. Needless to say, this means you should only work with manufacturers that have recognized expertise in the industry.
The expertise of those who don’t work for your brand are actually relevant as well. The guidelines ask raters to look for “recommendations by experts, news articles, and other credible information…about the website” while they are doing reputation research for your brand or your content creators.
This emphasizes the importance of outreach in earning a high E-A-T score. Obviously, your products, your site functionality, and your brand integrity must be inherently high in order to earn positive press and recommendations from experts in the appropriate industries, but there are limits to how much your site and products are capable of promoting themselves.
To earn a positive reputation, you will also need to reach out directly to industry influencers and experts, send products to product reviewers, and make headlines by taking newsworthy actions. Failing to do so means that even if your products, brand, and site are stellar, while you won’t have a negative reputation, you will have less of a reputation than those who have made the effort to promote themselves effectively.
Crucially, reputation requires high editorial freedom. Placing sponsored content on sites or promoting your site with ads will not earn you a positive reputation, at least not directly, because content created by your own brand isn’t considered during this research phase.
What makes an ecommerce brand authoritative?
The rater guidelines consider this shopping page to deserve the “highest quality” rating:
As part of the reasoning behind this, they mention that “since the store produces this backpack, they are experts on the product, making the page on their own website authoritative.”
This reveals an interesting insight into how Google decides product content is authoritative. An industry expert or the manufacturer of the product needs to be providing the information, or it isn’t authoritative.
In contrast, a blog post written by somebody who doesn’t work in this industry, isn’t an outdoors enthusiast, and otherwise doesn’t know very much about backpacks wouldn’t be considered an authority on this product.
Google provides this page as an example of one that should receive the “lowest” quality rating:
They name “no evidence of E-A-T” as one reason for this. They note that the “Contact Us” page doesn’t give a company name or physical address, and that the “Shipping and Returns” page lists a different company that doesn’t seem related.
Perhaps most notably for authority considerations, however, they note that they include official looking logos for the Better Business Bureau and Google Checkout, but these don’t seem to actually be affiliated with the website. While the guidelines don’t explicitly mention it, the inclusion of the “Nike” logo in the header also seems to be deceptive.
When it comes to authority, Google seems to be most concerned with how it can be misrepresented. Presumably, a small company with limited reach could still be considered to have good authority so long as it only claims to be the authority over its own products. Likewise, a marketplace selling products produced by other manufacturers would presumably be considered authoritative if it were easy to verify that those manufacturers were indeed affiliated with the seller, and that the ecommerce site was an authorized merchant.
For this specific example, had the Nike, BBB, and Google Checkout logos linked to some sort of verification of affiliation, the page likely would have been considered to have high, or at least satisfactory authority.
What is trustworthiness for ecommerce sites?
To be considered high quality, raters are asked to look for “satisfying customer service information” when evaluating shopping pages. This means that any potential questions or concerns that shoppers might have about the product and the buying process should be addressed.
It’s best to be as extensive and comprehensive as possible. The purpose of the product, how to use it, what it looks like, and what results they should expect need to be covered in as much detail as possible.
Information about shipping charges should be transparent and revealed up front.
Return policies, guarantees, and similar information should be easily accessible. The checkout process shouldn’t surprise users by completing before they thought they were making a purchase or introducing fees they were not expecting or warned about.
Contact information, live chat, and customer support should be easy to find.
Remember that Google is considering all of this information main content. This should be reflected in your site design as well. Do not hide this information away or make it difficult to find. Put it where shoppers and human quality raters alike would expect to find it and where it will alleviate any concerns about the buying process.
The guidelines explicitly mention that stores “frequently have user ratings,” and that they “consider a large number of positive user reviews as evidence of positive reputation.”
Needless to say, it’s strongly recommended to introduce user review functionality to your site. User reviews have a well-measured positive impact on search engine traffic. Various studies have found that 63% of users are more likely to buy from a site that features user reviews, that users who interact with user reviews are 105% more likely to make a purchase, that they can produce an 18% lift in sales, and that having 50 or more reviews can result in an additional 4.6% boost in conversion rates.
In addition to allowing users to leave reviews, it’s important to encourage your users to leave reviews. Include automated emails asking your users to leave a review into your checkout process, with emails arriving in user’s inboxes shortly after their product is shipped successfully, or even papers telling them how to leave a review sent with the product.
If you’re concerned that asking users to leave reviews, or allowing them to in the first place, will result in negative reviews, this fear is largely unfounded. A study published in Psychological Science found that buyers were actually more influenced by the number of reviews than by the overall score, even to the extent that this was considered irrational behavior on their part.
Another study found that users are actually more likely to purchase a product with a rating between 4.2 and 4.5 stars, since excessively high star ratings are considered suspicious.
Finally, if you leave users to their own devices, the ones who are most likely to leave a review are the ones who are either extremely surprised by how well things went, or extremely disappointed. Additionally, they will review your products on another site if they can’t do so on yours, and Google’s guidelines ask quality raters to look at other sites for reviews.
For these reasons and more, try asking your users to leave reviews.
One crucial piece of the puzzle for trustworthiness is security. The guidelines specifically call out an “insecure connection” on a checkout page as a reason to consider a shopping page untrustworthy, and a reason to give it a “low” quality rating. While they are specifically talking about the checkout page, it’s best to deploy HTTPS on every page of your site in order to eliminate any source of doubt.
Another example receiving the “lowest” score, is considered malicious because it asks for the user’s government ID number and ATM pin number. While this is an obvious piece of deception that no legitimate checkout page would ask for, consider less clearly malicious features that could lead to distrust. For example, requiring an email address for checkout, without explanation, that automatically adds users to an email list instead of the option to opt into one, is likely to reduce your trust score.
Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines indicate that expertise, authority, and trustworthiness are central considerations for Google’s engineers. To perform well in the search results for the foreseeable future, your pages should be developed as though humans were evaluating them for these factors.
When it comes to ecommerce, shopping pages are of primary concern, and E-A-T functions differently for them than it would for a blog post. A high quality ecommerce site doesn’t just feature authoritative text, its features and functionality are built with E-A-T in mind.
Earn expertise by working with manufacturers at the top of their industry, and by getting your brand and products in front of industry experts. Be authoritative by partnering with authoritative brands and ensuring that everything is easily verifiable. Build trust with user reviews, extensive contact and customer service information, a secure site, and a transparent checkout process.
Invest in these features to ensure that your shopping pages continue to perform well and remain competitive in the long run.
Manish Dudharejia is the president and founder of E2M Solutions Inc, a San Diego based digital agency that specializes in website design & development and ecommerce SEO. Follow him on Twitter.