It’s no exaggeration to say that the Google Medic update sent shockwaves through the SEO world, hitting a number of markets and industries hard when it was rolled out in 2018. This core update affected digital marketing and content marketing for businesses operating in certain key fields, in particular health and medical websites.
While it was controversial at the time, the goal of this Google algorithm update is, in fact, to help users find content they can rely on, and avoid low quality information. In short, it is helping to make the internet a more trustworthy, informative place. With this in mind, how can you ensure your website adheres to the Medic update and to Google’s guidelines?
Take a look at our guide to optimising your website in this post-Google Medic landscape.
What is the Google Medic update?
In a basic sense, Google Medic is an algorithm update — something that alters the position in which websites appear on the search engine’s results pages (SERP). There have been many of these algorithm updates, so what makes this one such a big deal to businesses and online publishers?
Medic was such a big deal because it is one of the most comprehensive and broadly impactful Google algorithm updates ever released. In fact, the update is now nothing new — it was released back in August 2018 — but you may remember the ripple of panic that unfolded across certain sectors of online business, as the carnage of the update’s aftermath became clear.
Any business that provides health, fitness or medical information — or which publishes content related to any of these fields — was affected by this update. The idea was to improve the results pages for searchers seeking answers and guidance in these relatively ‘high stakes’ areas. As health sites and medical-related content are so sensitive and can be dangerous if the advice it provides is erroneous or incomplete, any website publishing this content is classified as a YMYL site — or ‘Your Money or Your Life’.
What exactly is a YMYL page? What does the phrase ‘your money or your life’ actually mean? It means exactly what it sounds like — any content that could affect your money or your life is classified as YMYL content.
YMYL is actually even older than Google Medic, first appearing back in 2015 when Google’s quality rater guideline for SEO experts and content and blog post creators was released. As mentioned above, this content is high stakes content — i.e., if the advice or information given is incorrect, it could adversely affect your finances or your personal well-being — so Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines need to be applied even more strictly.
Imagine that a web page offers advice on retirement planning, and this advice is bad — the reader could end up losing their savings and being left with a very grim future indeed. Similarly, if another site offers advice on dieting but strays into the territory of advocating anorexia and bulimia, then public health is put in jeopardy. These are extreme examples, but they illustrate the point well — Google takes YMYL content very seriously, and these kinds of pages are held to a higher standard than those bearing other non-YMYL content.
Google’s list of what constitutes YMYL is, in fact, rather extensive, covering:
- News and current events that could influence public opinion
- Civics, government and legal content that could misinform the public
- Financial advice and pages offering financial tools and services
- eCommerce pages supporting online payments
- Health and safety information
- Information regarding a specific group of people, including groups based on ethnicity, religion, ability, age and a wide range of other grouping criteria
- Housing and accommodation information
- Education information
- Health or fitness advice and products
- Any content that could have a profound effect on the user’s life
The Impact of the Google Medic Update
Overall, Google’s Medic update was a positive move, designed around a beneficial purpose that we were behind from the start. After all, internet users have the right to be protected against potentially dangerous, even life-changing, products and advice — and businesses and publishers need to be held accountable.
However, the update was still controversial for a number of reasons.
- Firstly, publishers were irritated by the apparently vague wording of Google’s search engine information regarding the update. Google SearchLiaison had this to say on Twitter: ‘This week we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times a year. Our guidance about such updates remains the same as in March…’
This was not particularly helpful to businesses that had seen their sites tumble down the rankings.
- Secondly, it was not just low-quality, spurious publishers who were affected. Research from Moz found that previously high-authority sites like Prevention.com and Livestrong.com were among the biggest losers in terms of the update and its subsequent ranking changes. These two sites joined many other trusted websites in plummeting down the SERPs.
Moz’s research found that, of all the sites affected, it was sites in the health category that experienced the biggest flux, hence the term the “Medic Update” becoming popularly coined.
Best practices for optimising your website and making Google Medic your friend
In the face of such controversy, it may seem strange to consider how to ‘make the Medic update your friend’. However, you need to consider the update from Google’s point of view, and, more importantly, from the point of view of the search engine’s users. Google is not out to pull the rug from under hardworking businesses and publishers — it is merely trying to provide its users with search results they can truly rely on, and which meet the needs of these searchers while keeping the public safe.
When we consider this user intent within the frame of YMYL website, it becomes clear that the google update is not a bad thing at all — businesses simply need to be savvier and more methodical when they publish content on their site.
There are advantages to be gained here too. As we have seen over the past few years, sites that can adhere to certain best practices can cement their position as high-ranking, high-authority publishers. But what are these best practices?
Be aware of YMYL content
For many businesses, there are grey areas or elements of ambiguity when it comes to YMYL, and it may be tricky to work out what constitutes this type of content and what doesn’t. If your business is operating in the healthcare or medical fields, however, this is not the case — you can be assured that all of your content, including your home page, blog posts and landing pages, falls into the YMYL category.
This means raising the bar when it comes to high-quality website content. You need to make sure that all of the content you publish contains citations and sources and is demonstrably factual and useful to the reader. In fact, Google’s 2015 update laid down some crucial elements to bear in mind — Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness — also known as E-A-T. All your pages will need to meet this criteria.
Focus on E-A-T indicators
What exactly do these criteria refer to? How do they impact your organic traffic?
Expertise: This is fairly straightforward, as it refers to how ‘expert’ the page is. If you are providing medical advice to your audience, for example, this medical advice needs to come from a doctor, surgeon or a licensed medical or healthcare practitioner.
Simply publishing an account from someone with experience of a certain ailment or a specific diet plan, for instance, is not going to be enough for your YMYL pages. Instead, you need to be publishing from a position of demonstrable, verifiable expertise. In this sense, we can take ‘expertise’ to refer directly to the content creator / author themselves.
Authoritativeness: Authoritativeness is a little broader than expertise, as it refers both to the author and to the work they produce. While an expert writer or producer will generally be able to publish work that achieves domain authority, this may not be the case if their views are not accepted by other experts in their field.
This seems to have become particularly important over the last year in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen discredited information blocked from search results and social media platforms, even if it comes from a doctor or another certified professional.
In order for you to have an authoritative website, the content will should contain citations and source links to other high-authority pieces and authority sites, allowing Google’s algorithm to quickly ascertain the quality level.
Trustworthiness: This aspect refers largely to the perception that other publishers and users hold regarding your content. If high-authority sites are linking to and referencing your high quality content, this a good indicator to Google that you are a trustworthy publisher in your field.
Put searcher intent at the heart of your SEO strategy
Something that many analysts noticed after the algorithm update was rolled out was an increase in ‘People Also Ask’ structured data search results appearing on Google’s SERPs. This led to the Query Intent theory, which states that pages that directly cater to the intentions of the searcher will perform better than those without this searcher-oriented focus.
Conduct research into what your users want to see when they search for specific queries and use this to craft your pages. Yes it takes time, but yes, it is worth it. That’s why you’re on this page, reading this article on our site rather than elsewhere — because we put in the work before picking up the pen!
Be thorough and comprehensive
Research seems to suggest that for YMYL sites, more is more. In other words, you need to be providing thorough and comprehensive answers to your audience. This is probably because YMYL subjects tend to be complex, and Google expects publishers to do more when it comes to answering these queries.
Obviously, this does not mean filling up your word count with waffle — and Google certainly does not want to see this. Instead, it means identifying pages that need great content in a longer form and making sure that these pages provide comprehensive insight to the user.
Discover more about how to optimise your content
Need some help? Reach out to our team to learn more about how to optimise your YMYL content to perform better on Google’s SERPs.