The perceived value of a website undoubtedly has a substantial impact on how it’s ranked in Google search results. Over the years, Google has gotten better at making these determinations. But that’s not to say they get it right 100% of the time.
You may have recently seen shifts in how a client’s website is ranked – even if everything else has stayed the same. It’s possible that these changes were the result of algorithm updates that aimed to reward authoritative websites. The flip side is that Google also wanted to correct previously inflated ratings for websites that may not provide as much value.
In today’s post, we’ll take a closer look at why these adjustments took place and what you need to know about a couple of important acronyms in the SEO space.
Google’s Relevant Algorithm Updates
As you already know, Google is constantly improving its algorithm in order to provide the best possible results to web users. That means a site’s ranking is subject to change at any given moment. If the site has ranked well in the past, that doesn’t mean that’ll always be the case.
First released in 2015, Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines outlined how Google’s search evaluators sort website quality into three distinct categories:
- YMYL (Your Money or Your Life)
- E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness) or Page Quality and
- Beneficial Purpose
Although these categories are meant to guide the folks in Google’s employ in their quest to assess how well the algorithm is working, it’s also now used as a means for the rest of us to know what Google wants to see.
These guidelines have been around for quite some time, but it wasn’t until 2018 that we started to see their impact. When Google made some “general ranking updates” to its algorithm, SEO experts took notice and saw certain patterns emerging in the kinds of sites that were getting hit the hardest.
Since then, Google has confirmed that these categories play an important role in how its algorithm ranks websites. Subsequent algorithm updates (the latest rolling out in 2021) have launched with these guidelines in mind. As such, website owners and agency owners alike need to stay on their toes if they want to avoid rankings volatility.
Understanding Beneficial Purpose
One of the first things that Google decides is whether a page or website has what’s known as a beneficial purpose. According to Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, websites and webpages should have the intent of helping internet users. Sites that specifically try to deceive, harm, or make money off users with no intent to help them will receive the lowest possible page quality rating.
That said, websites and pages that are found to have a beneficial purpose won’t be perceived as having a higher quality over another site or page found to have the same. In the example above, that means Google won’t bestow a higher PQ rating to an encyclopedia page over a humor page simply based on its beneficial purpose.
In other words, pages and sites don’t need to be merely educational in order to provide a beneficial purpose. According to Google, numerous attributes can all fall under the realm of “beneficial purpose.”
Once it’s determined that a site or page has a beneficial purpose, Google can move onto the E-A-T and YMYL categories.
What Does EAT Stand For (SEO Context)?
As mentioned briefly above, E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authority, Trust. This cute little acronym actually says a lot about the quality of a given page. In fact, the May 2019 update verified that E-A-T is the number one factor in how page quality is determined.
Essentially, a website or page will be put through the ringer to determine whether it exhibits the characteristics Google wants to see. The requirements for Expertise Authority Trust include…
- Expertise: Google wants to know that the publisher or author is a true expert in their field and that they have the credentials to back up any claims they make in the content. Even if the person is what’s known as an “everyday expert,” Google will assess the author’s background to confirm they’re qualified to speak on the topic at-hand.
- Authority: Google also wants to know that the publisher or author has been generally recognized as an authority by others in their industry. Not only do they need to be an expert, but they should also be recognized and respected as one by others in the same niche. This person should be known as a leader in their field.
- Trust: When you’re an authoritative expert, trust often follows suit. But Google also wants to know that this contributor provides high-caliber information that can be verified as accurate. Even if the person is renowned in their circle, they also need to be factual.
Does Google Reward Sites That Prioritize Expertise Authority Trust?
Keep in mind that some pages or websites will need to provide higher levels of E-A-T than others. The E-A-T barrier is actually higher for YMYL sites than other kinds of websites because, as we’ll see, the content provided by those sites can often have a greater potential impact on audiences.
In that sense, YMYL sites with high levels of E-A-T can certainly reap the rewards. These two abbreviations need to go hand-in-hand if you want to maximize your rankings. That said, non-YMYL sites can also benefit from having high levels of E-A-T where appropriate.
What Are YMYL Sites?
You might know that YMYL stands for Your Money or Your Life sites, but what does that actually mean? YMYL sites tend to cover content that can impact a user’s health, safety, finances, or even happiness. That’s a broad range!
Generally speaking, the following website verticals may fall under the YMYL site umbrella:
- News and current events (politics, science, technology, business, etc.)
- Law, government, and civics (government agencies, public institutions, voting, legal advice, social services, etc.)
- Financial information or advice (taxes, investments, retirement planning, loans, insurance, banking, etc.)
- Shopping (e-commerce information, product research)
- Medical, health, and safety (information relating to drugs, medical care, hospitals, pharmacies, emergency preparedness, weight loss, nutrition, fitness, etc.)
- People-related information (grouped by ethnicity, race, religion, disability, nationality, sexuality, gender identity, veteran status, etc.)
- Other (parenting, housing, home remodeling, information on educational institutions, employment information, etc.
How Does Google Penalize Websites That Are YMYL?
If a client’s website or content falls into these categories, that doesn’t mean their site is inherently bad. But because this type of content runs a greater risk of containing inaccurate or misleading information – and can come with more serious consequences as a result of that misinformation – Google maintains higher standards for ranking YMYL sites in search results.
Really, this is a good thing. A web page that provides information that can harm medical patients or consumers should not receive a good ranking in SERPs. Doing so would magnify the potential harm that a given website can cause. There’s a greater barrier of proof, so to speak, required by Google in order to receive a fair ranking.
Specifically, YMYL sites with the following types of content need to pay special attention to E-A-T requirements:
- Scientific topics
- Medical or health advice
- Journalism/news articles
- Financial or tax advice
- Legal advice
- Hobbies that require expertise (music, photography, etc.)
- Higher-stakes home topics (parenting, remodeling)
YMYL sites that don’t prioritize expertise authority trust will have a hindered ability to rank in SERPs. Since Google can’t trust what’s being published, they won’t want others to easily find the site online!
What Can YMYL Sites Do to Improve Rankings?
As any white label SEO company will tell you after an algorithm update, you don’t need to panic if you see a shift in your rankings. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the problem, either.
If you know you have clients that fall into the YMYL category, you’re definitely not alone. There are a number of businesses that have struggled to rank following the E-A-T/YMYL updates. That doesn’t mean SEO can’t or won’t work; it just means you’ll need to get strategic to help your clients.
When you’re part of our SEO reseller program, you’ll have our support in developing an action plan to recoup rankings losses. The best course of action will differ from client to client, but here are a few initial steps we’d suggest you take:
- Create Authoritative, Long-Form Content: Content that ranges from 1,000 to 3,000 words is typically going to be more useful than an article that clocks in at 500 words. A lengthier piece can allow your client to showcase their authority and expertise in a deep dive that users can’t find elsewhere. Think about creating content around topics and questions your audience cares about, rather than trying to rank on specific keywords.
- Focus On Technical Optimizations: Website content is a great place to include organic keywords, but you shouldn’t overdo it. Focusing on content quality and on separate technical optimizations can be key for YMYL sites. Optimizing your client’s meta data and improving the overall website experience can provide greater value. (That’s why we start our SEO resellers off with an initial website audit for clients when they onboard!)
- Keep Your Strategy Consistent: It can be tough to convince clients they need SEO, but consistency is key when trying to recover from a rankings loss. Staying the course can really make a difference. Google likes to reward sites that stay fresh, so don’t let SEO fall by the wayside. Keep delivering fresh content and you may show Google why the site should be rewarded.
When You E-A-T Right, Your Rankings Will Grow
Expertise, authority, trust has become an essential aspect of search engine optimization. Without E-A-T, a client’s website may not be taken seriously by visitors or by Google. Regardless of whether your client has a website categorized as YMYL, you’ll want to help them deliver the highest quality information possible. And when you work with a white label SEO agency like Semify, you can easily achieve that goal.