The Google Medic Update that took place in August 2019 shook the digital marketing community and impacted many health and medical websites across the web.
For those who don’t know much about Google’s broad core algorithm updates which include the Google Medic update. These are often significant changes applied to Google’s algorithm, which assesses website content using over two-hundred factors — many of which are unknown.
Many websites experience a loss in ranking following these updates and struggle to regain traffic and site visibility.
The update in August appeared to target websites that provide medical advice, with Google being held responsible for its major influence over searchers making health queries.
Our guess — and many other search specialist’s suspicions — is that Google is becoming increasingly particular about championing expert content, especially when it’s linked to health.
If you run a health blog or work in content marketing, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), or in any other digital marketing role, here are a few key takeaways that you’ll need to know:
- Marketers need to pay particular attention to Google’s E-A-T guidelines.
The acronym Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) are used to describe the three measures that Google uses to determine content quality. More information on these can be found in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.
It’s thought that the Google Medic update, along with the more recent core update in June, revolved around these metrics, as content lacking expert authorship and websites with fewer trust signals suffered the most.
- There may be some truth in studies that show people trust Google more than their doctor.
Google’s Medic update was clearly centered around health, with some data showing that 41% of the websites affected were health-related.
This makes us think that some of the recent stories about Google surpassing the public’s trust in doctors are true. Either way, it’s clear that the search engine is clamping down on the weighting and accuracy of medical advice.
- Google may be stepping up its game when it comes to medical advice because of Amazon’s Alexa.
Interestingly, Amazon’s Alexa — the core competitor of Google Home — has recently installed new Healthcare Skills. Most notably, Alexa has an in-built symptom checker that can provide medical advice and the ability to check the status of home delivery prescriptions.
Could it be that Google is threatened by these advanced features?
- Google’s broad core algorithm updates aren’t always as “broad” as we think.
The term used by Google to describe its core updates is “broad”, meaning they’re applied at a universal level across the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) and don’t specifically target one niche or industry.
However, the data paints a different picture. Medic is a prime example of an update that ended up highly targeting a specific type of content (see Takeaway #8 for more!)
- The rise in content marketing activity is forcing Google to clamp down on sites with promotional calls to action (CTAs).
Some of the Google Medic case studies reveal that promotional CTAs in blog posts that contain advice are a no-no. One such case study is of a physician’s website that recovered ranking losses by tweaking blogs to be less sales-driven.
- The Google Medic update affected health websites above all.
As noted in our second takeaway, Google’s Medic update primarily affected health websites. These websites ranged from healthcare blogs and personal blogs that provide health advice to e-commerce websites that sell medical devices.
- The Google Medic update didn’t just affect health websites.
It’s clear that Google’s Medic update was largely focused on medical content, hence its name. That said, Google Medic also affected a variety of other websites, including business, finance, and gambling sites.
According to Yoast, Google Medic tweaked brand searches to include job pages in companies like IBM and McDonald’s — likely part of Google’s aim to better match search intent (the reason why a user conducts a search and what they’re looking to get from it).
- Google is cracking down on Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) content.
Content that gives advice that could affect a person’s health, happiness, or finances is under constant scrutiny from Google. Misinformation is rife and acting on information without having all the details can have devastating results.
As such, the Medic update severely clamped down on such content and devalued those lacking authority and expertise — it’s likely why health and medical websites were so adversely affected.
- The Google Medic update is most likely linked to more recent updates (including June’s core update).
As Google continues to focus on search intent, it would appear that the two updates are inherently linked. Google’s focus may have appeared to get broader, but medical content continued to be affected, indicating that this is part of a wider move to streamline the SERPs.
Search Engine Land reported on June’s data and drew subtle comparisons.
- Websites will struggle to recover ranking positions unless they start hiring expert content writers.
As has been highlighted by Google’s E-A-T guidelines, expertise is a huge factor when it comes to high-ranking content. Those that have lost ranking positions due to a recent update will have to work doubly hard to regain Google’s trust.
To do this, websites will need to invest in their content, specifically if it relates to medical advice or YMYL. Hiring a medical content writer is advised as one of the best ways to support recovery.
- Google will continue to reward websites that have been previously “ignored” yet still deliver quality content.
Contrary to what SEO blogs might suggest, Google updates aren’t all doom and gloom.
The core focus of Google’s updates is to assess content quality — both good and bad — and either reward or devalue sites via ranking shifts. In this sense, some websites will see a ranking boost if they appear to be providing consistent value to users.
- The search engine shows no sign of being more open about its algorithmic activity: Despite search writer Barry Schwartz’s desperate plea via Twitter for more information (like the good old days), Google isn’t opening up about its updates.
Instead, frustrated digital marketers are left to uncover the meaning of each change for themselves.
- Even search specialists don’t have a clue what’s really happening with Google updates: It’s true. As Google is being ever more secretive about its search improvement activity, search specialists are really only scrambling to analyze the results of each update before coming up with a subjective opinion about what’s happened.
One Twitter thread even shows two search specialists bickering about whether or not Medic is an appropriate name for the update. For now, it’s all we’ve got to make sense of it all.
About the author:
Ramya Sriram is a UK-based digital content writer and marketer. She manages communications at Kolabtree, a London-based startup that helps businesses hire freelance scientists online. Her experience spans 10 years in publishing, advertising, and digital content creation.