- Ethan Lazuk, Bayshore Solutions
The goal of e-commerce websites is revenue. Promotions and sales can help capture online shoppers who are ready to buy, but when it comes to online searches on Google, Bing, or other search engines, it’s usually a person’s informational, not transactional, intent that leads them to discover your brand.
According to a 2017 eCommerce Foundation report, 88% of consumers do pre-research before buying. So how can you improve the odds they buy from your store? One way is by providing high-quality content that guides shoppers along different stages in the sales funnel.
Whether a customer enters their buying journey with a loose awareness of what their needs are or a conclusive idea about how to solve them, you want to have a useful piece of content to satisfy their intent.
Keep in mind, multiple searchers can express the same intent in different ways. That’s one reason today’s content writing tactics are largely focused on semantic search, where machine learning and natural language processing systems such as RankBrain and BERT help to match a user’s intent not just to keywords on a page but also to the deeper meaning of its context.
Here, we outline the process to create quality content for e-commerce SEO by focusing on an important concept for Google rankings: E-A-T, or expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
What you will find in this article:
- What is E-A-T? A Literature Review from the SEO World
- E-A-T and YMYL Shopping Pages
- How E-commerce Content Quality, Creation and Presentation Contribute to E-A-T
- Tips for Writing High E-A-T Content for E-commerce Websites
What is E-A-T? A Literature Review from the SEO World
E-A-T is one of the most talked about subjects in the SEO industry. (Hence all the amazing articles linked in this section.) But why do SEOs care about one acronym so much? It’s because E-A-T matters for rankings.
Marie Haynes explains in E-A-T and SEO that demonstrating good E-A-T “can potentially help improve Google rankings.”
Cyrus Shepard shares a similar thought in a recent Moz Whiteboard Friday, Is Google E-A-T Actually a Ranking Factor? He explains that while E-A-T is not a directly measurable ranking factor, its indirect effects can benefit rankings.
Another trusted source on E-A-T is Google, its inventors. According to a March 2020 update in Google’s blog post on core updates:
“Assessing your own content in terms of E-A-T criteria may help align it conceptually with the different signals that our automated systems use to rank content.”
This also supports what Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan shares in a 2019 tweet, where he explains that Google doesn’t look for EAT, but:
“There are many different signals that, if we get it right, align with what a good human EAT assessment would be.”
E-A-T is also a fluid concept. As Marie Haynes suggests from her evaluation of Google’s May 2020 Core Update:
“Signals that Google can use to help determine E-A-T were likely reassessed as happens with most core updates.”
In a report on website performance after the May 4th Core Update, Glenn Gabe similarly explains how with regard to sites that saw a negative impact:
“Google is always looking to surface the most authoritative content written by experts in a niche. [Consequently] there could be several issues related to expertise, authoritativeness, and trust (E-A-T).”
Google’s core updates and E-A-T have a short but eventful history together. It started with the August 2018 Core Update, also known as the Medic Update. As Lily Ray explains in What Does It Mean to Have Good E-A-T?
“Some clear patterns emerged from the Medic update and the subsequent core algorithm updates of 2018 and 2019. During this time, many SEO professionals dug through the data and developed a theory that E-A-T played a major role in the performance of winners and losers of these updates.”
It’s also possible E-A-T will play new (or yet-to-be confirmed) roles in how websites are evaluated for expertise and authority. In his article on Website Representation Vectors, Bill Slawski notes how Google’s patent related to the Medic Update also suggests the search engine may classify degrees or categories of expertise, such as “doctors as experts, medical students as apprentices, and laypeople as nonexperts.”
Websites may further be classified “based upon whether they meet thresholds based upon quality scores.” And when it comes to rankings:
“Queries from specific knowledge domains (covering specific topics) might return results using sites that are classified as being from the same Knowledge domain.”
Clearly, there has been a lot of interest in E-A-T since 2018, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Plus, if you care about rankings on other search engines, you'll notice they're following Google's lead, such as the latest Bing webmaster guidelines, which reference "Quality and Credibility" as ranking factors.
The question, though, is how much should E-A-T matter to an e-commerce retailer? That answer may be found in Google's overview of what it refers to as Your Money or Your Life pages.
E-A-T and YMYL Shopping Pages
E-A-T is often discussed in the context of Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages. In his tweet about whether E-A-T is a ranking factor, Danny Sullivan references a section in Google's core update blog post titled “Get to know the quality rater guidelines & E-A-T.” In case you're not familiar, the signals in Google’s algorithms take care of ranking content, but the search engine also solicits feedback from third-party Search Quality Raters to help understand changes to its search results to make its algorithms better.
Google’s search raters follow the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQE Guidelines), a 168-page document that, as of the last edition, mentions E-A-T 135 times. Another important concept in the SQE Guidelines is YMYL content:
“Some types of pages or topics could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety. We call such pages “Your Money or Your Life” pages, or YMYL.”
The SQE Guidelines introduce E-A-T in a section titled “Overall Page Quality Rating.” In the first mention, Google explains that for pages with a beneficial purpose:
“The amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) is very important.”
Google also has “very high Page Quality rating standards for YMYL pages.” Among the several examples it lists, one noteworthy for e-commerce websites is shopping pages, which contain:
“Information about or services related to research or purchase of goods/services, particularly webpages that allow people to make purchases online.”
So given that high page quality is important for shopping pages, and E-A-T is a factor of page quality, it's safe to say E-A-T is important for e-commerce content. This leads to the next question: how can a shopping website improve its E-A-T?
How E-commerce Content Quality, Creation and Presentation Contribute to E-A-T
The quality of content is one of the key factors used by Google’s search algorithms to rank pages for a query, or search term. In short, when a person searches for something on Google, its algorithms determine the meaning and intent of that query. Then they return results based on signals such as:
- Relevance and quality of a page’s information
- Usability of the page layout
- Searcher’s unique attributes, such as their location or search history
When Google judges the quality of content, whether it’s a blog post, comparison guide, or product page, it's based in part on the author’s subject matter knowledge, i.e., their expertise.
Expertise – Use It
Expertise can be formal or informal, the result of education and professional experience, or based on everyday expertise. According to Google’s SQE Guidelines:
“The standard for expertise depends on the topic of the page.”
Think about who your audience is and what you’re telling them. If you make a claim or suggestion, ensure you’re qualified to do so, or at least reference someone who is and link to them.
Stay in Your Lane With Content Topics
Suppose your e-commerce business sells goods that you make in house. You have the expertise to share details about their manufacturing process, if that’s something your audience cares about. On the other hand, if the products you sell are made elsewhere, you should feel more inclined to speak about issues you’re qualified to know about, such as your products’ popularity, pricing, or attributes.
Authorship Matters for Expertise
Expertise is demonstrated by authorship, which is also a function of authority and trust (more on this later). To give your content legitimacy, list yourself as the author, and include your credentials or a link to your bio page. While E-A-T may be a current hot topic, Google’s interest in author reputations goes all the way back to 2007 at least, writes Bill Slawski. And that interest hasn’t waned:
“The creator of content on pages still seems to be something that Google is interested in trying to understand.”
In fact, according to a patent on Author Vectors that Bill references, Google may even be able to determine content’s authorship based on its communication style alone. This is an important point, as e-commerce store owners are busy people and may involve staff to write blog posts or product guides.
Suppose, for example, your a store owner who employs an intern or freelancer who’s a fabulous writer. That person’s skills can be very useful to you. (After all, great content isn’t just for bots to crawl but consumers to read!) Yet, if you work with other contributors who aren't experts, make sure the information on your page still represents your expertise and has the correct attribution.
Even if you didn’t write a page's content, let your audience still know that you, as the expert, reviewed and approved it. And yes, brands can be experts, as well. But always keep in mind, the more directly Google and your readers can tie a page’s information back to its original source, the more trust there will be.
Take Advantage of Structured Data
Structured data markup, or schema, is familiar to many e-commerce stores who who use it to mark up product pages on their websites to achieve star ratings or get product details in rich results snippets or image results. Another use for schema data, however, is to define entities and relationships between them in Google’s Knowledge Graph. This helps send clearer signals to search engines about what your content means and who’s responsible for writing it.
Knowledge graphs, a core tenet of semantic search, include entities—prominent people, places, or things—and the relationships between them. If your e-commerce business is large enough, you may see a knowledge panel appear on the right hand side of Google search results for branded queries. If you have a prominent person in your company, they may have their own knowledge panel.
While a knowledge panel may not have the same clickrates as a standard blue link, the visibility it can give your brand can highlight your expertise and authority to searchers.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, while Google can partly determine the meaning of content through entity extraction, another way to help relay information about entities is through structured data. As Lily Ray points out:
“Structured data essentially serves as a way of spoon feeding Google crucial information about the topics on your site, as well as the individuals who contribute to it.”
In other words, using schema can contribute to E-A-T, because with confirmation of the entities on your page and related to your e-commerce brand, Google can more clearly assess the expertise behind your content as well as assign signals of authority and trust to you. Plus, the visibility your brand can gain in the SERPS from the knowledge graph helps more customers see you as a legitimate option for the goods they're looking to buy.
Authority – Build It
Authority is about broad subject matter expertise. It doesn’t stem from having one or two author bylines in your blog but rather from earning a wide array of mentions on not just your website but other reputable industry forums, publications, and websites. The more you showcase your expertise for the products you sell, the more you build yours and your brand's reputation in your corner of the e-commerce world, and the more authority you'll have.
As Joshua Hardwick summarizes nicely in What is E‑A-T? Why It’s Important for SEO:
“When others see an individual or website as the go-to source of information about a topic, that’s authority.”
Getting Backlinks and Mentions
One way to build authority is by earning backlinks and mentions from reputable sources in your industry. While you can’t control how or when others link to you—at least you often shouldn’t—what you can control is how you present your brand to the world.
Suppose as an online beauty supply retailer, you write a helpful blog post on makeup for sensitive skin that gets discovered and shared by an influencer. Or suppose as an online surf shop, you write a buying guide for swim trunks that's so objective and detailed that a journalist for the New York Times links to it in their article about getting prepped for summer. That’s authority gold.
Backlinks have long been valuable in SEO because they can increase PageRank, which can contribute to better rankings and more authority. However, unlinked mentions can likewise be valuable for building authority. The lesson is to be patient. If you work hard to become an authority, the authority will come.
Authorship Matters for Authority, As Well
To build authority, you need someone, whether it’s a person, a brand, or a company, to assign that authority to. Whether you publish under your store’s brand or as a representative of it, make sure your content is attributable to an author or entity of some kind.
If a page has multiple authors, which is common for e-commerce websites, make sure the readers know the content at least represents the brand’s voice (as opposed to being copied from a product brochure or even worse, a competitor’s website).
Suppose you’re a lawn care equipment retailer, and your store sells a diverse range of products, why not designate authors who have relevant expertise in each area? If one person knows about mowers, and another about clippers, let them share that knowledge while showcasing their credentials and connection to your store. This way the content will have more expertise behind it, you'll be able to cover more topical ground relevant to your customers, and that’ll only help your authority to grow.
Trust – Earn It
Trust can be a factor of your expertise or authority, but it’s also related to other elements such as user experience. In looking for ways to build trust, put yourself in your store's visitor’s shoes. If you list the authors of your blog content, that’s a sign of trust. If your how-to pages are reviewed by other experts, or your product claims are backed by credible third-party sources that you transparently link to, those are signs of trust. In Google’s eyes, backlinks or mentions you earn for your content, especially if they're unsolicited and awarded by relevant and reputable sources, can also earn trust.
Good Reviews Build Lots of Trust
Reviews have always mattered to retailers, but for e-commerce websites, they are the building blocks of authority and trust. Customer reviews can boost sales. In local SEO, they’re a ranking signal. But Google also cares about them for E-A-T.
In the SQE Guidelines, Google asks its quality raters to:
“Use reputation research to find what real users, as well as experts, think about a website.”
With regard to e-commerce stores, in particular, Google says:
“Stores frequently have user ratings, which can help you understand a store’s reputation based on the reports of people who actually shop there. We consider a large number of positive reviews as evidence of positive reputation.”
Again, you can’t control your customer reviews, but you can provide a great shopping experience to influence how positive they might be.
In her E-A-T Factor Checklist, Izzy Smith mentions a number of ways reviews can contribute to E-A-T for online stores. For instance, showcasing reviews on relevant product pages and making it easy for customers to leave new reviews are good practices for building trust. If you get a bad review, you can also earn trust by demonstrating with a friendly and genuine response how you understand the customer's issue and will work to resolve it.
Monitor your product reviews and blog comments frequently, as well. As Glenn Gabe reminds us, comments can be indexed and considered as part of the page’s main content by Google. However, user generated content can also be spammy—see the history of rel="nofollow"—and drag down the quality of your page. Conversely, unfiltered, high-quality comments can elevate your page's main content as well as build trust among potential new customers.
Content on Other Pages Can Build Trust, Too
Building trust with e-commerce content isn’t limited to optimizing blog posts, product descriptions, or comparison guides. It also concerns pages like the contact us, return policy, or customer service pages. As Google’s SQE Guidelines explain:
“Stores and websites that process financial transactions require a high level of user trust. If a store or financial transaction website has just an email address and physical address, it may be difficult to get help if there are issues with the transaction.”
In fact, Google asks its quality raters on shopping websites to perform “special checks”:
“Look for contact information—including the store’s policies on payment, exchanges, and returns.”
You should also keep model and pricing information accurate and up to date. When it comes to product queries in particular, Google tells quality raters to:
“Assume users are looking for information about the most recent model/version.”
Sometimes achieving better E-A-T doesn’t require a content overhaul, but rather an update to outdated product pages with models, prices, and other information that are not helpful to shoppers.
Security is Trust, Always
If you want users to trust your e-commerce website, you must keep their sensitive personal information secure. Google’s SQE Guidelines explicitly call out as an example of a low quality page:
“A shopping checkout page that has an insecure connection.”
Besides keeping content up to date and high quality, ensure your pages are secured by HTTPS (a small ranking factor in its own right), and optimize your checkout process to be both easy to use and free of security risks.
Tips for Writing High E-A-T Content for E-commerce Websites
Content quality plays an important role in page rankings and overall E-A-T for e-commerce websites. When you write content, consider how your page fits the paradigm of semantic search, contributes to your E-A-T, and above all, is relevant to and satisfies your visitors’ intent. Here are steps to get there.
Understand Your Audience
Keyword research, whether it’s from a paid tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush or search suggestions in Google or Amazon, can help you glean insights into how your audience thinks about your products or services. Look especially for questions or concerns they have. You can also find these in reviews or by asking your customer service and sales representatives.
Once you have an idea of what your customers’ needs are, find clear and concise ways to address them by leveraging your topical expertise in content, whether on your about or FAQs page, in blog posts, or on product or category pages. And don't just speak to the obvious question; think about the deeper intent—are they buying new shoes for the sake of having them, or is their deeper goal to play a sport or be fashionable?
Be Holistic in Your Writing
Ever since Google’s Hummingbird algorithm launched in 2013, it’s been important to cover topics holistically and not just target individual keywords in content. For example, if you want to help buyers find the right pair of shoes, you wouldn’t create separate guides on how to choose them based on fit or color, as these are both part of the larger topic of choosing the right footwear.
Remember that the focus is on content quality and relevance, not word counts. You shouldn’t add paragraphs of text to category pages just to beef them up. And don't be afraid to use video or other content formats if those are what your customers want to see. Finally, make sure every page has a unique purpose that fulfills the intent of your buyers—no more or no less.
Speak to All Manners of Intent
It’s also important to have a variety of content to make sure you’re speaking to all manners of intent. Some customers may not know you’re the answer to their dilemma yet and need to understand how you can help. That requires a blog post on an upper funnel, introductory topic. Other shoppers, meanwhile, may know about your brand or product but need more information to better understand its advantages compared to your competition. That requires a mid- or lower-funnel piece of content.
You should also always keep in mind the goal of your content. Sales keep your business alive, however, informative content may not be designed to drive conversions right away. However, it’s better that your audience still finds helpful information on your website and associates it with your brand, rather than your competitor's.
If you’re an authoritative source of knowledge who's always there to support your customers early on during their awareness or consideration stages of the sales funnel, then you can more easily earn their trust when the time comes to make a purchase. Building brand trust is SEO, too.
Another variable to keep in mind is that search intents for queries related to e-commerce topics may change with seasonality. Big sales around the holidays, for instance, tend to correlate with more transactional searches. Fortunately, if your informational blog posts are popular the rest of the year, have received quality backlinks, and pass PageRank to relevant product pages through well-placed internal links, that only helps your product pages to stand out during high-volume shopping seasons.
Make Product Pages Authoritative, Too
It’s also important that your product and category pages live up the same E-A-T standards as your informational pages. Avoid using overly salesy language that makes elaborate claims you can’t prove or promises you can’t fulfill. Instead, focus on delivering transparent product details and authentic customer reviews.
Make sure title tags, meta descriptions, and anchor text accurately depict the products or page content they're associated with, and avoid exaggerating what the reader will find simply to earn a click, as that'll likely be followed by a bounce anyway.
Multimedia content quality matters for E-A-T, as well. Product images or videos should be accurate, informative, and ultimately satisfying to the user. The same expertise (and voice) you write with in blog posts should be spoken in videos. (And make sure to include transcripts or subtitles for accessibility.)
Taking these steps to boost the expertise and relevance of your e-commerce content will help make you a more authoritative and trusted seller. That is the foundation of E-A-T and your pathway to a better online presence.
Ethan Lazuk is an SEO Strategist at Bayshore Solutions.