Should we really be avoiding YMYL niches? [Putting this to the test]

Many web publishers seem to be shying away from the notorious YMYL niches. But should we? Or maybe the potential is still there – even more than before, now that more people stay away from those niches?

Let’s talk about that. In fact, I plan on doing more than just talking. I just bought a YMYL domain today and will be launching a small YMYL site this month, as an experiment. More on that later on in the post.

What Are YMYL Niches

SEO people really love their acronyms, don’t they?

YMYL stands for Your Money or Your Life. That’s what highway robbers used to shout at their victims when they wanted to quickly grab their loot and leave. It’s also the name of a book about how to plan your financials. Published in 2008, it was a bestseller which made its impact.

For SEO experts and web publishers, YMYL refers to topics and niches that can directly affect a person’s health or finances. The idea is that Google has raised the bar for these niches so that a site needs to carry a lot of authority to compete in them.

Most experts say that any niche in health and finance is YMYL. Some will tell you that certain topics within niches could be considered YMYL as well. So, for example, if you have a website about home decor, you’ll be fine as long as you publish content about how to choose pretty wall decor items. But if you want to compete over phrases relating to increasing your home’s market value, that would be a YMYL topic.

The appeal of YMYL niches

Simply put, there is a LOT of money in YMYL niches.

People are willing to pay a lot of money for health-related products. Doctors, lawyers, banks, and insurance companies are willing to pay a lot of money for their leads.

These niches have always been the top-paying one in pay-per-click and lead-based revenue generation. They appear to still be so in 2019.

The main question is – can you compete over these keywords? According to most experts – only if you have enough authority.

Is E-A-T really a problem?

Moving on to the next acronym – E-A-T.

E-A-T stands for Expertise – Authoritativeness – Trustworthiness. It’s supposed to be a ranking factor – and one that effects YMYL sites more than others.

If you want your site to succeed in a YMYL niche, you should show Google that you’re an expert on the topic, and thus a trusty authoritative source. To some extent, this is supposed to be a factor in any niche. If you have a website about fishing, you should show Google that you’re an avid fisherman.

Judging by the latest recommendations, there are all sorts of ways to do that –

  1. Have the right professional credentials (if you have a site about health, an M.D. degree helps).
  2. Show off your expertise in a detailed “About Us” page.
  3. Add a photo to show your face and increase trustworthiness.
  4. Launch a YouTube channel to strengthen your brand (increasing trustworthiness).

Can the algorithm really assess all of these things?

Meh. I highly doubt that.

Yes, E-A-T is official Google jargon. So is YMYL for that matter. But do you know where both originated? They’re part of that super-long and tedious PDF that Google released to the public in 2015, titled Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.

As the name suggests, this is a document intended for that QA team that Google employs to manually evaluate the quality of search results. These PEOPLE are told to look at E-A-T, especially when they evaluate YMYL sites.

Clearly, it’s a statement of intent regarding Google’s preferences. But it also shows you that the algorithm can’t really evaluate these parameters. It takes a human to do so.

What if my site gets “audited” by a human evaluator?

I highly doubt that Google can really have a human being look into every site on the web. What’s more, the small number of sites that get sampled, don’t necessarily receive a manual penalty – they may just be used for statistical QA feedback.

More importantly – even a human evaluator probably won’t take the time to read your long “About Me” page, try to decide if you look like an honest person in your photo, or visit your YouTube channel.

In fact, according to Shawna Newman from SkipBlast.com – Google Evaluators are allocated mere minutes to assess a site. They’re paid by the number of sites they assess, so they’re not very likely to take a much deeper look.¬†She should know, as she’s worked as a Google Rater herself, and her husband still does. Read her thoughts about E-A-T, from the unique perspective of a web publisher and former rater.

By the way, if you visit Google’s guidelines for webmasters, you’ll find no mention of either YMYL or E-A-T.

But What About The 2018 Medic Update?

In August 2018, Google launched an update that hurt many health-related websites. There’s no shortage of testimonies from across the web showing that indeed, quite a few websites took a massive hit.

Of course, with people still searching for health-related topics, that also means other websites gained more traffic.

So, who got hit and why?

Judging by the type of sites that were hit, it seems to be that Google was targetting sites that either directly or indirectly promoted anti-vaccine fake news. In other words, the so-called “alternative” medicine sites.

The best example is probably Mercola’s site. In their own words, the site was “buried”, losing all of its Google rankings. They actually posted the stats about that but I don’t feel like providing that site with links, so just Google “Mercola Google buried” or something and you’ll see it.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Mercola’s website was handed a manual penalty. I suspect – judging by the complaints following the Medic Update – that there was also a systematic filter placed, which went after pages that touted “health advice” while promoting supplements, homeopathic remedies etc.

Judging from websites presented in webmasters forums, or those put up for sale on Flippa and similar venues, I have a feeling that when small-size web publishers talk about the “health niche”, they usually mean holistic/alternative kind of approach. That’s probably because these web publishers are rarely health professionals, or have a real medical background. It’s easier to blab on about natural remedies for migraines, then to actually really analyze the latest neurological research and bring your reader evidence-based information, right?

Who does bring you evidence-based information? The Mayo Clinic, Healthline and government sites like that by the CDC. And guess what, they seem to be doing very well in the SERP’s still. Yes, they have link-driven authority. So did Mercola. So, this is not just about that.

Evidence-based Medicine vs. Fake News

Continuing this line of thought, I suspect that Google is really trying to kill the “fake news” sites of the health niche. The recent global Measles outbreak proved that anti-vaxxers were doing real harm when spreading their “fake health” information across the web. That’s what Google is trying to stop.

When it comes to health, there’s a clear line separating evidence-based medicine from so-called “alternative” or “holistic” trends. Anyone well-versed in scientific research in those fields can instantly tell the two apart. Sure, the Mercolas of the web love bragging about their “Scientific sources” but honestly, if you know anything about those things, it becomes super easy to tell pseudo-science from the real thing.

Are all YMYL Niches the same?

In health, the line is fairly clear. Not so much in the financial niches. There’s more room for opinions when it comes to investment advice, for example. I still haven’t heard of a finance-related decent niche site that got hurt by the latest Google updates. If you have, I’d love to hear about it in a comment.

Now, that doesn’t mean that finance is a fantastic niche. There are two problems with this niche –

  • It’s super competitive.
  • Writing good content can be a challenge.

I still believe that you need to write helpful well-researched content if you want to succeed. In any niche. In some niches, the entry bar is higher as you need to find really good writers, preferably with some background in the niche – to produce quality content. Finance, Legal and health, are such niches. You need to carefully consider whether you want to play those niches – but that has nothing to do with them being marked by Google’s algorithm as requiring special “E-A-T”.

So, to sum this up –

  1. YMYL is a term coined for Google’s human evaluators – not for us web publishers.
  2. Google does seem to be penalizing “alternative” health sites.
  3. The “Your Money” sites don’t seem to be that heavily affected, if at all.

My experiment

I will be putting theory to the test with a new site. It’s going to be in the personal finance niche which definitely falls under the “Your Money or Your Life” definition. Here’s a step-by-step description of the plan –

  1. Buy a money-related domain name.
  2. Look for underserved long-tail searches in the fields of loans, insurance and investment.
  3. Curate a content plan of 30 posts, based on that search analysis.
  4. Create a WordPress site with a nice logo and a few categories.
  5. Outsource the writing to a content agency.
  6. Publish these 30 posts.
  7. If and when the site gets traffic – monetize with Adsense.

I am currently working through step 5. I have my list of topics and I’m outsourcing them, about a dozen at a time. The entire project – steps 1 to 6 – should be done by the end of this month.

The Goals

  1. Determine whether a new site in a YMYL niche can get search traffic at some point.
  2. Check the current CPC rates in Adsense in that niche.

Clearly, it’s going to take time. With my other niche sites, the sandbox period has been 8-9 months. They have more than 30 posts and are in “softer” niches. With that in mind, I will re-evaluate the situation as the experiment progresses and may invest a small sum in link building as well.

Costs

Not using my in-house writers for this project, I outsourced the writing to 5-start level writers at WriterAccess.com. Since the search terms are very long-tail, I’ve limited the length of posts to 1200 words. That means each post will end up costing me about $96.

So for 30 posts, that will be $2,880.

Hosting doesn’t cost me anything (using my own virtual machine over at Digital Ocean). I ordered a logo from a Fiverr designer for $7.

I estimate my time working on this little project at 10 hours.

Expectations

Since these are long-tail queries, I’m shooting for an average of 250 pageviews per post a year into launching (once the site is out of the sandbox). That’s a total of 7,500 pageviews a month.

Assuming $30 “CPM” using Adsense, the site should generate $225 per month. It should then cover the costs within 13 months or can be sold for around $8,000 (roughly X36 monthly profits).

If I get a good indication earlier on, I’ll add content, of course, and may promote the site via Pinterest or link building efforts – but assuming no actions following this month, this is what I expect to see around August 2020.

Stay tuned for updates about this site in the next quarterly report! And leave me a comment with your thoughts too – I’d love to hear them!

Updates

Jasin left me a comment asking about updates. I have regular monthly traffic and revenue reports on the site, where I always review this site as well. However, it makes sense to provide updates here in this post, so I’ll start doing that, at least once a quarter or so.

July 2020

So far, the site is definitely lagging behind. Big time.

Here’s a screenshot of the traffic from September (time of launch) until the end of June.

YMYL site traffic

The good news is that the overall trajectory is positive. Search engine traffic is there, and it’s growing steadily, month by month. However, the process is incredibly slow.

How slow?

Well, fortunately, I have a “control site” with which I can compare. Around the same time, we launched a site in the style and fashion niche with approximately the same number of posts. I hadn’t planned on it originally, but it turned out the sites were at the ~100 posts point at around the same time.

This is what traffic looks like for the style blog –

control site stats

Note the numbers on the left. The overall trajectory is similar, but oh boy, are the numbers different. The YMYL site is under 300 pageviews a month from search traffic. The style site is at over 8,000.

By the way, if you’re wondering about the growth in traffic from other sources, that comes from a Pinterest push that both sites are now receiving, using the method in this course by FatStacks blog. If you’re looking for an SEO-like method to promote on Pinterest, I recommend that course.

So, there you go. That’s where we are with the YMYL site by the end of June. Clearly, the finance niche is very tough to break into. I’ll provide another update by the end of September. Until then, you’re welcome to follow that site in my monthly reports. If you don’t want to miss on any future report, make sure to subscribe to my mailing list as well.

 

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Rose

    Was my math right? You are going to pay the writers 12.5 cents a word? The site you linked to suggested 2 cents a word. Have you found significant improvement in the articles where you pay a larger amount?

    1. Anne

      Hi Rose,
      Just seeing this comment, sorry about the late reply. I paid writers 6 cents a word for that batch of articles. I linked to WritersAccess and as I recall, you can find writers as cheap as 4 cents per word there. I don’t think they go down to 2? I have tried the 5 cents a word writers there before. I think the 6-cents ones are slightly better. It’s hard to tell though.

  2. Corey

    Hi Anne,

    I am pretty new to affiliate marketing. I found your site while researching what YMYL was all about. I am a skilled writer, and would like to write blog posts and articles for others while I learn how to build and optimize sites of my own.

    Do you have any projects that I could write some quality content for? I will write the first article or blog post for FREE. Then if you are happy with my work, I will write more for 5 cents a word – beating the 6 cents a word that you mentioned paying for content.

    I’m in the United States, and have a good sample that I can send you to demonstrate my ability.

    Thanks for writing this article, and I hope we can collaborate in the future!

    1. Anne

      Hi Corey,
      Thank you, but that 6 cents per word rate was a very temporary thing because I needed a fast batch of content from an agency. We generally pay writers 3 cents per word, including in this niche. If you’re still interested, let me know and I’ll ask my VA to get in touch with you for a fully-paid test post.

    1. Anne

      Hi Jonathan, I cover that site in the monthly reports here. The site is taking longer to gather traffic, but not much else to say at this point.

      1. Jonathan Smith

        Thank you for the response. Good luck. I would love to talk more. What is your skype?

        1. Anne

          I don’t want to share my Skype here, so shooting you an email instead.

  3. David Wolfenger

    Your assumption that only low level health websites got hit in Google medic update is really not accurate. For example sites like selfhacked.com got crashed. Also look at examine.com – they got hit really hard in medic update. They’ve seen a little recovery in Dec. 2019 but they are in a down trend. All the articles in these 2 sites are backed by science and reviewed by experts. I must say they have much better content than content farms such as WebMd and Healthline. I believe that Google just have a manually curated list of sites (or networks) that enjoy all the health traffic. There’s something really strange with this medic update and to me it seems it has a huge manual component. You’ve said it yourself that it’s very hard for an algo to detect E.A.T.

    1. Anne

      Interesting comment, David, thank you. I am not familiar with these sites but looking at selfhacked.com, I have to say it doesn’t inspire trust in me, personally. Yes, they have MD’s and Ph.D.’s listed as reviewers but going after titles such as “can X supplement help against corona”, with so many supplements listed, that just looks spammy to me, sorry.

      I can’t say much about Examine.com except that I’m seeing a lot of stuff about “supplements” there too. I wonder if that could be a red flag? So yeah, I agree it could very well be a manual penalty. I’m just not sure if maybe the trigger isn’t something like “supplements” that makes a site look less EBM and more commercial in nature?

      That isn’t to say that WebMD or Healthline are much better, I agree with you on that as well. Maybe it’s a combination of factors and those sites have more EBM articles in the mix? Or maybe a stronger/better link profile?

      1. David Wolfenger

        Thanks for your quick reply Anne – much appreciated. I just brought these two examples to show you two websites that got hit by medic update despite having evidence based content that was reviewed by doctors.

        The fact that one site (examine) chose to analyze supplements in the most scientific way shouldn’t mark it as low level – this is their niche. I would argue that this should make them a leader.

        The same applies to selfhacked – I cannot see how writing extremely well researched and evidenced based content can label a site as low level (even if you target specific subject).

        The other thing is that selfhacked got hit 18 months ago so the articles that you see now in selfhacked were not there at the time. This also puts your assumption in perspective.

        If we talk about supplements – have a look at vitacost,com – they have a blog section that is composed of low level articles (that mostly lack any evidence). These blog posts only promote their supplements. Despite having such low level content their site (in general) was NOT impacted by the medic update. For example have a look at their article: “The 10 Leading Homeopathic Remedies & Their Common Uses” – it’s all about promoting their products and it lacks any scientific evidence. But they are still ranked in the first place for “homeopathic remedies”. I would argue that their blog section should suffer from medic update but they seemed to get away – very strange.

        As you can see there are lots of inconsistencies with how this update is applied. These inconsistencies make it extremely unlikely that this update is fully based on algorithm. The fact that there are so many questions about this update also points to something “different” in this update. Did I also mention that I couldn’t see any recoveries from this update? very strange indeed.

  4. David Moore

    Hey Anne,

    I am very much confused as to how E.A.T is actually defined. For example – I would expect that a person with a nutrition degree who writes evidence based content will have high E.A.T

    But look at the site dietvsdisease.org – the guy who writes the content also works for Healthline and I’ve noticed it has a link from their bio to his site. But his site got completely crashed. He has all the credentials that you need and his articles are based on science so I cannot see the logic here.

    How’s your experiment progressing?

    1. Anne

      Hi David,
      You’re not the only one who’s confused. I don’t think anyone outside of the relevant people in Google knows for sure.
      Personally, I think E.A.T is all about your link profile. It’s probably more than just the number of links. My guess is that it’s a closer call at your link profile, looking for sites with very high authority scores that point to you. So, if dietvsdisease.org was to get links from the CDC, academic websites, or very established sites in the niche, it would probably help its E.A.T. more than the actual credentials.
      For people with those credentials, it’s probably important to “mingle”. Get in touch with solid reputable sites in the field, interact on social media, maybe even attend relevant conferences etc. With the end goal being to get them to link to you, somehow. Possibly guest blog posts. HARO would be another good way to build real E.A.T – if you get quotes on relevant pages in leading online magazines, that probably helps too.

      I honestly don’t think this is about the actual credentials per se. Google has no way of knowing what they really are or factoring that into the algorithm, IMHO.

      So far, the experiment is proving that this is a very tough niche to break into. The site gets less than 10% of traffic compared to our fashion and style site. Both were launched around the same time and have a similar number of posts. I’m not giving up hope just now. It could take longer, and may eventually result in less traffic, but that traffic could prove to be more valuable. So, I’m holding off judgment just yet and letting the site stew for a bit longer.

  5. Alessandro

    Hi, do you have any niche idea that isn’t YMYL?

    1. Anne

      Hi Allesandro,
      Most of my niches aren’t YMYL (though it’s probably possible to find YMYL angles to almost anything). Check out my revenue reports here to see what other niches I cover. As for niche ideas for other people, the sky is the limit, really. A lot would depend on the size of niche that you’re looking for. I can try and put together a post with a list of suggestions.

      1. Alessandro

        The problem I see now, is that with many “business keyword” the first places on google are by amazon, ebay and various ecommerce

        1. Anne

          Hi Alessandro,
          I guess that depends on what you mean by “business keyword”. If you mean “commercial intent” phrases, then in my experience so far, it’s not that difficult to beat Amazon, eBay, and other e-commerce sites. You just need a good post, with information about the type of product and a curated selection of offers.

          1. Alessandro

            Yes, until April I thought so too, but with the latest update of google many keywords with “commercial intent” are of the various ecommerce, at least here in italy.

  6. Jasin G.

    Wish you update the article soon so that you show us the results.

    1. Anne

      Thanks for the reminder! Anyone who follows my reports knows exactly how the site is doing, but I should add an update to save people the extra clicks.

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