Ever had symptoms and gone straight to Google to do a bit of research to find out what’s going on with your body? Of course you have. From articles on huge branded websites to small forums of people talking about medical conditions, the internet is a popular starting point for self-diagnosis.
Let’s keep it real. The NHS is under pressure. Getting an appointment at your local surgery can be a nightmare. You either have to call a week in advance (even though your symptoms are happening, like, right now) or you get given a time slot that’s inconvenient. The phrase ‘Google is your friend’ was invented for these situations. Why wait to be seen by a single doctor while suffering when Dr Google is right at your fingertips with millions of minions ready to diagnose and give you advice on healing your ailment immediately?
With our hectic lifestyles, online medical content is a thing of great convenience. The concern this raises, however, is how much trust should be given to online content creators in the medical field. Google shares this concern. In August 2018 the search engine released what is referred to as the ‘Medic Update’.
What is the Google Medic Update?
The August 2018 Google Medic Update was a search-engine algorithm change that targeted health-related websites and medical content providers online. Google’s aim is to give better rankings and priority to websites that provide expert, authoritative and trustworthy (referred to as E-A-T) medical information while penalising websites with content deemed to be misleading, inaccurate or false on its search results pages.
Another aim was to penalise websites that operate in a way Google itself calls YMYL or Your Money or Your Life. The search engine doesn’t want users to fall victim to commercial sites that offer products or services after giving false information. This very much applies to health and medical websites (as well it should).
Although the search engine company itself hasn’t officially confirmed this algorithm update was done strictly to target health, wellbeing and medical content online, the sudden drop in rankings and traffic experienced by big-name health-related websites is quantifiable evidence, while the prominence given to websites that meet the E-A-T guideline is qualitative proof.
The fact that so many health-related websites with strong brand recognition and a large amount of trust and built-up goodwill were affected by the Medic Update should give pause for thought (a pause long enough to restrategise) to every level of online content creator who operates in the medical arena and beyond. The algorithm change has forced brands to look at some elements of content marketing in a different way.
What Can Content Creators do to Adapt to the Google Medic Update?
Simply put, serve the user something to E-A-T. What’s great about E-A-T is that it can be applied to any website that wants to see an improvement in performance on search engines.
Less than a fortnight after releasing the Medic Update, Google included some additions that would impact how its robots (or web crawlers) would evaluate the expertise of a website. No longer will it just look at the expertise of the content, but the expertise of the author of the content. A large number of health, medical or wellbeing sites have specific authors who write content for them. With this new addition, it goes without saying that as a content creator, you must ensure your authors are real experts in their field. If your website offers products, it is doubly important.
What content creators can do
- One simple way of making sure the robots recognise the expertise of an author is to include an author box on the page. This can include their name, picture, information on their area of expertise and links to profiles they have elsewhere online.
- Another way is to use author schema markup, a function that allows you to input the author’s information on the backend of your website, making it easier for the search engine crawler to make a connection between the author and their presence on other sources online, such as social media, blogs, other websites, videos, etc.
- When possible, build relationships with medical experts who are already visible, established and trusted online. Have them do feature posts or guest blogs.
- While content is still king, user intent is now very important. Having the right expert providing the right information that satisfies what the user is specifically trying to find out, is key. Google has its ways of knowing if a user’s intent is met. If it is met, it is an indicator to Google that the author is an expert.
While expertise – in the context of the additions to the Medic Update – is more individual author or webpage-focused, authority looks at the site as a whole. Seeing yourself as an expert is one thing; others recognising your expertise is another. In online content, authority requires recognition from others, whether from non-experts (users) or other experts/authorities. For the Medic Update, the latter is very relevant. If other websites Google considers an authority in the medical field are linking to your site, it is a signal that you are doing something right. It is a recommendation of sorts. Your website or authors being cited and quoted by other sites with authority and who practise white hat SEO goes a long way in establishing you as an authority in your sector.
What content creators can do
- Creating expert content is a no-brainer way of increasing online visibility, which will catch the eye and attract links from others in your industry.
- Having your experts guest blog on sites with authority or taking part in collaborative studies with other experts is a great way to achieve the suggestions above.
- Get yourself a Wikipedia page. No, seriously. Brands with Wikipedia pages are sending out signals to users and search engine robots alike that say, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m an authority in this field.’
- Creating white papers, writing in-depth articles, forming link-building strategies are some more ways you can achieve authority for your website.
A recent 2019 survey carried out by Kolabtree, the world’s largest platform for freelance scientists, revealed that 44.1% of 18–24-year-olds in the UK have given themselves the wrong diagnosis after reading content from medical websites. This is an astonishing number. The consequences of misdiagnosis should not go understated. It is obvious that these young people are getting advice from websites they deem trustworthy. Google’s hope is that with the Medic Update penalising such sites, going forward, these misdiagnosis numbers will reduce. Assuring your online content is worthy of the trust of the user is key if you don’t want to be penalised.
One of the main ways a website can lose trust is if it’s constantly getting bad reviews online. Negative sentiments linked to your brand or content can spread like wildfire on the web. The chances of a user letting the rest of the world know about bad medical advice they received are very high. With so many platforms available for users to vent their feelings, chances are, word of negativity surrounding your business will get around.
What content creators can do
- A great way to build the trust of your website is to encourage visitors to leave reviews on your Google business page (if you don’t have one, set one up immediately after reading this article) and other review platforms.
- According to the aforementioned survey, women tend to place their trust in government health websites more than men, who tend to go for whatever website ranks high (surprise, surprise – women are more diligent than us menfolk). With this in mind, you can include links to government sites to reassure your female audience. Notice how I placed a link to the website that conducted the survey above? That’s my way of trying to build your trust in our brand and content by saying, ‘These statistics and information weren’t pulled out of my you-know-where.’
- Incorporate the E and A elements into your content marketing plan. Content created by experts (that satisfy the user’s intent) can go on to get recognised by other experts making you an authority, which in turn builds the trust of your brand. All three should work in an ecosystem when planning content creation and delivery, no matter what sector your brand operates in. You will be surprised at how much more fluid your content marketing will be with this in mind.
- If you’re an e-commerce medical site, provide clear information on the products you are selling. Include as much information as possible, such as uses, side-effects, dosage, ingredients, how to take, etc.
- If your domain isn’t secure, ie, you have HTTP instead of HTTPS in front of your website address, make securing it a priority. It is a big indication to Google that your website is safe and won’t be accessed by dodgy third-party sites, which try to capture the data of your users. Google will often add a ‘not secure’ at the front of the search box where your website URL is presented, which is visible to the user. That is not a good look for a site whose users are there for health-related reasons. Having a secured domain also means your site won’t get the warning pages that sometimes pop up when users are trying to access a website.
Takeaways (E-A-T is in this article too many times for me not to use it as a subhead)
The Google Medic Update of August 2019 has had a huge impact on the rankings of medical, health and wellbeing websites in the search engine. By following the guidelines of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, websites (across all sectors) can avoid being penalised by Google and suffering a slump in rankings, and instead gain more visibility, prominence and higher rankings.
As a content marketing agency, The River Group’s content strategy includes providing authors who are experts in their field when creating content for our online clients. Our experience working with health and wellbeing brands such as Holland & Barrett gives us firsthand experience in developing strategies to tackle the Medic Update while staying on top of any possible changes to the search engine’s algorithm in the future.