The Google “Medic Update” and How it Affects Your Ability to Rank in Search Results Pages
In the first week of August 2018, Google confirmed their release of a broad core algorithm update. According to analytics from Moz, some sites saw up to a 70 percent increase or decrease in first-page visibility within just seven days of the update. According to SEO industry leader Barry Schwartz, almost 50 percent of sites negatively affected by the update were related to health or medical topics. In light of Schwartz’s calculations, the SEO community dubbed the collective algorithm changes the Medic Update. Since then, Google has rolled out a second iteration of the Medic Update, referred to as Medic II. This January 2020 update mainly reinforced the original Medic Update’s objectives. While the Medic and Medic II updates disproportionately affected health-related websites, the algorithm changes and subsequent Google Search Quality Rater Guideline updates impacted sites across all industries. Perhaps the most pervasive and consequential aspect of the algorithm update and search quality rater guideline additions was the heightened emphasis on E-A-T, especially for YMYL content.
What is the Google “Medic Update,” and Who Does it Affect?
The Medic Update brought E-A-T, a preexisting concept in Google’s guidelines, to the forefront. The term “E-A-T” represents Google’s preference for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness in online content and content producers.
Google search quality raters apply these criteria to most online content. However, the standards are higher and most relevant to “your money or your life (YMYL)” pages. Section 2.3 of the search quality rater guidelines defines YMYL content as anything that “could directly impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.” For this reason, Google wants to ensure only the most reputable, factual, and helpful information ranks at the top of their search results. But don’t think that E-A-T only applies to more official or editorial sites—the search quality evaluators use the concept of “everyday expertise” to assess content that doesn’t require degrees, accolades, or professional experience to write.
The Medic Update and Your Reputation
The Medic Updates also heightened the importance of reputation, both for companies and individuals. Google explicitly stated the importance of reputation in section 2.6 of the search quality rater guidelines: “Many websites are eager to tell users how great they are. Some webmasters have read these rating guidelines and write ‘reviews’ on various review websites. But for Page Quality rating, you must also look for outside, independent reputation information about the website. When the website says one thing about itself, but reputable external sources disagree with what the website says, trust the external sources.” In other words, positive reviews from review websites are not weighed as heavily as independent reviews from web pages that Google deems reputable and authoritative.
What it Means for Your SEO
Google’s recent core algorithm and search quality guideline updates underscored two essential paths for improving search rankings: producing E-A-T-level onsite content and securing links from other sites with expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.
Elevating Your Onsite Content to E-A-T Standards
First and foremost, you should focus on the quality of your onsite content using E-A-T as your criteria. This should involve a combination of new content production and refreshing previously-published content assets.
How to Complete a Content Refresh
A content refresh entails revisiting old content, updating the information, and adding value through the lens of E-A-T. Conducting a refresh not only gives you the opportunity to change the timestamp on your content but to apply the standards and strategies associated with the latest Google Search updates. A few recommendations for content refreshes include:
Add volume to any “thin” content, or combine multiple thin pages into one
Conduct new keyword research and modify text accordingly
Add resources for readers, such as links to other pages with high E-A-T
Add assets like infographics, tools, and downloads
Developing New E-A-T Content
Moving forward, all the content you publish should emulate E-A-T. When planning new pages or blog posts, you can conduct a self-audit by reviewing the Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines and assessing your ideas accordingly. A few quick tips for creating content that meets Google’s E-A-T standards include:
Build out onsite bios for your executives, staff, and content writers
If you don’t have high-profile experts or writers with specialized degrees on your team, consider outsourcing an expert to review your content. With their seal of approval, you can put the expert’s name and bio at the top of the page, proving the accuracy and authority of your content.
Produce data-driven content with citable insights by conducting your own research or aggregating research and resources that already exist
Publish case studies that exhibit the effectiveness of the products or services that your company provides
Use tools like SparkToro to identify topics that experts in your industry are interested in and will likely link to
Launching New Link Building Campaigns
Google is well aware that any business owner can write a positive review for their business on any number of review websites. This is why Google holds reviews and references from trustworthy sources such as news publications, government websites, and independent review platforms in higher regard. As a result, backlink quality has become increasingly important with these recent algorithm updates. Plus, Google has gotten better at weeding out unnatural links gained through various grey hat marketing practices. Link quality ties directly into the expertise, authority, and trustworthiness of the sites that link to your page or mention your brand. If reputable publications mention and link to your brand, your brand can build its reputation by association. If you aren’t sure how to get started on link building campaigns, consider these strategies:
Pursue interviews with online newspapers, magazines, and podcasts that will mention you or your company by name and include a link to your site
Pitch guest posts to high-authority and high-traffic blogs
Share useful content assets like original research and infographics with site managers in your industry
Leverage tools like Pitchbox for both link building and influencer outreach
Staying on Top of Google’s Latest Changes and Utilizing Them to Improve Your Online Reputation
SEOs must rely on speculation and industry analytics as to which websites are “targeted” by Google’s algorithm updates. Medic and Medic II are only perceived as such for their apparent targeting of medical websites and health-related content. While you’ll never get a straight answer from Google as to what content future updates will target, you can use analytics and audits of website traffic to keep up with the trends in your industry that will help you outrank your competitors. Brands with new and relevant content will consistently rank higher in Google’s search results. They’ll be held in higher regard by reputable publishers and find themselves building a favorable reputation of their own. Users will see content published in 2019 and prior and deem it irrelevant, so ensure you’re frequently posting and keeping up with ever-changing trends and standards in your specific line of business. Analyze each piece of content you publish and scrutinize it with E-A-T. Ask yourself, does Google consider me an expert? Are their experts tied to this article? If you or your brand isn’t currently considered an authority on the subject matter, consider working with a reputation management company to build up your brand.