Top E-A-T Factors: What I Learned After Analyzing 70 SERPs | Brafton

Top E-A-T Factors: What I Learned After Analyzing 70 SERPs | Brafton

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Top E-A-T Factors: What I Learned After Analyzing 70 SERPs
September 8, 2022
With every Google algorithm change, the prevailing advice is to simply make sure your site content is high quality.
One of the biggest and most important factors to consider for high-quality content, according to Google, is E-A-T: expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.
Google has a team of external Search Quality Raters who provide feedback on how well algorithm changes work. One aspect of their role is to evaluate the E-A-T of results found in SERPs. Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines outline how to do this. It’s no surprise to me that defining E-A-T depends on the topic and situation.
Table of Contents
32. Organization is the Named Author
To take an example from Google’s guidelines, medical advice should generally be written by medical professionals. However, a person writing from their own experience about a specific medical condition they or a loved one experienced has “everyday expertise.” Even though they may not have gone to medical school, their “everyday expertise” means that the content they create on that particular topic has appropriate E-A-T.
This got me thinking. How can the average webmaster prove their own E-A-T?
Sure, there are plenty of sites that are well-positioned to provide Expert, Authoritative, Trustworthy advice, like Mayo Clinic. Type any health question into Google, and I bet you’ll find Mayo’s take on it.
Mayo Clinic has an authoritative site, for obvious reasons. But what hope does Average Dr. Joe from Averageville, Ohio, have to compete with Mayo?
I don’t know! But don’t you think Average Dr. Joe deserves a spot on Page 1, if he’s got the knowledge and the audience?
Google’s guidance on E-A-T generally is closely followed by a note on YMYL, which stands for Your Money, Your Life and typically applies to industries such as finance, health care and the like. These are topics that “could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.” Naturally, it’s imperative that people have information they can trust on topics like these, so E-A-T is super important in these industries.
But all industries require trustworthy content, whether you’re a health care website or a gossip website. People need to know that what they’re reading is real (or as real as you can expect of a gossip site). So, how does E-A-T factor into industries that don’t fall into the YMYL category?
Finally, reading about Google’s view on E-A-T made me consider all the articles I’ve ghostwritten for companies in all kinds of industries.
I’ve written advice for manufacturers evaluating problems with their heat exchangers, and for homeowners thinking about refinancing their homes, and for new parents about what to put into their cribs (keep the baby bumpers outta there, folks).
You know what I studied in college? Journalism.
That makes me an expert at 2 things: Finding information and putting it together in an easy-to-understand way. Not about process equipment; not about personal finance; not about baby crib safety.
But I can promise you (and my clients) this: Everything I write is factual and trustworthy.
I use good sources, and I cite them. I double-check those sources, and the facts therein. I have never, and will never, deliver an article about crib safety (or anything else) without being absolutely confident that I’m sharing good information.
To sum up this entire rant, the study I carried out was about 3 things:
Which methods of proving E-A-T are most prevalent on Page 1?
How does ghostwritten content (or author attribution strategies) figure into E-A-T?
Are the E-A-T factors most prevalent in sites closely related to YMYL different from those prevalent in sites that aren’t YMYL?
How This Study Was Conducted
I started by researching what Google’s Search Quality Raters look at. My three main sources of information were:
Detailed (vs. short) About Us page.
Social proof on-site (including quotes, success stories, testimonials, case studies, employee voices, star ratings).
Reputable partners (including press mentions they highlight, awards from external organizations — not including parent companies, e.g. Aetna & CVS).
Website has relatively high topical coverage.
Organization-related Checklist
Organization mentioned anywhere on Wikipedia (including in talk sections & citations).
Organization has a Wikipedia page.
Organization has third-party reviews (including “working for” types of reviews, site reviews & media mentions).
Organization publishes original research (including annual reports, blog posts or landing pages with original data, partnerships with other organizations to create reports — but NOT running lists of settlement amounts won).
Editorial standards (including correction policies, writer verification information and community guidelines, corporate governance documentation that covers media or communication, Information Quality Guidelines, content criteria for informational pages, “How We Maintain Editorial Independence” e.g. on bestcolleges.com, pitch guidelines that reflect editorial standards — not including link policies or advertising standards or deindexing request forms or “all opinions are the authors’ own” type of statements).
Next, I chose 7 categories and 10 keywords for each to evaluate. The categories and keywords were:
Legal
when is the next full moon
how to delete instagram account
why is the sky blue
when does the time change
how to backup iphone 
Data Collection and Methodology
Next, I searched each of my 70 queries and recorded the Page 1 SERPs and evaluated them against my 32-point checklist.
In total, I analyzed 647 search results, generating 24,586 total data points (some categories had more SERP crowding than others, which is why I didn’t evaluate a perfect 700 pages).
A note about location: I carried out most of this study from Chassell, Michigan, which is a small town on Lake Superior. This influenced the results I saw throughout the study, and why I believe we see so many Michigan-related results in service-oriented categories like law.
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Initial Hypothesis
At the beginning of this process, I had some preconceived opinions about which factors would be the most “important” for demonstrating E-A-T. Almost none of them ended up being highly prevalent in the results.
My biggest surprise: The most important factors for demonstrating E-A-T don’t appear to be related to the author of a piece, or the actual page at all. Instead, high frequency E-A-T factors are almost entirely based on the organization and website as a whole.
With that said, what follows are the results of my analysis and a detailed explanation of each point I evaluated. For each, I’ve listed:
The name of the factor.
The prevalence of that factor in Page 1 results (demonstrating commonness more so than importance).
The prevalence of that factor in Top 3 results (more closely demonstrating importance).
My opinion on how this factor may contribute to website performance.
An explanation of how I defined it for the purposes of this study.
Any information Google has specifically provided for that factor.
My takeaways on how (and if) that factor may be demonstrated on-site, with examples when applicable.
These are listed in order of prevalence among the results I analyzed.
Charts & Graphs by Category
96% of Page 1 results.
96% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: HTTPS is an important technology that all websites should be using. Google prioritizes it in SERPs, though also has occasionally listed a non-secure website on Page 1.
What it is: HTTPS is the secure method by which information can flow from server to browser. It was created in 1994 and has been a ranking factor on Google since 2014. At this point, every website should be on HTTPS (instead of HTTP). If you’re not, here’s a guide that can help you get there:
What Does Google Say?
Google’s guidance on this one is very cut and dry. Use HTTPS . It contributes to a safer World Wide Web, which we can all appreciate.
How To Demonstrate
There’s only one way to show that you have HTTPS, and it automatically happens when you convert your site. It’s the little lock icon that’s right to the left of the URL bar:
Can you get onto Page 1 without HTTPS? Sure, it’s possible; 4% of pages I evaluated were not secured in this way. An interesting pattern: Most came up during my military-related searches.
2. Third-Party Reviews
95% of Page 1 results.
95% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Google cares about your third-party reviews, and so should you. Encourage your customers to leave feedback on Google My Business or other review sites. It won’t guarantee a place on Page 1 for your target terms, but it could help.
What it is: Third-party reviews are any reviews for an organization or website that are found on websites not connected to the organization’s. I was looking for evidence of real people having real opinions about the organization in question. I found this evidence using variations of this search modifier:
“ https://www.opploans.com/ reviews -site: https://www.opploans.com/ ”
These may include reviews submitted to Yelp or Google My Business, or employment websites like Glassdoor or Indeed. I also counted website reviews like those on Sitejabber or Trustpilot. Companies that have apps may also have reviews in App stores, and those with social media profiles sometimes have reviews (positive and otherwise) on their social channels.
Write-ups, op-eds and other editorials submitted to news organizations or newswires also counted. In one case, I counted a short case study written about a Page 1 result website (the website is definitely a digital marketing initiative) — it’s not the traditional third-party review, but those 3 sentences are evidence that real people use and trust the site.
What Does Google Say?
This factor was included because Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines has a chapter dedicated to “Reputation of the Website and Creator of the Main Content.” This chapter delves into how and where to find reputation information. I stole that search modifier from this chapter, too.
How to Demonstrate
This factor is more related to the reputation of your organization than your website itself. You don’t necessarily need to display your third-party reviews on your website in order for this to help your organization prove its authority on a topic.
The first step in demonstrating this factor is to acquire third-party reviews. This is no small task, but it’s highly advantageous to any business to carry out an initiative seeking reviews, and not just for E-A-T. These also help expand brand awareness and can provide helpful material for sales teams.
To see how your brand is doing in terms of third-party reviews, go ahead and try the search modifier I used above, but replace my example URL with your own. What do you see?
If you’re now worrying about how to get the ball rolling on getting third-party reviews, we have your back — these articles should help:
Case Study Questions: How to Get Satisfied Customers to Make a Case for Your Brand [Video + Infographic]
Once you have third-party reviews, you can choose to display them on your website if you wish. I wouldn’t guess that it’s important for E-A-T to actually show them off on-site, but it could help the user experience. Various sites have plug-ins that let you prominently display the ratings they gave you, like the way SingleCare shows off its 4.5-star rating on app stores right on its homepage:
3. Detailed About Us Page
91% of Page 1 results.
91% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Even though it’s technically not required to have an About Us page to rank well in SERPs, it’s still highly recommended. The internet is moving in a direction where people expect websites to have one.
What it is: An About Us page is a page or section of a website that explains the website’s purpose. It may also include information about the history of the website, the mission of the organization, the goals of the site, the leadership or governance of the organization and other information.
How common is it for a website to have no About Us page? It’s rare, but it happens: a total of 37 Page 1 results didn’t have one; 5.72% of all results.
In general, not having an About Us page is a poor practice. I suppose some website owners might feel their organization is so well-known or important that they don’t need an About Us page. Perhaps that’s why healthcare.gov and apple.com don’t have one. But even though I know what Apple is and what Healthcare.gov is, an explanation of who they are (the actual people), what their mission is and how they operate would make them seem less faceless and more trustworthy.
What Does Google Say?
I haven’t seen Google specifically say anything like all sites must have an About page. However, here are some clues that make me think that they do actually value About pages:
Page Quality Rating Guidelines
Their guidelines have specific instructions on how to identify About pages in order to determine who is responsible for content on the site. In other words, this is something that raters actively seek out and evaluate. The guidelines directly state that “it should be clear who … is responsible for the website.”
In the chapter detailing how to assign an overall Page Quality Rating to a page, listed among its “Most Important Factors” is “Website Information/information about who is responsible for the MC [main content]: Find information about the website as well as the creator of the MC.”
EU E-Commerce Directive + Google Local Inventory Ads
In a handful of European countries (Switzerland, Austria and Germany), webmasters are legally required to include an About page on their sites, and to include specific information. Because of this, Google requires the About page to be submitted and verified before companies in those regions can run shopping ad campaigns.
Obviously, this doesn’t directly prove that About pages are important for SEO or for E-A-T. But it does highlight a trend in the way internet policy is advancing, and how people’s expectations for what information a website will offer are evolving.
How to Demonstrate
Even though Google hasn’t explicitly stated that an About page is necessary, I’d strongly advise anyone in charge of a website to have an About page, and to make it very detailed and helpful. Include an easy-to-find link to your About page in your main navigation.
4. Wikipedia Mention
89% of Page 1 results.
93% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Wikipedia is probably more important for SEO than many may realize. I think Google trusts Wikipedia quite a bit, and it’s almost always beneficial to have your brand name mentioned somewhere on the site.
What it is: Wikipedia is a free online open-source encyclopedia. Anyone can submit content to Wikipedia for free, though an army of thousands of volunteers work hard to maintain high-quality information on the site.
Two important things to know about Wikipedia:
1. They have very strict standards for what information is acceptable on its pages. Page topics need to be notable and verifiable, and they outline exactly what notability and verifiability entails.
Further, Wikipedia does not support promotional content, and will remove any blatant promotions of a company or service. This is specifically stated in their What Wikipedia is not page. Talk pages provide a place for users to discuss their views on whether certain information or an entire page is appropriate for WIkipedia. Anyone can see these pages. When a page violates one of their standards, users can nominate it for deletion. The page then goes through a discussion process on an Articles for Deletion project page. These pages are also visible to anyone.
2. Every article has a very specific structure. It goes like this:
Title.
Linked table of contents (most of the time).
Body content with superscript numbers that link to the corresponding source in the reference section.
A references section with links to other Wikipedia articles.
A cited sources section with links to either external sources or other Wikipedia articles.
A further reading section with links to related Wikipedia articles or external sources.
An external links section with links to related sources.
An Authority Control section, which helps to differentiate between similarly or identically named topics.
A categories box with links to Wikipedia category pages.
A timestamp for the last time the page was edited.
Finally, a line about Creative Commons and the Wikimedia Foundation trademark.
With all this in mind, there are many situations that may count as a Wikipedia mention. The most common that I came across were:
Pages that talk about the organization or website I’m evaluating. This may be the organization’s actual Wikipedia page, or one that references it.
Pages that discuss related topics and the organization is a cited source.
However, there were situations where I found an organization’s name in a talk page or an Articles for Deletion page. A situation like CardRates.com, which at one point did have a Wikipedia page but was overly promotional and taken down, makes me wonder whether they benefited from having their page, even for a short time. It also raises the question of whether they’re still receiving some sort of SEO benefit by continuing to have their name included in Wikipedia’s content, even though the only page is CardRate.com’s Articles for Deletion discussion.
What Does Google Say?
Here are some direct quotes from the Page Quality Rating Guidelines (emphasis, my own):
“News articles, Wikipedia articles, blog posts, magazine articles, forum discussions, and ratings from independent organizations can all be sources of reputation information.”
“Wikipedia and other informational sources can be a good starting point for reputation research.”
“A note about Wikipedia: in general, the website has a good reputation and is a very popular resource that is generally valued for accuracy. However, there is no single author or organization that vouches for the accuracy of Wikipedia articles, and the quality of pages varies.”
I’ll also point out that the guidelines link out to specific Wikipedia articles on five separate occasions. Those are on identifying and using independent sources , types of error messages (linked to twice), antivirus software and spyware .
Marie Haynes made this observation also, and in her E-A-T guide, dove into the topic of seed sites. Google’s guidelines say nothing about seed sites or seed pages, but a patent they updated in 2018 does . This patent is aimed at trying to develop a system that ranks pages based on the length of the link chain between its set of seed pages to the page in question.
Haynes and I both strongly believe that Wikipedia is one of these seed sites.
How to Demonstrate
While it’s clear to me that Wikipedia mentions are important, I’m not advising you to head straight there and try to establish your own page. The last thing Wikipedia wants is a mad dash by marketers from all walks trying to get their brand name on The Free Encyclopedia.
It’s best to take a subtle approach to this. The goal isn’t necessarily to get your own page (which we’ll talk about next) but to get your name somewhere within the Wikipedia.org domain.
First, determine whether your name is already on Wikipedia using this search modifier:
site:en.wikipedia.org/ “ https://www.brafton.com/ “
Now that you know what you’re working with, check out any articles that mention your name and check out the backlinks you’re getting. These are nofollow backlinks, but remember, the theory is that it’s just the mention that’s important.
Next, you’ll want to create some additional content that’s worthy of a Wikipedia mention. It should be in-depth, informational and not salesy or overly promotional. Here’s a good example from one of our clients: A map of the world displaying the most-translated books from each country.
Once created, you can sit back and hope it happens, or you can try to speed up the process by editing a relevant page with your backlink. But, don’t forget about Wikipedia’s high standards. Do this with extreme caution, or risk your mention being taken down or marked with a note like this:
5. Wikipedia Page
73% of Page 1 results.
82% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: While it’s really hard to get a Wikipedia page (to stay) on Wikipedia, your brand will benefit if you can pull it off. The key caveat is that your brand’s presence on this informational website needs to be justified; it’ll be removed if it’s not.
What it is: Some companies have more than a mention; they have their very own Wikipedia page. There are well over 55 million Wikipedia pages, and just shy of 6.5 million in the English language alone.  These pages are about people, companies, topics, events and more.
For the purposes of this study, I counted a result as having a Wikipedia page if the website in question’s parent company or owner had a Wikipedia page and there was a clear connection between the parent company and the site. For example, NOAA maintains the educational website, SciJinks.gov. SciJinks itself doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, but NOAA does. The SciJinks website clearly demonstrates that it’s an NOAA site. As such, I marked this result as having a Wikipedia page.
What Does Google Say?
There’s nothing I encountered that makes me believe that a Wikipedia page is more valuable than a Wikipedia mention. This is underscored by the fact that it landed lower on my list than the mention.
How to Demonstrate
Not every company deserves its own Wikipedia page. The nonprofit is pretty direct that “Wikipedia is not a soapbox or means of promotion” and has guidance on how to handle “Advertisements masquerading as articles.”
As such, your brand may not be a good candidate for its very own Wikipedia page. If that’s the case, don’t stress. If your brand is owned or managed by a larger company that does have a presence on Wikipedia, consider taking a page from SciJinks’ book and display that branding somewhere on your website.
Besides, even highly reputable organizations don’t pass the Wikipedia page test with flying colors. NOAA’s features this cautionary banner right on top:
6. Reputable Partners
73% of Page 1 results.
78% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: It looks good when you work with other companies, and it looks even better when you can demonstrate your strong partnerships on your site.
What it is: I was looking for organizations external to the one I’m evaluating that clearly demonstrate that they’re in support of the entity in question, and for that relationship to be demonstrated on-site.
I view this as another type of third-party review, but instead of individuals posting about it anywhere they please, it’s an established organization making a decision (usually a business-related one) to work with or support another organization. It’s more than a vote of confidence; it’s an acknowledgement of competence, capability and often, compassion for their community.
To find this information, I scoured the websites I was evaluating until I found it, or didn’t. Some of the most common places I found it was:
News sections: Articles and press releases announcing partnerships or outcomes.
About Us pages: Explanations of the relationships between those organizations.
Awards sections: Accolades from recognized organizations highlighted on-site through badges, links to award announcements, press releases, etc.
Homepages: Links to press releases or articles demonstrating the relationship between organizations, and/or award badge displays.
I didn’t count paid partnerships (e.g. sponsored links) or any relationships that were not detailed on the site in some way (this is rare; most companies want to brag about high-value partnerships). I also didn’t count relationships between parent and child companies (like Aetna and CVS), though I did count when an organization is created by a larger one as a service or subsidiary. Many US government agencies were counted like this.
What Does Google Say?
There’s no mention in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines regarding seeking out sponsorships, business or philanthropic relationships, or affiliations with reputable organizations. Neither Haynes’s article nor Ray’s presentation do, either.
Here’s an important thing that is mentioned a lot in the guidelines: Responsibility for the website content. And in Ray’s presentation: Transparency with your users.
Many companies have affiliations or sponsors originating from external entities. Grants, partnerships, awards and other forms of recognition are common. If you have these kinds of relationships, the transparent thing to do is say so on your website. And, if those relationships support the existence or maintenance of your website or organization in any way, they are effectively one party responsible for the site content.
How to Demonstrate
If your brand works with or is supported by another in any capacity, it’s a good idea to demonstrate that on your website. Where on your site is somewhat dependent on the nature of your relationship. If your relationship to that external organization is imperative to your brand’s existence or work, it should probably be in the About Us section of your site. If you’re working together on a specific project, then a press release, article or project page would be a good place to describe your relationship.
Here are a few ways websites display their reputable partners:
Reputable partner: National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine and others
Evidence: Explanation in the About section of the site & top logo banner
Location: Several pages & locations throughout the site 
7. BBB Rating
70% of Page 1 results.
74% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Having a presence at all on BBB’s website is more important than having a high grade. If your business is located in the US or Canada, you should consider filling out a profile on BBB’s website.
What it is: The Better Business Bureau is a private, non-profit organization that seeks to “advance marketplace trust.” It does so in two ways:
Business listings: It’s free for a business to be listed. To do so, information about the business can be submitted for a review. Based on this information, the BBB may assign a letter grade between A+ and F, or an NR, which stands for “not rated” and is typically the result of not enough information or an ongoing review. Grades are determined by evaluating a variety of factors that are detailed on the BBB website.
Accreditation: Businesses that meet the BBB’s accreditation standards may also pay a fee to be accredited. With this, businesses can display the BBB’s accreditation badge on their website and in marketing materials. Plus, they can gain access to exclusive business tools offered through the BBB.
There are different but similar standards for charities , which the BBB outlines on its sister site, Give.org. For these, organizations can earn “Meets Standards,” “Standards Not Met” and “Unable to Verify.” Like those listed on the BBB website, organizations on Give.org can also be listed, accredited, or both.
For this study, I only took note of the letter grade, not their accreditation status. Additionally, I first wanted to look at whether these sites were listed at all on the BBB’s website. The way I see it, even if a business has a really low grade or an NR rating, at least they made the effort to be listed (though it’s true that anyone can create a listing for a business, not just the owner).
After looking at the high number of results that did have a BBB page, I wonder if the BBB is considered in any way a seed site. The biggest argument against this theory is that the BBB only applies to companies in the U.S. and Canada.
The data seems to show that being listed in some capacity on the BBB’s website is important.
Now, let’s see if the letter grade matters. Here’s the distribution of grades among all the results I analyzed that had BBB listings.
BBB Grades Across Page 1 Results
196 results had no BBB listing at all. Among those that had one, the most common letter grade on Page 1 (29%) is A+. The next-most common, at 14.5%,  is NR.
Now let’s look at the distribution of grades among Top 3 results that had BBB listings.
BBB Ratings Across Top 3 Results
Again, the most common letter grade, at 29.5% of top 3 results, is A+. And, again, the next-most common (30%) is NR. Oddly enough, after that, C- takes the greatest percentage of Top 3 results (it’s only 7.1%, but still).
Visually, it looks like the actual letter grade won’t make a difference, or at least not as much as just being listed.
What Does Google Say?
Officially, Google has said (several times) BBB rating is not a ranking factor.
No, we don’t use BBB ratings as a ranking factor.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) February 20, 2020
Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable pointed out that taking BBB ratings (or any third-party scoring system) into account in their algorithms wouldn’t be in Google’s best interest.
These periodic reassurances haven’t completely quashed the notion that BBB ratings are important for Google rankings. Interestingly enough, Haynes’ article plainly shows that the BBB was, once upon a time, specifically mentioned in the reputation research chapter.
Via Marie Haynes Consulting .
Today, the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines have only one mention of the BBB, and it’s just a small note in an example of a low-quality page with likely insincerely placed badges (“There are also official looking logos at the bottom of the homepage, including the Better Business Bureau logo and Google Checkout logo, that don’t appear to be affiliated with the website”, the guide advises; highlighting, my own.)
Finally, let’s recall that the guidelines encourage raters to seek out reviews of the company when researching their reputation. The BBB does offer users the opportunity to submit reviews and complaints of businesses, which means having a BBB page gives your company more opportunities to get those third-party reviews — and to resolve customer complaints, which can also benefit your reputation.
How to Demonstrate
First, I’ll reiterate that it doesn’t appear that showing your BBB rating or accreditation status on your website will actually do anything for your rankings. Neither will having a high grade versus a low or no grade.
All that said, having a BBB listing can still be beneficial to your business. The first thing you should do is find out if you’re already listed, and what information is already posted.
If you decide to pursue accreditation, you may want to add the badge to your website. It (probably) won’t affect your rankings, but it will demonstrate to site visitors that your brand is trustworthy.
8. Original Research
64% of Page 1 results.
70% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Google likes to see original content, and original research is the crème de la crème.
What it is: Original research is information that a company sources, analyzes and publishes themselves. This data can come from a variety of sources, including:
Surveys.
Website or organization data.
Grant or funding information.
To find original research, I combed through various sections of each website, including but not limited to blog sections, news sections and About Us pages.
What Does Google Say?
To quote the Search Evaluator Guidelines, “Prestigious awards or a history of high quality original reporting are strong evidence of positive reputation.”
But where Google gets really strict about original content is in its advertising guidelines.
To serve Google ads on a website, that site needs to provide “ unique and relevant content, ” and “ thin content ” (that providing little to no original value) is a violation of the company’s Webmaster Guidelines. Further, Google strongly advises advertisers to avoid “ insufficient original content ” in their destination pages chosen for ads.
How to Demonstrate
Taking on original research to improve your website’s performance can sound like an enormous, daunting task. It doesn’t have to be. Let’s look again at some of the most common types of original research I came across, and how you can emulate them for your own brand:
Surveys: These can be big or small, specific or broad. If you already have an audience (e.g. Twitter followers, newsletter subscribers or an engaged blog readership), you’re all set to start. Use polls to learn more about their interests and opinions. Take a page from Search Engine Roundtable’s book, and post a one-question Twitter poll , then write about the answers. Or, take a page from ours, and send out a Survey Monkey questionnaire to your newsletter subscribers , then write about those insights.
Annual reports: Some organizations are required to publish annual reports, like non-profit organizations, government agencies and publicly traded companies. These typically detail out information about the company’s financials, marketing and promotional activities, visions for the future, community outreach impact and more. Pulling together these reports is a big task, but the result can be a great asset for your company, even if you’re not required by law to create and publish one every year.
Original product reviews: We’ve already established that having third-party reviews can benefit your business. Now, think about it another way: People like to read about products before they buy them. Use your expertise and knowledge to provide helpful information about the types of products your audience would be interested in.
This is easier for some brands than others. An organization like 9to5Mac, which is known for having reputable advice about Mac products, may receive products for free to review. It’s in Apple’s interest to provide a free iPhone, for example, to 9to5Mac, in order to have a third-party review written about the product on a website that Apple’s audience likely already trusts. This gives 9to5Mac the opportunity to publish original content about that product, with little to no effort into topic ideation.
That’s not an option for many companies. No one is sending Brafton free products to review, for instance. But that hasn’t stopped us from producing original content about specific products that our audience is interested in — like our review of KWFinder , or our comparison of Content Marketing Platforms (including our own).
Website or organization data: Believe it or not, you already have loads of original information within reach. Look at this interactive dashboard-style subdomain for USA.gov ; it shows website trends for 27 governmental websites. It’s just raw data, but it’s all unique to those organizations. Using APIs like this is one way to add information to your site that’s specific to your organization.
Or, consider this analysis of newsroom demographics at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, a Gannett newspaper reporting out of Lubbock, Texas. Among the handful of Gannett websites that I evaluated, they all had one of these. Why not build a similar report highlighting your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion?
Grant or funding information: If you receive or give grants or funding resources, talk about it. If you’re receiving grants, your grantor would likely love to see information about how you’re applying the funds. You’ll probably include this in your annual report, but why wait until year-end to highlight your progress?
If you’re on the other side of the coin, and you provide funding opportunities, explain what those are and highlight the recipients of your funds. These are great public relations opportunities, but also good chances to publish stories that can only be told by your brand.
9. ‘Page Updated’ Language
63% of Page 1 results.
64% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Newer content performs better, but for evergreen topics, you can most likely get away with updating the content once every few years. 
What it is: Any mention of when the content was written, published or updated. The most common way to do this is just a date line at the top or bottom of a page. Adding contextual details such as “as of 2020” is another way to add this information.
What Does Google Say?
Google likes their results like they like their cookies — fresh. Really: “Search results, like warm cookies right out of the oven or cool refreshing fruit on a hot summer’s day, are best when they’re fresh,” says a 2011 blog post announcing what many SEOs refer to as the Freshness Update.
Google has put a lot of consideration into the importance of fresh content over the years. Google News was born in the aftermath of 9/11, when Google’s engineers realized that, in the wake of such an impactful event, timely content was critical but difficult to find at the time. More than a decade later, Google News continues to prioritize freshness as well as relevancy and context in News results.
The introduction of Featured Snippets brought another round of consideration into the importance of freshness. It matters for some queries, like when you need to know the score of the big game right now. You definitely don’t want to see last year’s results.
Other queries don’t change over time, like “why is the sky blue.” Still, half of the Page 1 results for that query denote either the publish or updated date. Notably, the oldest page date that I found in this study was from this query — it’s here and it’s from 1997.
Finally, when it comes to Google’s opinion on changing the publish date alone, they advise to only do so if the change actually warrants it . If you didn’t make a significant change, there’s probably no need to change the publish date.
So, in summary, Google values fresh content. But it also understands the concept of evergreen content. Additionally, it won’t reward you for simply putting a recent date on the top of your page.
How to Demonstrate
Post the date content was originally published, and consider adding a date for when it was updated, too. It can go at the top or the bottom of the page. On some governmental websites, there’s a note about when the next date of review is scheduled to be, like this page on the UK’s NHS website :
The important thing about dating your content for SEO is that it’s not just another line of text. The date needs to be recorded in your CMS (content management system) so it’s included in the metadata that Google crawlers read.
10. Spam Score is Better Than 3%
56% of Page 1 results.
57% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Regardless of Moz’s scale of what it considers “low,” you should check out what’s going on if your score is above 3% because that’s rare. A high spam score won’t cause you to rank lower; it’s an indication that something else may be.
What it is: Spam Score is a proprietary Moz metric on a scale of 1% to 100% (with 100% being really bad and 1% meaning your site is not spammy). You can find it in the MozBar browser extension. It’s Moz’s attempt at understanding which factors Google considers spammy enough to ban a site from search results. Moz bases the score on 27 factors . The percentage denotes the percentage of sites with similar features that have been penalized or banned by Google.
Moz considers any score below 30% to be low; 31%-60% to be medium; and anything above that to be high.
In this study, I noticed that most of the sites were quite low on this scale. Just over half had scores of no more than 2%. The most common was 1%, with 44% of results with this score, and the next-most common was 2%, representing 12% of results. The highest score I saw was 67%.
Do Top 3 results have lower Spam Scores?
Again, 1% was the most common Spam Score. Only a handful had scores lower than 11%, and the worst score in the Top 3 results was 34%.
What Does Google Say?
Google doesn’t use the Moz Spam Score in any way:
The Moz spam score doesn’t affect your backlinks. It’s also not used by Google.
For more information on what it is, I’d recommend their documentation.
— ???? johnmu (personal), logically ???? (@JohnMu) August 11, 2020
Similar to their view on BBB ratings, it’d generally be a risky decision for Google to base any part of its algorithm on third-party tools or scales.
How to Demonstrate
Spam Score isn’t something you’d demonstrate on your website. The only way to determine your Spam Score is to use Moz’s tools. Luckily, the browser extension and a basic account are both free. To improve your score, review the 27 factors that Moz outlines on its website and make changes based on those.
11. Domain Authority is Greater Than 75
54% of Page 1 results.
68% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: While DAs high and low were found on Page 1, we see clear breakpoints that show DAs of greater than 75, then 90, are most common in SERPs. A higher DA doesn’t lead to higher rankings; it’s an indicator that your site has certain qualities that will aid in SEO performance.
What it is: Domain Authority, like Spam Score, is a proprietary metric developed by Moz and can easily be found using the MozBar Chrome extension. It’s a number between 0 and 100 that attempts to predict how likely your website is to show up in search results for relevant queries. The higher your DA, the more likely you’ll rank well in search.
DA is based on a number of factors, including your backlink profile and your current performance in search results. It’s a relative score, which means you shouldn’t be striving for a specific number, just one that’s higher than your competitors’.
In this study, more than half of Page 1 results had DAs of greater than 75. Here’s the breakdown of all DAs on Page 1:
One in four results on Page 1 have a DA of greater than 90. Let’s look at the Top 3 results:
Here, we see an even greater percentage of results with a DA of greater than 90, but we also see an uptick in DAs between 71 and 80.
What Does Google Say?
DA is not a Google ranking factor. Like BBB ratings and Spam Score, it just wouldn’t behoove Google to incorporate third-party data into its algorithms.
Instead, DA is Moz’s attempt at understanding Google’s algorithms better. There are similar scores you can find in Ahrefs, Semrush and other SEO and keyword research tools.
How to Demonstrate
A higher DA won’t earn you higher rankings. Instead, a higher DA indicates that your site will likely do well in relevant searches. If you’re setting SEO related goals, DA should be one metric that you track over time. Making changes to your site, such as building out a healthy backlink portfolio and publishing in-depth, helpful content on subjects related to your area of expertise, are smart ways to increase your DA.
12. Backlinks Are Greater Than 250
53% of Page 1 results.
68% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Backlinks are really important for getting onto Page 1, and having a strong backlink profile will seriously benefit you in getting into the Top 3.
What it is: A backlink is when a website other than yours links to one of your pages. A healthy backlink profile is one that has a lot of backlinks from high-quality (not spammy) websites. You can review your backlink profile using just about any keyword research tool. For this study, I used the MozBar Chrome extension.
It’s fairly well known across the SEO community that backlinks are an important ranking factor. The average number of backlinks across the 647 results I analyzed was 32,572, but among the Top 3 results, the average number was 88,581. This difference highlights the importance of backlinks for SEO.
That said, I was surprised to see the prevalence of pages with fewer than 100 backlinks:
It’s entirely possible to rank on Page 1 without having backlinks. Among the results I looked at, 28 had no backlinks at all, and 83 had 10 or fewer.
When we look at the Top 3 results, though, we can see how important it is to build a healthy profile:
A page that has more than 100 backlinks is much more likely to rank highly on Page 1 than a page of similar quality that has fewer than that.
What Does Google Say?
Google says links matter. You’ve heard of PageRank, right? It was developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Stanford University as part of a research project in 1996.
PageRank predates Google by 2 years.
Google’s initial algorithm was PageRank, which is why so many SEOs place so much importance on it. Today, PageRank is one of many hundreds of factors that go into determining the makeup of any SERP. Still, PageRank is a key component of Google’s algorithm, even today.
DYK that after 18 years we’re still using PageRank (and 100s of other signals) in ranking?
Wanna know how it works? https://t.co/CfOlxGauGF pic.twitter.com/3YJeNbXLml
— Gary 鯨理/경리 Illyes (@methode) February 9, 2017
How to Demonstrate
Building a backlink portfolio that’ll give you a boost in search rankings is hard work and it takes time. Here are 6 strategies that can jumpstart your link-building operation:
13. Referring Domains Are Greater Than 75
52% of Page 1 results.
68% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Having a backlink profile is important to getting on Page 1, but to get into the Top 3, a diverse profile will serve you best. Try to build out a strong backlink portfolio for your most important pages. Remember that natural link building efforts aren’t likely to result in more than 1-3 links per referring domain.
What it is: A referring domain is a website that has one or more pages linking back to your domain. It’s often measured alongside backlinks, but where a backlink refers to the actual link, the referring domain refers to the website on which that link is placed.
One domain can link to another domain a million times. That’d be a million backlinks, but just 1 referring domain.
I measured these using the MozBar Chrome extension, and found the average count of referring domains for a Page 1 result to be 752. The average among Top 3 results: 1,594 referring domains.
What Does Google Say?
We already know that Google values backlinks, but what about referring domains?
PageRank works by assigning values to links. Some links have higher value than others, and what’s considered a more “valuable” link depends on a number of factors, including:
The quality of the referring domain.
The anchor text.
Likelihood to be clicked.
Link attributes, like nofollow.
In essence, Google doesn’t view all backlinks as equally valuable. Which means that, yes, Google says referring domains matter, too.
Reviewing the quality of your backlink profile helps you understand the quality of your website through Google’s eyes. Considering the number of referring domains relative to the number of backlinks is a good place to start.
If you have lots of backlinks, but just 1 or 2 referring domains, they may not be of the highest quality. Conversely, if you have a handful of backlinks but they’re all from different, high-quality websites, you’re in a much better position.
Among Page 1 results overall, most websites (nearly 30%) have 25 referring domains or fewer.
Homing in on our Top 3 results, we can see that a higher number of referring domains is even more common, indicating that a more diverse portfolio could be beneficial for SEO:
Breaking out our results by backlink profile size, we can see that the ratio of backlinks to referring domains increases quite a bit as the backlink portfolio grows. When there are fewer backlinks, it’s more common to have a small number of backlinks per referring domain.
This pattern is even more pronounced among Top 3 results. For these pages, the number of backlinks per referring domain is higher, again pointing to the benefits of a more diverse backlink portfolio.
My theory for what’s happening here is that pages with a lower number of backlinks are reflective of deliberate link-building efforts. Traditional tactics like outreach and collaboration tend to be slow going. Getting 1 or 2 backlinks per referring domain is a realistic goal; striving for the ratios we see toward the middle and end of this chart — 14 to 84 — would be much more difficult, and I believe less likely the result of a meticulous link building program.
How to Demonstrate
If you’re just getting into the link-building game, a good place to start is with an evaluation of your current backlink profile with a focus on your referring domains. If the quality of your referring domains isn’t all that great, disavowing some of your more toxic links could be worthwhile.
14. Dated Year is Newer Than 2019
48% of Page 1 results.
50% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Newer is better when you’re working with non-evergreen content. If your content is timely enough to be dated, keep it as current as possible.
What it is: How many of the results I analyzed had a published or updated date from 2020, 2021 or 2022?
Just over half, including those that had no date at all.
What happens when we filter out those pages that had no date? It becomes even more clear that freshness matters. An important point of note here: I collected the data for this study between April 2021 and February 2022. More than half of the results that had dates were dated to either 2021 or 2022.
Among those results in the Top 3, we again see that the current (or just-passed) year seems to be favored over older results.
What Does Google Say?
Google says freshness matters … sometimes. As noted above (when discussing whether the page had a date at all), the Freshness update in 2011 was “designed to better understand how to differentiate between these kinds of searches and the level of freshness you need.”
For some queries, freshness matters a lot. For others, it hardly matters at all.
How to Demonstrate
Adding dates to some of your content makes sense, especially in a section like a blog or news section. If you release timely articles, dates make sense there, too.
For other site content, dates won’t make a difference. Your landing pages that explain your services, for example, probably don’t need the published date.
What about your old content that is dated, like the blog posts you published 2 years ago?
Changing the date alone doesn’t make them fresh. However, if you decide to add or update content to the page, thus making it more valuable and timely, changing the date is an honest reflection of that effort, and it may be helpful in getting re-optimized content to rank better.
One more point: You could always take a page out of Forbes’ book and make a note of when your content is starting to age a bit — just to add context, if you wish:
15. Author Name is Listed
46% of Page 1 results.
43% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Not every page needs an author. But if you’re publishing in-depth content or information that’s timely or very important to your company, including an author name could be a smart idea.
What it is: Any sort of attribution line for the content on the page. It could be the name of an individual or an organization.
Out of the 647 results I analyzed, 298 named an author. Later on in this study when looking at author-related factors, I’ll refer back to this Author Set.
What Does Google Say?
Chapter 2.5.2 of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines is called “Finding Who is Responsible for the Website and Who Created the Content on the Page” — so, yes. Google likes when an author’s name is listed.
Of course, Google also acknowledges that some websites aren’t the responsibility of a single person. Brafton’s website, for example, is the responsibility of Brafton; we’re a group of people. Our blog articles highlight the author, but our product and services pages, our About Us page and others are authored “by Brafton.” The organization as a whole is responsible for page content, but it’s not necessary to provide an attribution line for those areas of the website.
These types of situations are likely the reason we see fewer than half of Page 1 results having an author attribution. 
When it makes sense to include an author attribution line, you should. Here are some examples of when it makes sense:
Original content written by a person. Give them credit for their work (writing is hard).
Press releases should always include a media contact, even if you’re publishing them on-site (rather than or in addition to submitting them to the newswire).
Company announcements that are more powerful coming from your CEO (or someone else who has clout but needs a ghostwriter).
How to Demonstrate
Easy: Just put their name up there! There are lots of ways to format an author attribution line. Later, we’ll look at other elements such as links to their personal work and author bios. Until then, here are a few ideas on what to include in an author attribution:
Full name of the original author.
Job title or expertise, if applicable.
Headshot or profile photo.
Full name of the editor, fact-checker or contributing author.
16. Cited Sources and Links
44% of Page 1 results.
39% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Linking is a good practice. It shows that your content is trustworthy, it provides helpful information for your readers and it seems like Google likes it, too.
What it is: Are there sources cited for where the information in the content came from? If so, are there also links to the source?
Some marketers will argue that linking to your sources shows that you spent time researching the topic and consuming relevant information from leading experts on the topic. It also shows that you’re not just trying to get people on-site, but trying to actually help them answer the questions they set out to answer.
In this study, we found that cited sources and links are the most common attribution method (the other options, which were far less common and not correlated with performance, were links without cited sources, cited sources without links, or neither).
What Does Google Say?
We already know Google likes links. Links put the “inter” in “internet.” But what does Google say about the outbound links you choose to add to your content?
The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines have loads of information on bad outbound links that signify low-quality content. Spammy or malicious links may indicate that a webpage is untrustworthy, meaning it should be less likely to show up in SERPs.
On the other hand, good links are viewed more positively. Google even shared several examples of medium-quality content in its guidelines, and noted when reference links could have helped:
Outside of the guidelines, John Mueller of Google has mentioned that “Linking to other websites is a great way to provide value to your users.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re valuable in the SEO sense. Just that people may appreciate the links.
Mueller has also said matter-of-factly:
No
— ???? johnmu (personal), logically ???? (@JohnMu) December 29, 2019
Ultimately, you should be citing your sources and linking to them because it’s just good practice. It gives credit to the work others have done before you, and adds credibility to your own work. Further, it provides your readers with more resources to continue their research elsewhere.
How to Demonstrate
Start by using basic hyperlinks in your content, the same way I’ve linked to some additional resources throughout this article.
Some organizations choose to list their references at the bottom of a page so as to not distract the reader with extraneous links. Superscript numbers corresponding to a footnotes section can work as well.
Here’s a neat way I saw some sites linking to their most credible sources:
This gives additional details about the source without interrupting the reader’s flow.
17. Editorial Standards
43% of Page 1 results.
49% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: There’s no clear evidence that having editorial standards published on your site will improve your SEO performance. However, having editorial standards seems to be a positive thing. Drafting and publishing editorial standards is an exercise that promotes a strong content creation program, which leads to better content results.
What it is: Some organizations publish the standards to which they adhere when producing or publishing content. These are often news organizations or those that publish highly sensitive material like medical information, but aren’t limited to these types of sites.
For this study, I was looking for any information about factual integrity, editorial standards, fact-checking policies or things along those lines. I did not include linking policies, advertising policies or the standard “authors’ opinions are their own and may not reflect the values of our organization” type of disclaimer that you’ll see at the bottom of contributing author articles.
 Here are some examples of published editorial standards that I came across and counted:
Correction policies that show that the organization strives for factual content.
Community guidelines that address content publishing do’s and don’ts, including social networks’.
Corporate governance documentation that covers media or communication.
Information Quality Guidelines.
Content criteria for informational pages.
“How We Maintain Editorial Independence” explanations — I saw this on several types of sites.
Pitch guidelines that reflect editorial standards (that go beyond the basic “send pitches to xyz person with the subject line “article pitch abc”).
What Does Google Say?
The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines point out that “High E-A-T news articles should be produced with journalistic professionalism—they should contain factually accurate content presented in a way that helps users achieve a better understanding of events. High E-A-T news sources typically have published established editorial policies and robust review processes.” (Bolding, my own).
… But that’s all. I haven’t seen anything explicitly indicating that simply having published editorial standards on your website will help you improve content ranking.
However, consider this: Having editorial standards means your writers have a central resource to return to when drafting content. This will help ensure your site content is consistent in terms of voice, tone, messaging, and most importantly, factuality and quality.
How to Demonstrate
The first step is to draft up editorial standards, if your brand doesn’t have them already. If you have a similar set of policies that are used internally, that’s a good place to begin. Review what’s been written, determine whether any updates or changes need to be made, and publish it on your site.
Where do editorial standards belong on your site? There are a few different places they may fit:
A section on your About Us page that discusses how you populate, review or update the information on your site. Example: MedLinePlus .
A section on your blog that provides information for contributing writers. Example: WIRED .
A short paragraph or two following your articles that describe your requirements for publication. Here are a few examples of quick but effective methods of showing editorial standards:
18. Pop-ups On Page
42% of Page 1 results.
43% of Top 3 results.
My takeaway: Reasonable pop-ups are OK. Don’t distract your reader with a bunch of things they didn’t ask for or expect to find. Be courteous and let them enjoy your website in peace.
What it is: There are tons of pop-up types: Ads, cookies notifications, newsletter sign-ups, UX feedback requests and more. For this part of the study, I counted any type of window that I had to close to view the content on any part of the page, even the footer.
Some pop-ups are legally obligated notifications, like cookie consent banners. I counted these as pop-ups in my study; regardless of why a pop-up window is present or what its intentions are, the fact remains that the user needs to interact with that first before getting to the content they’re after.
Cookie pop-ups are just about tied for the most common alongside newsletter subscription CTAs. Chat windows were also fairly common, although most did not automatically deploy a message. Among some of the things I saw in “other” types were:
A WebMD quiz that appeared on numerous health-related sites.
Coupons or discount offers.
CTAs for creating an account of some sort, eg. for Nerdwallet and Facebook.
Looking at just the Top 3 results, pop-up type leans much more heavily toward subscription CTAs. An observation: many of the subscription-type pop-ups deployed after I’d been on the site for a little while (about 30 seconds) or after I’d scrolled a good amount of the way through the page. Some only come up after I reach the bottom of the page, and others only after I scroll all the way back to the top.
This is the first “negative” factor we’re coming across in this study now. I included it not to see whether having pop-ups is helpful, but rather whether having them was a detriment.
What Does Google Say?
Google is a little more discerning than I was for this study because Google knows that some pop-ups cover regulatory compliance, and that some pop-ups are more annoying than others.
Google thinks that a single pop-up ad that’s easy to close is “not terribly distracting, though may not be a great user experience.” It also says that “The Low rating should be used if the page has Ads, SC [secondary content], or other features that interrupt or distract from using the MC [main content].”
This diverges a bit from what the same guidelines said about on-page ads — which, if we’ll remember, shouldn’t inherently qualify a page as high or low quality. However, the guidelines further specify certain ad behaviors and configurations that are not OK with Google:
“Here are some examples of pages with deliberately obstructed or obscured MC that should be rated Lowest:
Ads that continue to cover the MC as the website visitor scrolls down the page. The Ads are virtually impossible to close without clicking on the Ad
Pop-ups that obscure the MC and cannot be closed without taking an action that benefits the website
An interstitial page that attempts to coerce a download or click that does not benefit the website visitor
Ads that push the MC down so far that many users would not notice the MC
MC in white-on-white text or MC presented so that it is difficult for a human being to read”
Pop-up ads are specifically named here, as well as some other configurations that I’d have counted as pop-ups for this study, like an interstitial page that a user needs to go through to access the main content of a page.
While it’s becoming clearer that Google prefers pages without disruptive ads (even though they’re OK with ads being present in general), we also know that Google places great importance on complying with regulatory requirements that are applicable to a website owner’s region.
That’s right: I’m talking about GDPR here.
Google announced in 2017, before GDPR was even officially implemented, that they would be committed to compliance with the new regulations (which doesn’t mean they’ve handled GDPR perfectly ). There’s a lot to GDPR (and you can and should read all about it here if you collect data about people living in Europe) but here, we’re just going to look at how it pertains to data processing facilitated through your site.
“Data processing” deserves a definition. Processing data can mean collecting it, storing it, analyzing it and more. So, you don’t really have to be doing anything advanced or fancy with your user data before you’re required to comply with GDPR.
To be GDPR compliant — to process data legally — you need to have a legal justification, which can be one of 6 justifications. The first one listed is likely the one you’d choose: “the data subject has given consent to the processing of his or her personal data for one or more specific purposes.”
Now, this implies that the user has already given consent. If you interpreted it like that, you’d be correct: You can’t collect data until after you’ve received consent from the user. In case you’re wondering: scrolling or navigating the site does not count as consent.
GDPR defines “consent” very specifically. To be compliant, you need to meet the conditions for consent . This means consent must be:
Freely given: You can’t coerce users into agreeing to cookies; they need to be able to say no. Pre-ticked boxes violate this.
Specific: You have to say exactly how you’ll use the information. If you’ll use it in more than one way, you have to explain all of them.
Informed: You need to make it clear 1. Who you are; 2. What processing activities you intend to do; 3. The purpose o

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