Google's 'Your Money or Your Life' (YMYL) rule and how it impacts financial services companies
Here's the two minute version of this blog, in video form, if you're short on time!
Some necessary background (if you need it): how does Google work? How do I get to rank on page one?
Google assesses websites across the internet using what's known as its algorithm. The algorithm assigns various values to various factors and 'crawls' websites looking for these factors. When you type a search query into Google, Google goes off and checks the websites it has crawled for the 'answer'. It returns the websites on a number of different results pages (known as SERPs - Search Engine Results Pages) and in a certain order, depending on how the sites have fared when assessed against the factors contained in the algorithm.
For example, at the simplest level, the algorithm assesses how closely the search query you typed is matched on the websites it looks at. It makes sense really doesn't it. You wouldn't want Google to send you to a site that didn't feature the exact thing you had typed into the search engine in the first place!
Here's where it gets a bit complicated: no-one (probably not even Google themselves at this point) knows exactly what factors the algorithm uses when it looks at and assesses websites across the internet. We know about some of the factors because Google occasionally tells us about them and we know about other factors because people who do Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) work (like me!) have discovered them through lots of testing and trial and error. Ranking on page one of Google often means ticking off the factors we know about and guessing at a few more.
What is the Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) rule?
The YMYL rule is part of the algorithm we know about because Google told us. They introduced the rule to the algorithm in 2014 and in early 2019 they told us more about it in this whitepaper.
In essence Google says that the YMYL rule is designed to apply an extra strict layer of assessment to websites that discuss your money or your life; that is, websites that could have a material impact on your physical or financial well-being.
Again, this makes a lot of sense.
Think about a website that collates photos of cats. It might make you laugh (or cry!), but ultimately it has very little chance of having a material impact on your life, regardless of whether they are real pictures of cats or fakes. (Given the abundance of cat photos on the internet, I'm not sure why anyone would create fakes, but that's beside the point!)
Think about a website purporting to be from a 'financial expert' though and it's a different matter. Incorrect, misleading, harmful and 'fake' material on such a website could be taken as the truth by visitors, with serious consequences. Google recognise this, hence the introduction of the YMYL rule.
What impact could Your Money or Your Life have on my financial services firm and its marketing?
YMYL is closely linked to Google's notion of Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (EAT), which is actually explicitly mentioned in the same section of the above Google document that discusses Your Money or Your Life.
Google says that if you have YMYL pages on your website then it is going to look very closely at the EAT factors. It wants to be sure that you have the necessary Expertise to comment on what you are talking about, that you are an Authority on any topic that you are giving advice on and that you are a generally Trustworthy organisation.
I'll come on to discuss how you can go about doing that, but to answer this question: the impact is essentially that SEO is going to be a little harder for you and you're going to have to follow the rules even more closely.
Firms who have already engaged in significant marketing and SEO efforts are likely to have more EAT than you and any deviation to try to shortcut the gap is likely to be seen as an EAT problem. You're going to have to write a significant amount of content, share some really helpful expertise and slowly build up your EAT to the point you 'pass' the heightened YMYL assessment of your website.
How exactly can I make sure my business falls on the right side of YMYL? What should we be doing?
There are plenty of elements that make up good SEO. Here are three common SEO best practices that will help you when you're being looked at as a YMYL page.
1. Make sure you only use original content on your website
If you currently get any of your content from a third party source then make sure it is original and only utilised by your firm. There are multiple sources from which you may currently receive content that may also be shared with other firms; guest blogs, agencies, providers and more. This content, if you are going to use it, needs to be original and solely for your use.
There are lots of reasons why duplicate content is a bad thing, but consider this example as a reason why it may be particularly bad for YMYL sites.
Imagine you are a disreputable (even criminal) organisation, who has designed a financial scam. You need a website that makes it look as though you are professional and have the necessary expertise. Are you going to take the time to craft that, populating all of the content yourselves? Unlikely. You're going to pilfer it from the nearest actual expert.
When your own reputable financial organisation uses content that has been used elsewhere, you run the risk of looking like the disreputable organisation mentioned above. How can Google tell if you're an authority on something if you're using what someone else has said? How can it say you are trustworthy on that topic?
If you think you are currently using what Google may term duplicate content then there will be a solution. All of the sources mentioned above - guest blogs, agencies, providers - will be able to give you original content, for your use only, it just might cost a little more than using syndicated content. But then... what's the cost to you of using that very same syndicated content? It might be a black YMYL flag against your name.
2. When you cover a topic you're an expert on, go really in-depth
Common SEO wisdom over the last few years has been to 'go long' on blogs. Various bits of research, from people like Moz, point to most of the results that rank 1-10 on Google for any given topic having a number of words that typically exceeds 2,000. That doesn't mean every blog post you write has to be 2,000 words long, but think about why this could be happening, specifically in relation to YMYL.
Google wants to know that you are an expert on your chosen YMYL topic. Let's say you're writing on Inheritance Tax (IHT) mitigation. You could probably produce a breezy 400 words on how important it is to plan to leave a legacy or you could go in-depth into all the things that need to be considered and produce a 1,000-2,000 word article, complete with bullet pointed things to consider and questions answered. Which do you think Google is more likely to assign a higher EAT rating to?
The very simple fact of the matter here is that Google can better assess expertise and authoritativeness if it has more to assess. That doesn't mean that empty waffle will get you to the top of the SERPs (quite the opposite in fact), but if you're an expert then Google expects you to show it and sometimes that will mean 'going long'.
3. Structure your site and your articles to show that you genuinely provide help
At an absolute base level, Google expects your site to have a level of worth to it; to be designed to help people, not only in what you write about but in how you write about it and in how you direct people to that information.
It's worth bearing that in mind when you run a business likely to fall under YMYL. Think about the level of information you need to provide, the way in which your audience may ask the questions you know the answers to and how you can quickly get those with questions to the right answers. Consider the following:
Ask questions in your audience's language - they may ask 'what happens to my money when I die?', rather than 'how can I mitigate my inheritance tax liabilities?'. Talk your audience's language.
Structure around questions - you could include an FAQ section on your site, as well as a blog.
Easily get people to the information they want to see - 'bounce rate' is the percentage of traffic that lands on any given page on your website and exits your site straight away, without going to any other page. 'Dwell time' is the time that someone spends on your site after clicking through to it from Google. Google isn't keen on high bounce rates or low dwell times, because they can be indicators people can't find the information you promised. Give the people what they want!
Where can I get more help with making sure my YMYL site has lots of EAT?!
If you've got simple questions on what you're currently doing and whether it may cause you a YMYL problem then I'm happy to help. Drop me your questions here and I'll send you a quick answer back that will hopefully help point you in the right direction! Good luck!