It’s an old marketing cliche that people buy from people, not brands, and if you spend any amount of time on LinkedIn, you’ll be inundated with personal branding gurus explaining to you exactly why that is.
Ultimately, it all comes down to trust — the T in Google’s E-A-T.
People are more likely to trust a brand or organization with a real human face. In a crowded e-commerce space, that trust (or lack thereof) can make or break a website’s fortune in the SERPs.
This, combined with a move away from historic link-building activities, such as link exchanges or broken link building, has seen brands of all sizes from household names to e-commerce start-ups jump on the thought-leadership bandwagon.
Free and easy-to-access tools such as HARO and the Twitter #journorequest hashtag offer a low barrier to entry and give the misleading impression that this is an easy route to links in top-tier publications — without the need to invest in a long-term strategy.
When done right, this type of digital PR can deliver a range of benefits for both SEO and brand awareness, but building trust both with search engines and consumers takes time and consistency.
Below I’ve included some examples of best practice, as well as explained how to avoid common pitfalls.
A strong “About Us” page is one of the most important on-page trust signals for a content SEO strategy when it comes to E-A-T. Whether you’re using the page to introduce one subject matter expert or a whole team, make sure to include a decent headshot and a bio clearly outlining their credentials, role, and expertise.
The Huel “About Us” page is a great example featuring a photo and quick bio of their founder Julian Hearn:
Don’t invent a subject matter expert just to put a face to the website and suggest that content is written with authority. And don’t be tempted to use a stock photo on an “About Us” page or author profile — we all know how easy it is to reverse image search a profile picture. If a journalist is impressed with an expert’s credentials, and reaches out for a phone or Zoom interview with someone who doesn’t exist, it’s going to be very awkward.
Don’t fake it until you make it
Google has made it clear that it values everyday expertise, so there really is no need to fake a doctorate. Instead, find an authentic way to present real, lived expertise.
Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines state:
“Some topics require less formal expertise. Many people write extremely detailed, helpful reviews of products or restaurants. Many people share tips and life experiences on forums, blogs, etc.”
Huel is a nutrition brand but its founder is honest about his area of expertise, which is business and start-ups. The Huel website doesn’t attempt to present him as a qualified nutritionist in hopes of landing links or impressing Google.
This level of transparency is best practice whatever the industry, but is especially important for financial or medical experts, which leads us on to…
Health and wealth
Google has been very open about setting a higher bar for what it deems “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) pages. This is any page that, according to the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, could impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.
This doesn’t just apply to the websites of banks or healthcare providers. Health and wealth could cover a multitude of e-commerce industries, from websites selling CBD products, vapes, or supplements, to online casinos and loan services.
Google wants to see that this content is written by those with authority on these topics. Digital PR can play a crucial role by positioning on-site authors as subject experts and having them cited elsewhere — whether that be in newspapers, academic studies, or on government websites.
When outreaching content, it’s always best to assume that both Google’s algorithm and a journalist’s instincts are going to be well trained in identifying a real expert from a phony.
Digital PR is still PR — yes we’re here to build links, but those who adopt a “links at all costs” approach will often find it comes at the detriment of a brand.
There’s nothing wrong with using a strong soundbite to get coverage in the press, and there is nothing wrong with being controversial when appropriate. Some start-ups deliberately build a reputation on being outspoken and disruptive, but you must always consider how a quote will reflect on the brand, and crucially, whether it will contradict company ethos.
Reactive PR, especially newsjacking, is fast-paced, and this can make abiding by tone of voice guidelines feel like wasted time. But remember: you’re not just building links, you’re building a reputation. This means you run the risk of doing serious reputational damage if you ignore a brand’s vision and values in the quest for links.
In a world of screenshots and digital “receipts”, being caught saying one thing in the press and one thing on site can make a brand or expert look at best a bit silly and at worst untrustworthy.
Huel are open on their About Us page about Julian’s expertise, and they take the same approach in the press. Julian is cited as talking about business and start-ups in business publications, not talking about nutrients in science journals.
It’s also worth bearing in mind whether a brand or expert can add real value to a story, especially when the news centers around real human suffering such as a school shooting or the invasion of Ukraine. Sometimes it’s better to just sit a story out — there are bigger things than SEO.
Don’t sleep on socials
When it comes to trust signals, social profiles can often be overlooked. After all, it’s not usually something that falls under digital PR’s remit. However, when you’ve got a real subject matter expert on page, you’re going to want to ensure that both journalists and Google know this.
If you contact a journalist with commentary or analysis from an on-page subject expert, the likelihood is they will Google them, and a public-facing social profile (LinkedIn, Twitter, or even TikTok) that demonstrates industry or subject knowledge will make the journalist feel more comfortable including them in an article.
Make sure that the About Us page links out to these social profiles, and don’t forget to include a link back to the site in the bio of the social profiles.
The perfect E-A-T circle
When Google sets its Search Quality Raters on a website, they will cross the web looking for signals confirming expertise and authority – including everything from news articles to Wikipedia pages – meaning even non-linked citations have value here.
This is where a holistic thought-leadership for digital PR strategy that incorporates newsjacking, About Us pages, and social profiles can start helping both Google and journalists connect the dots on a thought-leader’s expertise.
A subject-relevant news article that cites an expert’s name, or better yet, links to an About Us page, means that the next time a journalist Googles them, they’ll see even more evidence that they are an expert.
This should result in more coverage, more evidence of authority on the topic, and ultimately more trust signals for Google. The perfect circle of expertise, authority, and trust.