E-A-T? YMYL? These SEO Concepts Can Make or Break Your Healthcare Website in 2021

They say, “You are what you eat.” 

As SEO experts, we prefer to say, “You are what you E-A-T.” 

What we mean is that your digital marketing efforts will only be improved by being authentic, transparent, and honest in your online content. This is especially true if your website is related to the healthcare industry.

Perhaps you’ve heard the acronyms “E-A-T” and “YMYL” being tossed around by marketing professionals in recent years. You may have a vague idea of what they stand for. You might have no clue what they mean. Read on and you’ll learn how these concepts affect your business and how you can use them to your advantage.

What Is E-A-T?

The acronym E-A-T has become a critical part of the SEO lexicon in recent years, particularly since the summer of 2018, when Google updated their Quality Rater Guidelines and subsequently released the now-infamous “Medic Update.” 

The term stands for Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness. While E-A-T itself is not a direct ranking factor in Google’s algorithm, it is comprised of key signals the search engine looks for when evaluating a site’s content. 

Expertise

When it comes to establishing expertise, the key is to identify your niche and stick to it. Search engines need to see that you can demonstrate knowledge within a specific field. For instance, if you are a dentist, you may have expertise in a number of dental-related subjects, including pediatric dentistry and cosmetic dentistry. However, if you do not offer orthodontic services, you’ll want to avoid that topic altogether as that is not where your expertise lies. Additionally, including personal blog posts about your family and pastimes may make you more approachable to your patients, but it will confuse Google, making it harder for the search engine to recognize your niche and identify you as an expert in your field. Ultimately, the content on your site should be focused and narrowed down to the subject area you know the most about.

Authority

Establishing authority means proving that you are an expert in your field. It’s one thing to write about what you know; it’s another to validate that what you say is true. Google will be looking for the following cues that confirm you are an authority in your area:

  • Experience
  • Accreditations
  • Affiliations
  • Qualifications

Every website should have an About page. On yours, make sure to include all of the above. For example, if you are a chiropractor, list your educational background, work history, certifications, and relevant organizations or associations to which you belong. Provide links to any online publications, press coverage, speaker events, and social media channels. 

An additional way to present authority is to insert outbound links to reliable sources. For instance, if you are publishing a blog post about the benefits of art therapy for patients with Alzheimer’s, you might want to link to a published research paper or an article in a quality publication that is internationally recognized as an authority on degenerative nerve diseases.

Trustworthiness

The cues that Google looks for to determine trustworthiness are the same signals your patients want to see for reassurance. These include:

  • Site security: Make sure you have an up-to-date SSL certificate
  • Reviews: Include testimonials on your website and encourage patients to leave Google reviews. Not all reviews have to be five stars. In fact, having only perfect reviews may appear suspicious. A best practice is to leave a reply on all reviews; this shows that you’re listening to feedback.
  • Site age: As your website (and business) becomes more established, your trustworthiness will generally increase. Simply showing that your healthcare practice has stood the test of time goes a long way with both Google and your human audience.
  • Transparency: Honesty and clear communication are essential to any business, but none more than a medical practice. Build trust by establishing a clear-cut line between promotional content and informational content. It should be apparent to readers (and search engines) when you are selling a product or service and when you are providing helpful information to your readers. If you are displaying any sponsored content or affiliate links, they must be overtly labeled as such.

As previously mentioned, while E-A-T is not considered a direct ranking factor, it is a critical component of any website in the eyes of Google and internet users alike. However, it takes on an even greater significance for YMYL websites like your healthcare site.

What Is a YMYL Site?

YMYL stands for “Your Money or Your Life,” and it refers primarily to financial and healthcare websites. According to Google, a YMYL site covers a topic that could “potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability or safety.” 

As a healthcare provider, your website falls under the YMYL category as it likely presents information or advice about medical issues, drugs, or how beneficial or dangerous an activity is to a person’s health and safety. 

YMYL is not an annoying part of Google’s algorithm to manipulate or work around; rather, it offers a clear roadmap for content creators to follow in order to provide the most credible information possible to their online audience. As a healthcare provider, this should be one of your top priorities. Believe it or not, this is something you have in common with Google. The YMYL guidelines offer a framework for you to use to create high-quality content that Google will recognize as trustworthy and authoritative, leading more search engine users to your site as a result.

Why Healthcare Sites Are Particularly Affected By These Standards 

Providing inaccurate or false information on a health-related subject can significantly impact the safety and well-being of the public. That is what puts healthcare websites firmly in the YMYL category, and that is what makes E-A-T so important for these types of sites. 

The intent behind the additional scrutiny is to lead Google users to the most accurate medical information possible. Due to the severity of the impact this content has on people’s lives, it simply needs to be judged more carefully and vetted more thoroughly. And of course, the recent wave of “fake news” and rampant spread of misinformation have spawned a greater demand to identify trustworthy online content.

To meet Google’s YMYL requirements, healthcare websites are required to have the following attributes:

  • A high level of E-A-T
  • A satisfying amount of high-quality content that is clearly written, factually accurate, and comprehensive
  • Satisfying site information, including who is responsible for the site’s content
  • A positive site reputation, which may come in the form of reviews or relevant backlinks from highly authoritative websites in the healthcare industry

How to Design an E-A-T Content Strategy to Meet YMYL Standards 

As a healthcare provider, you value and understand the importance of having expertise, credentials, and a good reputation. But how well are you translating these values to the digital world? It’s entirely possible that you are the most qualified and experienced podiatrist in your city, but is your website communicating your expertise and authority in podiatric medicine? Is it demonstrating your trustworthiness as a physician or as a business in general? 

Below, we’ve outlined five steps you can take today to improve your site’s E-A-T and satisfy Google’s YMYL criteria. Keep in mind, however, that this is not a checklist. A “check-it-off” approach has never worked for SEO, and it won’t benefit you here. To continue to provide your audience with the best possible content, you must keep your website up-to-date and in compliance with the ever-changing (ever-improving) search engine algorithm. Remember, SEO is a journey, not a destination. Here’s what you can do to get started.

1. Identify Authoritative Content You Are Qualified to Create

As we already determined when discussing “Expertise” above, you must determine your niche. We’ll refer back to our dentist example. You are a dentist with the following service offerings:

  • Preventative care
  • Cosmetic treatments
  • Pediatric dentistry

You do not offer orthodontic services like corrective jaw surgery or braces. As such, you are not qualified to write a blog post about congenital abnormalities related to jaw development. Rather, your website will benefit from content about early childhood oral healthcare tips, the best flossing methods, and how to maintain your porcelain crown. 

To take your content a step further, find out what questions your patients and potential patients are asking. What kind of information is important to them? Write about what you know, but also write about what your audience wants to know. 

2. Focus on Informational Content Over Promotional Content

You naturally want to drive traffic to your “money pages” – those product or service landing pages designed to convert. We get that. But your audience understands that you’ve got a financial motivation to guide them there. If you want to build trust, set your own goals aside and focus on your patients’ goals (believe us when we say this method will ultimately drive more traffic to your landing pages and increase conversions). 

Build out pages that are purely informational and then promote those pages. Those pages are your hook; they draw readers in, building trust and establishing expertise. From there, insert links to your relevant product or service landing pages. Visitors to your site are more likely to click on those links once they’re certain you’re a helpful and authoritative resource. 

It’s a basic advertising and marketing principle: you don’t open with the hard sell; you begin by building a rapport. 

3. Back Up Your Content With Research and Citations

When we introduced the concept of “Authority,” we touched on the strategy of inserting outbound links to well-established sources. To demonstrate to your readers and to Google that your content is factually correct, it’s essential to cite your sources and refer to research that backs up your claims. And of course, the more authoritative your source, the better – think medical journals and highly-regarded research organizations. 

4. Create a Good User Experience

Having a functional website that is easy to navigate is the foundation of any SEO strategy. Having a dysfunctional or confusing site can significantly undermine your E-A-T efforts. Fix broken links, redirect pages with 404 errors, make sure your site is mobile-friendly and responsive, etc. 

Another important aspect of user experience is keeping your content accessible. Do this by writing for your audience, not for a search engine or other medical professionals. Write at your audience’s reading level to make it easy to understand. Keep the tone professional but approachable. Finally, avoid keyword-stuffing, which makes the content seem awkward and inauthentic. Readers are likely looking for quick, comprehensive answers to their questions, so make sure the key message in your content is clear. This will also help Google identify the subject of your piece, which can improve your chances of ranking higher in the search results.

5. Build Trust Through Reviews

What others have to say about your business is often more trusted than what you have to say about it. That’s why patient reviews are so important. As we already mentioned while discussing “Trustworthiness,” it’s highly recommended to encourage patients to leave a review online, whether it’s through Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, or elsewhere. Proudly display these reviews on your website and don’t be afraid to leave a response. Of course, you’ll need to keep your reply professional and express gratitude for the feedback, even if the review is negative. Leaving a positive response demonstrates that your practice cares about providing good patient experiences and is willing to hear feedback and make changes.

Ultimately, satisfying the YMYL guidelines comes down to being authentic. It’s about taking a few extra steps to show the online world who you are and the benefits you can bring to your audience. You wouldn’t cut corners in your own medical practice, and Google believes the same should apply to your online presence. 

By demonstrating your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, you not only increase your chances of a higher Google ranking – driving more traffic and potential patients to your site – but you also provide your audience with helpful, and perhaps even life-saving, information.

You are what you E-A-T. Be an expert. Be an authority. Be trustworthy.