How YMYL applies to pharma and health care

Build an effective SEO strategy with high-quality YMYL content

In today’s online world, people increasingly rely on search engines for information and answers to important questions. Coming across pages that display false or inaccurate information, therefore, can potentially have a huge impact on the reader’s health, happiness, safety or financial stability. Google calls this type of content ‘YMYL’, an acronym for “Your Money or Your Life” – highlighting the potential impact of certain content categories.  Google’s stated goal is to offer the best, most accurate and up-to-date results to their users so they can make well-informed decisions. Therefore, if your site cries out “Your Money or Your Life” with malicious intent, you’ll go tumbling down the search results. 

In online marketing, as in medicine, jargon is everywhere, and it’s a challenge to translate and apply it. In 2022, it is no longer acceptable to stuff keywords into your content and call it an effective SEO strategy. Google rewards pages that are beneficial; search engines can now look beyond a page’s actual search terms to analyse its intentions. If a page’s purpose is unclear, malicious or misleading, it will be penalised in the search results. Given that 95% of users don’t go past page one of Google, every penalty counts.  

There is a heathcare professional in the picture which shows how imporant this YMYL article is to them

To calculate website and page rankings, Google considers many factors, including speed, accessibility, security, how long users stay on the sites, how many pages users visit, and so on. In addition to these more well-known factors, there are hidden criteria which Google prefers to keep secret to avoid users exploiting the system for unfair rankings.

Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines (since 2015) focus increasingly on content quality. The guidelines were set out to help Google’s analysts train the algorithm and assess how well it does its job.  

In point 2.3 of Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines, we learn that YMYL content includes: 

  • health and safety – medical advice and information, drugs, medicines, hospitals, safety procedures 
  • news and current events  business, politics, science, tech, stocks  
  • civic, government and law – voting information, government agencies, social services, legal information 
  • e-commerce or shopping – information orservices which allow people to make purchases online 
  • Other categories are areas of finance, claims related to people grouped based on characteristics (e.g. age, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, religion) and areas which could impact people’s lives and wellbeing, such as nutrition, jobs, education and housing information. 

Pharma content operates across several YMYL categories. After two years of Covid-19, for example, medicine remains a prominent concern in news and current affairs. The pandemic has also seen medical research share airtime with civic, government and legal content. Health and safety are an obvious tie, as well as online shopping or e-commerce, with online pharmacy dispensing growing by 45% in 2020 in England alone. And with an increased focus on tailored, individualised medicine, pharma content frequently addresses or discusses specific demographics and groups of people. 

When Google is ranking YMYL content, it considers the expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness of the content (EAT). 

  • Expertise:  Is the content on the page created by a subject-matter expert? Do they have any credentials or information available to “prove” their expertise? 
  • Authoritativeness:  Does the content come from an author, brand, or website that is recognised by others in that field? 
  • Trustworthiness:  Do users trust the author, brand, or website to share accurate, factual, correct information from a reliable source? 

Just as clinical discoveries change health care practices, SEO practice evolves with new evidence. Google updates its algorithm multiple times a year to address new priorities. Medical, pharma and health care content is almost by definition YMYL, and it often overlaps with other categories. Building an effective SEO strategy, therefore, requires careful attention to YMYL and EAT and regular revision and upkeep of high-quality content that is relevant and offers website visitors value.  

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