THOMAS GOETZ ; LAUNCHPAD
Your EAT Is What You Are
No matter what kind of company you are—tech startup
or food truck—Google’s acronym should guide you.
(@tgoetz) is an
his digital health
startup and now
serves as chief of
research at GoodRx.
like to think I have a good reputation.
Someone who works hard, knows what
he’s doing, creates helpful products,
and is trustworthy. So when I started a
company, I figured those virtues would
apply to my venture, Iodine.com. If I
was credible, so was my startup.
That was true, to a point. In our
early days of recruiting and fundraising,
EAT: expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
EAT, which has applications for every business, has been
a buzzword since 2013, when Google first released its Search
Quality Evaluator Guidelines. That was a document meant to
instruct Google’s team of third-party website raters on the ideal
elements of a worthy website. More EAT equals better quality
equals higher page rank. With thousands of sites competing for
the top 10 spots on the first page of Google results, expertise,
authoritativeness, and trustworthiness are reasonable benchmarks for quality. After all, the Google gods are merely surrogates for the user, who’s searching for the best info in the
shortest possible time. The better the search result, the more
satisfied the user.
But even if you don’t compete on Google, any new company—which by definition has no prior reputation and few
apparent virtues—should be overtly, exhaustively, and excessively promoting its inherent expertise, authoritativeness, and
trustworthiness. To win a customer, to sell your product—to
succeed—you need to convince a skeptical audience that your
outfit is legit. That it has expertise—meaning you know what
you’re doing. That it is authoritative—meaning others recognize
you as credible. And that it is worthy of trust—meaning it is
dependable and sticks to accepted standards and protocols for
security, accuracy, and reliability.
Note that trust signals from third parties are not the same as
trustworthiness. You can plaster TechCrunch and Better Busi-
ness Bureau logos all over your site, but their marks alone don’t
assure potential partners or customers that they can trust your
brand with their data, their privacy, their quarterly deliverables.
So how does your company show its EAT? First, nail down
your core promise: What should customers expect from your
product? (For The New York Times, the promise is truth; for
Whole Foods, it’s quality; for Amazon, it’s convenience.) That
promise must be backed up in every product, exchange, and
communication. Make sure your employees know the promise,
and honor it with every opportunity. That shows EAT better
than marketing material or website badges.
In other words, earn your EAT. This means more than
checking the boxes. These are virtues that need to be demon-
strated, and proved, in whatever venue your company might be
judged. Really, EAT represents traits that any prospective busi-
ness partners or customers are looking for, before they’re will-
ing to put their money and their reputation on the line and do
business with you. A startup must work extra hard to demon-
strate these virtues, since it is, by definition, fresh to the game.
In the case of Iodine, we thought a self-e;acing About page
would su;ce. We were wrong. We soon heard that, despite
our personal reputations, there were questions about whether
our company was, um, real. So we added more facts and
figures and bona fides to our website to bolster our EAT. And
then, a few months later, we went back and added more,
and we did this again and again.
Which is the takeaway for all startups, whether you
compete on Google search or not. After all, search results are
just a marketplace, albeit a fiercely competitive and massively
engineered one. If you aren’t competing for page 1, you’re surely
competing in some other marketplace where these same signals
are in play. In other words: Heed your EAT—or be eaten.