Content marketing is a practice that’s no doubt on every digital marketer’s and blog owner’s radar. In fact, 60% of marketers supposedly create at least one piece of new content each day — that’s a whole host of information landing on the internet at any given moment. And while new, relevant, and interesting content will always be welcomed by readers and Google alike, the constant influx of blog uploads can make the quality of online content difficult to decipher.
This is where Google’s broad core algorithm updates come in. Google latest update, rolled out in June 2019, was similar to its previous large update, released in August 2018 and known as Medic.
In this article, we won’t focus too much on what the Medic update is, as there are plenty of authoritative sources on the web that have covered this comprehensively.
Instead, we’ll round-up how the Medic update relates to health, in particular, before speaking directly to those with blogs in the health sphere. We’ll answer the burning question: what does this update mean for my website’s content?
To do this, we’ll cover why medical advice, among other sensitive subject matter, matters to Google and the people consuming the content. And if you want to get to the good stuff, you can scroll down to the final part of the article, where we’ll show you step by step how to recover and ensure that the content you go on to produce is what Google wants to see.
This is a step-by-step guide because you will be taking baby steps. If your rankings dropped following a recent update, sadly, there’s no quick fix. This is great news for the general public (as it protects them from misinformation), and while it may seem altogether bad news for site owners who have seen a dramatic decrease in traffic, this is an opportunity to make sure that you’re adhering to best practices.
The Google Medic Update in a Nutshell
August 2018’s update was named Medic by search writer Barry Schwartz in his personal evaluation of site activity following the algorithm change. Ever since, marketing blogs and search specialists have been referring to it by this name.
To cut to the chase, Barry, among other search specialists, noted that the broad update — which was supposed to impact search engine rankings on a broad and general level — appeared to notably affect sites in the health niche, hence the medical-related name it was given.
A quick scan of the types of page content affected shows that Google’s update was specifically aimed at assessing Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) content. This is content that Google deems could “have a negative impact on a person’s life, income, or happiness.”
These pages include content on topics such as:
So although the Medic update was intended to be broad, it ended up seeming incredibly focused on health content, and, specifically, pages that give advice to the general public.
As shown by this practical case study, Google’s sophisticated algorithm has taken an apparent dislike to pages that have conflicting purposes. In this case, a physician’s website — a site that was affected by the Medic update — was likely penalized because its medical advice was often paired with promotional calls to action (CTAs). In the eyes of Google, this is the equivalent of a doctor explaining a condition to a patient and then exposing the same person to an infomercial about a product that’s designed to solve it. Needless to say, this practice just isn’t ethical and would never be employed by accredited medical experts.
While the Medic update publicly rejected many sources by flushing them further down the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), it also credited other websites.
Websites that consistently produce quality, expert content written by qualified individuals and backed up by accredited sources will be rewarded by Google’s algorithm updates by being given a better position in the search results. This is important to note, as many articles on Google updates solely focus on the negative impact they have on content pages. Remember, sometimes, websites come out the other side better off.
The point of Google’s broad core algorithm updates — Medic included — is to improve a searcher’s experience. Each update has a straightforward focus, but the way in which ranking positions change isn’t so simple. Search Engine Journal explains this process well, showing how Google’s algorithm has upwards of 200 factors that it uses to “score” web pages. In each update, the metrics will be slightly adjusted so that it’s unclear to those working in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) the singular reason that triggered the change in results.
One thing we can be sure of is that accurate advice matters, and especially when it comes to health.
Why Quality Medical Writing Matters
Medical advice is highly sensitive, and providing inaccurate medical advice can have drastic consequences. The issue is that while we once turned to our local physician — a qualified health expert — for advice, in today’s digital age, we’re increasingly seeking advice online.
Why do people do this? Well, for a number of reasons:
- Talking to a doctor can be embarrassing — If you’re experiencing issues that are private or taboo, it can be difficult to confide in anyone, let alone a doctor who you might only see once a year. For people dealing with mental health issues, being open and honest about feeling a certain way is not always possible, and in this case, turning to Google is the most confidential way to get help. Thankfully, Google does have measures in place to provide actionable support — were someone to search “how can I kill myself?”, Google provides a snippet that dominates all other search results, providing information about an emergency support hotline, such as The Samaritans.
- Making a doctor’s appointment can be costly and time-consuming — In countries such as the USA, affording healthcare can be a key issue. While most people will have an affordable pre-paid plan for cell phone data or internet, the average American might not have the money upfront to pay for a doctor’s visit or health insurance. In this scenario, confiding in Google is the only way somebody can get help without jeopardizing their financial health in the process. In countries where healthcare is free — such as in the UK, where citizens can receive help from the NHS — getting an appointment can be difficult. Some Brits have reported that they have waited months to see their local doctor.
- Checking symptoms online is faster — The average person tends to panic if something foreign is happening to them. If this is the case, for example, if you’re experiencing a strange pain or sensation, it can be tempting to figure it out — fast. As with the other scenarios, online search engines win as they can provide countless sources of information in seconds.
As technology advances, the reasons for not seeking medical advice from a practice increase. Whether you agree with it or not, you can now ask Amazon’s Alexa medical questions, as well as benefit from countless medical apps with virtual doctor services on offer.
Despite these digital developments, surveys show that doctors are more effective than any type of symptom checker. Because of this, it’s crucial that online medical advice is either written — or, at the very least, checked over — by a professional.
Although there seems to be an over-reliance on Google and even a preference for using the search engine as people begin to distrust doctor knowledge, the two should yield the same results. Google’s Medic update serves this purpose by “cherry picking” the most trustworthy results and rewarding them with a boosted search status. How Google makes this call is subjective and based on the many search factors we previously discussed.
These might include the website’s traffic, whether or not the website has a clear content focus, whether or not the content page is written by an expert, how many times the particular website or content page has been referenced by others on the web, and more.
Three elements that we know are influencing the ranking of health-related content, however, are Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (also referred to as E-A-T). Google uses these metrics to determine the quality of content and, by extension, the quality of the site it sits on, which then influences where it should sit in the SERPs.
When writing any piece of content, you should keep these three things in mind. Not only is this about personal gain — recuperating lost search positions — but it’s also a responsible way to vet your own content and assess whether publishing your own medical advice is ethical.
How to Give Expert Advice (Even if You’re Not an Expert)
In the interest of adhering to Google’s strict E-A-T guidelines, there are four key things that you can do to create high E-A-T content. We’ll share these with you in just a moment, but first, here’s how Google defines high E-A-T content in its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines:
“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.”
To fulfill the criteria of high E-A-T advice, we suggest you do the following:
- Provide a disclaimer — If your health blog takes the format of a personal blog, it’s important to provide a bold disclaimer stating that you are not an expert. This lets the reader know up front that they are reading and reviewing a personal experience, rather than receiving legitimate advice. This isn’t an example of providing high E-A-T content, but it makes it clear to both the internet user and to Google that providing expert content isn’t your goal.
A disclaimer may also be used in sponsored content on any type of website — if a content piece is sponsored (whether by a medical expert or another source) it could be biased. In some cases, providing a sponsored content disclaimer might be mandatory.
- Link to authoritative sources to back up opinions and advice — If you’re making a bold claim within a text, you must back this using an expert source. How can you tell if something is an expert source? The content piece will most likely have a disclaimer and a professional author bio that makes it clear who has written the article and what credentials they hold. The website itself will also have plenty of trust signals, including awards, affiliations, and policy pages.
This tactic doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re producing a piece of high E-A-T content, but at the very least, it does ensure that you’re not plaguing the internet with false information. Google will see this type of page content as useful to users as you are taking the time to direct visitors to relevant pages.
- Hire a medical writer — Perhaps the only way to truly create a piece of high E-A-T content and secure a chance for a featured snippet — the answer box that appears at the very top of a search results page — for a competitive health phrase (or generally recover your blog from the depths of Google) is to hire a medical content writer.
This way, you’re not fooling anybody: the advice you’re providing your users is from a genuine expert who has solid experience in diagnosis or a particular medical field. Most medical writers also have accreditation, such as a Ph.D. This type of content will be perceived as trustworthy both by Google and the person in search of it.
- Refocus your content — If you’ve read this article thinking, “I didn’t realize how serious medical content was,” it might be time to refocus your content. If you’re trying to sell a medical device with little knowledge, you should perhaps rethink your marketing angle — or you could find it difficult to rank for terms people are using when they are actually looking to buy what you’re selling.
While plenty of time has passed since the Medic update, the search engine’s broad core updates won’t stop happening — June’s 2019 update has already proven that the search engine’s focus on E-A-T content is ongoing, and if anything, it’s going to become vital for webmasters who want their website to sit towards the top of the search results. If you fail to create content for your website that is expert, authoritative, and trustworthy, your traffic is likely to plummet — the world’s most popular search engine will catch up with you, eventually.