The Google Medic Update: Health Niches Penalties

Google constantly updates the algorithm that powers Google search. It happens daily. But one particular change, known as the Medic Update, caused a huge stir in the SEO community and affected thousands of websites in the health and fitness niches (to name a few). Nobody outside of Google (and possibly inside the search engine giant) knows what the algorithm changes were designed to do. We can only speculate, test, and analyse. But some industries saw huge changes in their search traffic.

This Google update, dubbed the Medic Update by the SEO community, affected predominantly medical and financial businesses. The basis for the drop in rankings is linked to the Expertise, Authority, and Trust (EAT) guidelines that Google says determine the quality of a website.

What makes this update interesting to us is that the updates seem to have affected health-related websites more than other niches. A few large, well-known health sites seem to have received penalties. Traffic numbers from Google search to their websites have plummeted. But their sites saw their traffic increase. Google keeps quiet about any changes. But companies that monitor the traffic and rankings of major sites have shown big changes in search engine traffic.

Google Update Penalties. Who Was Affected This Time?

As it turns out, Dr Axe‘s website, draxe.com (one of the top health-related websites on the internet) lost a lot of traffic.
38% down by some estimates. After one week it was at least 20% down.
That's a problem worth millions to a site that big.

google algorithm penalty for draxe website august 1 2018

Here are the rankings and organic traffic graphs two months later (first week in October 2018)

draxe rankings and keyword October 2018

And here's Mercola.com's keyword ranking and organic traffic for the same period.

Mercola.com website traffic after Google

Healthline.com, another website in the same niche, saw a traffic increase of 20%.

What's the difference between these two websites in Google's eyes?
Who knows? But draxe.com is possibly viewed as less authoritative and factually accurate than healthline.com.

Dr Axe is not an MD (I mention this without judgement – it's just a fact).

Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist with a passion to help people eat healthily and live a healthy lifestyle.

Now whether Google considers this a factor is speculation.

Healthline's posts are often overseen and edited by Doctors. (but even that can be faked). Healthline doesn't push products as much as draxe.com does.

Other sites penalised include
prevention.com (-28%)
verywellhealth.com (-27%)

Health & Fitness Niche Website Rankings

The consensus is that the health niche is the niche most affected by the fallout from the “fake news” scandals. Google, whether or not we like it, decides what is correct and what is factual. Their algorithm no doubt scans and indexes authority health-related journals and publications and then performs fact checking against blog posts on content-heavy sites.

If you haven't got your facts right or you don't back up health claims with scientific evidence, you might find your site on the receiving end of a Google penalty.
Clamping down on dubious claims and half-baked facts is something most people would be happy to see. It's good for the internet.

For further reading, Moz has a good article on the topic from the first week in August.

The main thing to keep in mind is that Google appears to penalise badly researched content or blog posts churned out by content farms. Articles with factual errors or dubious claims are a prime target.

Update Mid-2019: Google continues to punish some health-related websites. Even websites regarded as bullet-proof like examine.com lost 90% of their organic search traffic.

google algorithm update 2019 affecting health niche

Playing to Google's Rules – Avoid Penalties

What can you do to prevent our website from being penalised by Google?

  1. Write high-quality, well-researched blog posts
  2. Write in-depth articles on topics you understand. “Thin content” sites see their rankings drop drastically at times like these.
  3. Avoid pumping out content just for the sake of it. Low-quality content is worse than none at all.
  4. Make sure the links used as references still work. Broken links are a low-quality indicator.
  5. Ensure that your spelling and grammar are accurate, as poor writing can indicate substandard content from low-quality sources or inexpensive writers. Grammarly is an excellent tool for content creators, while software such as ProWritingAid can enhance the effectiveness and clarity of your writing.
  6. Make sure your website offers the best experience for your visitors. Hard to read fonts, slow pages, broken internal links, and hard to find pages, give the user a bad experience.

Experts in their fields don't often make the best writers. Writing for the web requires plenty of practice and a different approach to scientific writing. Unless you're writing for PubMed journals, the skill is in explaining complex topics to ordinary people.

Google's Search Quality Guidelines

Read Google's Quality guidelines to learn more about the types of content the search engine wants to see. There are specific sections for health sites that everyone should read.

Google Penalty Checkers?

If you think your website has received a penalty, manual checks (by someone who knows what they're doing) are a good way to find out. There are penalty checkers out there, I haven't found a good one yet. They restrict access to recent data (exactly the information you're interested in) to only paid accounts. These accounts are very expensive and out of the budget of most small businesses and non-tech firms.

The only real way to know is by doing a complete SEO Audit.

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