Earlier this year, Google released its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.
Designed to help Google’s own ranking engineers know what to look for in websites and why, this 160-page document offers a whole host of helpful information for people trying to make their pages as high-quality as possible.
Two of the most interesting things from the guidelines, however, are the acronyms YMYL and EAT. These help site owners navigate and understand the quality Google searches for in order to reward good content.
Here’s what you need to know.
You’ve probably noticed that some pages on the Web are more important than others, right? For example, “10 Must-Do Steps to Sell Your Home This Year” arguably possesses more important and more authoritative content than “101 Best Cat Saturday Photos of the Year.” Right? Right.
At the core, though, there’s a big difference between these two pages. One page is what Google calls a YMYL page. The other is just funny Web content.
YMYL stands for “Your Money or Your Life” and is a term that Google’s guidelines use to describe pages that offer high-quality information on topics that could reasonably affect a reader’s health, happiness or wealth. Examples of YMYL pages include the following:
Shopping and financial exchange pages. Any page that allows users to make a purchase, transfer money, or pay bills online.
Pages that offer financial information. These include investment or tax advice pages as well as those focusing on retirement planning or purchasing/selling a home.
Medical information pages. Including any page that offers advice about drugs, diseases, medical conditions, nutrition, mental health concerns, or a related topic.
Pages offering legal advice. These include pages related to child custody, divorce, creating a will, etc.
Other. Google makes it clear that pages on topics like child adoption and car safety and maintenance can also be considered YMYL pages, depending upon their content.
YMYL pages are evaluated on a higher ranking standard than most other Web content pages. Because YMYL pages can present dire consequences if they’re not factual, not written by expert authors, or not up-to-date, Google goes to great lengths to ensure that these pages are high quality.
YMYL pages that feature anything less than expert content or feature content riddled with mistakes, inaccuracies, or outdated information will be down-rated by Google.
E-A-T is the second acronym the guidelines present. Like YMYL, E-A-T is a ranking standard Google uses to determine which pages are high-quality and which aren’t. E-A-T stands for “expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness” and ties directly into Google’s increased focus on “Expert” writers.
Google’s new guidelines make it clear that, to be considered high-quality, content needs a high level of E-A-T. To be clear, we mean all content, not just YMYL content. To be authoritative and trustworthy, content needs enough expertise. The level of expertise, though, changes depending upon the type of content. For example, a humor page will require a different level of expertise than a page on mental illness. Google calls this the difference between ‘everyday expertise’ and formal expertise.
Some pages, such as those offering medical, legal, or financial information require high levels of formal expertise. In other words, these pages need to be written by experts to truly address the question at hand, offer valuable information for readers, and provide actionable advice. These pages must also be updated frequently and be as detailed, helpful, and useful as possible.
Less formal expertise is required for pages on topics like fashion, humor, and forums. While these pages still require a high level of E-A-T, the people writing them don’t necessarily need certifications (and, in fact, Google makes it clear its goal is not to “penalize the person/page/website for not having formal education or training in a field).” Google uses the example of a forum: many people participate authoritatively in forums without any professional certification. As long as the content these people provide is valuable and useful for readers, it will be considered expert content.
Google goes on to say that, while YMYL pages are important, it’s possible to have non-formal expertise in them. This is especially true in a forum or support page setting.
Expert Content vs. Expert Authors
Many people hear the words “Expert content” and they believe that content written by laypeople is a thing of the past. Not true. What Google is getting at with these guidelines is that, in order to be effective and useful, content needs a high level of E-A-T and that the person writing the content needs to have enough expertise, either formal or informal, to imbue the content with a high level of E-A-T.
High-quality pages possess a few distinct traits: they answer reader questions, provide actionable advice, offer links to and from reputable sources, and promote a high level of reader engagement. As long as the page has the needed level of expertise that will allow it to do its job well, Google considers it high-quality, expert content.
As we move into 2016, Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines provide a fantastic platform to base our content on. The guidelines for what comprises a high-quality page are quite clear and writers, editors, and marketers who take them to heart will soon find that, not only has their SEO improved, but their content and ability to adequately serve readers has improved by leaps and bounds, as well.
Julia Spence-McCoy is the CEO of Express Writers, an online copywriting agency that began in 2011 with thousands of web content pages written to date and more than 50 talented writers on the team. Her passion is copywriting and all that pertains, including the ever-changing game of Google algorithm updates.