If the August 2018 Google Medic Update impacted your page views, you’re not alone. Here’s why health marketers should build quality content — and a positive reputation.
In August 2018, many health sites noticed their organic search traffic report on Google Analytics had taken a nosedive. Google updates its search algorithm several times a year, so some volatility is normal. But this update, which disproportionately impacted the health, wellness, and medical industry, immediately affected many websites’ rankings, while others are still just starting to feel the impact.
Unfortunately, Google offered little concrete information around these SEO changes, now widely known as the “Medic Update.” But with so many site visits and conversions at stake, the medical marketing community has spent the last six months testing possible theories to figure out the exact parameters of this huge algorithmic shift. While there is more to learn, focusing on the quality and relevance of your digital presence will undoubtedly keep traffic coming to your site.
What is the Google Medic Update?
Google billed the Medic Update as another broad core algorithm change, like Panda or Penguin, designed to improve the overall quality of their results. Though Google denied targeting any particular industry during the update, it has affected finance, e-commerce, and healthcare sites most strongly. In fact, the change has become more widely known as the “Medic Update,” since marketing guru Barry Schwartz recognized that medical and wellness sites make up the majority of sites affected.
Google does not generally share the changes it makes to its algorithms, but we can make some assumptions based on the content that’s continuing to perform well. Many marketers believe that the answer lies with Google’s E.A.T. guidelines: expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. This algorithm has long informed Google’s search rankings, though it changes and refines slightly with each new update. Generally speaking, it favors content that’s been well-researched, that’s well-written, and that’s well-received by users.
The Medic Update is applying especially stringent standards to sites that qualify as a Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) site. Sites that pertain to topics like finance, e-commerce, or healthcare are, by definition, YMYL sites — placing your trust in them means placing your money or your life at stake.
For this reason, healthcare sites that aren’t publishing high-quality content are particularly likely to receive low ratings from Google’s quality raters, a 10,000-person team of contractors who are tasked with evaluating and rating the quality of Google’s search results. While these ratings don’t immediately impacts search rankings, they do inform Google’s algorithm updates, and they likely played a major role in the Medic Update.
It appears that Google is also trying to match user intent with search results more precisely; for example, if a patient searches “flu shot,” they may be seeking general information about flu shots. However, if a patient searches “flu shot appointment,” they’re likely to be searching for a healthcare practice where they can make an appointment to get a flu shot.
We’ve also noticed that Google is prioritizing quality over quantity: sites that are keyword stuffing or overusing backlinks are suffering, while strong content about specific, original topics is performing well. You can establish that your content is, in fact, well-researched and authoritative by including author names and biographies, having physicians vet all medical articles, linking to trusted sources, and getting your content linked by other trusted sites.
How to Recover From the Medic Update
If you were impacted by this update — or are working with an SEO strategy that puts you at risk — it may be time to consider a marketing makeover. It’s easiest to start with an audit; thoroughly review your website – on the front and back ends – to ensure your content and schema markup are accurate, timely, and appropriately
If your problem stems from website authority – i.e. you’re seeing reviews or other evidence that your site might be untrustworthy – consider adding a section that explains how you verify health and doctor information. Clean up outdated or superficial blog posts and trim back any promotional tie-ins. Consider content length as well — it should suit the kind of answers a patient would expect, based on their question. As a rule of thumb, educational medical content should be longer than 500 words.
You can also consider aligning your content more closely with user intent. Any keywords you include on website or blog pages should align with what potential patients are actually searching for. Using specific long tail keywords within relevant articles can help you better match specific searches like “eye disease specialist in Chicago,” boosting your user intent score. Free tools like Google’s Keyword Planner can help you draft your keyword strategy..
Lastly, use some of the back-end SEO tools that Google has put in place to your advantage. Ensure that you’ve implemented appropriate schema markup so that Google can translate the information on your web pages into rich snippets or Knowledge Graph entries. The more information you provide, the easier it will be for the Google algorithm to align your content with potential patients’ searches.
Although the sudden, mostly negative impact of the Medic Update frustrated many medical marketers, the change also presents an opportunity. Implementing beneficial changes could help push more practices to generate useful and original content, while taking more ownership over their online reputation.