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Back in 2015, Google released its Search Engine Evaluator Guidelines, which served up key information about what Google considers “high-quality” pages and how those pages can perform better in SERPs (search engine results pages).

More recently, Google released a 30-page whitepaper, which proves (finally) that they do in fact change the weights of ranking factors based on query sectors.

Today I’ll talk about two acronyms mentioned inside the whitepaper, YMYL and EAT, both of which Google said are important for digital marketers to know if they want their pages to rank higher.

What are YMYL pages?

YMYL stands for Your Money, Your Life. According to Google guidelines, YMYL are “pages that can have an impact on your current or future well being (physical, financial, safety, etc.).” The guidelines go on to show some YMYL examples:

  • Pages offering advice on major life decisions, such as pages on parenting, purchasing a home, a vehicle, etc.
  • Pages that offer medical or health information that could impact your physical well-being.
  • Pages offering advice on major life issues that could impact your future happiness and finances, such as pages giving legal or financial advice.

So what’s the deal with these YMYL pages? Google came up with this new way of categorizing and prioritizing pages in an effort to ensure users get the most accurate information possible when searching for such life-altering answers. YMYL pages have to live up to a higher standard than, say, a web page about the most flavourful pizza toppings.

Who, then, sets the standards? Google, of course!

Enter the E-A-T acronym.

What Does EAT Stand For?

EAT stands for Expertise, Authority and Trust. EAT is a metric (a check list) used by Google’s human quality raters to determine a page’s quality. Those that score high on the EAT scale tend to perform better in SERPs. In the same book of guidelines mentioned above, Google shares some examples of how webmasters can score points on the EAT metre. Your site:

  • Must be functional and easy to navigate
  • Should be maintained and updated regularly
  • Needs to clearly provide information about the owner and/or the business (About us, Contact Us or Customer Service)
  • Should be filled with helpful, relevant content — enough to answer the user’s query (think low bounce rate or “stickiness”)
  • The website must have a positive reputation (think social media, reviews and backlinks)

On Feb. 19, Barry Schwartz wrote that Google confirmed, “for YMYL, your money, your life, queries they will give more weight in their ranking algorithm to factors around expertise, authoritativeness, or trustworthiness,” aka EAT.

According to Google (for “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.”

Google Search Quality Raters

With more than 10,000 contracted search quality raters from around the world evaluating its search results, one burning question comes to mind. Are human beings working at Google in charge of how my pages are going to rank … or not rank as the case may be?

Technically, no. But as is always true with Google, the answers isn’t as simple as that.

Quality raters are instructed to conduct actual searches on Google and then rate the quality of pages that show up at the top of the SERPs. Can a quality rater alter Google’s results directly? No. Just because a quality rater scores a page as low quality does not mean that page will lose ranking or be banned from the results altogether. Thankfully, they don’t have that much power.

Google simply collects the data generated by their quality raters and uses the information to adjust and improve its search algorithms. If you’re curious, you can check out the quality guidelines used by raters. It’s about 200 pages long, though, so settle in.

What does it all mean?

More of the same, really. If you watch this Google webmaster hangout video from earlier in the week, there’s some talk about the usual PageRank, along with some more details around how EAT is determined. It’s a lot of techie geek speak, so here’s what you need to know:

  1. Don’t chase algorithms – they’re always changing and you’ll never catch up. Your goal remains the same: provide the most valuable, high-quality content possible to engage your audience. Period.
  2. All industries are not created equal – not in the SEO world. Sites that fall under the YMYL category need to put in great effort to prove expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (EAT). That means sites offering financial or medical advice need to produce content written by SMEs (subject matter experts), and the content needs to be updated regularly.
  3. Usability matters – clean, easy to navigate websites will outperform dated, amateurish designs. This is key not only for financial, legal and medical sites, but for ecommerce sites as well. If you’re asking for credit card information on your site, you also fall into the YMYL category, which means your site needs to be clean and professional – and don’t forget to make it easy for users to contact you!

Google says, “Users need high quality information from authoritative sources when researching products, especially when products are expensive or represent a major investment/important life event (for example cars, washing machines, computers, wedding gifts, baby products, etc).”

Also mentioned in the updated version of guidelines, “When buying products, users need websites they can trust: good reputation, extensive customer service support, etc. Results for product queries may be important for both your money and your life (YMYL)!”

Key Takeaways

Schwartz summed it up best, stating, “SEO work done on one type of site that achieves success, can’t just be replicated on another type of site in a different industry and be assumed to achieve success.”

Makes sense – Google is constantly changing its algorthims, which isn’t exactly news to us. Still, it’s good to know what they’re up to, even if it isn’t directly related to an algo update.

“If this added scrutiny isn’t already part of Google’s algorithm, it’s not hard to imagine that it will be in the future,” said Matt McGee.

Agreed.