Everyone in the SEO industry has, at one point or another, said, or heard the term “Google gods.” Many people, including top SEO professionals, buy into the idea that Google rules their life. They do everything in their power to follow the sacrosanct webmaster guidelines. At times, it feels like the SEO God is not only omnipresent but capricious, impossible to fully understand or please. This belief reinforces the mindset that Google makes the final decisions that determine which businesses thrive and which ones fall.
But does Google actually yield this power? Undeniably, Google does set the standards for SEO, and ranking high on Google’s SERPs is the name of the game. However, perceiving Google as an all-knowing or all-powerful form of artificial intelligence will limit your capabilities as an SEO manager or digital marketer. Why? Because tension exists between following every single guideline published by Google and creating and promoting content that actually ranks because it serves users.
Reconsidering Your Relationship with Google
Everything you do as an SEO, marketer, webmaster, or content creator should ultimately serve users. Satisfying users, not Google, should be your number one guiding principle. That being said, these two goals align in most situations because Google designs its algorithms to reward high-quality content that matches search intent. In other words, content that best serves readers will, for the most part, follow Google’s guidelines and rank well on Google SERPs and vice-versa.
However, due to time and budget constraints, it is almost impossible to follow Google’s guidelines to a tee. In certain situations, you’ll have more success if you prioritize efficiency for content development rather than strictly following every guideline given by Google. If consistently publishing pages that follow E-A-T principles and satisfy users means straying from Google’s guidelines, then so be it. Users, not Google, have the ultimate authority in judging the usefulness of online content.
E-A-T, Google Guidelines, and Link Building
With that said, it may seem counterintuitive to now dive into link building, which ultimately aims to satisfy a numerical metric used by Google’s algorithms. However, developing link building strategies that prioritize E-A-T is a prime example of how straying from Google’s guidelines can actually help you satisfy search intent and increase your page or site rank and authority.
When it comes to link building, Google gives clear instructions. According to Google’s quality guidelines regarding link schemes:
“The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”
Yes, this is the “best way” to build links. However, it’s also incredibly impractical. The same article also states that “large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links” violates Google’s guidelines. As discussed in previous chapters, distributing guest posts with E-A-T-level content is one of the most effective ways to build links. While you should strive for natural, editorial links, you’ll likely have to start with guest posting to build up your company’s brand and page rank. Google’s guidelines regarding link building make sense for well-established companies; however, they set a nearly-impossible standard for new and small businesses.
Trust and Transparency
While SEOs shouldn’t (and likely can’t) follow Google guidelines to the tee, that doesn’t mean any link building scheme or deceptive practice is fair game. Google will pick up on blatantly misleading or overtly malicious content and will punish the perpetrator accordingly.
So how can you determine “right” from “wrong” and detectible versus subtle practices? Always go back to the user. Everything you do or publish should match search intent and provide relevant, useful, and honest information to readers. Content and link landing pages should never surprise a user; they should know exactly what to expect when they open a page.
Also, the “T” in E-A-T requires transparency. To create internal content that attracts referral links or to write guest posts that successfully disseminate links to your site, you have to be honest with readers. To have transparency with users (even if it means sidestepping Google guidelines), you need to address the following areas of content creation and link building.
- Authenticity and Authorship
As discussed in earlier chapters, E-A-T guidelines emphasize the importance of author reputation and expertise. However, assigning article writing to outside experts or high-level representatives, such as your CEO, will prove difficult. A few solutions to the problem include:
- Using Ghost Writers– Hiring ghostwriters saves time. It allows brands to publish content frequently while maintaining quality and authenticity. While it may initially seem dishonest, it’s a common practice across industries and, if done correctly, can build expertise and authority.
Having ghostwriters produce content for your site does not compromise authenticity, even if the page attributes the article to a brand representative and does not reference the ghostwriter. Most users understand brand personas; they know that CEOs and top-tier influencers don’t sit down and write every piece of content on their site. What matters is that the material is accurate and backed by the brand.
To ensure that your ghostwriters write with expertise and authority, you have to provide detailed content outlines or directions, set clear guidelines, create a consistent voice, and vet content carefully. If the “author” listed on the page approves the content and agrees to have the work published under their name, then using a ghostwriter maintains authenticity and honesty.
- Using Expert Editors– Another way to efficiently create E-A-T-level content for link building is to use expert editors to review and revise articles from writers with less knowledge of the subject matter. If an expert with years of experience and an abundance of accolades edits an article written by another person, displaying their bio on the page will boost the content’s authority. The content produced still has an expert stamp of approval, but that expert doesn’t have to spend a long time on research and writing.
- Links and Landing Pages
The Google link scheme guidelines quoted above make it clear that Google doesn’t support businesses dispersing a high volume of guest posts. As previously discussed, newer and smaller companies often have to rely on guest blogging to start earning links. Despite Google discouraging the practice, you can still successfully leverage guest posts without ever misleading users. To do this, you’ll have to pay close attention to how you use links to your site within a guest post. Consider the following:
- The Link’s Landing Page– The landing page you choose for a backlink to your website should always add value for the reader of the original article. Select a landing page that closely relates to the article and provides information that anyone reading the original article would find useful.
- The Link’s Placement– Links within guest posts should look like the editorial links that Google prefers. Work the link into the article naturally, and make sure to include additional links that lead to websites other than your own.
- The Link’s Anchor Text– Anchor text should always signify to the reader what they will find when they click the link. If the content on the other side of the link confuses or surprises the reader, you will lose their trust. On the other hand, if the content adds value for the reader, Google will perceive the link as a natural editor link.
- Relationships with Bloggers
In its link scheme guidelines, Google states that “excessive link exchanges (‘link to me and I’ll link to you’) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking” will “negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results.” While you should keep this rule in mind and refrain from inauthentic schemes, don’t misinterpret it and let it discourage you from building genuine relationships with bloggers and other websites.
When reaching out to bloggers, influencers, and site managers to pitch guest posts or ask for a brand mention, remember the mutually beneficial aspects of this practice. If you do form a positive relationship with a blogger, your site will earn links, and their website will get new content. In no way does building strong professional relationships with bloggers who can use your content mislead readers. Conversely, these partnerships help readers find more content that relates to them and answers their questions.
Working Within a Google-driven System
No one can deny that Google dominates the web—research shows that as of May 2020, Google made up more than 92 percent of global search engine market shares. How well your site performs on Google SERPs will dramatically affect how much revenue your business brings in, but that doesn’t mean Google ultimately determines your success. At the end of the day, Google, just like your business, aims to satisfy its customers. If you create E-A-T content that meets the needs of your users, your website will thrive.