Google’s New Site Standards

In November 2015, Google released its updated Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines; a thrilling 160-page document designed to put the most determined readers to sleep. So, how do these new guidelines, dubbed the Phantom Update, affect marketers? In essence, it has changed how the search engine assesses the ranking of a website, and in the land of SEO, quality is King.

At its core, there are only two things you really need to know when it comes to the update: YMYL and EAT (don’t you just love Acronyms?).

YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) is Google’s new term for web pages that offer content that could potentially affect a user’s future happiness, health, or wealth. These include:

  • Shopping or Financial Transaction Pages: pages that allow users to make purchases, transfer money, pay bills etc
  • Financial Information Pages: pages that provide advice or information about investments, taxes, retirement planning, home purchases, insurance etc
  • Medical information pages: pages that provide information about health, diseases, medication, nutrition etc
  • Legal information pages: pages offering legal advice on issues such as divorce, child custody, becoming a citizen etc
  • Other: Depending on their content, pages such as child adoption and care safety could also be considered YMYL.

Because of their level of influence on the user, YMYL pages are assessed at a higher standard than other web content. This is where EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) comes into play.

To be considered high quality, whether a YMYL site or not, content needs to be authoritative and trustworthy as well as possessing expertise. However, not all content is equal (for example YMYL and non-YMYL) and this will ultimately determine the level of expertise that is required to be considered high quality. This is where Google distinguishes between ‘formal expertise’ and ‘everyday expertise’.

Most YMYL content requires a high level of formal expertise; they need to be written by experts such as doctors, accountants etc. The pages must also be regularly updated and contain a much higher level of detail than non-YMYL pages.

Non-YMYL pages on the other hand, require less formal expertise, or everyday expertise. That being said, they still require a high-level of EAT, but the author does not require a certification to provide comment for example. An example that Google uses is a forum where people may participate authoritatively on an issue or subject. As long as the content provided is valuable and useful for readers, it is still considered expert content.

Google’s Phantom Update is resounding evidence of industry trends: quantity v quality. By changing the way Google assesses the quality of content, it places the onus back on the author: “Is what I am producing of value to the reader?”. Take into consideration these changes and you will notice an improvement in your overall SEO health. Alternatively, ignore them at your own risk.