Google releases regular — yet sporadic — updates to its algorithm each year. Those working in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) are usually left in the dark to wonder how their sites will be impacted. When the dust has settled after each update, those with sites that have been hit work tirelessly to figure out the quickest route to recovery.
Their aim? To regain their website’s ranking for coveted industry-related search terms in Google.
In August, Google released yet another “broad core” update — the Medic update. A broad core update signals a change to Google’s algorithm that is applied on a broad and general basis (rather than a smaller “tweak” to a specific part of its algorithm) and will either reward or devalue a website’s ranking based on a wide range of factors. Google announced this update on its SearchLiaison Twitter account.
Image sourced from Search Engine Land
After each update, it’s common for search specialists to speculate why certain sites have been affected, but it’s important to state that most of this is simply guesswork.
In this article, we’ll cover the basics of Google’s Medic update, including what it is and what site categories were impacted the most. If you’re already familiar with the Medic update, feel free to skip to the end of the article, where we’ll provide some actionable advice for those who have been affected.
It’s a No Brainer – The Clue’s in the Name
Google rarely gives anything more than confirmation of an algorithm update — in fact, in some cases, it won’t even do that — so it’s not surprising that the Medic update wasn’t officially named by Google. While the search engine giant confirmed the update, it became known as “Medic” by search writer Barry Schwartz when he published an article in early August about his findings. From there, the name caught on.
When the Medic update was rolled out, it caused a stir within the SEO community. The update claimed to be broad, or general, but Schwartz’s findings indicated the opposite — 41.5% of all websites affected by Medic were categorised as health or medical-related websites.
So was Google misinforming the public when it announced its update as “broad”? Not exactly. A range of other industries and niches were also heavily hit by Medic, including news, legal and financial websites. When looking at Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines — the guidelines Google’s employees adhere to when manually trawling the web — we can clearly see that medical content is under close watch. However, this marks a new evolution in SEO where content quality is key for many different types of website, and it’s neatly packaged up into a single acronym — E-A-T.
What’s E-A-T? How It’s Linked to the Medic Update
E-A-T — or Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness — are the three factors Google employs to determine page and site quality.
Although Google is known for being vague, the brand has made no secret of how highly it regards these metrics as a measure of quality. In February 2019, Google released a white paper on fighting disinformation. Within the text, the search engine refers to E-A-T as a large part of its decisional process:
“The systems do not make subjective determinations about the truthfulness of webpages, but rather focus on measurable signals that correlate with how users and other websites value the expertise, trustworthiness, or authoritativeness of a webpage on the topic it covers.”
This could be argued as a natural progression of search — ever since Google was founded in 1998, search intent has been its core focus. In fact, Google’s mission statement explains this in eleven words:
“Organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Google’s ultimate goal is to provide users with the most relevant content available. The word “useful” here is key — only informed content that is written or peer-reviewed by an expert in their field can realistically provide value.
We know that Google uses a range of factors to determine what place a website deserves in its ranking hierarchy, including the algorithm’s knowledge of user preferences and previous search history, and the website’s third-party (or external) backlinks.
But what does this look like in practice? Take Google’s snippet feature. This answer box appears at the top of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and effectively beats all other positions awarded by Google, and only pages that meet Google’s stringent criteria are awarded the coveted “position zero” spot.
Essentially, Google’s algorithm assesses the popularity of a content piece, removing any source of personal “Googler bias”. It can be compared to a democracy, where everybody gets a vote. If the majority of people perceive a page as conveying expertise and being authoritative and trustworthy, then chances are that other people will too. Because of this, popular websites will continue to benefit from ranking increases.
Like a democratic society though, not everybody can run as a “political leader”. and websites must be vetted by an official party first. In this case, the party, while not political, is Google. This is where the Medic update really comes into play, as Google assesses medical sources (among other websites) to see if they fulfil the set criteria. The final judgement call — shown via ranking changes — tells us whether or not such websites are “allowed” to have influence.
A website that regularly appears in the first search page for industry phrases is obviously advocated by Google. In this sense, Google (the party in power) has given a website (in this analogy, the politician) public influence.
According to Barry Schwartz’s personal data, the sites most impacted by the Medic update were:
- Health – 41%
- E-Commerce – 16%
- Business – 10.8%
- Finance – 7.3%
- Technology – 5.9%
- Entertainment – 3.8%
- Travel – 3.5%
- Directory – 2.4%
- Coupon/Deal – 1.4%
- Insurance – 1.4%
- Adult – 1.4%
Data sourced from Search Engine Roundtable
Why E-A-T Matters in Medical Information
E-A-T isn’t just vital for medical information, but it’s clear that Google values it highly — in its Google’s Search Quality Guidelines, medical advice is listed as its first content type where E-A-T should be demonstrated.
Other content types where E-A-T is deemed crucial include news articles, informational pages and financial advice.
These are also known as Your Money Your Life (YMYL) content — content that is particularly influential and could have a significant impact on a person’s financial situation (Your Money) or health and wellbeing (Your Life). This could be a page offering medical advice that might lead a person to self-diagnose or medicate, and it could also be a page offering financial advice that might lead readers to make impactful decisions about debt, loans and spending. SEO blog Ignite Visibility uses the example of a mummy blog providing parenting advice as a valid example of YMYL content — even though this might not be the first instance that comes to mind. In truth, YMYL content dominates the internet.
We imagine that Google is very aware of how YMYL content can be used in marketing. When used as a marketing tactic, YMYL content manipulates others into making purchasing decisions based on their vulnerability and the website’s or content creators’ informational advantage.
This is specifically important in the medical sphere, with individuals increasingly turning to Google over their doctor. According to the Telegraph — in an article on the spread of misinformation regarding measles vaccinations — seven per cent of Google’s daily searches are related to health.
Here is Google’s written expectation of high E-A-T medical advice:
“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.”
This is the standard that Google would like to see when it comes to medical advice on the internet — it arguably explains why so many health-related blogs didn’t make the cut when it came to the Medic update last year.
Focus on the E in E-A-T
So if your website’s been hit by the Medic update, what can you do to fix it? It’s clear that Google is stressing the importance of E-A-T, and all three measures should be on your radar when creating content and conducting site audits.
However, if you had to pick just one measure to focus on, opt for expertise.
Why? Because proven expertise often influences the other two ranking factors. If you have page content written by an expert — such as a scientific writer — your page is likely to have added authority, which makes the content trustworthy too.
Expertise is arguably the easiest metric to tackle, depending on whether you possess the knowledge yourself or have a generous content marketing budget. That said, if you don’t already have relevant qualifications or the funds to pay a qualified expert to answer Google’s most-searched-for phrases — health or otherwise — you probably shouldn’t be writing about it.
If you do have a content budget, what can you do with it?
- Hire a researcher, scientistic or any other relevant expert — This will allow you to include an accredited author bio, which is perceived by Google as a signal of high E-A-T content.
- Collaborate with field experts — Consider working with experts on a written content series, or interview them or invite them to appear on your podcast. Their input will immediately legitimise your content, and it’s a good move in terms of building a secure backlink profile, as it will be in your guest’s best interest to promote the live content on their own website.
- Get accredited and build your own personal brand — If you’re genuinely passionate about the topic that your blog or website covers, turn yourself into the ideal expert. To build your online presence (and be seen as a worthy source by Google) you’ll need to develop your own outreach strategy — a plan to get yourself featured in other blogs and content types to show that you’re an authority in your niche.