Getting to Know Google’s Medic Update
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In August 2018, Google updated its broad core algorithm. Barry Schwartz, one of the most esteemed SEO experts, dubbed it the ‘Medic Update,’ which became a name that stuck. The etymology came from Schwartz’s experiments finding that Google’s update attempted to fix problems in their algorithms to impact all sites, but 41.5% of the sites affected by the update were medical, health, fitness and healthy lifestyle web spaces (hence the update is also known as the Google health update). Some websites were favored by the update and placed higher on the Search Engine Page Results (SERP), but others lost out, as SEO is a zero-sum game. Here are some of the implications of the Medic Update 2018, as well as a guide to aid any changes in your SEO strategy.
What Did the Update Do?
It’s first important to note that Google confirmed the update but offered very few details on what they specifically changed. As it’s a core update, it’s fair to assume that they changed page speed, mobile responsiveness, HTTPS, keywords and much, much more. Due to the sheer number of variables that will be changed in a core update, rankings can be affected indirectly. Here are some of those indirect impacts.
- Google slightly amended its search engine results for queries targeting large brands to include a careers-related result, which resulted in higher traffic for some career sites.
- Commercial sites came off better for the most part after the update. This came at the expense of content sites and price comparison sites.
- Most medical sites suffered, with the exception of sites that Google views as having a higher authority (e.g., WebMD), potentially to decrease the risk of misinformation.
- Generally speaking, the Google Medic update prioritized results that match the presumed intent of the query, which coincided with Google’s updated search quality rater guidelines.
How to Fix Your Site to Function Better After the Update
Google issued a notice claiming that you can’t fix your site after this update, as there’s nothing wrong with your pages; they just do not perform as well as other pages under Google’s new algorithmic structuring. This has created a lot of confusion in the SEO industry, as normally Google releases a series of guides about how to optimize your site, or at least some root causes of SERP changes (as was seen with Panda or Penguin updates). However, all Google’s changes over the past few years have followed a strategy that prioritizes elements like credibility. It is safe to say that Google will not have pivoted on its strategy, merely revamped its core processes to help Google advance its progress. This assumption allows the formation of SEO strategies that can help your site perform well after the Medic Update.
Focus on EAT Optimization
Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines are good indications of Google’s strategy, and they stress the importance of a web space’s expertise, authoritativeness and trust (EAT). This makes sense, as credibility has been a long-standing priority for Google, who wants to protect its users with authoritative content that is relevant to their query. Everything on your site should be credible. Here are some tips to help you optimize your EAT:
- Provide as much support for your About page as possible
Your About page should be detailed, with the aim of showing viewers (and Google) that your site is qualified to be an authority on your given subject. You should feature any recognition that your business has achieved, as well as any and all awards that you have been given.
- Back everything up with evidence
One of the reasons medical pages may have been hit so hard is because they featured information that might go against a scientific consensus, so make sure everything you feature is supported by facts, and not reliant on tenuous assumptions. Reviews are also a form of evidence, so try to improve the number of good reviews of your business on any directory you can.
- Let your visitors know who you are
You should have expert author biographies on your site for any content it hosts. It would be preferable if the experience your authors have is significant, and if there are other sites on the web that mention them positively. This means you should rigorously vet any contributors to your website (including guest bloggers).
- Avoid Clickbait
Clickbait undermines your site’s trust, so be careful with the headlines you use for your content – make sure they’re not too sensationalist and, above all, that they actually match the content you feature on the page.
- Think about safety
Make sure you don’t sell or promote products that could compromise anybody’s safety.
Think About the Intent of The User
You should tailor your website based on the intent of the user, i.e., have pages that reflect the searcher’s desire for information or a product. This comes down to matching your site contents with a keyword strategy, a complex process for which you may need to solicit the help of search engine optimization services. Advertising can also impact your user experience, and if you have deceptive adverts that can easily be confused with content (or pop-ups that prohibit a user from being able to use the site for their intended purpose), you may suffer in your SERP ranking. If you cut down on ad placement and make sure all adverts are relevant to the user’s intent, then your page will be more valuable and of a higher quality.
Include Optimized Content and Product Pages
Original and high-quality content is a great way to improve your SEO ranking, but it should be content that will actually be of use to your users. You should take special care if you are in a domain that has the possibility to impact users’ money or lives in some way. These types of content are categorized by Google as ‘Your Money or Your Life’ pages, which the Google quality rating outlines view as particularly important due to the very real effect they have on users’ non-digital lives. You should optimize your pages in several ways and follow the Webmaster Guidelines:
- You need to make sure your product links lead to secure transaction pages that take the necessary steps to protect user data.
- Tightly follow Google YMYL standards for any pages that offer financial information, medical advice/information, or legal advice.
- Even if your site features content that offers advice in less serious domains (for example, the best ways to take care of pets), you should take care. Make sure an expert is writing the pages, so you don’t accidentally spread misinformation, and as outlined in the EAT advice, make sure they have credentials and a bio.
- You may want to employ content writing services if you don’t have the requisite expertise but want to feature good quality content in YMYL domains as part of your SEO strategy.
- Match the content length to the intent of the user. If the user asks a question that requires a simple answer, you should give them a short answer that tackles their question quickly. If the user asks a question that would be typically answered by a long response that weighs up different perspectives, you should have a higher word count.
- Content should be relevant and written without grammatical or spelling mistakes.
- Content should be visually presented well. This is not just how well you have structured your pictures and paragraphing in your HTML, nor is it strictly related to CSS. Ensure your page looks good in all respects, including making sure the images you use are the right size for the page.
- Your visual presentation should also keep mobile users in mind. Make sure everything on your site is accessible on mobile and keep the mobile experience at the forefront of your web design. You can test your site with Google’s mobile-friendliness test, which analyzes your font, contrast and more.
- You should structure your content with a bit of variety. If a page has a lot of data that is better represented by a table, you should use a table. Similarly, if your page has a long word count and many subtitles, you should use a table of contents.
- You should also have outbound links linking your content to high-quality references that would score high on Google’s EAT guidelines. Examples of this are longstanding newspaper sites that are respected (e.g., The Wall Street Journal would be preferable to the Daily Mail).
The Google Medic Update will be renowned in SEO history for the way it rapidly impacted sites of many different categories, but especially the way it hit the health industry. If you came looking for a quick fix, you might be a little thrown by the number of potential areas for improvement, but the takeaway lesson from the 2018 Medic Update is that you should do everything you can do to prove to Google and your viewers that your website features insightful, trustworthy information that can benefit people’s lives. Base your SEO strategy around delivering a high-quality experience to your users of all platforms and do your best to ensure you’re as credible as you possibly can be.