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YMYL stands for "Your Money or Your Life" and refers to topics and pages that could have real-world effects on users.
People turn to search engines to research and find information on a huge variety of topics, ranging from health concerns to financial questions to developing news stories. If the information they find is inaccurate, outdated, fraudulent, or simply incorrect, it could have real-world consequences for them. Google defines this type of information as Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) content; in other words, “pages or topics that could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”
Google introduced the concept of YMYL content in the first version of its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQEG). These guidelines were originally created to help independent contractors assess the quality of their search engine results pages in an effort to improve Google’s ranking algorithm and results. However, these guidelines have also provided valuable insights into how Google works and what they believe makes pages worthy of ranking highly in the SERPS.
Since its inception, YMYL content has been crucial to search engine optimization and content marketing efforts. It has been the focus of several algorithm updates — including the infamous Medic update — as Google works to provide the most relevant results and better satisfy searcher intent. Essentially, YMYL has shifted how content is created and changed the search landscape we see today. If you’re looking to get your content to the top of the SERPs, it’s critical to fully understand what YMYL content is and how you can use it to your advantage when it comes to SEO.
In the SQEG, Google has identified several common YMYL topics, including:
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all YMYL niches. Any page that offers users advice, helps them make a decision, encourages them to take a particular action, or could otherwise affect their lives can be considered a YMYL page. Google encourages search evaluators to use their best judgment when trying to decide what sites or content are YMYL.
If you use Google Search regularly, you’ve likely used it to find information about a YMYL topic. Say, for example, you’re looking to buy a new car. In this case, you may have searched for answers to multiple queries that are considered YMYL, such as how to choose which car to buy or how to sell your old vehicle, as well as actually shopping for cars online. Each one of these searches is on YMYL topics because the results presented to you could guide your decision on which car to buy, the price you sell your old car for, or how much you spend on your new car. In other words, these results might impact your money or your life in some way.
YMYL content is ranked differently than non-YMYL content. In a 2019 white paper, Google explained their approach to ranking YMYL pages: “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 also believes that users want them to adhere to the “strictest standards of trustworthiness and safety” for YMYL searches. In an effort to achieve that goal, they look at YMYL content more closely for quality and accuracy. Because of this added scrutiny, it can be more difficult to rank highly for YMYL queries.
This means you should think carefully about what topics you try to cover, and what keywords you try to rank for, depending on your brand, industry, and goals. Ultimately, Google doesn’t care how you feel about your content or if you believe it deserves to rank by virtue of its existence — they are focused on providing the best, most relevant search results to their users. When it comes to YMYL content, the best results are also factually accurate, up-to-date, and helpful, rather than harmful, to searchers.
When ranking YMYL content, Google considers the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) of a given page:
Some topics require higher E-A-T than others, but high E-A-T is an absolute necessity for YMYL queries with real-world consequences. Using this framework, Google can confirm that they’re featuring high-quality authentic content at the top of the SERPs.
Google also explains what constitutes high-quality content in the SQEG. Like YMYL and E-A-T, these guidelines are meant to help their contractors assess the quality of the SERPs and pages they encounter in their work. While these may not be direct ranking factors, they do provide useful insight for those looking to succeed with a content-based marketing strategy. Per the SQEG, characteristics of a high-quality page include:
Similarly, the SQEG details some of the characteristics of a low-quality page:
Many of these standards relate directly to users and their search experience, especially when it comes to YMYL topics. Google wants to protect users from potentially harmful or dishonest content by providing the best, most helpful, and most accurate results. YMYL is, essentially, part of how Google defines high-quality, rank-worthy content.
As Google strives to better understand searcher intent, it’s impossible to ignore the relationship between YMYL content and SEO. After all, providing users with the best results for a given question is integral to how Google works.
YMYL may not be an explicit ranking factor or explain how the algorithm works, but it does provide a useful framework for understanding how to go about creating content for organic search when dealing with YMYL topics. Here are a few more tips that can be helpful when creating YMYL content for SEO:
Remember that YMYL isn’t necessarily the end-all and be-all of SEO, particularly since Google’s algorithm is constantly changing and evolving. However, thinking about content creation through the lens of YMYL requires you to think about how to provide the best experience to your users, including how you can best satisfy their intent for accurate information — and that is an absolute necessity for anyone aiming to rank in the SERPs.