In Quality Raters’ Handbook, Google Adds Higher Standards For “Your Money Or Your Life” Websites

google-quality-stamp1Google’s continuing push toward identifying expertise and authority on the web takes another step in the form of a new type of website/landing page classification: “Your Money or Your Life.”

It’s explained in detail in a new version of Google’s “Search Quality Ratings Guidelines” — the document that’s used by the company’s cadre of human Search Quality Raters. Version 4.2 (dated June 7, 2013) of that private document recently leaked online via a private SEO community and a Search Engine Land reader shared it with us. A Google spokesperson has confirmed for us that the document is legitimate.

This is the first leak of the private guidelines document since version 3.27 leaked in September 2012. Google also released a watered-down version (1.0) publicly earlier this year. The “Your Money or Your Life” section is new; it doesn’t appear in either of those documents.

So, what does it say? Let’s take a look.

Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) & Higher Standards

The new section is 7.3, and appears in Part 2 of the overall document, which addresses “Page Quality Rating Guidelines.” This is the section where Google gives specifics on how the human search quality raters should evaluate the page quality (PQ) of landing pages and websites.

“There are some pages for which PQ is particularly important. We call these pages Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages. They are pages that can have an impact on your current or future well being (physical, financial, safety, etc.). YMYL pages should come from reputable websites and the content should be created with a high level of expertise and authority.”

The emphasis there is mine, not in the document itself. It speaks to what I mentioned at the start of this article — Google’s ongoing quest to identify expert, authoritative content.

But it’s not only about identifying that kind of content. Google is also asking the quality raters to hold that content to a higher standard. If the rater determines that s/he’s looking at a YMYL page, Google advises them to “please have especially high standards when answering all questions for PQ rating. In particular, please be very careful evaluating the reputation of the page and whether the content has been created with the necessary authority and expertise.”

What Are YMYL Pages?

The closest thing to a definition of “Your Money or Your Life” pages is in the quote above:

They are pages that can have an impact on your current or future well being (physical, financial, safety, etc.).

The document goes on to share five examples of YMYL pages:

  • Pages that solicit personal information, such as personal identification numbers, bank account numbers, drivers license numbers, etc., which could be used for identify theft.
  • Pages used for monetary transactions, on which users might give their credit account or bank account information; for example any page that allows you to buy something.
  • Pages that offer medical or health information that could impact your physical well being.
  • Pages offering advice on major life decisions, such as pages on parenting, purchasing a home, a vehicle, etc.
  • Pages offering advice on major life issues that could impact your future happiness and finances, such as pages giving legal or financial advice.

Likewise, Google shares a few examples of pages that are not YMYL, and tells the quality raters that their “standards may be somewhat lower when evaluating these types of pages.” The examples included are pages on gossip websites, humor websites and entertainment websites. (I’m sure there are plenty of additional examples that Google could’ve listed.)

Twenty pages later, Google revisits the YMYL concept and gives raters explicit instructions on what to look for on these pages. The document asks them to “have particularly high standards” when looking at these four elements of a YMYL page/site:

  • Main content quality, in particular who creates the content and the expertise of the author. (Google calls out medical pages, saying this content “should be written by people or organizations with professional expertise” and be “edited, reviewed, and updated on a regular basis.”
  • Contact information. (Google says “websites that require a high level of user trust … require very helpful contact information.”)
  • Reputation. (“…the reputation of a website should be judged by what expert opinions have to say. For example, high quality medical websites are endorsed by prominent physician groups.”)
  • Maintained/updated website. (“Medical, legal, financial, and other YMYL websites require up-to-date information.”)

Other YMYL Mentions

The “Your Money or Your Life” concept is mentioned in about a dozen other places throughout the 137-page document. Many are just references to an example URL being a YMYL page, but a few others offer even more information about the higher standards that these pages/sites should face when being reviewed. The bold titles below are my wording, not the document’s.

Site design: “Amateurish website design is less acceptable for YMYL websites, such as legal, financial, and medical websites or shopping websites that ask for your credit card information.”

Contact information: “The types and amount of contact information needed depend on the type of page and the type of website. Contact information is extremely important for YMYL websites. Be extra critical of shopping websites. Most stores have contact information or contact processes prominently featured. Sometimes this information is listed as ‘customer service.’ Users often need to contact stores for questions and returns. Stores usually work very hard to win users’ trust by offering many ways to contact them. Some retailers have special sections of their website devoted to customer service.”

Shopping pages: “PQ ratings for product results need extra care and attention. Often, the results for product queries are YMYL pages. Users need high quality information from authoritative sources when researching products, especially when products are expensive or represent a major investment/important life event (for example cars, washing machines, computers, wedding gifts, baby products, etc). When buying products, users need websites they can trust: good reputation, extensive customer service support, etc. Results for product queries may be important for both your money and your life (YMYL)!”

Final Thoughts

It’s important to remember that this material comes from a handbook that gives instructions to Google’s human search quality raters. That doesn’t automatically mean these same concepts are part of Google’s ranking algorithm. And Google has said repeatedly that its human raters don’t directly influence the ranking algorithm.

Still, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that there’s a reason why Google has recently started telling the search quality raters to hold these “YMYL” pages to a higher standard than other types of pages and sites. If this added scrutiny isn’t already part of Google’s algorithm, it’s not hard to imagine that it will be in the future.

For more background on Google’s Search Quality Raters program, see the links below.

(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google | Google: Search Quality Raters | Google: SEO | SEO: General | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://localreachlabs.com/ Russell Hayes

    So now we have people who aren’t formally trained in the medical profession judging the content authority of a medically focused web site. Makes perfect sense!

  • http://localreachlabs.com/ Russell Hayes

    So now we have people who aren’t formally trained in the medical profession judging the content authority of a medically focused web site. Makes perfect sense!

  • Guest

    Can someone link to the leaked document? You would think that would be present in this article…

  • Guest

    Can someone link to the leaked document? You would think that would be present in this article…

  • Gridlock
  • Durant Imboden

    It certainly doesn’t take an M.D. to tell if a site is published by the Mayo Clinic or by Herb’s Herbal Viagra Shop.

  • Guest

    So your response was to snarkily link to the outdated document (Version 4.1) that leaked last spring that is not the version (4.2) of the document being referenced in this article?

  • http://chrisdesrochers.org/ Chris Desrochers

    You can get full version 4.1 here: https://twitter.com/SynrgyHQ/status/402489678240022528

  • http://chrisdesrochers.org/ Chris Desrochers

    You can get full version 4.1 here: https://twitter.com/SynrgyHQ/status/402489678240022528

  • http://www.irishwonder.com IrishWonder

    Remember prank “news” sites? Ever fell for one of those? A better imitation of some Schmayo Clinic site, and you’re golden…

  • http://www.irishwonder.com IrishWonder

    Remember prank “news” sites? Ever fell for one of those? A better imitation of some Schmayo Clinic site, and you’re golden…

  • Gagool

    It’s always easy to be derisive if you choose two extremes for your (counter)argument. Probably 90% of such decisions for quality raters will be much less straightforward than Mayo Clinic vs. Herb’s Shop.

  • Gridlock

    Incorrect.

  • Durant Imboden

    Yes, but Google’s quality raters aren’t likely to be determining whether an article on pancreatitis by Dr. Park at Stanford is more accurate, more up to date, or supported by more research studies than an article on the same topic by Dr. Horowitz at Beth Israel. Their job is to provide input so Google’s algorithm can separate the wheat from the chaff. And in the “Your Money or Your Life” categories, there’s plenty of chaff that needs blowing away.

  • Dan Shure

    Regardless to whether this is actually in the algo, I like this sort of stuff because it gets me thinking different and outside of my own biases as to what “quality content” might be. Google’s wording and point of view in these docs feels unique and out of the echo chamber-ish. Critical thinking required.

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