How WebMD Built A $128M Moat Using E-A-T SEO
Google looks out for its users, no doubt.
(And itself, of course. Who wouldn’t look out for themselves? 😉)
You can tell from past, and present product updates, including its latest helpful content update, that satisfying search intent is Google’s priority.
For example, Google rolled out the medic update in 2018 to identify and prioritize content that showed expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) from “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) websites. As a result, many websites saw a massive drop in organic traffic. But WebMD didn’t. In fact, the healthcare website saw an increase in traffic after the update:
At the time of this writing, the website has almost 200 million monthly visitors who rely on them for healthcare solutions. WebMD has gained more from prioritizing content that satisfies readers.
Here’s what its search scorecard looks like:
SaaS companies can learn a lot from WebMD’s SEO strategy, as its success shows how Google rewards websites that focus on creating people-first content.
Let’s dive into how WebMD used this strategy to build a $128M SEO moat and land a $2.8 billion acquisition.
How WebMD Demonstrates E-A-T
E-A-T is one of the qualities Google looks out for in a web page to determine how helpful its content will be to potential readers.
In simple words, the acronym means:
E-A-T is a more critical ranking factor regarding desirable content for YMYL websites because their advice directly impacts a person’s health, happiness, safety, or financial stability. Examples include medical, financial, or legal advice. In WebMD’s case, it’s medical and wellness advice.
Imagine searching for a life-threatening topic like “covid symptoms,” and the top results are from low-authority websites or random authors who aren’t experts in the industry and have no real insight to share. I bet you won’t feel safe or satisfied enough to take action based on the advice.
Google knows this. That’s why it ensures websites that demonstrate E-A-T are the first ones you see on the results page. A quick google search for the query, COVID symptoms, shows high authority websites like CDC and WebMD dominate the SERPs:
WebMD’s position was earned in part by demonstrating expert knowledge by covering relevant angles of the COVID symptoms:
Outlining these subtopics in a table of contents makes it easy for the reader to navigate to parts of the article that matters most to them. They don’t have to read the whole article to gain instant value, and that “fast time to value” plus WebMD’s demonstrated depth makes Google so happy, hence the reward.
Besides covering these topics, WebMD also offers readers additional information about their problems by giving them tools to check their symptoms, find a doctor, and more. These are visible at the top of the page and at the end of the article:
The web page has earned almost 17,000 backlinks since 2020 from high-authority websites like HuffPost, Yahoo Finance, CNet, and lots more. That’s authority in action. WebMD has become a source of truth for industry and non-industry leaders.
The webpage currently drives over 1 million monthly search traffic for WebMD. That’s one-fourth of the 4 million people searching for answers using this query every month. That shows how much people trust WebMD’s advice.
WebMD also ranks and drives insane traffic for a couple of high-value keywords. Here are the top five:
Let’s see how more SaaS companies can show E-A-T and potentially improve their search traffic.
3 Ways to Show E-A-T and Potentially Boost Your Organic Traffic
Create more link-worthy content
Backlinks are a vote of confidence from other websites that shows Google how reliable the information on your website is. The higher the website’s domain rating, the more your authority grows.
A sure way to earn backlinks is by creating content that is so relevant and accurate that it can self-generate those links over time. Or by leveraging category pages or topic clusters.
A close look at WebMD’s backlink profile shows category pages generate the most backlinks for the website.
These category pages are a group of related web pages on specific topics that link to each other. They help Google and humans better understand your website and easily find the necessary information.
The result? More answers to the reader’s questions, better site architecture, higher rankings, and more backlinks, potentially like WebMD.
(Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know 😅)
This scorecard shows how many backlinks WebMD’s category pages have:
The impressive number of backlinks generated isn’t the only brilliant thing about this strategy. It’s how each category ties back to WebMD’s value proposition as the go-to expert for people looking for better information for better health.
If you haven’t already, you can organize your website with category pages in these few steps:
- Define Your Value Proposition
- Choose Industry-Relevant Topics You Want to Be Known For
- Review your existing content to see if it matches your value proposition
- Sort existing content by search intent
- Find Related Keywords & Search Queries For Each Sales Funnel Stage
Update your content regularly
As I mentioned already, Google looks out for its readers. You should too.
A reliable way to thrive during algorithm updates is to ensure you’re always identifying and updating existing content. That means looking for ways to improve the content’s quality to ensure it’s always valuable to the reader.
Here are nine things you can do to improve your content during an update:
- Include New Takeaways
- Add Third Party Quotes
- Include New Industry Research
- Embed Video Content + Podcasts
- Incorporate Downloadable Assets such as templates
- Add New Sections That Offer More Value to the reader
- Add a Table of Contents
- Update Old Data and the Date of the Piece
- Improve the Visuals That Originally Were Published
These should help you make existing content more valuable, boost organic traffic, and stay in Google’s good books.
Hire or collaborate with industry experts
Leveraging experts’ influence is a sure way to demonstrate expertise, build authority, and show trust, especially for YMYL topics.
WebMD hires certified medical experts to write for its website.
For example, this piece on the “picture of the skin” was written by a medical expert, Matthew Hoffman, MD, and reviewed by a practicing dermatologist, Stephanie S. Gardner, MD:
If you click on the author and reviewer’s profile, you’ll see how each brings 16 and 20 years of experience respectively.
Collaborating with experts allows WebMD to create educational pieces rooted in research and relevance. Also, showing their credential is a way to build trust with the readers and encourage them to take action and improve their lives. After all, Google favors authors who have proven expertise over those who don’t.
Of course, not everyone has the budget to hire people with 20 or even 10 years of experience to write or review a piece. You can always invite these experts to guest posts, interview an expert for your next blog post, or find a mutually beneficial way to collaborate with the expert.
Or you can be the expert. If you have a proven track record—say you’ve won some industry awards, spoken at a notable industry conference, or bagged a Ph.D. or some super important certification, please flaunt it. Google needs to know you have an expert in your corner, even if that expert is you.
Put Your Audience at the center of your strategy
WebMD is so successful because it embodies Google’s core purpose—creating helpful, people-first content.
People want to know you’re the expert. They are looking to you for guidance, and sharing valuable information that helps them solve a problem is a sure way to win their hearts and, eventually, their money. You should update your content pieces regularly to ensure they are still relevant and helpful.
People also want to know you’re the authority. Show authority by creating assets that generate backlinks over time. You can also leverage topic clusters to achieve this.
Finally, make it easy for people to trust you by including notable achievements or qualifications in your profile, leveraging industry experts’ influence, and adding your contact information so readers can easily reach you.
That’s how you demonstrate E-A-T and build credibility over time.