SEO Guide: Google’s YMYL Update

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Google is by far the dominant search engine worldwide. Over 90% of searches are carried out over Google. To maintain this dominance, Google must constantly change their search algorithms.

Their goal is to show users the content which they will find most useful. In the past few years, Google has drastically altered how some fields are ranked. One example of this is the Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) update.

Comparison of search engine market shares in the past decade. Image Credit: Statistica
Comparison of search engine market shares in the past decade. Image Credit: Statistica

What Are YMYL Pages?

In their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQEG), Google defines YMYL pages as, “pages or topics [that] could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”

In other words, YMYL pages are sites where individuals’ lives are at risk for negative impact if given misinformation. As the name implies, those sites may pertain to content surrounding money, lifestyle, medical, current events, etc.

Google neither has a clear-cut definition to what is considered YMYL nor will they tell you if your page falls under this category. Instead, their SQEG lists examples of YMYL topics as:

  • News and current events – Factual content regarding business, science and technology, politics, etc. Some news articles like sports or editors are not YMYL.
  • Civics, government, and law – Content pertaining to citizenry and legal issues. Examples are voting and child custody.
  • Finance – Information surrounding monetary decisions and investments. These can include taxes, insurance, large purchases like homes, etc.
  • Shopping – Information regarding goods and services, especially those offered online.
  • Health of safety – Information on medicine, sickness and treatment, emergencies, and other medical related concerns.
  • Groups of people – Content that may include discussion or claims about groups of race, religion, ethnicity, disability, gender, etc.

Since it is not possible to confirm if Google considers your page as YMYL content, changes to the Google search algorithm may unexpectedly affect your SEO. 

Characteristics of YMYL Content. Image Credit: PIXELCUTLABS
Characteristics of YMYL Content. Image Credit: PIXELCUTLABS

Why YMYL Pages were Targeted

It is presumptuous to say that YMYL pages were “targeted,” but they were heavily impacted. The reason is because YMYL pages are responsible for the wellbeing of Google searchers, and weak or wrong information can negatively impact readers.


Google states that “websites and pages should be created to help users.” By this regard, YMYL pages take high priority. This sector’s expectations seemingly increase with every major algorithm update as if Google is trying to increase the output of new and true information.

Factors to Consider After the YMYL Update

Since YMYL holds higher stakes in search engine ranking factors, Google has high expectations for it. They boost rankings for sites with quality content, ensuring that readers will see relevant, fresh, and reliable YMYL content.

Page Quality

Page quality is a gauge of how well a site satisfies users’ needs. The main content on your site is one key factor that determines the page quality. High quality pages have informative and valuable content and hold a high level of EAT.

The YMYL update heavily depends on page quality. The decline of YMYL page rankings after the update suggests that Google is looking for high quality content. 

Google Search Algorithms

Understanding Google’s algorithms is a challenging task. Their constant changing of their search algorithm means businesses must stay in the loop, keeping tabs on when the algorithm may update. 

The results of an update may bring your page up or down in rank and often, the reason is unclear.

For example, consider the August 2018 broad core algorithm update, which was nicknamed the Medic update. Google did not offer much of a heads-up before releasing the update, which misled many people of its significance. Many sectors like business and technology were affected, but YMYL pages experienced the largest impact.

Similarly, the 2019 September core update was another update that dropped a multitude of sites in rank. This is another great example of how Google’s volatile algorithm affects YMYL sites. 

RankRanger’s graph illustrates the drops in ranking throughout 2019. The core updates in March, June, and September correlate with temporary drops in an example finance site.

Changes of a website’s organic visibility on Google’s search engine results page. Image credit: RankRanger
Changes of a website’s organic visibility on Google’s search engine results page. Image credit: RankRanger

As you can see toward the right side of the graph, both business and financial services decreased in organic visibility around mid-September when the YMYL update happened. Especially for business services of fundera, the update drastically affected SEO.

Check out how other algorithm updates have impacted SEO in recent years.

Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (EAT)

EAT measures how quality a page is. Sites that excel in all three factors of EAT are considered high quality. What do those factors mean?

  • Expertise – Displaying the site’s knowledge base through content. More knowledgeable sites will rank higher. It is essentially knowing what you’re talking about, researching topics thoroughly, and providing sufficient detail.
  • Authoritativeness – Having a reputable business; reliable content. It is tied to domain authority and backlinks. Indicators of high authoritativeness exhibit repeat visitors and low bounce rates. 
  • Trustworthiness – Demonstrating that your company is legitimate and provides accurate content. You can do this by providing author bios and credible sources for claims.

EAT is critical for ranking in YMYL. The two concepts rise or fall together, so sites that do not practice EAT may suffer in SEO. 

How To Rank YMYL Pages after the YMYL Update

Essentially, ranking YMYL pages high on Google’s search engine results page means giving the readers what they came for. Your Money or Your Life focuses on user experience. Any pages with priorities other than helping the user risks penalisation.

What Boosts or Penalises Your Content After YMYL?

For YMYL pages, pages that aim at making money and have intrusive advertisements are given lower page quality ratings.

Pages that are user focused, factual, and have high EAT ratings are given higher page quality ratings.

Having sufficient information on your website makes it seem more legitimate and boosts ranking. This can include:

  • About us page
  • Contact page
  • Having a positive reputation
  • Displaying fresh, reliable content

Contrastingly, having deceptive or duplicate content as another site penalises ranking.

Meeting User Needs

Users reach YMYL sites to receive important information regarding health, finances, lifestyle, etc. Google’s SQEG highlights that YMYL site visitor queries are one or more of the following intents:

  • Know Query – Searches where users are looking for information. Example: how tall are football players?
  • Do Query – Searches for completing a task/activity or interacting with some website. Example: buy flat screen tv.
  • Website Query – Searches for a website or specific items within a website. Example: cooking YouTube.
  • Visit-In-Person Query – Searches for information or location of a place. Users can be direct or more ambiguous; pharmacy vs. medicine, respectively. Example: nearest gas station.

With that in mind, Google needs a way for evaluators to calculate if user needs are met. Yet another means to measure page quality is the Needs Met Rating Guideline.

Google’s system of rating user satisfaction. Image credit: Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines
Google’s system of rating user satisfaction. Image credit: Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Here, we see again that user experience trumps. The Needs Met Rating Guideline rates satisfaction of mobile users. To rank high in YMYL, accessibility is another asset to consider.

Do note that site rankings are still algorithmic and are not based on these decisions by Google evaluators.

Takeaways

Evidently, the YMYL update has changed the way some businesses have to present their content. Pages considered YMYL need to carefully consider the page quality and deploying EAT. 

In the greater scope of it all, Google’s unpredictable algorithm can send your website ranking awry. Without frequently monitoring your page traffic, your page may end up lost in the search results.

Being ranked high on Google’s search results page does not guarantee a permanent placement. When the next algorithm update inevitably releases, will your company be ready to adjust SEO strategies?

Connect with an expert to strengthen SEO strategy and optimise your content marketing.

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