Trusty Signals: Recovery from E-A-T & YMYL Penalties

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  Case Study Updates at Bottom of Post (A/B/C Testing Now) UGC removal as well. Update Nov 3/18 UGC removal recovery!

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:
The September 27, 2018 Google Algorithm Update And October 4 Tremor – Google Experiments, Relevance, Trust Signals, Reversals, and “Staying in your lane” from Glenn Gabe.
I had to reach out to Glenn and tell him how amazing his post is: and:
The August 1, 2018 Google Update strongly affected YMYL sites from Marie Haynes

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… 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. Why? 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).

QRG Experts

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?

My Theories

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…

E-A-T/Medic Update Category Breakdown

E-A-T/Medic Update Category Breakdown

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: 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. Post

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.

Website Status:

  • category (loans/finance)
  • YMYL
  • hyper-competitive
  • 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!

Statcounter Screenshots

Overall traffic history:

2018 Stats:

Changes to site:

  • 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
April 04/2019 Update: See screenshot below. Still don’t think this enough data to say one way or the other, and is this just seasonal? Could be as it’s in the finance niche. Regardless, I promised to keep making updates, so here it is.

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. Thanks for stopping by. Check my new Web Ascension® system launching July 1, 2019. It’s 100% free.


12 Responses

  1. Matt Hagens says:

    What does UGC stand for?

  2. Mike W says:

    Hi Brent – i’ve been following this article since you wrote it – interesting post. Have you got any updates following your 3rd November update ? Thanks !

  3. David Kirk says:

    Hi Brent,

    I read that author’s credentials are extremely important. So how would you explain the success of – they don’t have author or references in most of their articles. The articles are extremely short and shallow. But they got into extremely sensitive KW and had a huge spike after August.

    What about – this site became a Google success but the articles don’t have author or any references. They’ve just developed a fertility app and Google suddenly sees them as an authority on anything related to women’s fertility.

    I am seeing more and more examples of news sites that got into medical / health KW despite the fact that they don’t have author or the author is not from the medical field.

    My feeling at the moment is that there are a lot of speculations but the websites I’ve mentioned are good examples of sites that have no E.A.T but still benefited from all Google updates.

    I am also not sure what’s the problem with highly moderated comments.

    I’ve seen sites with such a great content and qualified authors getting decimated by the Google update in August. It’s really hard to find a pattern.

    It would be great to get your comments

    • Brent says:

      I see the first site has this and they’re a massive news network from NEWS24:

      News24 Domain Authority

      So with a DA of 8 and a stable of experts they’ll sail through. That’s the first two things I’ve noticed, but haven’t done a complete assessment. Will check the other one later.

      Speculation/ Commentary:

      You’re right – it’s all speculation so far. It’s early days. All I know is Google is trying to make it near impossible to rank unless you have a ton of authority, seniority, and trust (in their opinion). If G doesn’t turn back and revert these updates, the only survivors making a full time living online will have to focus ALL their energy (and perhaps grow a team of contributors) to compete.

      I notice, that most of my clients who are Mom & Pop businesses are really getting hit, no matter how great their site design and content is. Sadly, G is currently punishing small business on their crusade to only send traffic to trusted websites (while the ones they think are trusted).

      These are dark days for David, and Goliath is laughing all the way to the bank. But, I think Google has been too heavy handed on this one, and I’m hoping they revert somewhat. What they’ve done is reduce their users’ choices. Users can’t even get more choices on page two, three, and four of the SERPS. Once G has shown all the sites they think are the true authority sites, they start listing links that don’t answer the query – just books, PDFs, Scholar abstracts, etc.

      At some point they have to trust searchers to use their own discretion and due diligence when viewing websites. What if G could remove every food item off the grocery store shelves because in their opinion they’re not worthy? Wouldn’t be much left to choose from. Now we’re getting into the weeds of totalitarianism and socialism. I’ll stop here on that subject.

      But personally I’m sticking with online work. Been at it since 2003 and seen the valley 3 times before. Somebody always has to win. I intend to make sure my clients are those winners.

  4. David Kirk says:

    Hi Brent,

    Great answer thanks. I agree that has high DA /PA. But Google “said” that you need to be an expert to write health related content. Their writers are (generally) not experts. In fact many don’t even have bios…. This (according to the QRG) should devalue all their content.
    In terms of experts – their experts only answer a few questions.

    Looking forward to your assessment of – they’ve been doing great since the August update. Thir DA is quite average.

  5. Rayyan says:

    Hi Brent,
    You gave me a hope to work on my website again. I lost confidence and started a new website again in partnership with a health expert.

    But your case studies are giving me a lot of hope and inspiration to work on my site.
    I already made a few changes a month ago, like adding author bio, about page, contact page, and advertising disclaimer after reading Marie’s posts but of no help yet.

    I did not make any changes to UGC as there is no UGC on my website.

    As I am an affiliate marketer, I did not add address to my websites. because its of no use to the visitors.

    Do you think is it mandatory to add address with phone numbers?

    • Brent says:

      Hi Rayyan,

      I don’t think phone numbers are “mandatory” but my best guess is it will help with trust from Google.

      All sites have recovered a bit since the changes, but nothing huge. It’s been a couple of months only so I will report more going forward.

      From what I’ve read and seen, three months is a more realistic time frame before the changes take affect.

      I know it frustrating for sure. Our main personal websites were making between $15K and $20K before all the updates Google made this last year and half. Those same sites are only making $500 a month. This is the BIGGEST and BADDEST change in Google’s algo since we started back in 2003. For us anyway because our niche was always finance. Our small Mom and Pop clients have been hit really hard to – no matter HOW GREAT their content is.

      We started a huge new site 14 months again hoping to make up for losses, and it’s very slowly gaining some ground. It’s at the top of Bing for almost ALL main keywords, but even that doesn’t bring a huge amount of traffic. There are SO MANY ads, maps, and snippet boxes above us.

      I highly recommend creating some Youtube and Daily Motion videos too. That’s helped with our new site quite a bit. I think the links from the video descriptions is helping with G and B.

      Best of luck – sorry to took so long to reply. Happy New year!


      • Rayyan says:

        Hi Brent,
        Thanks for responding.
        I already have some Youtube and Dailymotion videos but I think I am hit because of no about pages and contact details.

        Let me add and will reply if I see any recovery.

  6. Mike W says:

    Hi Brent,

    Just following up on these sites – did you see any movements ?



  7. Brent says:

    New update guys and gals – interesting perhaps, but certainly nothing breath-taking. Could be seasonal for sure. One thing for sure, Google doesn’t look like they’re going to be doing any reversions in their algo going forward back to the good old days when your pages and sites were judged mostly on the quality of the content.

    Google still wants to reward the larger websites that have the most referring links and social media signals. YMYL and E-A-T factors still killing the old winners. From what I’ve seen it’s arbitrary and often unfair and some of the sites winning top positions don’t always have the best “certified experts” providing content on them.

    I have another opinion and speculation today too – I think Google’s new algo is favoring link builders and the vast majority of those links DON’T have to be from HIGH ranking monster sites. I’m seeing lots of forum links and comment spam links pointing to websites ranking really well at the moment.

    Nofollow or dofollow – whatever. Get linking I say.

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