Google uses the phrase “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) to describe topics or pages that could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability or safety if presented inaccurately.
The stakes are high for this type of content. That’s why Google’s algorithms hold these pages to a higher standard.
You need to know whether the topics you cover are considered YMYL. When publishing YMYL topics, also pay attention to what Google values in terms of E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) in your vertical.
This in-depth article will discuss what type of content Google considers to be YMYL and how you can use this information to determine what you should be focusing on to improve E-A-T for those pages.
What is YMYL?
Google used the acronym YMYL, “Your Money or your Life,” in the June 2013 version of the search quality evaluator guidelines:
“There are some pages for which PQ is particularly important. We call these pages Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages. They are pages that can have an impact on your current or future well being (physical, financial, safety, etc.). YMYL pages should come from reputable websites, and the content should be created with a high level of expertise and authority.”
Section 7.2 of the 2013 Google search quality evaluator guidelines
PQ here means Page Quality.
Google created the guidelines to teach its team of search quality raters who evaluate and provide feedback on the quality of search results and web pages to Google engineers. Initially, they were not publicly available, but today, Google makes this document accessible to everyone. You can read more here about how Google uses its team of search quality evaluators.
Google tells the raters that if a page is likely to significantly impact a user’s life, it needs to be considered high quality. It needs to be created with a high level of expertise and authority.
Google later reiterated the importance of good E-A-T for YMYL pages in official public documentation. From Google’s guide on how Google fights disinformation:
“We introduced the YMYL category in 2014. They include financial transaction or information pages, medical and legal information pages, as well as news articles, and public and/or official information pages that are important for having an informed citizenry.”
Excerpt from how Google fights disinformation
“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.”
Excerpt from how Google fights disinformation
I have added the bolding above. When Google’s algorithms detect that a query relates to a YMYL topic, then more weight is given in their ranking systems to factors contributing to their E-A-T assessment.
E-A-T is very important.
How you improve E-A-T will vary depending on your industry and the topics covered. Understanding what Google wants to value in terms of E-A-T for your pages can help you determine where to focus your efforts in improving site quality.
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What is E-A-T?
E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) is a concept that represents Google’s attempts to determine the authenticity of your business, your website and its content. It’s not a single score or metric that we can measure or try to replicate. Rather, Google gathers information from around the web to help approximate whether your website is authentic enough to rank. As mentioned previously, if you write on topics that could be considered YMYL, understanding what Google could assess in terms of E-A-T for your topics is important.
Google’s documentation on what site owners should know about core updates tells us that “assessing your own content in terms of E-A-T criteria may help align it conceptually with the different signals that [their] automated systems use to rank content.”
Whenever Google hints that something could help us rank better, you should pay attention! So how do we know what these “E-A-T criteria” are? Google’s recommendation is to read the search quality rater guidelines (QRG) for guidance.
“If you understand how raters learn to assess good content, that might help you improve your own content. In turn, you might perhaps do better in Search.
In particular, raters are trained to understand if content has what we call strong E-A-T. That stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. Reading the guidelines may help you assess how your content is doing from an E-A-T perspective and improvements to consider.”
Excerpt from Google’s search quality rater guidelines
The guidelines thoroughly describe many aspects of E-A-T that can be evaluated. We do not know to what extent Google’s algorithms try to replicate what is in the QRG, but as Google’s Ben Gomes said in a CNBC article,
“You can view the rater guidelines as where we want the search algorithm to go…They don’t tell you how the algorithm is ranking results, but they fundamentally show what the algorithm should do.”
Ben Gomes, Google vice president of search engineering, in 2017
Understanding E-A-T like a quality rater can sometimes help give us an advantage in search. If we know what Google is likely to value, we know how to improve the quality of our pages.
Here is just a small section of how the raters are taught to assess E-A-T in the QRG.
For five years now, my team and I have thoroughly studied the QRG and everything Google has told us on E-A-T. A complete discussion on how to improve E-A-T is beyond the scope of this article. I have written much on the subject here.
I recommend that every SEO reads through the QRG, especially the examples listed within. Ask yourself whether they could apply to your business. In answering these questions, you should find yourself starting to develop a strategy for improving E-A-T.
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How can you improve E-A-T?
When we first started to learn about E-A-T a few years ago, many people focused strongly on the importance of adding expert authors and building out author bios and profiles.
While this can be a way to improve E-A-T and also improve user trust, it may not be necessary for all types of content and pages. Author bios can be great for users, but only in so much as they can demonstrate the expertise or authority of the creator of the content.
It is the E-A-T of the content creator that matters.
So digging a little deeper and working on a brand’s recognition and reputation in ways that a search engine could pick up on is an excellent way to work on your E-A-T.
You can also improve E-A-T by working to better answer the questions in Google’s blog post on core updates (or even Amit Singhal’s Panda Questions or Stanford’s guidelines for web credibility).
Getting links or even mentions from authoritative sites in your vertical is vital for improving E-A-T. Links are closely connected to PageRank, Trust and Authoritativeness.
Even unlinked mentions may help Google discover information about your entities that help them learn information about your business.
In some cases, adding references linking to authoritative resources may help improve how helpful or trustworthy a piece of content is for answering a YMYL query. For other sites, an E-A-T-based strategy may start with adding schema to help Google better understand the entities within your content and how they are interconnected.
There is so much you can do to improve E-A-T.
Let’s look at the above paragraph from the QRG. Based on this paragraph, here is some E-A-T-related advice we could give to clients that may help improve the quality of their pages.
- Ensure that if we have pages with medical or financial content that authors with expertise write it and that it is regularly updated as new information is available.
- Ensure that false information or information that contradicts expert consensus is not published on the site. If it must, we recommend moving this to its own folder or subdomain. Ensure all information that can be supported with authoritative and trustworthy references is.
- Determine which sections of our content would and would not be likely to be considered YMYL by Google. Review author expertise, reference use, etc., on those pages in particular.
- Compare competitor pages in the SERPs to see if pages ranking demonstrates more E-A-T in a way that you could replicate. For example, ranking may be difficult if a physician authors articles ranking for your keyword and yours are not. In some cases, adding an expert reviewer may be enough to convince Google this article is written with appropriate expertise. We suspect that Google’s algorithms can determine whether content truly is expert-written and factual. The goal here is not to try and trick Google into thinking your content is expert level, but rather to actually have that type of content.
You can take this even further by analyzing the E-A-T of competitors ranking for the keywords you want to rank. For example, suppose the pages ranking for your queries are all authored by recognized experts in your field, with comparable content quality and accuracy. In that case, you are unlikely to rank without one. If the product pages you want to compete against all have user reviews, you likely need good reviews as well.
Using the examples in the QRG to determine where and how to focus your E-A-T improving efforts
I recently saw something that I had not seen before despite reading the QRG many times; each of the examples listed is labeled as YMYL or not! For instance, recipe pages are not called YMYL. Product pages are, but many pages that talk about products, such as a page advising on choosing a stroller, are not.
The following image is from section 4.6 of the most recent version of the QRG published in October of 2021. The section is called Examples of high-quality pages. You can see that some are labeled as YMYL, and some are not.
By reading through the many examples in the QRG, you should determine whether or not Google considers your pages to be YMYL. If so, you absolutely must pay close attention to E-A-T.
E-A-T may still be necessary for non-YMYL pages, but likely not as much. And different components of E-A-T are likely to matter. While a site writing on a medical topic may be considered to have E-A-T due to having expert authors, a humor or recipe site might benefit from improving things like popularity/recognition, user engagement and user reviews.
An e-commerce site would likely benefit from generating a higher volume of helpful reviews from past customers than adding expert authors.
Even if you aren’t sure whether you should be working on E-A-T, the examples in the guidelines should help you determine what is likely to be considered when it comes to Google’s understanding of expertise, authoritativeness and trust.
Not sure if E-A-T is important? Get clues by reviewing top-ranking pages like a quality rater would
Here’s a page that is not labeled as YMYL in the QRG but should be considered low quality by the raters, partly because it lacks E-A-T.
The article is about how to dress for the office. It’s not something that would strongly impact a user’s safety or life like a medical YMYL query. While E-A-T likely matters to some degree, formally trained expertise is likely not as important for this query.
I likely don’t need to have a world-renowned expert on fashion to author this post to rank. But, looking at the current SERP landscape, I can see that some level of expertise still seems to be considered valuable by Google when it comes to ranking for this query.
Contrast this to a query labeled as YMYL in the QRG; “using ginger for your health.” Every page ranking well is authoritative and authored by a medical expert.
In the case of the Cleveland Clinic below, there is no author listed. If your business is a widely-recognized authority, then listing your authors (and their qualifications) isn’t necessary to rank. In most cases, if you are trying to rank for a YMYL topic, you absolutely should convince the reader that the page is written, or at least fact-checked, by someone with expertise.
E-A-T work for e-commerce pages will look different as well.
Here’s an example of a page that is labeled as YMYL in the QRG:
Because it’s YMYL, we know that E-A-T is important. But again, in this case, it looks like authority and trust (being a nationally recognized brand) are likely much more important than displaying an author who has expertise in this area.
If you were competing against this site, would it make sense to gather expert authors on children’s backpacks, create author bios, and write articles to showcase expertise? Likely not! This is not what users would expect for a page like this.
Improving E-A-T for an e-commerce site will look different than improving E-A-T for a medical information site. Reading the QRG helps us understand what is important in your vertical.
Here is what the quality raters are told makes this page a high-quality one:
First, we are told that this is a YMYL page, which means you will have great E-A-T if you compete against pages like this.
The page satisfies user intent because it provides several options and has user reviews. This is a clue that perhaps having a variety of products is something searchers find helpful. Also, adding good user reviews can help improve a user’s ability to trust an e-commerce product page and could help improve the quality.
A point worth noting is that Target is well known. Authority likely matters significantly if you’re competing against this page.
If you’re a relatively unknown brand selling backpacks, you will have your work cut out for you to outrank a page like this. Link building will not make you more authoritative unless you can muster good enough PR work to get the world talking about how your children’s backpacks are the best, which would be a difficult feat!
They mention as well that having detailed customer service information is important here. You can read section 2.5.3 of the guide to find more information on how the raters assess customer service information and what users expect to see on a site.
We do not know whether or to what extent these items are replicated in Google’s algorithms. However, given that the QRG represents where Google wants to go with their algorithms, we have found it useful to review our clients’ websites like a quality rater would and then discuss and prioritize potential improvements we could make.
Examples of E-A-T-related improvements
Our SEO and content strategies can be shaped by asking questions such as:
- Is it likely we can build enough authority and brand/author recognition to convince Google’s algorithms we have the E-A-T to rank for this keyword?
- Can we improve users’ trust in our website with clearer contact and refund information?
- Is this the type of page that users would benefit from having an author bio? If so, do we have authors with appropriate expertise? If so, are those authors recognized online as experts? Would the content/trust be improved by adding expert author reviewers?
- Is the content ranking well up to date, with better references than ours?
- Is Google connecting good mentions of our company with our brand? If not, do we need to add schema, get more brand mentions, or improve our hub of company and author information on our site?
- Is this page as helpful for searchers as the ones currently ranking? Is there anything we can do to make it more helpful?
And so on.
Important: Your non-YMYL content can impact the quality of your YMYL content
In a recent Google help hangout, John Mueller mentioned that if a website covers sensitive topics as well as trivial topics, it could be challenging for Google’s algorithms to figure out how to deal with the website. He recommends having a clear separation between those two areas.
Low-quality content on your site can potentially impact how Google trusts your entire site. The QRG lists many things that could cause a page to be considered low quality, including, but not limited to:
- Lacking E-A-T
- Exaggerated titles or headings
- Distracting ads
- Not having enough contact information
- Having information that contradicts expert recognized consensus
- Offensive or hateful language – including in your comments section
By reviewing the examples and descriptions of YMYL given in this article and the QRG, you can determine whether you have content that could be considered low quality. Depending on the scope and nature of the content, we have seen sites improve by doing things such as:
- Removing controversial or lower quality content from the site
- Adding more authoritative references
- Clearly stating whether something controversial is an opinion
- Separating out “trivial” or “unscientific” content into its own subfolder or subdomain
- Adding expert authors and improving author bios and schema
- Carefully monitoring comments on YMYL pages
Google goes to great lengths to try and only rank the most authoritative and helpful content when it comes to YMYL queries. Understanding the landscape in which you want to rank, and how Google’s quality raters are taught to assess that picture, can sometimes give you great clues as to where and how to focus your efforts in improving E-A-T.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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