Medic Update

The Medic update is the term given to the Google search algorithm update that took place on 1st August 2018. The update has been so named due to the effect that it has had on various health and medical sites. While Google did acknowledge the existence of the update, as per usual they did not go into too much detail as to what exactly had changed. However, thanks to the inquisitive nature of the SEO community, we can have a calculated guess at what exactly the Medic update consists of and who it affects.

The Medic update appears to target healthcare/medical websites with a lack of medical accreditation and external reputation in an attempt to filter out websites that may be offering incorrect information to users. Google’s main priority, as we all know, is user experience. Therefore, they don’t want to be ranking a website that contains potentially harmful medical advice on the first page of the SERPs.

What we know

While the first wave of the algorithm update was first noticed on 22nd July, Google officially confirmed the update via Twitter on 1st August:

“This week we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year.”

Google does not like to spell out to its users the exact changes they make when they update their search ranking algorithm. However, Barry Schwartz, a prolific SEO blogger, was able to shed some light on what kind of websites were being affected the most by the update. He reviewed 300 sites that experienced a drop in search rankings as a result of the update, and found that 42% of these sites were involved in the healthcare/medical sector. In addition, 16% of these were e-commerce sites, and Schwartz found that many of these sites were selling a health/medical related product.

And that’s not all. Marie Haynes, an SEM consultant, pointed out that the update mostly affected Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) sites. Google defines this term in their general guidelines as: “sites that could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users”. Essentially, Google doesn’t want to be presenting its users with information that could possibly be damaging to their wellbeing. There is a plethora of medical advice websites on the internet, and it is important for Google that they are offering information that is accurate and safe.

For example, Haynes found that a site that previously ranked as the top search result for the search query ‘keto diet’ had plummeted significantly on the SERPs following the Medic update. Coincidence? Unlikely. When she looked further into the website in question, there were a few things she noticed:

  • There was no ‘about’ page for the site.
  • The site had no customer reviews.
  • The site had little external reputation.

Google uses an E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) model through which they measure the quality of websites. Their guidelines state that high E-A-T medical advice websites should be “written or produced by people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation”. The fact that this keto diet website does not have an ‘about’ page to feature this information on would appear as an instant red flag to Google. In addition, the site’s lack of customer reviews and external reputation does not exactly suggest that it is an authoritative or trustworthy source. Interestingly, the top results for the search query ‘keto diet’ post-update are mostly informational based websites written by people with cited medical accreditation.

Using this data, we can make a calculated guess that Google has updated their algorithm to make sure they are not displaying dodgy medical information/advice to their users. While Google’s E-A-T model places particular emphasis on the requirement that medical content must be written by someone with the appropriate medical qualifications, it does not currently feature any explicit rules regarding the use of high quality citations to support medical information. We can predict that Google will start to place more focus on this factor in the future to ensure that their users are only being shown the most accurate medical information.

What can you do?

Google says there is “no fix” for pages that suffer from their broad core algorithm updates, and advise site owners to “remain focused on building great content”. While this may seem annoyingly vague, content is ultimately what it all boils down to. All websites, medical-based or not, need to satisfy Google’s E-A-T model in order to remain at the top spots of the search rankings. Therefore, if your website was affected by the ‘Medic’ update, then it may be worth reading Google’s general guidelines and making sure your website strictly adheres to the rules that Google has placed.

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