Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Your money, your life: how Google ranks webpages that matter

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site. has a lot of what Google calls “YMYL” pages: “your money, your life” pages that “could potentially impact the future happiness, health, or financial stability of users.” It’s a responsibility I take seriously (hell, it’s downright oppressive at times). It’s interesting and good that Google takes it seriously too.

This information comes from their guidelines for human website reviewers. They have a small army of these reviewers, which is also interesting: they use people-generated reviews to help calibrate their algorithmically-generated rankings of webpages. They want search results to resemble what humans actually want, and not just any humans: well-trained humans with good priorities!

And so they train their human reviewers to apply more rigorous standards to YMYL pages. Sounds sensible, doesn’t it? Just what we’d hope the master of the Information Age is doing.

The reality often hasn’t lived up to the dream, though. Google has bequeathed a lot of rank to some truly shite websites over the years, and recently too. It’s not surprising, because even the human reviewers probably aren’t exactly great at evaluating the quality of health care information. Hell, even bona fide health care experts constantly disagree about what constitutes good quality information! And viciously bicker about it.

But I have good news this week: Google may actually be getting better at this.

In early August, Google rolled out significant changes to how they are interpreting YMYL pages. Many lower quality health information sites are reputedly doing rather poorly with it. And what happened here? Glad you asked! Because my most YMYL-ish pages got a substantial rank boost, sending organic traffic 40-60% higher — a nice endorsement!

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