Google’s Medic Update: How To Fix Your Site Rankings

On August 1, 2018, Google announced a broad core algorithm update, which they do several times per year. Early signs showed it would be a big one, and it hit sort of like a hurricane–it took a full week to roll out, and the ripple effect was felt across the web.

Call it Hurricane Medic, a.k.a. the Medic update.

Before we talk about how to keep a handle on your rankings, let’s talk about what the Medic update is, what it changed, and who was affected.

What is the Medic Update?

Some updates change small things. Medic was not one of them.

The Medic update changed the significance of the algorithm’s core ranking factors, which is the overall framework that guides how your content is ranked in SERPs.

We don’t know the exact changes to the algorithm–Google keeps those secret. However, we can extrapolate a few things based on the results.

Why is It Called the Medic Update?

First, a bit of housekeeping.

It’s called the Medic update because Barry Schwartz (one of the most prolific writers in the search industry) called it the Medic update.

To be clear, though, just because it’s called the Medic update doesn’t mean that it only affected medical sites.

What Did It Change?

As usual, Google didn’t provide much information on the update. They offered the standard party line on the matter.

Basically, they said there is no “fix” other than to focus on creating great content. If it sounds tremendously unhelpful, it is. It’s also the general sketch of the most helpful advice you’re going to get on the subject.

Previous big updates like this have targeted something specific. The Panda update, for example, targeted content quality, while the Penguin update targeted black hat linking practices.

No one was happy about it, but Google was transparent enough about the issues that sites were able to reverse-engineer what problem the updates were designed to address.

Because it’s a core algorithm update, Medic is different. Where Panda and Penguin were functionally punishments for bad behavior, core algorithm updates are tweaks to the main search engine itself.

Think of it this way.

Google’s algorithm is made up of a group several hundred ranking factors known only to Google itself. These include things like:

  • Page speed
  • Mobile responsiveness
  • …and a few hundred more

In a core algorithm update (like Medic) Google changes how they value each factor. So, for example, where page speed might have had a weight of X which was valued more than HTTPS weight of Y, Y might now carry more weight than X.

Who was Affected?

Medic primarily affected two groups of sites: health sites and what Google calls “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) sites. YMYL sites are web pages that can have an impact on your future well-being, including financial, physical, and safety.

Examples of YMYL pages include:

  • Pages that solicit personal information like driver’s license numbers, personal identification numbers, bank account numbers, etc. which could be used for identity theft
  • Pages offering advice on major life issues that can affect your future happiness and finances, such as pages giving legal advice
  • Pages offering advice on major life decisions such as buying a home or getting a divorce
  • Pages that are used for monetary transactions where users might give personal financial information; this would include any page that allows you to buy something
  • Pages that offer medical or health information which could affect your personal wellbeing

Note that the Medic update was not designed solely to affect health and YMYL sites, though it did primarily affect those sites.

If you want to check whether or not you were affected by Medic, take a look at any changes in your search ratings and compare them to their positions prior to August 1.

Factors to Improve for the Medic Update

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Medic is that, according to Google, there’s nothing to “fix” because the update wasn’t designed to punish bad behavior. Instead, they’re simply rewarding sites with great content that were previously unrewarded.

However, based on what we know about Google and what we’ve extrapolated from Medic, there are a few ways to help your site recover in the aftermath of Medic.

Optimize for Expertise-Authority-Trust

First, you should focus on optimizing for E.A.T. (Expertise-Authority-Trust).

According to Google’s Search Quality Rating guidelines, E.A.T. is Google’s measure of overall quality for web pages. Based on early reports on Medic, it was primarily directed at evaluating website authority in terms of E.A.T., especially Trust.

The data backs up the theory–sites that had problems with Medic had issues related to trust mentioned in the Quality Rating guidelines, such as:

  • No authority in the niche
  • Reputation issues
  • Lack of positive reputation compared to competitors
  • Large number of negative reviews
  • Selling a product that could potentially compromise the safety of consumers

That said, the Quality Rating guidelines are meant to be used by human reviewers, which means it’s unlikely that the algorithm can tell whether a site is manipulating the algorithm for the appearance of “expertise”.

So it is possible that a site with poor content but a healthy link profile could still rank well in terms of E.A.T.

Moral of the story: your content and your link profile should both be improved to raise the E.A.T. of your site.

What to Do

If you have reputation issues, revise your site to make sure you have clear contact and customer service information on your About Us, Contact, and Customer Service pages.

If your competitors have a stronger reputation, work to improve the number of positive reviews for your business.

If you lack authority in your niche, work to build backlinks to your website from other sites to increase authority signals.

If you sell products, make sure there is no question about their safety.

Optimize and Improve Key Consumer Pages

We mentioned earlier that “Your Money or Your Life” sites, or YMYL sites, were particularly impacted by Medic. Since these sites have a significant impact on consumers’ lives, they’re held to an especially high standard by Google.

What to Do

E.A.T. and YMYL standards make it clear that Google wants content written by experts when the topic includes:

  • Medical information
  • Financial information
  • Legal content
  • High-quality hobby pages
  • Advice or information on any topic that can have a material impact on a person’s wellbeing and happiness

When your site does offer this type of content, make sure it’s written by people who are demonstrated experts on the subject.

You should also make sure to take additional steps to ensure consumer security.

For example, e-commerce pages should be secure. Legal information should reference and cite laws where appropriate. Financial information should include disclaimers. Medical information should be backed with research and updated regularly.

More SEO Guidance

You know all about the Medic update. What comes next?

Like the Google algorithm, SEO is constantly evolving, and it helps to have an expert in your corner.

Check out our blog for more expert advice, like the top 10 SEO solutions to drive traffic. If you need an expert to take a look at your SEO and how you may have been affected by Medic, get in touch with us today to see what we can do to help.