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YMYL – Your Money or Your Life: Everything You Need to Know

YMYL – Your Money or Your Life: Everything You Need to Know

Back in 2015, Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines gave us a rare glimpse into what makes the search engine’s algorithms tick. They also introduced us to Your Money or Your Life, or YMYL, as well as two other critical insights that factor into how Google defines page quality:

  • Beneficial Purpose – The value the page represents to the user. For example, an instruction manual for a new piece of tech is going to score more highly in terms of beneficial purpose than a few flowery paragraphs telling everyone how great the tech is.
  • EAT – Expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness. Quite simply, what are the credentials of the author, and what qualifies them to offer advice on this topic?
  • YMYL – Your Money or Your Life. This is the real high stakes content. This is content that could seriously impact the future of the reader or viewer in terms of their happiness, health, safety, or financial security.

All of the above are important considerations, but it is the third and final element – YMYL – that we’re going to be discussing first.

Infographic with 3 circles explaining the 3 concepts of YMYL, EAT< and Beneficial Purpose

What Do the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines Say About YMYL?

Google didn’t come up with the name Your Money or Your Life for no reason.

Prudent investment guidance can transform your future, a winning diet plan can see you get into the shape you’ve always dreamed of, the right psychological advice can help you move towards a healthier, happier state of mind.

And what’s the flip side of this?

Dodgy financial advice wrecks lives, spurious health guidelines can put us in danger, the wrong words at the wrong time can drive vulnerable people to suicide. It cannot be stressed enough that YMYL blog post and article content is high stakes.

What’s more, Google is under no illusion here. They recognise the commitment they have to their users and to the public at large. Here’s what the guidelines themselves had to say:

“For these “YMYL” pages, we assume that users expect us to operate with our strictest standards of trustworthiness and safety. As such, where our algorithms detect that a user’s query relates to a “YMYL” topic, we will give more weight in our ranking systems to factors like our understanding of the authoritativeness, expertise, or trustworthiness of the pages we present in response.”

What does this mean exactly? Well, it shows us that Google will be shifting and modifying their ranking algorithms based upon the nature of the query. If a user is looking for content – or, more generally, advice – that Google deems to be in the YMYL category, then the search engine results will be affected.

We can also consider the wording of the guidelines. “Strict standards of trustworthiness and safety”. It is safe to say that this means Google measures the EAT signals more acutely when dealing with content that falls into the YMYL category.

How Do We Know That This Is Really the Case?

Anyone who has worked in SEO or content marketing for a while has a degree of insight into how Google operates. The search engine giant has a habit of shifting the goalposts at inopportune times or completely pulling the rug out from under the feet of a poor, unsuspecting webmaster or publisher.

So, it is a fair question to ask: how can we be sure that these YMYL guidelines are really in force?

Well, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. If you open up a browser tab now and make a Google search, you will see these signals in action.

Let’s say you search for “how to make balloon animals”. You are going to be met with a bunch of different pages, each of which is cheerfully telling you how to rustle up a giraffe or a bunny rabbit to impress at your next family party. You’ll probably notice that many of these pages are somewhat heavy on the sales-front, are offering cheap and easy ways to buy party balloons online, or are even touting the services of kids’ entertainers. Of course, this content won’t be too spammy as these pages have still managed to battle their way up to the first page of the Google rankings – no mean feat, as we all know – but you can bet there will be some spurious tips offered by people who are not exactly experts in the field of balloon animal artistry.

Let’s try a different search. Let’s say you search for “symptoms of depression”. Immediately, Google recognises that you may be suffering from a serious psychiatric condition and that the help you are seeking needs to reflect the disorder in terms of the level of magnitude. Suddenly, the standard of the results you receive becomes considerably higher. You begin to see author names next to the content, many of which have numerous letters after the surname to demonstrate the author’s prowess in their respective fields.

To put it simply, Google is not playing around with this type of query. There is no doubt about this.

What About More Recent Updates?

The more recent updates to Google’s algorithm have been the source of major confusion for publishers. However, the end result of these updates was a little more straightforward than it first appeared.

First came the Medic Update in August of 2018. Right off the bat, it was obvious that Google was focusing on YMYL sites and was keen to bring them into line with the standards the search engine itself had set. All of a sudden, publishers in key areas of YMYL-designated content – health and finance, in particular – found that their pages were being massacred in the rankings.

This is a textbook example of good intentions and lack of proactivity – so often the SEO downfall of publishers and webmasters. These publishers perhaps had great content, with well researched, actionable advice throughout. But maybe they didn’t go the extra mile and put those all-important author citations in place, or perhaps they left out some of their key reference links, thinking they had already met their quota.

The algorithm has no mercy and no time for such behaviour.

But then, several months later in March 2019, Google relented. The Core update for that month seemed to roll back on YMYL pages, many of which seemed to experience a boost in rankings. This rollback was not complete, it should be noted, and the affected pages were still well below the heights they had enjoyed in the first half of 2018.

Had Google eased off the accelerator? Were YMYL pages and their content really not so important in the eyes of Google after all? Not likely. YMYL and EAT actually make perfect sense in the context of Google’s aims and of the service they want to provide to their users.

Sure enough, when the June 2019 Core update rolled around, YMYL was back with a vengeance. Once again, sub-par YMYL pages were taking a battering in the rankings, resulting in many unhappy publishers, but an all-around better service for those searching for high-importance content via the platform.

Confusion reigned, but only briefly. It is pretty certain that Google is going to be continuing to take YMYL content seriously in the near future and beyond. As mentioned above, it makes perfect sense – searchers come to Google because the engine is ostensibly the best in the business. Your Money or Your Life content is a vital cornerstone in all of this.

Optimising Pages for EAT and YMYL

Ok, so we’ve covered quite a lot of ground so far and we’ve analysed what EAT and YMYL really mean, as well as Beneficial Purpose. So let’s start to think a little more practically; let’s start to consider how we can make sure that our pages are scoring well on the EAT indicators, and not falling foul of any YMYL guidelines.

We’re going to be putting Beneficial Purpose to one side for a minute. This is because we hope it goes without saying that your web content has to be genuinely useful and should be aimed at giving your audience the best experience possible. It has long been established that “high-quality”, “organic” results on SERPs are the aim for Google, and anything without a Beneficial Purpose is simply going to fall at the first hurdle.

Let’s look at YMYL first as this is going to feed into EAT and play a serious role in how EAT affects your pages.

The first thing to consider when optimising for YMYL is this: is my content actually in the YMYL category? We’ve touched on this above, but, as with anything involving Google and search engine rankings, the actual criteria are not so straightforward. For example, news and current affairs could be considered YMYL, but not all news and current affairs content will receive that designation. We’ll take a look at a few examples of YMYL content below:

  • News: If your content is covering weighty topics such as international affairs or other genuinely newsworthy fields, this is going to be YMYL. If it is considered ‘frivolous’ or less immediately critical to the global or local stage, it may not be designated YMYL.
  • Legal and government: We live in a democracy and an informed electorate is an important part of that democracy. If your content provides information that could influence voting or other civic processes, this is going to be considered YMYL.
  • Financial advice or information: This we’ve already covered – financial advice can have a huge impact on a person’s life. Sure-fire YMYL.
  • Retail: This is where it gets a little tricky. Some retailers purport that their products are life-changing for one reason or another. If this is the case with your line of products, you are likely to find your content marked as YMYL. However, this is something of a grey area.
  • Public safety and public health: If you are offering any advice or information related to the health and safety of your audience, it is highly likely that you will receive a YMYL designation.
  • Social groups or demographics: Content that provides information related to specific social groups or demographics will be considered YMYL. This includes groups related to race or ethnicity, sexuality, gender, nationality, disability, age, armed forces status, faith or religious beliefs, among other factors.
  • Miscellaneous: The above list is pretty far from exhaustive. There are many other factors that could land you with a YMYL designation, including offering information about employment or accommodation, education, fitness, and more.

Infographic showing examples of YMYL content

A quick note: Remember that you are not trying to avoid a YMYL designation, even though, at times, it may feel as if you should. Instead, you simply need to know when your content has the potential of receiving such a designation as you will need to be extra careful with optimisation.

Practical Optimisation for Designated Pages

So, now that you have decided whether or not your content will be considered YMYL, it’s time to get optimising. The first thing you need to do is choose your authors very carefully. The whole idea of YMYL is to make the right information accessible to the right people, from the right providers. We are not trying to ‘trick’ the algorithm here; we are trying to make sure our content is genuinely useful.

Author bios

With your content authors chosen, you need to begin building their biographies. Create author pages with information on who the authors are and what their backgrounds are, as well as listing their academic and professional credentials. Links and citations are a must here as Google is not simply going to take your word that your hot-shot cardiologist has the degree you say she has. Provide links to academic institutions, to third-party write-ups, to interviews from external publishers, to award citations, and to their own published work, preferably in high ranking academic journals.

This can be an ongoing process, and you can bolster these author biographies with additional links and citations as you go along. However, you need to have a good foundation of reputable links before you publish to ensure that your content does not get penalised.

Deploy your experts in their respective fields

Don’t be tempted to cast your expert author as a jack-of-all-trades, either. After scoring big results with a wonderfully written piece about lower back pain, you might commission your expert to write about a recent change in housing legislation in your area – perhaps for a different website. This is a mistake – an expert is an expert for a reason; because they objectively know a great deal about their chosen field. They may also have a great deal of knowledge about housing legislation due to personal interest, but they will not be considered credible in a YMYL context.

Check your facts

So, the content is written and ready to go. What comes next? As always, you need to fact check. However, with YMYL content, you need to fact check extra hard. Even the experts make mistakes, and this can throw your content way off the mark. If someone raises a complaint about the advice you have given, expect to be severely penalised, so take the time to check for accuracy.

Take extra care with affiliate links

If you decide to enhance your income with affiliate links or paid advertisements on your pages, good for you. This is a great way to make some extra money from your web pages. However, don’t forget that Google will hold these links to a high standard too. Do a quick audit of them and make sure they are not harming your page in any way. This means you can keep your extra source of revenue, without running the risk of harming your pages.

Also, be careful with user-generated content

You may also decide to run user-generated content on your pages. This is a great way to engage your audience and to build up the content on your site. But remember, while the user might be the author, you are still the publisher, and you have a legal obligation to handle this role in the right way!

Vet all content and remove anything you think might jeopardise your EAT triggers.

Infographic highlighting various optimisation factors that should be carried out if your content is YMYL

So, now you know a bit more about Your Money or Your Life content and how it works – and now that you recognise how important it is to make sure those expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness signals are firing on all cylinders – what’s next?

Well, you need to make sure all your content is up to scratch. You need to check that your pages are authoritative and trustworthy and that your YMYL pages are really hitting those high standards expected by Google. This is where an SEO audit can make a world of difference.

We provide expert SEO audit services that make sure your website is performing as it should be. Get in touch with our team today to learn more, to get started, and to take the right steps towards a formidable web presence.

It all starts here.

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