Is there a correlation between the author of an article and higher rankings?
In other words, does Google “know” if a person is an expert in their subject, and rank a given article by them higher than a “non-expert” in that same field?
This is a question that comes up a lot because of E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness) in the Search Quality Rater Guidelines.
The idea is that humans grading the search results give feedback on how the ranking algorithm works for a given search query.
That feedback is used by the Google engineers to update the ranking algorithm, to make it closer to what a real human would choose.
How many people believe this works (and how some SEOs teach the concept) is that Google has a Knowledge Graph of most authors of web content, and can “judge” the level of expertise in a given category by a specific author. Supposedly, the authors with the most “authority” and “expertise” will rank higher than a non-expert.
This sounds great in theory, but from what I have observed, this is not even close to how it really works in practice.
Now, the only people who know for certain how the algorithm works are the people who work on it for Google. But from everything I have seen, Google ties authority to the website, and not the individual authors. There are several good reasons for this.
Google Cannot “Grade” Everyone’s Expertise in a Given Subject
For one, there’s no way for Google to know for certain who wrote a piece of content. Sure, you can put an author bio on an article, but that doesn’t mean that person wrote it. Spammers can easily copy and paste an author bio from a subject matter expert and put it on an article that they wrote.
Any ranking signal that can be easily “gamed” or manipulated is a bad signal.
Google Can Evaluate a Website Much Easier Than an Individual
Second, if a website has a long track record of providing content that seems to satisfy searches, Google is more likely to “push” content from that site in the future. Of course, you still need to have external links from other sites, good UX, and other signals that are hallmarks of a quality site. But the longevity and consistency of content that satisfies users is, and should be tied to the website, not an individual author.
How do I know this is how it really works? By observing hundreds of sites where the author of the content is unknown, and the site consistently ranks well. Also by reading numerous SEO forums where site owners hired a PhD or other expert to write content, frustrated that they aren’t ranking.
The Ranking Algorithm: Pattern Matching What Satisfies a Search, At Scale
Google uses machine learning to determine what searchers are looking for in each given search query. (I suspect that they use real users signals from Chrome to “judge” what works and what doesn’t. Though they will never say this if it is true. They’ve said they don’t use Google Analytics data for the ranking algorithm. )
The themes, elements, and content that appears in content that appears to satisfy users becomes a pattern, or vector, for future rankings. If your new article matches certain characteristics in content that is already satisfying people typing that specific query, you have a higher probability of ranking well.
Most importantly, Google cannot accurately determine who is a subject matter expert in any given field, when there are billions of websites, up to hundreds of millions of authors, with more added every day. If a human being cannot determine who is an expert, who is intermediate, who is a novice, for any given category of human knowledge, then the ranking algorithm can’t either. This is a capability that it does not possess – evaluating expertise of infinite authors in infinite categories of information.
Think about it from the perspective of an algorithm engineer. How do you evaluate thousands to millions of pieces of content for any subject? Including subjects and fields of study that are new and emerging – being created in real-time? Evaluating an “expert” by the number of years in their industry or number of degrees can also lead to bad results. There are plenty of people with lots of “experience” but not a lot of “expertise” in every field.
Signals From Your Site & Good Content = SEO Wins
Lastly, the signals from the site itself will help you more than hiring a PhD or Ted Talk speaker to write an article. Does your website have links from sites that Google already trusts? If your site has editorial links (in the main content) from respected sites in your category, that will do wonders for your SEO. Having a website with good user experience that people enjoy being on is also important. If you have these things in place, and you target keywords thoughtfully with content that matches the prevailing pattern, your SEO will be in good shape.
We like to believe that Google’s ranking algorithm and Knowledge Graph have omnipotent powers. But the reality is, the engineers must use reliable data sets to evaluate trillions of web pages at scale. Most web authors aren’t in the Knowledge Graph, and Google has incomplete data on them, at best.
Winning at SEO is essentially thinking about how Google solves problems with the limited data they have, and getting the majority of searchers to their intended goal with minimal friction.