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Medic Update: What We've Learned Thus Far

The one thing we can always be sure of when it comes to Google’s algorithm is that change is always around the corner. Unfortunately, with some of these changes, Google can be a bit more tight-lipped about what exactly we can do to adjust to these changes. This seems to be the case with the August 1st Google broad core algorithm update. While there is plenty already written on this topic, I’d like to share what we’ve learned thus far when it comes to the health-related sites affected by the August 1st Google Medic update.

What is the Google Medic Update?

On August 1st, Google began rolling out a broad core algorithm update that, based on internet consensus, largely affected YMYL (your money, your life) sites. The update seemed to favor those sites that had well established E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trust).

The name ‘Medic’ comes from the Update was made popular by Barry Schwarts as he described the effect the broad core algorithm update had on health-related sites. This brings me to the next aspect of the Medic update. Google representatives have consistently stated that algorithm changes are always being tested, but Google sometimes rolls out changes that affect the entire search algorithm. These are called broad core algorithm updates.

What Google Has Said On The Matter

On 8/1/10 Google not only confirmed that an update was indeed being rolled out but said that it was a broad core algorithm update.

Other than confirming the existence and type of update being rolled out, Google hasn’t provided much more guidance than in the past (as shown below):

  • What to fix if affected by the update: “There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.” (tweet)
  • How the update effects sites: “As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now under perform. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded” (tweet)
  • Regarding when a traffic recovery could happen for sites working to address the negative effect of this update: “If you make broad changes, yes, it generally means it'll take time for when our next broad core update happens to see possible improvements. But we're always making updates.” (tweet)

YMYL, QRG and EAT: A Word on Acronyms Related to the Medic Update

Generally speaking, there has been a lot of discussion regarding YMYL, QRG and EAT and its role in the August 1st medic update. I’ve broken down a synopsis of what these acronyms mean along with how they relate to the update:

  • YMYL (Your Money Your Life sites): During the early days of the medic update roll out, Marie Haynes and others pointed out that the update mostly affected YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) sites but also affected sites outside these verticals.
  • QRG (Quality Rater Guidelines): In a tweet sent out during the August 1st medic update, Danny Sullivan mentioned using the Google Quality Rater guidelines as a reference on how too ‘have great content’ as a way to deal with the broad core update.
  • EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust): The general consensus is that expertise, authoritativeness, and trust (as described in the QRGs shown above) seem to have been part of what Google adjusted for in the medic update.

While this is helpful for site owners to know on a general level, I’d like to go into some specifics of what we’ve learned as I and others have worked with health-related sites negatively or positively affected by this update.

Lessons Learned

Health SERP Landscape Data

In order to better understand the effect the algorithm update had on the health industry, we examined 1,267 keywords that we felt represented the current health industry. Below is a description of the dataset we examined:

  • All keywords had a search volume range of 400-45,000 average monthly searches.
  • SERP rankings for each keyword was pulled data fifteen days after the August 1st update.
  • The keywords can be organized into the following sub-categories:
    • Big Hitters (general high search volume keywords that are found across all health verticals)
      • Ex: occipital neuralgia, human genome project, hashimoto
    • Treatment-related health terms
      • Ex: poison ivy treatment, bronchitis treatment, pink eye treatment
    • Recipe-related health terms
      • Ex: lumpia recipe, magic mouthwash recipe, yogurt parfait recipe
    • Benefits-related health terms
      • Ex: benefits of coconut oil, omega 3 benefits, benefits of alkaline water
    • Uses-related health terms
      • Ex: tea tree oil uses, gabapentin uses, amoxicillin uses

Based on the trends and common occurrences we saw in each of these verticals, we were able to gather a set of common characteristics for URLs ranking in spots 1-5 for each keyword vertical mentioned above.

“Healthy” Sites: Medic Update Winners

Overall, we noticed the following types of sites seemed to be favored above what was previously at the top of the SERPs prior to the August 1st update:

When it came to what differentiated these sites from all the others now being punished by Google’s update could be put into two camps:

On-page differences:

  • Authorship - Displaying the author's name and medical credentials somewhere (usually at the top) of each blog post. A large portion of the medic winners also displayed their publication dates.
  • Medical credentials - Displaying the medical credentials of each author when displaying the author byline. These have often been linked to the to the about us page for each author or a group ‘meet our writers’ page.

Off-page differences:

  • Off-page reputation - Along with a healthy, generally natural looking backlink profile, many of the sites still winning post-Aug 1 had various positive off-page signals being sent their way from the following sites:
    • BBB - Sites that had good reviews or were active in resolving any negative complaints seemed to do well post-medic update.
    • TRUSTe
    • HONcode
      • Many of the sites that were certified on places like this display these certifications on the footer of their site.

Other differences:

  • From what we saw on articles/blog posts that rank well, deferring to medical professionals as the final authority regarding your health (ex. “Consult with your physician to see if this treatment is right for you…”) seemed to be a common occurrence among sites that were still winning 15 days post-medic update.
  • In the case of e-commerce sites, it looked like as long as the site focused more on discussing what the product was and how it was made rather than any health claims, these pages seemed to do better organically than others.
  • Regarding the makeup of the SERPs, it looks like Google is trying to diversify the SERPs with what they deem as valuable

One thing to note about these points is that every keyword vertical is different and these are findings we generalized from the broad data set described above. Looking at a similar data set in a different vertical and industry will yield different findings.

Recovery

If you have the misfortune of being negatively affected by this and all other updates that have rolled out since then, making changes in line with what Google has prescribed as well as what we’re seeing the medic winners for your vertical do is the best place to start your recovery journey.

Just as Google continues to update its algorithm, sites will continue to have opportunities to improve their organic performance and as with all things SEO, continual improvement regardless of performance will always be the best path to victory.

Joe Robledo

Joe is the VP of SEO at 97th Floor. He loves digging into the weeds of all realms of SEO. He has a strong passion for continual-improvement and efficiency in SEO and all other aspects of life. He love’s being with his family and adventuring outdoors.

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