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How SEO is Evolving in 2024: E-E-A-T & Core Web Vitals

Uncover the latest trends in SEO with a deep dive into E-E-A-T and Core Web Vitals. Understand how these evolving factors impact rankings and what it means for future SEO strategies. Learn to balance user experience with content authenticity and technical proficiency for optimal search engine visibility. Stay ahead in the dynamic world of digital marketing by mastering these key ranking elements

Introduction to Evolving Search Engine Ranking Factors

The field of search engine optimization (SEO) is in a constant state of flux, challenging the very notions we hold about what ranks a webpage. In the past year, at least 90 significant changes have transformed the search engine landscape, leading to a paradigm shift from traditional “ranking factors” to a more nuanced concept of “ranking systems and signals.” This shift is epitomised by Google’s evolution in categorising various technical signals into a unified “page experience” evaluation, emphasising the importance of content standards. Adding ‘experience’ to the already crucial elements of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) marks a pivotal change in SEO strategies. As a result, understanding what constitutes a ranking factor in Google’s algorithms has become more complex and dynamic​​.

The transition from discrete ranking factors to integrated ranking systems and signals underlines a shift in Google’s approach. The traditional model, where a collection of quantitative factors determined rankings, is giving way to a more qualitative and holistic evaluation. Google’s algorithms now focus on assembling collections of qualitative signals that address broader human questions and decisions. This evolution highlights the increasing significance of content quality, user experience (UX), and the nuances of E-E-A-T in the SEO landscape​​.

Understanding E-E-A-T in Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines

Google’s introduction of ‘E-E-A-T’ – adding ‘Experience’ to Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness – represents a significant enhancement in its Quality Rater Guidelines (QRG). This addition suggests a more comprehensive evaluation of content quality, taking into account the extent of the content creator’s first-hand experience on the topic. Trust, identified as the core of E-E-A-T, has emerged as the most critical aspect, underscoring the importance of reliable and trustworthy content. Google’s latest QRG update, which incorporates numerous new sections and an added emphasis on social media platforms and diverse content forms like videos and user-generated content (UGC), reflects an evolving and more inclusive language​​​​.

Moreover, Google’s updated guidelines shed light on the significance of identifying who operates a website and who creates its content. This new emphasis on the reputation of both the website and its content creators aligns with the elevated importance of E-E-A-T. The guidelines now suggest that the reputation should be considered in the context of the page’s content, highlighting a nuanced approach to assessing content quality and trustworthiness​​.

Role of Core Web Vitals in SEO and User Experience

Google’s emphasis on Core Web Vitals underscores the growing importance of user experience in SEO. Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics assessing user experience on a webpage, include dimensions like load time, responsiveness, and interactivity. These vitals are integral to SEO, as they provide insights into how users interact with a site, impacting engagement, conversion rates, and ultimately, search rankings. Sites that offer a superior user experience are favoured by Google, reinforcing the need to optimise Core Web Vitals for better SEO outcomes​​​​.

The major components of Core Web Vitals include Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), measuring the time to render the largest content element; Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), assessing the visual stability of a page; and First Input Delay (FID), gauging the time latency between a user’s first interaction and the page’s response. Optimising these components is crucial for creating an enjoyable user experience, with faster loading times, stable visuals, and responsive interactions being key to higher SEO rankings​​.

E-E-A-T and Core Web Vitals: The Intersection

The integration of E-E-A-T with Core Web Vitals represents a holistic approach to SEO, where user experience and content credibility converge. E-E-A-T focuses on the quality and trustworthiness of content, while Core Web Vitals assess the technical aspects of user experience. Together, they form a comprehensive framework for evaluating a webpage’s effectiveness. Optimising for E-E-A-T involves creating content that demonstrates first-hand experience, expertise, and authority, thereby building trust with users. Similarly, enhancing Core Web Vitals by improving load times, visual stability, and interactivity directly contributes to a better user experience, further bolstering the trustworthiness and credibility of the content. This intersection emphasises that a webpage’s success in search rankings is not just about content or technical performance in isolation, but the synergy between the two.

Optimising Content for E-E-A-T and Core Web Vitals

To align with the evolving SEO landscape, content creators need to focus on both E-E-A-T and Core Web Vitals. For E-E-A-T, the emphasis should be on producing original, high-quality content that reflects the creator’s firsthand experience and expertise. This involves a commitment to authenticity, effort, and a deep understanding of the subject matter. Regarding Core Web Vitals, webmasters should strive to achieve optimal scores in LCP, FID, and CLS. This can be accomplished by optimising images and scripts for faster loading, ensuring layout stability during page loading, and minimising delays in response to user interactions. Both these aspects require a balanced approach where the content is as technically sound as it is informative and trustworthy.

Evaluating Web Page Quality: A New Approach

In line with the new emphasis on E-E-A-T and Core Web Vitals, Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines advocate a revised methodology for assessing web page quality. Raters are encouraged to first ascertain the primary purpose of a page and its potential to cause harm or be untrustworthy. Pages deemed harmful or spammy are rated as low quality. For non-harmful pages, the quality rating hinges on how well the page achieves its intended purpose. This new approach underscores the necessity of aligning page content and functionality with user expectations, ensuring that the page not only serves its intended purpose but does so in a manner that is user-friendly, reliable, and authoritative.

The Impact of Author and Website Reputation on Rankings

The reputation of both authors and websites has become increasingly pivotal in SEO. Google’s updated Quality Rater Guidelines emphasise the importance of content creators’ credibility. This shift reflects a growing understanding that an author’s reputation directly impacts the trustworthiness and authority of a website’s content. For effective SEO, businesses must now pay close attention to their content creators’ reputations and their brand’s online perception. A robust reputation, backed by authoritative content, can significantly boost a site’s search ranking. This development urges a more holistic SEO strategy, intertwining content quality with the reputation of its creators and the brand.

In navigating this new landscape, it’s essential to understand that the author’s expertise and experience in a particular field can significantly enhance content credibility. Content creators with a proven track record or recognized authority in their field are more likely to produce content that ranks higher in search engine results. This focus on author reputation requires businesses to be more selective and intentional in their content creation process, ensuring that the authors contributing to their sites are not just knowledgeable but also respected in their respective fields.

Navigating YMYL Topics: Balancing Experience and Expertise

Navigating ‘Your Money Your Life’ (YMYL) topics in SEO requires a careful balance between experience and expertise. Google’s guidelines now recognize that firsthand experiences can be as valuable as formal expertise in some contexts. This is particularly relevant for content addressing personal health, finance, or safety, where the authenticity and relatability of personal experiences can resonate strongly with users. For SEO practitioners, this means that content on YMYL topics should be crafted with a keen understanding of the subject matter, whether it comes from a place of professional expertise or genuine personal experience.

However, it’s crucial to note that not all topics within the YMYL spectrum are suitable for experiential content. Some areas, especially those requiring specialised knowledge or qualifications, such as medical advice or legal guidelines, still demand formal expertise. In these instances, content creators must possess the necessary credentials and background to ensure the accuracy and reliability of their content. This distinction in Google’s guidelines highlights the importance of context and relevance in content creation, urging a tailored approach to different types of YMYL topics.

Future Trends: Predicting the Evolution of SEO Ranking Factors

Looking towards the future, the SEO landscape is expected to continue evolving, with a growing emphasis on qualitative signals and user-focused content. The integration of AI and machine learning in search algorithms will likely lead to more sophisticated and nuanced content evaluation methods. Furthermore, the Search Generative Experience rollout by Google in 2024 is likely to add a new dimension for SEO professionals.  This evolution suggests that SEO strategies must increasingly prioritise user experience, authenticity, and technical optimization to stay relevant. Staying updated with these technological advancements and adapting strategies accordingly will be vital for businesses seeking to maintain their online presence and effectiveness.

Anticipating these changes, SEO professionals must also prepare for an environment where user behaviour and preferences play a more significant role in content ranking. The increasing use of voice search, mobile browsing, and personalised search results will require a more dynamic and responsive approach to SEO. Content will need to be more adaptable, accessible, and tailored to a variety of user contexts and preferences. Embracing these future trends and continuously refining SEO strategies will be crucial for businesses aiming to lead in the digital marketplace.

Final Thoughts

As we navigate the evolving landscape of SEO, the integration of user experience, content quality, and technical optimization emerges as the cornerstone of effective digital strategies. The shift towards a more holistic evaluation of web pages, as seen in the emphasis on E-E-A-T and Core Web Vitals, signifies a future where qualitative aspects of content play a pivotal role. Businesses and content creators must adapt to this changing environment, focusing on creating content that resonates with both users and search algorithms. By embracing these changes, businesses can ensure they not only adapt to the digital marketing landscape but lead it, staying ahead in the competitive realm of SEO.

Embracing these evolving ranking factors is not just about adhering to algorithms; it’s about crafting valuable, user-centric content that strikes a balance between technical prowess and genuine, trustworthy information. As we look to the future, the convergence of AI, human-centric SEO practices, and evolving user expectations will undoubtedly continue to shape the digital marketing world. Staying informed and agile in adapting to these changes is key to thriving in the dynamic world of SEO.

If you want some guidance and help in navigating the E-E-A-T changes and to set yourself up for success, get in touch and we will be more than happy to guide you.

Eamonn O’Raghallaigh, PhD, is Managing Director at Digital Strategy Consultants and Adjunct Faculty at Trinity Business School.

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