Ask a news SEO: Lily Ray on E.E.A.T, topical authority and AI's place in search
This week: Lily Ray on E.E.A.T, topical authority, making authorship part of your search strategy and the future of AI content generation tools for SEO.
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Hello and welcome back. It’s Jessie and Shelby, back from pretty great weekends. The gym, top-tier vegan pastries, football, craft beer, therapy, collaging, dog sitting. Pretty much the dictionary definition of a perfect weekend.
This week, we were joined by the one, the only: Lily Ray. We were beyond thrilled to chat E.E.A.T, topical authority and AI content generation tools for SEO.
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What do publishers need to know about E.E.A.T and topical authority?
Lily Ray: Google has been focused on E.A.T (expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness) for about six or seven years, but they added the new E for experience within the last several months, making it E.E.A.T.
Anybody who was paying attention to Google's product review updates won't be too surprised to see experience added as one of their criteria because in a lot of situations, it’s a better experience for searchers if the author demonstrates first-hand experience. If you're a travel blogger, for example, we want to see evidence that you've actually been to the places you’re writing about.
Publishers should know that Google is becoming very focused on understanding who is behind the content, particularly for YMYL (your money, your life) content. To the extent that the content can cause harm to the user's life, Google wants to know about the reputation of the creator – whether that's the brand, the content creators, the editor or fact-checker.
If you're in the business of providing information on topics that can have an impact on people's lives or well-being, it's very important to add trust signals throughout your site.
Who is writing the content? Why can your publication be trusted? When was the content published? What is your editorial policy? What sources are you citing throughout the content?
Those are questions that are increasingly important. Not only for SEO, but also Google Discover and Google News, where you can actually get a manual action, a penalty from Google, if you don't have a lot of those signals displayed.
This is the direction that Google has been going and they're enhancing the meaning of E.E.A.T every year.
Tell a friend: Here’s why E.E.A.T. and topical authority matter for news publishers.
For the author authority of staff, beat reporters and freelancers: How can you communicate the authority of those people?
Lily Ray: Start with the Google Search quality guidelines. They provide a lot of details about researching authors and their reputation, and the places search quality raters should look to find that information.
The most important thing is conveying as much transparency as you can. In some situations, authors don't like to be named for safety reasons, and Google's quality guidelines actually say that’s okay. You just want to be clear about that.
To the extent that you can make authorship part of your strategy, I would.
Have individual author pages for all contributors including freelancers – even if the freelancers write for different publications. It’s a good thing for users when you Google an author’s name and see that they write for a variety of different places. If the content is all within a similar niche, it can lend itself to the writer’s credibility.
Google is even displaying Article carousels for certain authors now, which display the various publications they’ve recently contributed to. I believe this is a good example of how E.E.A.T can manifest itself directly in the search results.
How does E.E.A.T or topical authority change for large vs. small vs. niche vs. general sites?
Lily Ray: I think it depends more on the nature of the content itself.
If you're covering things that are consequential to people's lives, you need to demonstrate extensive E.E.A.T. Google also expects bigger, more well-known publications to have a bigger footprint in terms of being able to research authors and their experience.
But it’s okay for publications and authors to focus on one niche area where they demonstrate expertise and authority. As an example, if you write about public schools in Brooklyn and you have credibility and authority on that topic – stick to that content. Know your actual credentials and make sure that you are writing within an area that you have credibility, and generally, Google will reward you with visibility on those topics.
A lot of sites have shortcomings because, even if they do have E.E.A.T, they haven't sufficiently revealed that information on their sites before. Authors are often happy to talk about their credentials, such as where they went to school and why they're interested in a topic. Since E.E.A.T is becoming more and more competitive in the SEO space, the author bio needs to be more robust than ever.
The sites that are doing the best are going above and beyond to demonstrate why they and their authors can be trusted. Focus on experience: anything that lends credibility to what you're writing about is helpful.
The best example of an author bio page I’ve found is the Diet Doctor (Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, MD). The page includes all his conference talks, books, places he mentioned, his philosophy, and academic credentials. And it’s updated and added to over time. Think of the author page as a living and breathing biography page.
What's nice about an expanded author page strategy is that the author bio page, especially for a big publication, will likely rank very well for the author’s name. When authors start to realize it’s somewhat of a personal branding strategy, they’re usually agreeable to adding more content to those pages.
How should newsrooms roll out expanded author pages?
Lily Ray: The good SEO answer is to start by focusing on authors that write about Your Money or Your Life topics. To the extent that author pages really matter, it matters even more if the topic is YMYL. Google doesn’t need to research the reputation of somebody that's sharing photographs of puppies; that’s a hobby and won’t cause harm to anyone’s life. But if you are providing financial or legal advice, you need to have a big profile that instills trust in the user.
You bring up Google Guidelines and algorithms quite often. How much do you reference them when you work with publishers?
Lily Ray: Lately, more often than ever, because they build a fundamental understanding of how SEO works on Google. Turns out: Answers to a lot of common SEO questions are directly there in the guidelines.
Granted, the guidelines are not a direct reflection of how Google creates its algorithms; they’re an indication of where Google wants its algorithms to go. But if we know the rubric that Google is using to score high and low quality content – and humans are using that rubric thousands of times throughout the year to check the quality of Google's results – it’s helpful to think about this criteria when evaluating your SEO strategy.
As an example, I've been answering a lot of questions lately about AI. Google doesn’t talk directly about AI in the guidelines, but they do say that if you mass auto-generate content for SEO without human oversight and without any effort – that deserves the lowest quality rating.
That lowest quality rating is shared with the most egregious examples of content that deceives users, like spam and hacked content. While Google doesn’t say these exact words, if you read between the lines, using an AI content generation tool like ChatGPT to mass generate content without reviewing it for accuracy, could be interpreted as the “lowest quality” content (if the rater can identify that’s how the content was created).
The reason why I'm so focused on that document is because it has answers to most of the common questions about what good SEO content looks like.
We don't see the manifestation of what’s in the guidelines until the future algorithm updates, but what we do know is that Google just made some significant changes to the quality guidelines, and future algorithm updates are going to reflect that.
If you use the search quality guidelines as the rubric to focus your SEO strategy, you tend to do very well over time.
What are the best ways to keep up with those changes in visibility and changes in ranking?
Lily Ray: It's really hard for news sites to get a decent understanding of how visible their sites are across Google’s news surfaces. Even (an SEO visibility tool like) SISTRIX has shortcomings when it comes to reporting on visibility across different SERP features. There are places publishers get traffic and visibility that are not accounted for when measuring the visibility of the 10 blue links. Because Google Search Console provides information about Google search, News and Discover, it’s generally the best bet.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a couple of tools in the marketplace like NewzDash, there's no easy way to know how your site is doing in Google’s Top Stories, which is kind of the most important piece of data that publishers should have available to them. Hopefully, Search Console allows us to see that information one day soon. But familiarize yourself with all the other features in Search Console, because it’s probably the best place to monitor how a site is doing on the news front.
When it comes to looking at the visibility, are there specific metrics you consider?
If you're going to be using any third-party visibility tools, you need to understand how visibility works and how it’s measured. In the case of the SISTRIX visibility index, for example, visibility is not supposed to represent traffic. It's supposed to represent your percentage of the market share in the organic marketplace on Google based on the keywords that they're tracking and their search volumes.
You might be ranking for a thousand branded keywords – with tons of volume – that are not accounted for in that visibility index. So that wouldn’t be reflected in your visibility score. It’s supposed to serve as a representation based on a selected set of relevant terms.
It's like the stock market of SEO: How much of the pie does your site have?
You have a topic area where there's a big decline in traffic despite you not changing anything in your editorial workflow and none of your technical components changing. But you’ve seen a huge drop in traffic. How do you investigate?
Lily Ray: The first step is pinpointing the source of the traffic decline - if the drop came from organic search, was it Google search, News, and/or Discover? Once that’s done, the most obvious question is: Is that still relevant, timely content?
A lot of newsy content peaks and doesn't receive a lot of traffic afterwards as the news subsides. I would look to see if you can pinpoint a specific date when traffic went down by a big percentage and cross-reference that with the dates of Google updates.
For example, you might see a dip that ties back to the link spam update – so the drop might be link-related. But often, you will lose ranking for keywords that are no longer relevant because newer, more timely articles entered into the equation or intent changed.
Figure out where and when the drop happened, the keywords that declined, then look at who is ranking now and if pages do a better job of meeting user expectations.
What are your thoughts about AI in a search landscape when considering topical authority, E.E.A.T and YMYL?
There are ways to use AI content that are great and even ethical for users. There are ways to generate content using AI that will be perfectly fine. I don't think Google will care, in many cases. I don't think users will care.
But there's a lot of ways to misuse it.
The recent controversy with ChatGPT, CNET and Bankrate was really interesting. Those are sites that have made it part of their process to reveal their authors and how the content was created. As a side note, I think there's an ethical obligation to tell users when AI is used.
To date, it appears that the content has been ranking and performing well. But now we are learning that some of the content was factually incorrect – and that was financial advice. I believe we’re starting from a place where people don't necessarily trust AI, and these types of reports aren’t helping with AI’s reputation. If that continues to be the case, you have to be really careful about using AI for topics where people trust you to be an expert, as it can provide a poor user experience (even if the content is good)!
I would be very wary of using AI in its current state for YMYL topics. I wouldn't have it write about medical conditions and financial advice without having a real expert review the content at the very least.
Is there anything you wish you knew about SEO when starting on your career path?
Lily Ray: I probably would have been a little bit more diligent about learning some type of programming language. To be clear, you don't need coding to be a good SEO. But I would try to master a skill like Python or SQL, or even just a better understanding of how the internet fundamentally works.
I've had imposter syndrome my whole career – it seems like everyone in SEO has – but I also wish I knew earlier how okay it is to share your ideas with the world. It took me something like eight years of doing SEO before I started sharing things publicly because I thought I wasn't qualified. I quickly learned, I was very qualified.
Share what you found, share your experiences. Newer SEOs should know they’re qualified to participate in the conversation because we're all just figuring this thing out. Nobody has all the answers. So I wish there was less imposter syndrome in the industry and that people were more supportive of one another.
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