Google Medic Update: Why It Penalizes Some Healthcare Websites

Local Healthcare Practice Search
6 Tips to Improve the Local Rankings of a Healthcare Practice
September 1, 2022

Healthcare Website on Google

Google pushes a lot of different updates to their core algorithm, as well as additional non-core updates, throughout the year. Sometimes they’re broad tweaks to everything. Sometimes they’re narrowly focused on particular types of search results. Many of them are unnamed and even unannounced, through various industry trackers can spot them.

One such update from several years ago is the Medic update. While you might not think that an update from several years ago is still relevant, this one focuses on healthcare, which is often a slow-to-react area of online marketing. Many medical sites and practices don’t pay a ton of attention to marketing or search ranking, so when they start looking into it, it’s a surprise just how much can change in their industry from year to year.

So, what is the Medic update, why does it hit certain healthcare sites and not others, and what can you do about it if it hits you?

Let’s dig in.

What is the Google Medic Update?

The Google Medic update hit the internet on August 1, back in 2018. Yes, it’s over four years old, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less relevant today. At the time, it was one of the largest niche-focused algorithmic updates in quite some time. It’s still among the most impactful, and several subsequent updates have refined or put more pressure on sites affected by Medic.

As the name implies, Medic is an update that focuses primarily on health and wellness sites. Sites falling into that definition are quite varied, with everything from vitamin sellers to workout coaches to dental practices and more all affected. Additionally, Medic also impacted financial sites, though to a lesser degree than health-focused sites.

Google Medic Update

To give you a few points of comparison, sites that lost ranking included sites like DrAxe.com, Prevention.com, and VeryWellHealth.com, while sites that gained ranking in the shift include Healthline.com and MedicalNewsToday.com and known authorities like Mayo Clinic and WebMD. (Yes, WebMD is an authority; despite their popular culture connotations, they do have accurate data backed up by facts.)

What was the purpose of the Medic update?

Medic was the first of several updates in what we now recognize as a combination of two initiatives pushed by Google; E-A-T and YMYL.

These two initiatives combine to create the effects on health, finances, and other niches, putting a greater burden of truth and accuracy on them than on your average everyday blog.

EAT and YMYL Initiatives

If you’ve kept up with our blog, you know what these two are, but if you haven’t, here’s a summary.

  • E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. It’s all about judging a website based on the reputation of the site as a whole, the author, the sources it cites, and other trust factors. The goal is to encourage websites to cite reputable sources while penalizing those who push conspiracy theories or “fake news.” Google doesn’t want to have to judge what is and isn’t fact, so they rely on a complex web of authority and reputation for other sources of data.
  • YMYL stands for Your Money or Your Life. This colloquialism comes from fictional banditry, but the connotations focus on two of the most important aspects of living in the modern era. Any website that deals primarily with your money or your life (that is, your health) falls under the YMYL banner. These sites are held to a higher standard because misinformation, scams, fraud, and other issues can result in loss of lifestyle or even loss of life.

Basically, Google broadly categorized the web and identified sites that have a high burden of truth with possible tangible repercussions and is forcing them to live up to higher standards of truth and accuracy.

After all, if a clothing store lies about the materials their t-shirts are made of, the worst that happens is you have a t-shirt made of a different material. Maybe it shrinks, or maybe it irritates the skin, but that’s about it. On the other hand, a site talking about medical issues and getting it wrong can result in people dying (see all of the COVID-19 misinformation for a recent, prominent example.)

Google recognizes that someone is likely to perform a search using their search engine to look for advice about health and wellness topics. These can be anything from acute symptoms that they’re trying to determine whether or not are dangerous to long-term planning on exercise, diet, or lifestyle adjustments.

Truth and Liability

Google wants to provide satisfactory results to the people searching for these subjects. They also recognize that, as a primary middleman serving these results, they have a burden to provide information that isn’t actively harmful to the people performing those searches.

So why can you still find health misinformation and conspiracy theories in Google’s search results? As we mentioned above, Google desperately wants to be viewed as impartial and avoid the burden of being an arbiter of truth. One could argue that this perspective itself is harmful and that even allowing misinformation on a platform is dangerous, but if Google starts “censoring” sites – beyond those that blatantly violate their rules, of course – then they set themselves up for a ton of legal battles and court cases that will change the face of search as we know it.

Doctor Reviewing Website

So, Google pushes the liability and blame elsewhere. They work to create algorithms that judge a site not based on its own truth but based on how well it fits in with the overall body of knowledge as a whole. That is, they judge it based on trust factors like cited sources, the own site’s ability to police accuracy, and other factors.

That way, they can blame a site for not citing reputable sources and penalize it for that, rather than making the decision to penalize a site for not being reputable itself. Neat loophole, right? They certainly think so.

Were You Hit by Medic?

If you’re concerned about Medic now, four years after it happened, chances are you have a lot of catching up to do. The first thing you should do, though, is check to see if Medic actually impacted your site and if that impact was positive or negative.

Man Examining Data

To do this, of course, you need historical analytics data. If you haven’t been using an analytics platform since mid-2018, you aren’t going to have the data necessary to check and will just have to work to improve your site regardless.

Note: Everything that applies to recovering from Medic is also good advice in general. Any site at all can take this advice and benefit; it’s just the most important for YMYL sites.

The simple way to check if your site was hit by Medic is to look at your analytics data for July and August 2018. The update landed on August 1, so if your traffic and rankings shifted dramatically on or around that date, you can safely blame Medic for the change.

How to Recover from Medic and Boost a Healthcare Website

Regardless of whether or not your site was negatively impacted by Medic, taking the advice we outline below can benefit any healthcare website. After all, it’s all modeled on the best health and wellness sites currently ranking, so unless you run one of those sites, you can stand to catch up.

How to Recover from Medic

1. Perform a Content Audit

The first thing you should do – which is likely overdue – is a content audit. A content audit scrapes your site and indexes every blog post and public page you have available. Once you have that list (we recommend a spreadsheet with a title, URL, and other data as columns), you can fill in key information about them.

Key Information in a Content Audit

What information?

  • Word Count
  • Primary Keyword/Topic
  • Last Modified Date
  • Author
  • Backlink Number and Quality

You can also harvest other data to judge if you like. Semrush has an excellent guide to content audits here if you want a detailed rundown.

Once you have a list of your content and the data attached to it, you can analyze it to determine if it’s valuable and worth keeping, if it’s thin and worth removing, if it’s something you can fluff up and refurbish into something useful, or if it can be combined with other content.

2. Improve Your Site’s E-A-T Metrics

The Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness of your site are all important for ranking well in a regulated niche like healthcare.

How to Improve EAT Metrics

A lot goes into it, but it all comes from an accumulation of relatively minor trust signals.

  • Attribute content to a real author, not “admin” or whatever.
  • Create trust pages on your site, like About and Contact.
  • Work on reputation management to solicit positive reviews and refute or remove negative reviews.
  • Make sure you have consistent business information across different directories.

We have a more detailed rundown of E-A-T and YMYL for healthcare over here, so check it out to learn more.

One of the best E-A-T things you can do is establish authority as your primary writer. Even if you have freelancers and ghostwriters actually produce your content, publish them under the name of the head doctor or specialist you have on staff. This stakes their reputation on the accuracy of the data and gives it more value and trustworthiness. Of course, this means you have to live up to that standard by ensuring the things you claim are accurate.

3. Cite Reputable Sources for Claims

A huge part of Medic and all of the subsequent healthcare-focused algorithm changes in the four years since is building up a reputable body of work. Google doesn’t want your site to be an authority on its own unless you’re a legitimate research facility performing impartial, unbiased first-party research. What they want is a body of knowledge that largely agrees, especially on commonly-understood topics.

Healthcare is tricky. There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of big pharmaceutical and commercial businesses. It can be tough to draw the line between healthy skepticism and conspiracy. That’s why citing legitimate and trusted sources is the way to go.

Reputable Healthcare Sources

What kinds of sources are trustworthy? Well, when you search for a subject, what kinds of sites do you find?

  • National or international medical organizations, like the Alzheimer’s Association.
  • Research facilities and cutting-edge entities like Cleveland Clinic.
  • Widely-known and well-regarded medical networks like Mayo Clinic.
  • Other well-cited and relatively reputable sites, like Healthline or WebMD.
  • First-party research sources, like the National Library of Medicine from NCBI/NIH.

The more well-known and widely trusted a site is, the better it will rank, and thus the better it will be to use as a source for your own claims and information.

4. Use Fact-Checking from Third-Party Authorities

Another relatively recent way you can build trust and authority as a healthcare site is to take advantage of structured data. Structured data is a way to add meta data to a site within a wide range of possible attributes, all documented on Schema.org.

Third Party Fact Checking

One such Schema format is Fact-Checking. Fact-Checking schema allows you to designate a claim, choose a third-party authority like a doctor or specialist in the field, and have them verify the accuracy of the claim. It’s most often used when you’re fact-checking a claim made by someone else, but it can also be used to have someone else fact-check and verify the things you write.

You can read more about using the fact-checking schema here.

Hire the Experts

If all of this sounds like way too much work when you’re already busy running your healthcare business, that’s perfectly reasonable. Keeping up with the million-and-one aspects of SEO and content marketing is a full-time career. In fact, it’s our career. We’re well-practiced in helping healthcare websites set up and grow their brands online, and we’re more than happy to do the same for you. So, why not drop us a line and have a chat? We’ll talk about your needs and what we can do for you.

SEO Experts Working

Additionally, if you’re interested, why not check out our other posts about SEO in healthcare? There are a wide variety of choices to peruse, and you’re bound to find useful information for your healthcare practice!

David Curtis
David Curtis
David Curtis is the founder and CEO of Blue Pig Media. With twenty years of successful execution in sales, marketing and operations, for both clients and vendors, he has a bottom line ROI driven mentality rooted in metrics driven performance across highly competitive global corporate initiatives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.