It is still possible to build a successful blog in a YMYL niche if you choose the right niche and blog topics, establish sufficient E-A-T, and adopt a long-term approach.
I myself am running a blog in what would be considered a YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) space: A German legal blog that is mainly – but not exclusively – directed at law school graduates and law students.
Even though my blog is relatively small (approximately 150 blog posts) and has low domain authority (MOZ authority of 19), it ranks well for a significant number of search queries that fall in the YMYL category.
To give an example, my website currently (June 2021) takes the first place in the search results for the German equivalent of “civil law intent”, right before Wikipedia:
After having provided proof that ranking even a smaller website in a YMYL niche is, in principle, still possible, let’s talk about in which niches you can reasonably expect to establish a YMYL blog and which tactics you can employ to successfully rank and grow a YMYL website.
Not every YMYL niche is treated equally – choose wisely
In Section 2.3 of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, Google defines the “Your Money or Your Life” category rather broadly as “some types of pages or topics [that] could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.”
As examples, Google lists a whole range of topics:
- health and safety,
- civics, government, and law,
- groups of people based on ethnics, religion, gender and others,
- news and current events,
- shopping, and
- a category called “other” under which Google sees for example choosing a college or finding a job.
However, when you look at the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), it quickly becomes clear that Google is not treating all of these topics the same.
Take my introductory example about the meaning of the word “intent” in civil law. The search clearly falls in the “legal” category, but Google lets my little website with its low domain authority take the number one spot.
On the other hand, if you google “Am I having a stroke”, the first result is given to cdc.gov, a government website with a MOZ domain authority score of 94, and the search results thereafter show equally authoritative websites.
Even if I was a doctor, a website as small and un-authoritative as mine would have no chance of ranking for a term like this. I would go so far and say even if you had millions of dollars in funding and several years to build authority, ranking in the top 3 for this search term would be a difficult task.
As a rule of thumb, it appears that the more important a search result is for someone’s life, the more difficult it will be to rank for the search without massive authority and proven expertise.
For you, that means the market research you should perform before you choose any niche becomes even more important in a YMYL space: You need to try various search queries in your niche and observe the results that Google shows.
If only extremely authoritative websites are listed on the first page even for more niched down search queries, Google probably considers the topic to be highly YMYL and it will be difficult for you to compete.
On the other hand, if you can also find smaller sites in the search results, the topic may only be considered “a little bit” YMYL and you stand a chance if you follow the guidelines further laid out in this article.
Important note: When you try this, it is important that you niche down your search queries. If you search for a broad query like “dog”, you will also only get extremely authoritative results. However, that is not because the topic is considered YMYL, but because the search term has a massive search volume and is extremely competitive.
The YMYL factor may vary from blog post to blog post
Furthermore, even within one niche, not every search query is treated equally.
Let’s say you have settled for the “legal education” niche. You will find that, for example, a very objective black-or-white search term like “admission criteria for law school” produces relatively authoritative results (though by no means comparable to the medical search we tried in the previous section).
On the other hand, if we try a query like “How difficult is law school?”, we see quite different results:
While the first search result is still very authoritative, the second place is occupied by lawschooli.com, which has only medium domain authority. The third place is even taken by a Reddit discussion.
The Reddit result makes a lot of sense if you think about it: The assessment of the difficulty of law school is not objectively black or white, but rather subjective. Consequently, individual experiences and opinions will be helpful (and not harmful) for the searcher.
To further prove my point, here’s a screenshot of my small website taking the first spot for the respective search term in German (all I did was explain in detail my opinion of what makes law school difficult):
Google explicitly explains this difference between “objective expertise” and “subjective expertise” in section 3.2 of their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines:
Google then proceeds to give the example of forum users discussing how long their loved ones lived with a certain type of cancer and explains that this should be viewed as a sharing of personal experiences and not medical advice.
The conclusion for you is that you need to consider the “YMYL factor” of each individual blog post, not only of your niche in general.
To improve your odds of ranking well in YMYL niches, you have to establish what Google calls “E-A-T.” E-A-T stands for “Expertise”, “Authoritativeness”, and “Trustworthiness” and is further explained in section 3.2 of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.
In summary, to determine E-A-T of a piece of content, the following factors are considered:
- the expertise of the content creator,
- the authoritativeness of the content creator, the piece of content itself, and the website, and
- the thrustworthiness of the content creator, the piece of content itself, and the website.
Have credible authors
As a consequence, if you want to succeed in a YMYL niche, you need to ensure the expertise of your blog’s authors.
As already explained, depending on the niche and the angle you take, this can mean simply having life experience regarding the questions you are addressing.
However, in many instances, such as with legal queries, you have to demonstrate more formal expertise. To achieve that, you can choose one or several of the following routes:
- Interviewing and citing professionals.
- Paying professionals to write articles and citing them as author.
- If your site is a bit more established, letting professionals guest post in return for an advertisement for their services.
- Actually being a professional in your niche and writing articles yourself.
However, even if you’re employing options 1 through 3, I believe that being a professional in your niche yourself massively helps.
To once more take my own website as an example, I am a lawyer and I have written about half of the blog posts on my blog from scratch myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t employ the other techniques for creating content:
- I have interviewed and cited other professionals when it comes to very specific questions that I have felt they are better suited to answer than me.
- I’ve also paid law school graduates to write first drafts for about half of my articles.
However, even in utilizing these methods, being a lawyer myself provides me with unique advantages:
- When it comes to legal education, I know from experience what kind of questions my readers need answered.
- As far as actual legal content is concerned, I can assess the quality of a draft provided to me by another legal professional. Even in content drafted by professionals, quality varies significantly and if you’re not a professional yourself, you will find it difficult to tell the difference.
- Since I am able to review and edit legal content myself, I can source first drafts from inexperienced law school graduates instead of from experienced lawyers, and therefore obtain it much cheaper without compromising on quality. Of course, that only works if you are willing to invest the time to personally review and edit the content.
- I can add my personal brand to the blog and present myself as the expert behind the blog.
That being said, I also know in particular one very successful German legal website that is not run by a lawyer, but completely relies on outsourcing content. Their content quality is significantly lower than mine, but they produce content on a much bigger scale and use that scale to generate large quantities of backlinks and pageviews.
Showcase your authors’ expertise
Whatever your method of ensuring author expertise is, make sure to advertise it on your website.
For example, I clearly advertise that
- I am a lawyer with an excellent academic and professional track record.
- all first drafts are, if not created by me, drafted by law school graduates in the top 15% of their year, and
- every piece of content is reviewed and edited by me personally before it is published.
The legal website I just mentioned that is run by non-professionals, while having lower standards, advertises those as well:
- They explain that every piece of content has been produced by a law school graduate.
The key takeaway here is: Before you enter into a YMYL niche, have a clear plan on the angle you want to take and how you can ensure and display credible authorship to address that angle.
Cite credible primary sources
To increase the trustworthiness of a piece of content itself, cite primary, trustworthy sources whenever possible.
For my legal website, I invest approximately 300$ per month for access to Germany’s industry leading legal database and include professional legal sources throughout my blog posts (sometimes up to 40 citations for one article). I cite primary sources such as court rulings and legislation to the extent possible.
Keep your content up-to-date
Regularly updating your content is always helpful, but it’s particular important in YMYL niches.
Section 3.2 of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines emphasizes the importance of regular updates in particular for legal, tax, financial, and medical content.
I’ve personally seen legal content drop massively in the SERPs because I failed to update it on time (or at least I believe that to have been the reason). The reason why I hadn’t updated it was that nothing had changed from a legal perspective. However, it seems that Google doesn’t always know that. I now try to improve existing content every now and then even though the legal facts may not have changed and the update may therefore not be strictly necessary from a legal perspective.
Cultivate industry connections
Making connections in your blog’s industry and collaborating with other industry participants is a good idea in any niche. But again, in YMYL spaces, it is particularly helpful because it helps to establish authority within your niche.
The more niche participants know and value you, the more backlinks and mentions you will receive organically from other websites in your industry.
For example, a guest post I’ve written for a large website in the German legal education niche has attracted the attention of two industry leaders in the field. Both got interested in the person behind the article, found my website, got in touch with me and recommended my website to their readers. I haven’t paid a dime for those links, but by putting myself out there, I got the attention of industry leaders and backlinks followed organically.
I’ve also written an article for a respected print-magazine in the German legal space, that in turn allowed me to introduce my site at the end of the article. This turned out to bring absolutely zero traffic to my site. However, a few years later, the company behind the magazine uploaded all of their historic content to the web and suddenly, the mention become visible to Google. Sometimes you just don’t know how things work out in the end.
Besides that, I sometimes conduct interviews (both as the interviewer and the person being interviewed) and I get on the phone and talk to other professionals in my niche.
I’ve also held trainings for legal trainees at one of Germany’s biggest law firms, which has so far resulted in Instagram mentions by said law firm and significant social proof every time I mention it.
You get the point: Don’t be limited to your computer screen. Being active in your YMYL niche will help you to build authority.
Take a long-term approach to YMYL blogging
Establishing E-A-T takes time.
- This is true on the author level, since the authors have to obtain the necessary qualifications to become credible.
- It is true on the website level, since building a high domain authority comes with backlinks, mentions, and domain age – which, again, all take time to build up.
- But it is also true on the individual blog post level, because showing Google that you are regularly updating a piece of content also takes time. Google has to see that your content has been online for several months or years and has been regularly updated throughout this period.
From my personal experience, this “updates over time” factor seems to play a larger role for more competitive YMYL queries. I’ve seen articles take years of climbing the SERPs and receiving small updates every now and then until they have reached the number one spot.
As a consequence, I would advise against starting a blog in a YMYL space if you want to see results fast. On the other hand, this “time lag” in results and the patience required serves as a barrier to entry and works in your favor once you have established your YMYL blog as an authority in your niche.