Trusty Signals: Recovery from E-A-T & YMYL Penalties
Definition of Acronyms:
E-A-T = Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness of main content (MC)
YMYL = Your Money (or) Your Life (e.g. – medical, financial, etc. niches)
Do you have a website that got pummeled by Google’s recent YMYL and E-A-T algorithm updates, and you’re looking for a way to recover?
Do you have low E-A-T? Does your website contain YMYL content? Before I ramble on with my opinions, questions, and case study I want to come out of the gate recommending these two posts by Glenn and Marie.
Recommended Research Sources:
Usually recommended reading goes at the bottom of a post, but I think it would be helpful for you to read their material as soon as possible. Then you may find my theories, questions, and case study helpful after. Let’s start with this beauty:
I had to reach out to Glenn and tell him how amazing his post is:
This is a beauty 10X by @glenngabe – The September 27, 2018 Google Algorithm Update And October 4 Tremor – Google Experiments, Relevance, Trust Signals, Reversals, and “Staying in your lane” https://t.co/7BiaxXOUVy
— Brent @ Sask SEO Consulting (@SaskSeo) October 24, 2018
My Question Re: E-A-T on YMYL Websites
How much E-A-T is Sufficient?
If you own or manage a website that publishes YMYL content these Google ranking factors are now critical. However, if you’re like me, you’ve been asking yourself, “How much E-A-T does your website need to possess in order to rank high in your niche?”
My best guess = “More than your competitors’ websites”
So my reasoning goes: If the top results for your target keyword search phrases in Google have a scant level of E-A-T, you won’t need much. If the competing websites have A LOT of E-A-T, then you’re in for an uphill battle.
If none of your competitors’ YMYL websites have ANY E-A-T, does Google only provide ads in the results, with no organic results? (cue the cynics: “Well that’s where Google really wants to go in the future”)
Obviously not. My guess is they would return results from Google Books, Wikipedia, and other monster branded websites.
I pose this question to the SEO community because I want to hear their opinions; AND, I want to remind the down-trodden that there’s still hope.
I know this doesn’t give you much hope…
There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) March 12, 2018
However, I believe that recovery is possible (somewhat) due to the fact that E-A-T is judged with an algorithm.
Yes, I know, data from real people (Google’s Quality Rater Army) is taken into account, but that data is just passed on to Google’s engineers for tweaking their algorithm. See “Quality raters cannot alter Google’s results directly. A rater marking a particular listing as low quality will not cause that page to be banned or lose ranking.”
So I believe if you make the necessary amendments to your website, Google will see the changes and rank your content higher on the next update (if your changes send “trusty signals”).
Background & Past Updates
For every other Google update (Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, “enter species here”) I’ve never made changes to my personal websites, or my clients’ websites.
Because we never gamed Google with overt inbound link building, horrible content, etc. – we’ve just created clean websites with clean content. Since 2003 our work process has been the same.
But the YMYL and E-A-T ranking factors changed all that for some of our websites, and our clients’ websites.
The best guideline for webmasters in regards to E-A-T and YMYL can be found in Google’s own document (takes awhile to download, but there if you want to read it) that reared it’s head back in late 2015. This guideline was provided to Google’s website evaluators so they could make judgment calls on the websites they reviewed. (off topic – we found a fair amount of spelling and grammar errors in their document – just saying G)
In it they outlined what a high-quality website and/or web page should have on it, and what pages and sites should be considered low quality. An important note from the document stated (paraphrasing) that lack of E-A-T was enough to downgrade a web page/site to low quality, REGARDLESS of what other ranking factors are good (or excellent).
One of the best diggers into Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (QRG) would have to be Marie Haynes (a hard working Canuck in the SEO world). She dove deep into the QRG, and Glenn has as well. For in depth studies, I recommend checking them out. But for webmasters who want a brief rundown on E-A-T, this is my offering:
Basics on E-A-T
Google’s E-A-T acronym stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness. If your website, and the pages on, don’t have enough E-A-T you will see your traffic start to dry up (just like our unfortunate client’s did – more on that later). HOW MUCH of these three factors is enough to protect your page rank is unknown, and we’ll get into the speculation on each below.
From Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines regarding E-A-T (PQ stands for Page Quality and MC stands for Main Content):
One of the most important criteria of PQ rating is E-A-T. Expertise of the creator of the MC, and authoritativeness or trustworthiness of the page or website, is extremely important for a page to achieve its purpose well. If the E-A-T of a page is low enough, users cannot or should not use the MC of the page. This is especially true of YMYL topics. If the page is highly inexpert, authoritative or untrustworthy, it fails to achieve its purpose. Important: The Lowest rating should be used if the page is highly inexpert, authoritative, or untrustworthy
So what does that tell us?
It tells me that the main content should be produced by someone who has SOME kind of authority in the field of the subject matter published on the page.
My guess (we have other opinions below) is the author should have some kind of positive reputation online. At the very least, the writer should be featured on various online publications, or perhaps have a degree in the field. For YMYL topics the bar is set even higher, and if the subject is Health & Medical, it’s extremely high!
We’re talking Doctors here.
But let’s look closely at the all-important phrase in the quote above: “If the page is HIGHLY inexpert, authoritative, or untrustworthy, if fails to achieve it’s purpose. Important: The Lowest rating should be used if the page is highly inexpert, authoritative, or untrustworthy“.
These two sentences tell me that for some topics (not health and medicine) the level of authority doesn’t have to be over the top.
For example, one of my client’s websites is in the personal loan niche (finance). Perhaps the writer of the MC (main content) doesn’t have to be Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman – it can just be someone with an some kind of online reputation in the personal finance niche. Maybe an established PF (personal finance) blogger will do.
The keyword here in my mind is “HIGHLY INEXPERT“. So if the writer is completely unidentified and nowhere to be found online, it’s bad news for the owner of the website. Or the MC doesn’t have any attribution at all – no “about the author” blurb or box whatsoever.
Video Review of E-A-T/YMYL
Barry Schwartz @ Search Engine Roundtable see 3:07 for “Humor” and Pre-Panda comparisons.
Click Chart for Source…
Recovery From Low E-A-T
Now keep in mind the source here. My name is Brent Truitt and this website is about search engine optimization. It’s the first time I’ve ever shared my experiences in the search engine arena, so this website (as of this writing) has almost zero reputation or clout. Also, my name is associated with my Amazon Author page, and can be found on various blogs as a creative writer. Not an authority in SEO. Furthermore, this is a brand new website (far from being out of the Google Sandbox – more on the Google Sandbox in a post coming next week).
But IMHO there are ways to recover from low E-A-T. Let’s explore what some established SEO experts are saying about recovery.
Nuggets of Hope from Marie
Recovery from E-A-T Penalty (how long to recover)
Marie made some waves with her post My thoughts on the August 1, 2018 Google Algorithm Update:
YEAH! Got this incredible email today from a client for whom we did a site review and made a bunch of recommendations. Their main terms were on page 2 and 3. And now they’re #2 for their most important keyword.
Improved E-A-T, internal linking and much more. pic.twitter.com/Z7NeXVRtd8
— Marie Haynes (@Marie_Haynes) July 27, 2018
Here is a better image of the recovery graph:
What’s missing on this screenshot is WHEN the E-A-T fixes were implemented. In her Tweet she mentions it took a couple of months for the recovery to start, but that’s all we have on how long it takes to recover from an E-A-T penalty.
And Marie’s post from October 12th with more information E-A-T – the most important factor being T (TRUST).
Nuggets of Hope from Glenn
Performing An SEO SWOT Analysis
In Glenn’s 10X post (see Whiteboard Friday with Rand Fishkin) he delves deep into the realities of Google’s recent earth-shattering updates, but I want to highlight a paragraph that involves recovery:
With Google’s wild updates recently, I believe it’s never been more important to fully understand your risks, surface all the problems riddling your site, and take significant action. You can think of this as a SWOT analysis SEO-style. Site owners shouldn’t just look for a single smoking gun, since there’s almost never just one. They should look for a battery of smoking guns, prioritize them, and start knocking them off one by one (and as quickly as possible). – source (near bottom of post).
In his post he provides plenty of screenshots showing web properties losing traffic AND gaining traffic. Scary to see how dramatic these updates have been.
My focus was looking for Glenn’s ideas on recovery. I was drawn to his Case Study #1 regarding a client’s website.
Within two months of making E-A-T related changes to their website, the owners saw a dramatic reversal in traffic. Note the time frame of two months. This is approximately the same time frame for recovery Maria had mentioned with her client.
Winners/Loser from E-A-T/YMYL
This is an in-depth look at what the SEO world is calling the Medic Update in early August 2018. For his ideas on a possible recovery you need to scroll down (near the bottom of the page) to read. Look for:
How to improve E-A-T
Unlike previous major updates, the Medic Update is a lot more subjective, which makes it difficult to know exactly what to do to recover. Anyone affected by Google Panda, for instance, knew that thin and duplicate content on their site needed to be addressed and improved. With Google Penguin, it was mostly about cleaning and disavowing spammy links.
Searching for Recovery Cases
There is very little to be had online for showing true recoveries from E-A-T or the “Medic Update” if you prefer. There are posts like this one, but the claims of recovery are vague and hard to trust without a lot more data (images, case studies, etc.).
When you search Google for “how to recover from medic update” (without the bunny ears), you see this:
Problem is there is nothing on the post about a website actually recovering from E-A-T/Medic updates. He has the basic information on how to create (and maintain) a great website, but that’s about it.
So I was determined to find some good news…
I searched Google and there was a list of sites under the search phrase “how to recover from the Google medic update”, and “how to recover from a Google E-A-T YMYL penalty” and none them KNEW how to recover. They just had the typical suggestions listed. Good quality content, good user experience, bla bla bla…
So far the only posts I can find that showcase actual recoveries are Marie’s and Glenn’s posts from above.
My Case Study: Loan Website
I have no choice but to start my own experiment/test. We’re going to use my client’s website for the study. Hopefully this test will shed more light on the subject of recovery. Note there were other issues on the site besides E-A-T/YMYL.
- category (loans/finance)
- 400+ posts
- launched late 2008
- peaked at 500+ unique hits a day
- platform: WordPress
- hosting: Shared
- content rich 1200-4000 word per post
- images in content (sometimes)
- no videos
- no contact page
- no about us page
- no author area for MC
- no advertising disclosures
- term of service (yes)
- zero social media
Yikes! No wonder it got hit!
Overall traffic history:
- writer of MC (author bio/link to creds)
- contact page (street address, phone, email)
- about page (company history, address, owner info)
- advertising disclosures on all pages
- advertiser credits (link to A+ BBB rating) (weird test – I know)
- purpose of MC defined better (apply button/visitor’s intent)
Changes not made:
- no added content
- no changes to core content
- no link disavowing
- no link building
- no social media starts
Why Lack of Changes?
My client doesn’t want to spend more on recovery tactics. Maybe a good decision as we might be flogging a dead horse. Of course, the changes we did make were relatively easy on a WordPress platform. Simple changes to template pages (single.php, header.php, comments.php, etc.) were all made in two work sessions.
Reporting Going Forward
I will update this post with any traffic changes that come along. There are no downward changes to be had, so if there’s any changes they can only be positive. If there is any recovery, I’ll post it here, and Tweet it – you can follow the test @SaskSeo
Update 2018-10-31: I’ve added two other loan niche websites for A/B/C testing. Tests as follows:
At their peak my client’s sites in total had 1500 unique visitors a day. Peak years the same as the screenshot above. Income generated was ads and CPA programs was $20,000+ per month (USD). Starting Feb 2017 all sites started to drop from Google rankings. Being stubborn, I left all sites alone, not trusting Google. They revert sometimes so why take a chance.
But since these sites see VERY little Google traffic now, WHY NOT test them!
Loan Site Test A
November 18/2018 Update: No change yet.
- as listed above
- no theme changes
- UGC left on
Loan Site Test B – UPDATE!
November 3/2018 Update: 3 days after UGC removal keywords coming back big time. Ranking again for some main keys.
November 18/2018 Update: See screenshot below. Not getting near the traffic of the glory days, but some recovery. 2 months from now will be interesting. I will update then.
- as listed above
- MC author added
- new WP theme
- removed all UGC
- no extra footer disclosures
Loan Site Test C
November 18/2018 Update: No change yet.
- new WP theme
- no MC author info
- footer with owner’s address
- footer phone number
- footer with about us etc.
Will take a couple of months to see what happens. These sites all have a minimum of 400 content rich posts with average word counts of 1500. Content has text, images, some videos. Honestly, compared to the content of our new sites, these are weak. However, I’m seeing even weaker content rank well.
My gut feeling is that UGC is a real no-no with YMYL pages. Stay tuned.