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EAT, YMYL, & Beneficial Purpose: What Do Google’s Quality Standards Mean for Search?

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EAT, YMYL, & Beneficial Purpose: What Do Google’s Quality Standards Mean for Search?

Julia Spence-McCoy updated
EAT, YMYL, & Beneficial Purpose: What Do Google’s Quality Standards Mean for Search?

If you have ever wondered how to decipher Google’s ranking algorithm, you are not alone.

Google is mysterious and tight-lipped about how it works and what changes after each update, not to mention what it all means for SEOs and marketers. So, many in the industry resort to detective work to figure it out and save their page rankings from sinking.

Sometimes, though, Google throws everyone a random, lucky bone.

In 2015, Google released its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines in their entirety in response to a leaked version making the rounds on the web.

These guidelines contain three golden keys to how Google looks at web pages and how they differentiate high-quality content from low-quality:

  • Beneficial Purpose
  • E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness), or Page Quality
  • YMYL (Your Money or Your Life)

Technically, the guidelines serve as a reference for Google’s human search evaluators – the people who rate how well Google’s algorithm is doing its job. However, because of that, this guide ALSO serves as an essential tool for insights into what Google looks for in a high-quality web page.

The answers lie in E-A-T, YMYL, and beneficial purpose – what they mean, and how they apply to content.

Let’s discuss what you need to know about each of them.

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Beneficial Purpose, E-A-T, and YMYL: The Keys to Understanding Google’s Definition of Quality for Web Pages & Content

The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines were updated twice: on July 20, 2018, and May 16, 2019. Multiple algorithm updates have happened between now and the original release date, too, including the Google June Core Update.

This guide references all the information about the current updates and incorporates them into how we understand E-A-T and YMYL.

Remember, the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines (SQEG) only give us clues, not definitive answers, on Google’s ranking factors. We can only analyze and infer what it all means.

But, it turns out, there is more than enough to go on for making sure our content is up to snuff.

Let’s dig in.

Beneficial Purpose: All Websites Must Have It

The SQEG were updated once in 2018 and again in 2019. From the first update, one of the most signficant changes was the new emphasis on a concept called beneficial purpose.

Google makes a reference to beneficial purpose almost immediately in the updated text, in section 2.2: What is the Purpose of a Web Page?

Purpose of a Page

“Websites and pages should be created to help users.”

Specifically, the page should fulfill its intended purpose, but that purpose also should be user-centered (whether that is to make readers laugh, sell them something, inform them, teach them, etc.).

Beneficial Page Purposes

On the other hand, a page created with the intention to make money “with no attempt to help users” is considered the lowest quality page.

"Beneficial purpose" is referenced again in section 3.2, and is cited as the first step of rating a page’s quality:

“Remember that the first step of PQ rating is to understand the true purpose of the page.”

The Google Core June Update in June 2019 emphasized beneficial purpose, too. Google’s spokespeople (specifically John Mueller and Danny Sullivan) hinted that sites whose rankings tanked had “nothing to fix” and the update was more broad in scope.

In particular, John Mueller linked to a 2011 Webmaster Central Blog that highlighted providing “the best possible user experience” on your site for better rankings; this strategy is championed over laser-focusing on the algorithm and making your site fit what you think the algorithm wants.

It is about your users, first and foremost. Beneficial purpose plays right into that because it means your site and content should have a user-focused purpose that benefits them in some way.

YMYL: Your Money or Your Life Content

Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) content is the type of information that, if presented inaccurately, untruthfully, or deceptively, could directly impact the reader’s happiness, health, safety, or financial stability.

In other words, the stakes are high for this type of content. If you create a YMYL page with bad advice or bad information, it could affect people’s lives and livelihood.

Google takes this content very, very seriously. Experts with relevant expertise need to write YMYL content.

So, what constitutes YMYL topics? Google gives a rundown in section 2.3:

YMYL Pages

  • News and current events on topics like business, science, politics, and technology
  • Government, law, and civics-related topics (voting, social services, legal issues, government bodies, etc.)
  • Financial advice on taxes, retirement, investments, loans, etc.
  • Shopping information, such as researching purchases
  • Medical advice, information on drugs, hospitals, emergencies, etc.
  • Information on people of a particular ethnicity, race, religion, nationality, sexuality, etc.

There are plenty of other YMYL topics, but Google says quality evaluators need to use their judgment to determine whether a page qualifies as YMYL content. These pages need to contain the highest levels of E-A-T, which we will get into right now.

E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness (or Page Quality)

Next up is an acronym you have probably seen before if you read any SEO blogs: E-A-T, short for Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness.

The May 2019 update slightly changed the importance of E-A-T. Now, it is one factor in determining Page Quality, vs. a synonym for Page Quality.

Page Quality Rating Factors

Once it is determined that a page has a beneficial purpose, its level of E-A-T is carefully considered in terms of whether the content is YMYL. Non-YMYL content doesn’t require the same rigor as YMYL content.

1. Expertise: This refers to the creator of the main content (MC) on the page. Are they an expert on the topic? Do they have the credentials, if necessary, to back that up, and is this information available to read on the website?

  • Additionally, in the recently-updated version of the guidelines, Google makes an exception for “everyday expertise.” This means people with relevant life experience in specific topics can be considered experts – no formal training or education required. However, this only holds true for non-YMYL content.
  • According to section 4.5, “The standard for expertise depends on the topic of the page.” For example, a person who writes detailed and helpful restaurant reviews has everyday expertise if they are a frequent restaurant-goer and love food.

2. Authoritativeness: This refers to the MC creator, the content itself, and the website on which it appears. The definition of “authoritativeness” gives us a big clue on what this means to Google and websites:

Authoritative Definition

“Authoritativeness” means having generally recognized authority. People know you, know your background, and look to you as a leader in your industry. They accept you as a good source of information.

3. Trustworthiness: The “Trustworthiness” part of E-A-T also refers to the MC creator, the content, and the website.

Being a trustworthy expert and source means people can trust you to provide honest, true information that is accurate.

Special E-A-T Considerations

The guidelines have some specific notes for certain topics that require high E-A-T. Specifically, pages containing the following YMYL content need to have specialized expertise behind them:

  • Medical advice
  • Journalistic news articles
  • Information pages on scientific topics
  • Financial advice, legal advice, and tax advice
  • Advice pages on high-stakes topics (home remodeling, parenting, etc.)
  • Pages on hobbies that require expertise, e.g., photography, playing guitar

High-Quality Content is Expert, User-Focused Content

To create high-quality content that Google will rank (and rank well), you need to look at the three keys found in the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines: beneficial purpose, E-A-T, and YMYL.

  • Every page must have a purpose, and that purpose must be accomplished to benefit the user.
  • Every page needs the right expertise behind it. Some pages require higher levels of E-A-T than others due to their subject matter. Sometimes, for low or non-YMYL pages, the evidence for the expertise can be found in the content itself.
  • YMYL pages need the highest E-A-T possible. These pages can have a direct impact on the reader’s lives, livelihood, or happiness.

Finally, remember that Google’s standards are constantly changing. That is because user expectations of search are always changing, too, and Google needs to keep up to stay relevant.

And so do you.

Julia Spence-McCoy

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Julia McCoy's life career happened when she left medical school to follow her passion in copywriting and SEO at 19 years old. A solely self-taught entrepreneur, she built an online copywriting agency a year later in 2011, Express Writers, which has grown to include more than 60 talented copywriters and editors with hundreds of clients around the world. Follow Julia's blog for all things copywriting & SEO.
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Paul Lovell

A veteran community member.

Thanks for sharing Julia,
I have bookmarked this as I am working on some medical sites at the moment and we all know that a lot of the updates have been targeting this niche among others

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Very interesting and useful information, thanks for sharing with us, keep up the good work!
Ivana Kinsley

An experienced member who is always happy to help.

Can you tell me how to rebuild or making a plan for trustworthy and powerful content marketing? Two of my major keyword lost their place and it gonna on place 50. How can I got the 1 to 3 place and which is the best targeting plan?

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

I think people still do better in getting ranks if they hire an expert to do the content work.
Steve Dolan

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How does Google determine that an author is an expert?

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thank you for sharing, another ranking factor that must include on every pages / post on a project website :D
Nick Samuel

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Call me slightly ignorant here but I honestly forgot EAT and YMYL originated in 2015/16. I know everything seems to be cyclical in SEO but after the "medic" update back in August last year, you would have thought these were new concepts the way a lot of us went on about them in the SEO community :-P

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How does Google know if the content has been written by an accredited expert?

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Joe Coulb
If they have some credentials like medical doctor degrees, law degree, belong to accredited organizations, are a published author on the subject of the content.
Big Footy BEts

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And with that brush of the pen - Google has killed alot of small businesses.

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Quora has many question on personal finance, which are answered by laymen. Despite that those pages come up in top results. Why?
Nick Samuel

Asks great questions and provides brilliant answers.

Shantanu Deshmukh
Overall "domain authority" for want of a better phrase or metric!

You're right though, it still hasn't and unlikely never will reach Wikipedia levels of peer reviewed "expertise authority and trust"...

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Dear Julia,
what to do if my website has a experts for the content, but after 1 August I got penalized as well ?
What would you recommend in such situation ?
The site is fast M optimalised so on, technically pretty good....

regards John
Shehryar  Aziz

Occasionally takes part in conversations.

John Swiss
Would you mind sharing the site URL? What I believe according to my personal research and experience is that you should check out for the company pages you have, make sure you have an informational about us page.
Things that you should consider or add:
1. About Us Page with complete information of your company
2. Awards you have won
3. Team members
4. Clients
5. Partners if any
6. Testimonials

Also, if you have a blog section, add it under your company navigation menu. On blog articles, make sure you have an author page with complete information of your author:
1. His/her educational background
2. His/her work experience
3. His/her contributions
4. His/her experience related to your field

Hope this helps.. Thank You

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This is the Exact Info which I have been looking for [link removed by moderator] this my site which into selling medicine, I have done SEO Optimization, but my website pages are not listed in search engine results for any keyword which I am targetting.
It is showing only 70 URLs crawled out of 209 in Google Search Console. out of 209 pages, only 4 or 5 pages are ranked, remaining pages not placed anywhere in google.
is the content only reason for Google not showing my pages in search results?
kindly help how can I fix this issue

Either just recently joined or is too shy to say something.

Thanks for informing me on a topic that I was previously unaware of. I'm left a little curious however, how to rank for YMYL content. I got from this post that I need to hire an expert writer (which if I am being frank, kind of feels a little bit like a plug given the author works for a writing agency). While I agree thats probably true and a very important aspect when attempting to rank, however I am left wondering, what else?

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Maxwell Pond
I got from their guidelines that it's not about hiring an expert writer, but rather, an expert in the Main Content of the page. Life experience about illness, with no attempt to be clinical, can be considered expert if it's a question/answer forum asking for information about living life with that illness.
Other than that, multiple ways to contact, plenty of citations and transparency about who is responsible for the content & specifics on why they are an authority in the field are a BIG part of YMYL rankings.
I realize this is a year later than query posted, but hope it helps others!

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