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On August 1, 2018, Google released what would become known as the “Medic” update. In a nutshell:
- It was dubbed “Medic” as it affected the rankings of a large number of websites in the medical niches
- While the majority of web pages affected were YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) pages, it also extended to local map listings
- The update seemed to focus on the E-A-T (or Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness) of a web page
- Google said that if you were affected, there’s nothing you can do to fix it—but in the future, focus on creating better quality content
It has now fully rolled out and thousands upon thousands of websites were hit with huge rankings changes—both positive and negative. Keep reading for a breakdown of what exactly happened, who it affected, why it affected them, and what to do if your rankings suffered a hit.
First Things First: How Google’s Search Algorithm Works
The very first thing to understand is that Google’s search algorithm does not crawl websites, it crawls web pages. That’s why you can have one page that ranks number one for one query and on page 10 for another. It does, however, look at your whole domain for factors like trustworthiness and authority.
Google’s goal is to provide the best search results that would solve a user’s query in one click and one second, so it frequently tests tiny adjustments in the algorithm to try and increase user satisfaction. One way it does this is with a machine learning (AI) algorithm called RankBrain.
Before RankBrain, Google engineers would have to manually tweak and test different algorithm updates. RankBrain took out the legwork.
Backlinko summed it up pretty well:
In short, RankBrain tweaks the algorithm on its own.
Depending on the keyword, RankBrain will increase or decrease the importance of backlinks, content freshness, content length, domain authority etc.
Then, it looks at how Google searchers interact with the new search results. If users like the new algorithm better, it stays. If not, RankBrain rolls back the old algorithm.
Over time, RankBrain essentially outsmarted the engineers:
There are more than 200 factors within the search algorithm, but the ones that influence rankings the most are:
- Whether or not your website is secure (HTTPS vs. HTTP)
- Whether or not your website is mobile-friendly
- How fast web pages load on your site
- Whether a web page has the correct schema markup (a type of website code)
- The quality of your web pages’ content
- The length of your web pages’ content
- Presence of social signals that point back to your website
- Presence of quality backlinks that point back to your website
- Whether or not you have optimized images on your web pages
- Past user behavior for similar queries (Google’s RankBrain)
What Happened? Google’s August 1 Algorithm Update: Medic
On August 1, search rankings wildly fluctuated for a large number of websites, the majority of which were in the health and medical industry. Google then confirmed that a broad algorithm update had been released.
Who Was Affected By Google Medic?
While the update was global and affected a wide number of industries, the vast majority of websites that were affected were health and medical websites as well as YMYL websites, or Your Money, Your Life. According to SEO industry guru Barry Schwartz, who coined the name “Google Medic,” over 42 percent of the sites submitted dealt in the medical, health, fitness, or healthy lifestyle space:
What Are YMYL Websites?
Google classifies some pages as ones that could potentially impact the future happiness, health, or wealth of users. These pages are dubbed “Your Money, Your Life” pages and undergo a higher level of scrutiny from the search quality raters and—as a result—search crawlers. The following are considered YMYL pages:
- Shopping or financial transaction pages: web pages that allow users to make purchases, transfer money, pay bills, etc. online (such as online stores and online banking pages)
- Financial information pages: web pages that provide advice or information about investments, taxes, retirement planning, home purchase, paying for college, buying insurance, etc.
- Medical information pages: web pages that provide advice or information about health, drugs, specific diseases or conditions, mental health, nutrition, etc.
- Legal information pages: web pages that provide legal advice or information on topics such as divorce, child custody, creating a will, becoming a citizen, etc.
- News articles or public/official information pages important for having an informed citizenry: web pages that include information about local/state/national government processes, policies, people, and laws; disaster response services; government programs and social services; news about important topics such as international events, business, politics, science, and technology; etc. Please use your judgment and knowledge of your locale. Keep in mind that not all news articles are necessarily considered YMYL
- Other: there are many other topics that you may consider YMYL, such as child adoption, car safety information, etc.
Why Were These Websites Affected?
The SEO industry generally agrees that the Medic update is aimed at improving the E-A-T (or expertise, authority, and trustworthiness) of pages that could potentially affect a person’s well-being and happiness. Considering consumers’ intensifying scrutiny of information (and misinformation) on the web and the rising demand for seamless, helpful user experiences, it makes sense that this algorithm update would come out now.
What Is E-A-T and How Do I Influence It?
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness, and is an indicator of the content quality on a page. Here is what Google categorizes as content that has a high E-A-T:
- High E-A-T medical advice should be written or produced by people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation. High E-A-T medical advice or information should be written or produced in a professional style and should be edited, reviewed, and updated on a regular basis
- High E-A-T news articles should be produced with journalistic professionalism—they should contain factually accurate content presented in a way that helps users achieve a better understanding of events. High E-A-T news sources typically have published established editorial policies and robust review processes
- High E-A-T information pages on scientific topics should be produced by people or organizations with appropriate scientific expertise and represent a well-established scientific consensus on issues where such consensus exists
- High E-A-T financial advice, legal advice, tax advice, etc., should come from trustworthy sources and be maintained and updated regularly
- High E-A-T advice pages on topics such as home remodeling (which can cost thousands of dollars and impact your living situation) or advice on parenting issues (which can impact the future happiness of a family) should also come from “expert” or experienced sources that users can trust
- High E-A-T pages on hobbies, such as photography or learning to play guitar, also require expertise
What to Do If Your Website Experienced a Rankings Loss with Google Medic
First off, don’t panic. Ranking fluctuations are normal and even we get them. That doesn’t mean you should sit on your hands. If your website was affected, use the following five strategies to get your website on the right path:
Strategy #1: Update Your COntent
A big indicator of quality medical and YMYL pages is updated content. Go through and update each page, making sure it has the most recent information. If it has the ability to update the “published on” date, update it. Then set a reminder to do this at least quarterly.
Strategy #2: Compare Your Pages with the Top Ranking Pages for Your Most Important Queries
At Blue Corona, we do this on the regular. If you aren’t ranking for a search term or if you lost rankings on an important search term, go back and take a look at the web pages that are in the top positions. What’s different? Specifically:
- Is the website secure, faster than yours, or more mobile-friendly?
- Is the content more thorough or more recent?
- Does the website have a higher domain authority? What about page authority? (You can check both of those here)
- Is the content longer?
- Are the title tags and meta descriptions more descriptive? Are they shorter or longer than yours?
- Are there more images? Are their images optimized, complete with a descriptive file name and alt-tag?
- Do the pages ranking above you have better, more authoritative links back to their website or do they link to more authoritative sources?
- Do they go more in-depth on the topic than you?
If the answer to any of these is “yes,” try fixing whatever it is they’re doing better than you.
Strategy #2: Fix All Technical Errors Like Non-HTTPS, Non-Responsive, Slow Load Times, Broken Links, and Crawl Errors
Your website needs to be fast, secure, and mobile-friendly to get the top spots, and it needs to WORK. Google doesn’t like broken links, crawl errors (like 404s), or images that load slowly. If anything is broken, it will lower your chances of getting in the top spot, especially after this update. Either check your Google Search Console for crawlability issues or do your own crawl of your pages with software like ScreamingFrog. Another issue you might want to look into is the presence of ads on your page. If the ads are preventing a good user experience, you’ve got a problem.
Strategy 4: Create More, Better Content that Your Target Audience Wants to Read
Your final judge and jury are searchers. If the people searching for your product, info, or services don’t like your content, it won’t matter how authoritative and technically perfect your website is. Even Google gets outranked for some Google-branded keywords because the information on Google’s website is too technical for a lot of searchers. The secret is to create quality content that’s compelling, authoritative, and easy to read. Here’s how Google defines quality content, as outlined by their Search Quality Guidelines:
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines
- Don’t deceive your users
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
- Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field
Avoid the following techniques:
- Automatically generated content
- Participating in link schemes
- Creating pages with little or no original content
- Sneaky redirects
- Hidden text or links
- Doorway pages
- Scraped content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
- Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
- Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
- Abusing rich snippets markup
- Sending automated queries to Google
Follow good practices like these:
- Monitoring your site for hacking and removing hacked content as soon as it appears
- Preventing and removing user-generated spam on your site
Need Help Correcting a Rankings Loss from the Google Medic Update?
We’ve got your back. We’re absolute pros at Google, medical SEO, and creating high-quality content, and we’ve got the case studies from our clients to prove it. Contact us and tell us your situation and we’ll get you on the path to better rankings and more business growth.
About The Author: Betsy is Blue Corona's in-house Digital Marketing Specialist. When she’s not directing Blue Corona's corporate digital content campaigns she’s urban exploring with her wife, diving into the latest marketing trends, or teaching horseback riding lessons. Twitter: @educatedbets
View more blogs by Betsy McLeod