Google released a major update on 1 August 2018, which caused major fluctuations in search rankings.
Although Google called the update a 'broad core algorithm update' (which means it affects all search results), SEOs quickly noticed that sites in the health/medical/well-being sector were hit the most - which led to Barry Schwartz quickly coining the term 'Medic Update'.
Below is the data produced by Barry Schwartz and published on SEO Roundtable to back up the theory that 'medical' sites were impacted the most:
More convincing evidence followed from Moz's Dr Peter J Meyers, who pulled data from their Mozcast tool:
While these two data sets clearly show the update affected health sites, they were not the only ones hit.
What to do to recover from the Google Medic update
If your rankings have suffered from the Medic update, then you may see something similar to the below in your Analytics and Search Console reports:
The above is an example we have seen of how one site's organic traffic has been decimated by over 60% since the Medic Update was launched.
If you are experiencing something similar, you will no doubt be feeling the pressure to come up with a solution quickly to get your organic traffic back on track. As with all Google updates, the first thing to do if you are affected is to read exactly what Google has said about it:
Although Google has not been too forthcoming with detail, we can start to gain a better understanding by reviewing their previous Tweets about 'broad core' algorithm updates, particularly:
So the first important point to remember is that, if you have been hit by the Medic Update, it's not necessarily because you have done something wrong. It's just that Google has tweaked how the algorithm works slightly, and that tweak has led to Google favouring some other sites in the search results over yours.
Admittedly, that's not much to go on. But luckily the SEO industry has been very busy on analysing the Medic Update and publishing their findings - so the next job is to read up on what they have found and what advice they are giving.
Here are a few of the top pieces so far about the Medic Update, which we will update as more are published:
- The August 1, 2018 Google Update strongly affected YMYL sites - https://www.mariehaynes.com/the-august-1-2018-google-update-strongly-affected-ymyl-sites/
- COMPLETE GUIDE TO AUGUST 1ST GOOGLE MEDIC UPDATE - https://ignitevisibility.com/august-1st-google-medic-update/
- [DATA] 100+ Sites Impacted By Google Medic Update Analyzed - http://www.canirank.com/blog/google-medic-update-data/
Google Search Quality Raters' Guidelines
In the lead-up to the roll-out of the Medic Update, there was a lot of chatter in the SEO world about changes made to Google's Search Quality Raters' Guidelines. These are the instructions given to people who act as a manual check for Google on how well their algorithm is performing, which can be viewed here.
On 25 July 2018 - less than a week before the Medic Update was launched - Search Engine Land reported that Google had updated these guidelines with new areas of focus for raters to consider. The key change seemed to be concerned with how the raters measure the reputation of the website and the content creators/writers.
On reading the new guidelines you will notice Google makes a big deal out of a new acronym - E-A-T - which stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness.
If your rankings and traffic have dropped since the update, then it is likely that Google now considers other websites as more trustworthy than yours - so the challenge now is: how do we show Google that we are a trustworthy and authoritative expert in our industry?
How to improve E-A-T
Unlike previous major updates, the Medic Update is a lot more subjective, which makes it difficult to know exactly what to do to recover. Anyone affected by Google Panda, for instance, knew that thin and duplicate content on their site needed to be addressed and improved. With Google Penguin, it was mostly about cleaning and disavowing spammy links.
Although the content that had to be updated and links that needed to be disavowed were different, the course of action for every website affected by those updates was the same. That does not seem to be the case for the Medic Update and will require a custom on-page and off-page approach depending on your website and what industry you are in.
On-page factors to improve
First of all, let's look at what Google's Quality Raters' Guidelines say about 'high E-A-T' content (emphasis added by us):
- 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 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 a guitar, also require expertise.
It should be clear from the above that the route to recovery following the Medic Update involves proving to Google that you are an expert in your industry, and accountable for the content you have published.
This means having a detailed About page about your business and personnel, listing achievements, awards, credentials, experience etc. as well as clear contact information that can be found easily (i.e. in the main navigation menu).
Some early responses to the Medic Update have suggested that all web content should have an author's name, bio and contact details attached in order to show the expertise of the content creator. However, this is not something all websites can do or are comfortable with doing. Many websites feature content that has been produced in-house by staff writers, or by freelance writers - we can't all have qualified doctors and financial advisors writing content for us, after all.
Depending on your particular website, the list could be endless. Basically, you need to read through Google's Search Quality Raters' Guidelines and try to view your website through a raters' eyes - would a stranger recognise you as an expert source of information? Would they immediately trust the advice you gave? If you have been affected by the Medic Update it is likely that the answer to those questions would be "No" - so your job is to now use your website to display why you should be trusted in your industry. And don't be shy, now is the time blow your own trumpet!
Off-page 'reputation' management
A big part of Google's Rater Guidelines is given over to showing raters how to analyse the reputation of a website/business, such as:
So what comes up in Google's results if you do the above searches for your own website? Are there lots of positive third-party reviews, citations from other related sites, listings on industry-recognised and manually reviewed directories/member pages, features in local/national newspapers or industry-specific publications, listings on exhibitor lists of industry conferences etc?
If not, you know what you need to do - get out there and make sure your industry as a whole recognises you in a visible way. So if you've been putting off applying for membership of your local Chamber of Commerce, or jumping through the hoops to be accredited by your major industry body, now is the time to do it. If you've been slacking lately regarding networking in your local business community, now is the time to jump back on the horse and make sure you and your business are recognised for the great work you do.
Theory: Why the update affected 'Medic' sites, and how this could be the first of many E-A-T updates
As we mentioned earlier in this piece, although health/medical sites were affected the most and gave the update the 'Medic' moniker, they were not the only sites to suffer ranking drops.
Our theory as to why these sites were affected the most is that it is easier for Google to gauge the E-A-T of medical content - author's names with Dr. pre-fixes, links from medical bodies etc. These types of signals are impossible to 'game', so Google can easily find the patterns that mean a real, respected doctor is behind the content, or a business that is recognised in the health sector (links with the NHS, authoritative accrediting bodies such as The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and so on.
It would be less obvious for Google to accurately assess the E-A-T of some other content, such as financial advice or photography, as these are more subjective and open to interpretation (for example, two equally experienced and professionally-recognised photographers could have different opinions on how best to photograph a sunset - this doesn't mean one or both of them is not trustworthy).
As we know, Google is constantly testing and tweaking the algorithm - and they are no doubt currently reviewing the quality of the SERPs following the Medic Update. It therefore stands to reason that, as soon as they are confident that they can scale the ranking signals they have used on health sites to other industries, there will be more E-A-T based 'broad core algorithm updates' hitting more industries soon.
The obvious targets are what Google calls 'YMYL' (Your Money, Your Life) sites - which basically means sites about the 'serious' things in life where bad advice can be very costly for searchers e.g. finance, insurance, mortgages as well as health. So if your website is in a YMYL industry and you haven't been affected by the Medic Update, you would be best served by taking action to make sure your E-A-T information is as visible as possible.
Have you been affected by the Google Medic update? Let us know what you plan to do to recover on our Facebook page.
About the Author
Luke Glassford is an SEO expert with over 15 years’ experience.
During his time working in SEO, Luke has set-up an SEO agency, worked as an in-house SEO for a major national company and managed his own successful SEO consultancy - using a lot of different SEO tools along the way!