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The new YMYL guidelines and what this means for marketers

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The new YMYL guidelines and what this means for marketers

30-second summary:

  • Your money or your life (YMYL) guidance has been updated to give more clarity on what Google is looking for within its quality rater guidelines
  • Focusing on reputation, both of the person creating the main content and the website hosting the main content, is key
  • YMYL trust isn’t just built on-site, off-site digital PR and link acquisition can also play a key role in building trust
  • Google also helped to clarify which websites/content might fall into the YMYL categories and how this is defined
  • E-A-T continues to play an important role across the board, alongside matching user intent and purpose and creating great, reputable content for users

In late July, Google updated its Page Quality Rater Guidelines. It does this from time to time to reinforce the key principles that it looks for when evaluating the quality of a page. While Google has held the concept of expertise, authority and trust close to the center of these guidelines for a long time, one of the major changes or updates was related to the definition of “Your Money or Your Life” websites. There was also more insight into how these pages are rated, which is ideal for anyone working in these sectors looking to better understand how Google rates their websites.

The concept of Google having very high Page Quality rating guidelines for ‘Your Money or Your Life’ (YMYL) websites isn’t new, but the definition of what falls into this category has changed. Previously the definition covered “pages (which) could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.” This has been updated to cover “pages (which) have a high risk of harm because content about these topics could significantly impact the health, financial stability, or safety of people, or the welfare or well-being of society.” This is a much broader scope of websites with potentially a much more significant impact.

As such, for many SEOs this means re-examining the guidance to ensure that our websites are ready for potentially enhanced scrutiny.

So what are the new guidelines and what does it mean?

The new guidelines for YMYL go much further than just the definition update above. They actually go into detail around how a particular topic could and couldn’t fall into the YMYL categorization, Google has even put it in a handy table for us so we can clearly understand:

Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines - YMYL

Source: Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

It’s also not just YMYL categories that have seen the updates, but many elements that go into rating YMYL pages. Along with enhancements to key E-A-T definitions and what Google is looking for, we can also see key updates to sections that focus on “low-quality pages” or what we should try to avoid. As marketers, we’ve never had so much information available to us about what Google is looking for in a quality website. This means that Google is likely to be getting very serious about its Page Quality Rater Guidelines and as SEOs, we should be too.

Content is as important as ever

Content will already be at the forefront of many SEO minds given that Google’s “Helpful Content” update has already started rolling out. Additionally, the updates to the YMYL guidance have demonstrated that your on-site content is a key contributor to how the pages are evaluated for expertise, quality, and authority.

Google highlights in section 4.2 that the “quality of the MC is one of the most important criteria in Page Quality rating.” So we know that the main content on the website is something Google is looking at with close scrutiny, especially if your website falls into that YMYL category. Having a reasonable amount of good quality main content plays a key role in this, but so do the page’s functionality and features. Don’t just rest at making sure your content is great, ensure that any features on the website such as calculators, checkouts, and interactivity are also created to a high standard.

Content that falls into YMYL sectors is, of course, held here to a higher standard. Google gives the example that, “high E-A-T medical advice or information should be written or produced in a professional style and should be edited, reviewed and updated, on a regular basis.”

If you find yourself in a YMYL category, then regularly updating, reviewing, and editing your content to ensure that it’s up to date will play a role here.

Enhancing key E-A-T signals

For most businesses refreshing your ‘About Us’ page might seem like the most unimportant task, but when you are trying to tell users about who you are, showcase your expertise and give users that sense of trust and security, this can actually be one of the most important elements of your website. In section 2.5.3 of the guidelines, Google highlights that this can be one area of your website where raters go to find information about who owns the site, which can be a key element of establishing a good reputation.

Your reviews also fall into this category and that’s not just reviews on your own website, but also reviews on external sources. In fact – the word “reviews” is mentioned 66 times in the guidelines alone. While reviews on your own website are important and it’s definitely worth promoting these, one tip I picked up from the guidelines (section 2.6.4) is to do a quick reputation search. You can then evaluate if there are any other external website reviews or reputation signals that you need to be aware of. You can do this by using a negative site search i.e. for Google you would use [google -site:google.com] which would search for the term “Google” on all sites except google.com. Doing this for your business can help identify how others may view your reputation.

Reputation matters

Two of the five most important factors in Page Quality Rating relate to reputation and information; that is, information about who is responsible for the main content and the reputation of that person and the website itself..-We knew from the Medic Update that authoring and author profiles have grown in importance, and as the guidelines now turn to focus on the reputation of both the websites and the authors, this has become an even more important facet of showcasing your expertise and authority.

In sections 2.6 and 2.6.1 of the updated guidelines, Google talks about reputation research around both the user and the website which has provided the main content. It also talks about the type of reputation information that is available and how applicable it is within certain industries, for example, how applicable product reviews would be in the finance sector. It’s clear that building strong reputation information that is relevant to your brand/industry would add value here.

Finally, for websites that are smaller or perhaps don’t have a huge amount of visible reputation information, Google does state that “this is not indicative of positive or negative reputation… for these smaller businesses and organizations, lack of reputation should not be considered an indication of low page quality.”

Trust is built on-site and off-site

Trust and authority are two of the key elements which go into rating a page’s quality and these are key for great YMYL. However, this doesn’t just come down to content and updates on the site, it’s also very much about what is available off-site. Digital PR has seen unprecedented growth in recent years as a great way of growing a website’s reputation as well as building high-quality, authoritative backlinks back to a website.

Whether it’s looking for reputation information or key signals about your brand, one of the biggest places people are searching is on websites that aren’t yours. That’s where digital PR can have the biggest impact on improving your reputation, expertise, and overall authority. Digital PR can help to build your website and your author reputation by sharing thought leadership or data expertise. This is a great way to build up these core YMYL factors while also gaining great coverage for your brand.

Keeping the user in mind

Regardless of whether you are looking to devise a digital PR strategy, improve your on-site content or make changes to the structure of your website, with the new guideline updates and YMYL changes, it’s clear that Google wants to see and understand the reputation of your website and its content creators.

Keeping these elements and the user in mind will help to ensure that you’re creating a great user experience that naturally demonstrates expertise, authority, trust, and any other signals that Google is looking for. As Google continues to improve and update its guidelines, this will become more important than ever.


Amanda Walls is the founder and Director of Cedarwood Digital, an award-winning Digital Marketing agency specializing in SEO, PPC, and Digital PR.

With 12 years of Digital Marketing experience under her belt, Amanda founded the business six years ago which was recently named the UK Small Ecommerce Agency of the year in 2021.

An expert in all things digital, Amanda has worked as a trainer for Google’s Digital Garage in the North West and has delivered digital marketing training to thousands of marketers across the region.

Subscribe to the Search Engine Watch newsletter for insights on SEO, the search landscape, search marketing, digital marketing, leadership, podcasts, and more.

Join the conversation with us on LinkedIn and Twitter.



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Google’s AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

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Google's AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

An analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries by Bartosz Góralewicz, founder of Onely, reveals the impact of Google’s AI overviews on search visibility for online retailers.

The study found that 16% of eCommerce queries now return an AI overview in search results, accounting for 13% of total search volume in this sector.

Notably, 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.

“Ranking #1-3 gives you only an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews,” Góralewicz stated.

Shift Toward “Accelerated” Product Experiences

International SEO consultant Aleyda Solis analyzed the disconnect between traditional organic ranking and inclusion in AI overviews.

According to Solis, for product-related queries, Google is prioritizing an “accelerated” approach over summarizing currently ranking pages.

She commented Góralewicz’ findings, stating:

“… rather than providing high level summaries of what’s already ranked organically below, what Google does with e-commerce is “accelerate” the experience by already showcasing what the user would get next.”

Solis explains that for queries where Google previously ranked category pages, reviews, and buying guides, it’s now bypassing this level of results with AI overviews.

Assessing AI Overview Traffic Impact

To help retailers evaluate their exposure, Solis has shared a spreadsheet that analyzes the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.

As Góralewicz notes, this could be an initial rollout, speculating that “Google will expand AI overviews for high-cost queries when enabling ads” based on data showing they are currently excluded for high cost-per-click keywords.

An in-depth report across ecommerce and publishing is expected soon from Góralewicz and Onely, with additional insights into this search trend.

Why SEJ Cares

AI overviews represent a shift in how search visibility is achieved for ecommerce websites.

With most overviews currently pulling product data from non-ranking sources, the traditional connection between organic rankings and search traffic is being disrupted.

Retailers may need to adapt their SEO strategies for this new search environment.

How This Can Benefit You

While unsettling for established brands, AI overviews create new opportunities for retailers to gain visibility without competing for the most commercially valuable keywords.

Ecommerce sites can potentially circumvent traditional ranking barriers by optimizing product data and detail pages for Google’s “accelerated” product displays.

The detailed assessment framework provided by Solis enables merchants to audit their exposure and prioritize optimization needs accordingly.


FAQ

What are the key findings from the analysis of AI overviews & ecommerce queries?

Góralewicz’s analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries found:

  • 16% of ecommerce queries now return an AI overview in the search results.
  • 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.
  • Ranking positions #1-3 only provides an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews.

These insights reveal significant shifts in how ecommerce sites need to approach search visibility.

Why are AI overviews pulling product data from non-ranking sources, and what does this mean for retailers?

Google’s AI overviews prioritize “accelerated” experiences over summarizing currently ranked pages for product-related queries.

This shift focuses on showcasing directly what users seek instead of traditional organic results.

For retailers, this means:

  • A need to optimize product pages beyond traditional SEO practices, catering to the data requirements of AI overviews.
  • Opportunities to gain visibility without necessarily holding top organic rankings.
  • Potential to bypass traditional ranking barriers by focusing on enhanced product data integration.

Retailers must adapt quickly to remain competitive in this evolving search environment.

What practical steps can retailers take to evaluate and improve their search visibility in light of AI overview disruptions?

Retailers can take several practical steps to evaluate and improve their search visibility:

  • Utilize the spreadsheet provided by Aleyda Solis to assess the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.
  • Optimize product and detail pages to align with the data and presentation style preferred by AI overviews.
  • Continuously monitor changes and updates to AI overviews, adapting strategies based on new data and trends.

These steps can help retailers navigate the impact of AI overviews and maintain or improve their search visibility.


Featured Image: Marco Lazzarini/Shutterstock



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Google’s AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny

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Google's AI Overviews Go Viral, Draw Mainstream Media Scrutiny

Google’s rollout of AI-generated overviews in US search results is taking a disastrous turn, with mainstream media outlets like The New York Times, BBC, and CNBC reporting on numerous inaccuracies and bizarre responses.

On social media, users are sharing endless examples of the feature’s nonsensical and sometimes dangerous output.

From recommending non-toxic glue on pizza to suggesting that eating rocks provides nutritional benefits, the blunders would be amusing if they weren’t so alarming.

Mainstream Media Coverage

As reported by The New York Times, Google’s AI overviews struggle with basic facts, claiming that Barack Obama was the first Muslim president of the United States and stating that Andrew Jackson graduated from college in 2005.

These errors undermine trust in Google’s search engine, which more than two billion people rely on for authoritative information worldwide.

Manual Removal & System Refinements

As reported by The Verge, Google is now scrambling to remove the bizarre AI-generated responses and improve its systems manually.

A Google spokesperson confirmed that the company is taking “swift action” to remove problematic responses and using the examples to refine its AI overview feature.

Google’s Rush To AI Integration

The flawed rollout of AI overviews isn’t an isolated incident for Google.

As CNBC notes in its report, Google made several missteps in a rush to integrate AI into its products.

In February, Google was forced to pause its Gemini chatbot after it generated inaccurate images of historical figures and refused to depict white people in most instances.

Before that, the company’s Bard chatbot faced ridicule for sharing incorrect information about outer space, leading to a $100 billion drop in Google’s market value.

Despite these setbacks, industry experts cited by The New York Times suggest that Google has little choice but to continue advancing AI integration to remain competitive.

However, the challenges of taming large language models, which ingest false information and satirical posts, are now more apparent.

The Debate Over AI In Search

The controversy surrounding AI overviews adds fuel to the debate over the risks and limitations of AI.

While the technology holds potential, these missteps remind everyone that more testing is needed before unleashing it on the public.

The BBC notes that Google’s rivals face similar backlash over their attempts to cram more AI tools into their consumer-facing products.

The UK’s data watchdog is investigating Microsoft after it announced a feature that would take continuous screenshots of users’ online activity.

At the same time, actress Scarlett Johansson criticized OpenAI for using a voice likened to her own without permission.

What This Means For Websites & SEO Professionals

Mainstream media coverage of Google’s erroneous AI overviews brings the issue of declining search quality to public attention.

As the company works to address inaccuracies, the incident serves as a cautionary tale for the entire industry.

Important takeaway: Prioritize responsible use of AI technology to ensure the benefits outweigh its risks.



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New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

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New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

A keynote at Google’s Marketing Live event showed a new AI-powered visual search results that feature advertisements that engage users within the context of an AI-Assisted search, blurring the line between AI-generated search results and advertisements.

Google Lens is a truly helpful app but it becomes unconventional where it blurs the line between an assistant helping users and being led to a shopping cart. This new way of engaging potential customers with AI is so far out there that the presenter doesn’t even call it advertising, he doesn’t even use the word.

Visual Search Traffic Opportunity?

Google’s Group Product Manager Sylvanus Bent, begins the presentation with an overview of the next version of Google Lens visual search that will be useful for surfacing information and for help finding where to buy them.

Sylvanus explained how it will be an opportunity for websites to receive traffic from this new way to search.

“…whether you’re snapping a photo with lens or circling to search something on your social feed, visual search unlocks new ways to explore whatever catches your eye, and we recently announced a newly redesigned results page for Visual search.

Soon, instead of just visual matches, you’ll see a wide range of results, from images to video, web links, and facts about the knowledge graph. It gets people the helpful information they need and creates new opportunities for sites to be discovered.”

It’s hard to say whether or not this will bring search traffic to websites and what the quality of that traffic will be. Will they stick around to read an article? Will they engage with a product review?

Visual Search Results

Sylvanus shares a hypothetical example of someone at an airport baggage claim who falls in like with someone else’s bag. He explains that all the person needs to do is snap a photo of the luggage bag and Google Lens will take them directly to shopping options.

He explains:

“No words, no problem. Just open Lens, take a quick picture and immediately you’ll see options to purchase.

And for the first time, shopping ads will appear at the very top of the results on linked searches, where a business can offer what a consumer is looking for.

This will help them easily purchase something that catches their eye.”

These are image-heavy shopping ads at the top of the search results and as annoying as that may be it’s nowhere near the “next level” advertising that is coming to Google’s search ads where Google presents a paid promotion within the context of an AI Assistant.

Interactive Search Shopping

Sylvanus next describes an AI-powered form advertising that happens directly within search. But he doesn’t call it advertising. He doesn’t even use the word advertising. He suggests this new form of AI search experience is more than offer, saying that, “it’s an experience.”

He’s right to not use the word advertisement because what he describes goes far beyond advertising and blurs the boundaries between search and advertising within the context of AI-powered suggestions, paid suggestions.

Sylvanus explains how this new form of shopping experience works:

“And next, imagine a world where every search ad is more than an offer. It’s an experience. It’s a new way for you to engage more directly with your customers. And we’re exploring search ads with AI powered recommendations across different verticals. So I want to show you an example that’s going live soon and you’ll see even more when we get to shopping.”

He uses the example of someone who needs to store their furniture for a few months and who turns to Google to find short term storage. What he describes is a query for local short term storage that turns into a “dynamic ad experience” that leads the searcher into throwing packing supplies into their shopping cart.

He narrated how it works:

“You search for short term storage and you see an ad for extra space storage. Now you can click into a new dynamic ad experience.

You can select and upload photos of the different rooms in your house, showing how much furniture you have, and then extra space storage with help from Google, AI generates a description of all your belongings for you to verify. You get a recommendation for the right size and type of storage unit and even how much packing supplies you need to get the job done. Then you just go to the website to complete the transaction.

And this is taking the definition of a helpful ad to the next level. It does everything but physically pick up your stuff and move it, and that is cool.”

Step 1: Search For Short Term Storage

1716722762 15 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows an advertisement that when clicked takes the user to what looks like an AI-assisted search but is really an interactive advertisement.

Step 2: Upload Photos For “AI Assistance”

1716722762 242 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above image is a screenshot of an advertisement that is presented in the context of AI-assisted search.  Masking an advertisement within a different context is the same principal behind an advertorial where an advertisement is hidden in the form of an article. The phrases “Let AI do the heavy lifting” and “AI-powered recommendations” create the context of AI-search that masks the true context of an advertisement.

Step 3: Images Chosen For Uploading

1716722762 187 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows how a user uploads an image to the AI-powered advertisement within the context of an AI-powered search app.

The Word “App” Masks That This Is An Ad

Screenshot of interactive advertisement for that identifies itself as an app with the words

Above is a screenshot of how a user uploads a photo to the AI-powered interactive advertisement within the context of a visual search engine, using the word “app” to further the illusion that the user is interacting with an app and not an advertisement.

Upload Process Masks The Advertising Context

Screenshot of interactive advertisement that uses the context of an AI Assistant to mask that this is an advertisement

The phrase “Generative AI is experimental” contributes to the illusion that this is an AI-assisted search.

Step 4: Upload Confirmation

1716722762 395 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

In step 4 the “app” advertisement is for confirming that the AI correctly identified the furniture that needs to be put into storage.

Step 5: AI “Recommendations”

1716722762 588 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

The above screenshot shows “AI recommendations” that look like search results.

The Recommendations Are Ad Units

1716722762 751 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Those recommendations are actually ad units that when clicked takes the user to the “Extra Space Storage” shopping website.

Step 6: Searcher Visits Advertiser Website

1716722762 929 New Google Search Ads Resemble AI Assistant App

Blurring The Boundaries

What the Google keynote speaker describes is the integration of paid product suggestions into an AI assisted search. This kind of advertising is so far out there that the Googler doesn’t even call it advertising and rightfully so because what this does is blur the line between AI assisted search and advertising. At what point does a helpful AI search become just a platform for using AI to offer paid suggestions?

Watch The Keynote At The 32 Minute Mark

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Ljupco Smokovski

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