More than a year removed from today, the Google Medic update left a pretty or ugly (depending on which camp you are in) mark on search results.
And, even now, much of the effects still resonate among site owners.
Since then, lots of studies were conducted to help the SEO community understand the scope of this update.
In this post, I plan to share them with you and I’ll also serve up a solution on how to resuscitate your website and recover to the top of organic search.
So if your site remains in critical condition since the update, then this one’s for you!
Table of Contents
- 1 What is the Google Medic Update?
- 2 What We Know About the Effects of Google Medic So Far
- 3 Sites that Were Hit by Google Medic
- 4 Algorithmic Penalty or Devaluation?
- 5 Is It Possible to Recover from the Google Medic Update?
- 6 Steps to Google Medic Recovery
- 7 Putting the Recovery Process to the Test
- 8 Conclusion
What is the Google Medic Update?
On August 1st, 2018, Google released a broad core algorithm update via Google Search Liason on Twitter.
The tweet referenced to and reinforced a tweet it made on March 13 that same year:
As usual, Google is pretty vague when it comes to announcing changes in its algorithms.
However, one thing is clear:
Compared to the usual algorithm updates in the past, this is a core update.
It’s possible that Google changed how it weighs different ranking factors. What once was a crucial ranking factor may no longer be one and vice versa.
However, no one will ever really know. The tweet above is the best everyone can get.
A week after the core update was announced, Barry Schwartz coined the term ‘Google Medic’ in his coverage here.
He conducted a survey revealing that 42% of websites hit by the algorithm update were from the medical, fitness, lifestyle, and health niches.
The e-commerce niche is the niche with the second most penalized sites with 16%. However, you could make the argument that some e-commerce sites sell health and medical products.
Therefore, it’s possible that half of the penalized sites after the update came from the medical niche.
Thus, Google Medic.
Barry was very clear in saying that other industries suffered after the update to an extent.
Marie Haynes, an SEO expert who specializes in Google penalties, casts a wider net by saying that the update affected Your Money, Your Life (YMYL) sites.
The Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines mention YMYL pages in section 2.3 of the 167-page long document.
In a nutshell, these pages and sites provide users with fuller and happier lives.
A great YMYL page about finances, for instance, should help visitors learn how to save money and spend it wisely.
This reason is why Google is harsh towards these types of sites.
Imagine if a user stumbles upon a YMYL page with terrible advice.
What users thought is a page with quality content happens to contain bad information that could jeopardize their lives!
While all this sounds reasonable, what’s not is that site owners are left on their own to avoid getting penalized by this core update.
What We Know About the Effects of Google Medic So Far
Even though reading Google’s Algos can be an enigma, there’s actually a simple way to read updates. In this case, we can check websites that were affected by the Google Medic update.
From here, we can have a clearer understanding of why they were penalized in the first place.
Piecing together the different factors that caused the downfall of these sites will bring us closer to learning more about this algorithm update (or any update).
Importantly, you can use this information to help rank your site higher on organic search!
But before we proceed, it’s important for us to identify what we know about Google Medic so far.
It’s more than a year removed since the update, so there are lots of already-existing studies conducted by different SEOs to see the common factors that play a crucial role in the drop of the organic ranking of some sites (and the increase of others).
As mentioned earlier, the algorithm change coincided with the update of the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines at the same time.
In particular, Google most likely emphasized the importance of E-A-T (Expertise – Authoritativeness – Trustworthiness), which you can read up on the 3.2 section of the guidelines.
I’ve already comprehensively discussed the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines in this post.
Just to recap:
- Expertise – The author of the page must display a great understanding of the topic
- Authoritativeness – The overall quality of the website and content must be top-notch
- Trustworthiness – Your audience is sharing your content across different online platforms because they believe it
Since we know Google attempts to screen sites based on these factors, we can analyze sites based on how they measure up using these key points.
The goal is to limit the scope of observation by isolating the core issues affecting the sites since the update.
Also, instead of exclusively referring to the Search Quality Guidelines, we can lean on case studies that help make sense of the sweeping generalizations mentioned in the guidelines, and how the effect the characteristics of a website.
For example, one of the qualities of high-quality pages according to the guidelines is “[a] satisfying amount of high-quality MC [main content], including a descriptive or helpful title.”
While the quote tells you what you should do, it doesn’t tell you how to do it.
At this point, we need are concrete examples to make your site in line with what Google wants.
That’s where the case studies come in.
The website Can I Rank ran a study on affected sites to see which factors weighed the most after the Google Medic update.
Regarding content quality, they observed common elements present in sites that increased its rankings after the update:
- Features visual content (images, videos, etc.)
- Presents information in a clear and organized structure (table of contents, bullet points, pull quotes, etc.)
- Links to relevant and authoritative sites using the dofollow attribute
We can use these points to help check and measure the E-A-T-ability of a site.
Again, we’re monitoring the limited number of sites based on a handful of factors.
Therefore, what you’ll read below is not a comprehensive look at the update. It also doesn’t detail other factors that come into play outside of E-A-T.
At the very least, however, we now have a much clearer picture of how to look at websites affected by the update.
Importantly, you can use the same process to help you understand how your site measures up to the E-A-T standards. This way, you know how to improve your site.
And as you’ll see later, there are websites able to successfully restore its organic traffic and rankings since the update.
Before I crack on and show the case studies we’ve gathered, I want to just explain the ‘sensible’ ad placement variable.
Explaining Sensible Ad Placement
There’s nothing wrong with using ads on your site.
The problem, however, stems from how you use them.
Since Google allows site owners to place as many ads on the site as they please, there’s also a risk of putting too much.
Here’s one site penalized by the update because of excessive ads according to their study:
As you can see, it almost covers the entire page with ads!
At this point, it doesn’t matter how authoritative and good the content of the page is.
If visitors can’t access the page due to multiple ads featured all at once on your screen, then Google has no use for it.
Therefore, sensible Ad Placement refers to having a number of ads on your site that doesn’t make the whole thing unreadable.
Sites that Were Hit by Google Medic
SISTRIX released a list of the top 20 losing domains featured on Search Engine Land because of the update:
A quick look at the list shows you a mix of sites from different industries such as e-commerce, travel, and others.
However, most of the losing domains are from the health and lifestyle niche.
SISTRIX also compiled a list of the top sites that benefited from the update:
Similar to the list above, most of the winners are from the health niche as well.
The next step is to look at some of the sites in the list so we can make sense as to why their organic ranking tanked.
Prevention.com provides “trustworthy health information” to help readers make well-informed decisions in living a healthier and fuller life.
Using Ahrefs, the estimated organic traffic of the site on August 1, 2019, was 4,150,988.
It was also ranking for 3,194,830 keywords on the same date.
However, as you can see from both graphs, both organic traffic and keywords took a huge beating since then and never fully recovered.
Using Wayback Machine, here’s how the site looked like on August 1:
It’s difficult to see from the screenshot above but I assume the space in between the internal links and the image carousel is reserved for ads.
Scrolling down the page and we can see another white space where visitors can see the ads.
Aside from misplaced ads, there’s also the issue of thin content.
Consider “The Best Wrinkle-Fighting Creams and Serums You Can Buy Without a Prescription” article published on July 12, 2018, here:
I captured the screenshot of links to the page where readers can buy the best anti-ageing creams.
From a user standpoint, the page isn’t something that would convince him or her to buy anti-ageing cream given the content’s quality.
The second domain from the SISTRIX list is GCFLearnFree.org.
However, we’ll have to skip this one because it redirects to a different domain, //edu.gcfglobal.org/
As a result, Wayback Machine can’t access the content from the old site so we can’t analyze why it suffered after the update.
Therefore, we go to the next domain: Patient.info.
Similar to Prevention.com, the site offers tips, advice, and information about topics in the health niche
It had estimated organic traffic of 5,445,841 on August 1, 2018.
Patient.info was also ranking for 2,268,484 keywords on the same day.
Here’s an example of one of their pages before the Google Medic Update:
Behind the Wayback Machine bar is an ad block that is below the site’s menu.
In the latest design, the ad-block appears below the menu (implying that there were ads here).
Also, there’s another ad block on the right sidebar of both versions of the page.
Compared to the ad on the menu, the one on the sidebar is fixed. So when you scroll the page, the ad block scrolls along with you.
All articles have the same format for ads.
As far as content is concerned, the pages are attributed to a medical doctor who is a certified member of The Information Standard.
If you hover your cursor on the author’s name on the version before Google Medic, you will also see the other doctor who reviewed the content.
As you can see, it’s as authoritative as it gets.
So the question remains:
Why did the site get hit by Google Medic?
Based on the data we gathered, it’s probably because of the ad placements.
Also, showing the name of the author isn’t enough to justify him or her as an expert.
It would help if the site create an author page that talks about who s/he is and why should people take him or her as an expert.
Rounding up our test, this site is an online store of holiday cards with designs from independent artists.
Using Ahrefs, Minted.com had estimated organic traffic of 772,491 prior to the update.
It also had 228,433 organic keywords during that time.
Looking at the graph’s trend, Minted.com never recovered after the update.
As mentioned earlier, Google Medic affected other industries as well, and e-com one of them.
And since Google is observing the E-A-T rating of websites, the site’s content is under scrutiny.
Unfortunately, this type of content simply does not fly with Google.
The content provides a basic description of wedding websites and tips on what to include in it but it’s probably too short for comfort.
If this piece is indicative of the kind of content found on the site, then this is probably the reason why it got hit by the update.
Algorithmic Penalty or Devaluation?
Now, we normally refer to a site that dropped its rankings as “penalized” after an algorithm update.
However, it’s also possible that Google “devalued” your site after the fact.
The latter is worse than the former.
With an algorithmic penalty, Google slaps your wrist for going against their guidelines.
Expect to see a drop in ranking for a certain number of organic keywords as a result.
But if you stop whatever you’re doing that got you penalized, then you can slowly get your rankings back.
On the other hand, an algorithmic devaluation refers to losing site authority triggered by the update.
Devaluation is not as easy to recover from compared to a penalty.
When Google updates its algorithm, it also changes how it assesses the quality of a site.
That means you need to analyze your entire site and what you’ve been doing with it.
Because if you saw a drop in organic rankings after the Medic update, it’s because Google no longer values your site the way it did.
So it’s not just a slap on the wrist – it’s a complete long-term demotion of your site on organic search!
Also, knowing how cryptic Google is when it comes to providing information about the algorithm update, you’re left scrambling for answers.
Is It Possible to Recover from the Google Medic Update?
If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s this:
It’s possible to recover from an algorithmic devaluation – Google Medic included!
While the sites above never rekindled its glory days, there are other sites that crawled its way back to Google’s good graces.
In this post on Search Engine Land, doctoranytime CMO Christos Managoudis detailed how they were able to succeed from the Google Medic devaluation.
According to Ahrefs, the site started gaining steam since November 26, 2018, and continues to perform very well since then.
Here’s what Christos and his team did to get their site back up on SERPs:
- Improve online reputation – After finding out that there were reviews deeming the site untrustworthy, they improve the information in their content to help make their readers feel better
- Fixed structured data and metadata – Aside from applying the recommended schema, they made sure that the star rating snippet only appeared on their preferred language. Before, it was showing on the translated version of the site
- Remove auto-translate plugin – They believed it was interfering with the crawlers
- Focus on user search intent – They created content based on what users are looking for based on the search phrase they used
While the solutions seem simple enough, their efforts paid dividends as you can see from the screenshots above.
Steps to Google Medic Recovery
Let it known that what Christos and his team implemented on their site won’t work on all.
Every site is a case-to-case basis. So when recovering from Google Medic or any core algorithm update in general, you need to know why your site got hit.
It mostly covers a wide variety of factors that led to your site’s downfall.
Therefore, you need to review your site following an update. Doing so will reveal possible reasons that caused the decrease in its organic traffic and how you can restore it.
Below are the following steps:
- Monitor SERP volatility – Check updates to Google algorithm and see if SERP volatility in your industry is high
- Run sitewide audit – Crawl your site for issues and errors that you must resolve ASAP
- Review content – Get more insights about your site pages in reference to their E-A-T rating
- Analyze and review information – Manually check data and see if there are factors in your strategy and campaign that caused the drop in organic rankings
You will need to use tools that will help you carry out the steps effectively.
Let’s take a closer look at how each step in the process works and what tools you can use.
Monitor SERP Volatility
Keeping a tab on SERP activity informs you of the severity (or lack thereof) of the latest algorithm changes.
While Google regularly rolls out updates, it rarely makes core updates like Medic.
And you should know when that time comes next!
Of course, monitoring SERP volatility manually is next to impossible.
Thankfully, there are tools like SEMrush Sensor that gives you a general idea of the daily SERP activities.
It lets you keep a tab of the algorithm changes and how drastic (or banal) they are.
What’s shown above is the SERP volatility for all categories.
If you want to drill down on a specific category, you can select one on the left side of the page.
You can also monitor the increase of SERP features in the top 20 results.
This gives you a better understanding of what Google prioritizes in their updates.
Finally, you can check your personal projects on SEMrush and see how much the update impacted their overall SEO score. However, this feature is only available to paid subscribers.
There are other tools that monitor SERP volatility such as:
Run Sitewide Audit
Auditing your site is a good place to start with the recovery process.
Assuming that you have little to no idea why your site tanked its organic rankings, you need to check your website and analyze the results.
Maybe there are things you’re doing on your site that are no longer important to the latest algorithm.
Conversely, there are things you haven’t been doing that Google suddenly took value to it.
Either way, you wouldn’t know which if you don’t run a sitewide audit!
For this, you can use Ahrefs.
Aside from being arguably the best link building tool in the market, it also has a Site Audit feature that you can use to monitor your site’s performance.
It shows you issues that you need to resolve. Doing so could potentially improve the organic ranking of the pages.
In relation to E-A-T, Ahrefs Site Audit analyzes content quality based on duplicate content and the number of words on a page.
Finally, you can make sense of the audit by referring to the aggregated score of the crawl.
You can schedule the crawls regularly to monitor the score and see if it decreases over time.
Ideally, you want the score to be over 90% to ensure that your site is potentially algorithm-proof.
You can pair up Ahrefs with Google Search Console to help consolidates issues on pages of your site.
As mentioned, there are other tools you can use to audit your website:
Taking into consideration the pages with issues, you need to know how to optimize the pages for their keywords the right way.
To do this, you need to know the following first:
- Which of my keywords were dropped from SERPs?
- How does my page compare to others ranking on the top 10 of SERPs for my target keywords?
For the first question, you’ll need Ahrefs again.
You can see the movements of your organic keywords for each day.
You will need this feature since you want to know which keywords and pages were greatly affected by Google Medic.
We must also learn the period when your site experienced a downward spiral from SERPs due to the update.
So we’re looking here at weeks and months of data using the tool.
This is important because we want to identify those keywords so we can reoptimize your content.
For the second question, you’ll need SurferSEO.
The tool helps you optimize your content based on the top pages for your target keyword.
It gathers the most common features of the pages based on the most crucial ranking factors and compares them with your content.
The goal is to make your content comparable – if not better – to the top pages ranking for your keyword.
Also, you’ll find yourself using the tool repeatedly to improve your content. Given the fact that the top pages on organic search can always change, you have to adapt your content accordingly.
That’s what makes SurferSEO perfect for progressive optimization or Kaizen SEO.
Analyze and Review Information
Once you have done the steps above, it’s time to finalize the review by taking another look at your site.
Depending on the severity of the algorithm update, you may need to check the factors not mentioned above.
For example, I didn’t cover checking on the quality of your backlinks. It’s because Google Medic focused on your content’s E-A-T rating. So covering off-page factors in the recovery process is irrelevant.
However, you should make it a point to monitor your link profile and get rid of bad backlinks in every update.
It’s best to review the Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines and see if your site checks all the boxes there.
Putting the Recovery Process to the Test
Using the steps indicated above, let’s show why your site dropped its rankings after the Google Medic Update.
For this post, we’ll analyze one of the sites mentioned above, patient.info.
This process should help you see the reasons that caused your site to plummet down SERPs.
Therefore, the process is not about what you can do to recover your rankings.
As mentioned earlier, every site is a case-to-case basis. The problems of one site may not be the same as the others in the same niche.
Also, since we’re already aware that the Google Medic took place, we’ll skip the part about SERP volatility and go to the next step.
That said, let’s proceed:
Run a Sitewide Audit
When running an audit using Ahrefs, click on the Site Audit link on the menu and enter the URL of the site.
On the next page, you have the option to verify yourself as the owner of the site. If you can’t, Ahrefs will crawl your page much slower.
For the Crawl Settings, you can edit how you want Ahrefs to crawl the website.
For this example, we’ll just limit the number of pages to 1,000 just so we can see the quality of the site based on a small sample.
Finally, you can schedule when Ahrefs will crawl the site. This helps you monitor your website regularly and keep track of any changes that flew under the radar.
Once finished, click “Create project.”
It will take time before Ahrefs provides the results of the audit.
But once it shows the results, the page should look like this:
The Health score which is a good index to know if your site is optimized enough or not.
To see the issues affecting your site’s SEO, score down the page.
It shows all the issues that require your attention. You can even filter the issues from most to least important.
Click on the arrow button on the right to reveal more information about the issue.
From here, you can also check out the affected URLs so you can fix them ASAP.
This is as straightforward as it gets when it comes to site audit tools. Just make sure to identify issues based on importance so you solve the most pressing issues and work your way down.
Next, go to Site Explorer and type the URL of the domain.
Then click on Organic Search from the Overview to see how much organic traffic the site has been generating over time.
What we want to identify here is the period when the site started losing traffic until it bottomed out.
In the case of patient.info, the site stopped falling down SERPs around December.
Therefore, the next course of action is to identify the keywords that the site lost and the pages associated with it from August to December.
That’s five months’ worth of data and thousands of keywords to inspect!
Since Google Medic is all about E-A-T, maybe the pages that have lost their rankings did not have authoritative content.
But we can only know for sure if we check them out manually.
To do this, click on Organic Keywords > Movements.
What we want to see here are the keywords that the site lost during the update.
Once you’re on the Movements page, you will see all the keywords that went up and down in the day.
However, we want to filter the results to only show keywords that the site lost due to the Medic update.
To do this, click on the Lost button.
Then trace back the lost keywords on the first day when the algorithm update started.
For instance, patient.info lost 6,500+ worth from three keywords alone!
It’s best to export the data and analyze the information in sheet format.
You can do this by clicking on the Export button.
Make sure to choose Full Export so you get all the keywords that you lost that day.
Based on the full export, the site lost 23,000+ keywords in a single day.
You may need to export all lost keywords from all the days affected by the Medic update.
Again, that’s five months’ worth of keywords!
However, you don’t have to work on all of them.
Simply focus only on the keywords that are driving the most traffic to your site.
And for this example, we’ll take on the page that lost the most organic traffic that day.
The page on patient.info about incest lost most of its keywords on that day – more than 3,000+ organic traffic.
A quick look on the page on Ahrefs shows that it was peaking just before it fell off the top of organic search after the Google Medic update.
While it is currently picking up steam this past few weeks based on the graph, it’s still worth checking out the page using SurferSEO.
But first, let’s compare the version of the page about incest just before the Medic update and the current version.
Here’s the page from Wayback Machine on January 2018:
And here’s the page now:
It’s important to note that both versions have the same date when they were last edited.
That means the site didn’t bother editing the page after the update. So we’re still seeing the same article now when it was devalued.
Now that we’ve established that, it’s time to use SurferSEO.
To use the tool, you need to enter the keyword whose results you want to analyze.
Once you click on the Enter icon, this is the first thing you’ll see:
It shows the average number of words for the first 10 results on SERPs.
For the keyword “incest,” the top 10 pages have an average word count of 2,700+. So it would be if the words in your content hover around the same amount.
However, word count is one of the many factors that you need to watch out for your content.
In fact, this factor may not be an important matter to other pages!
If you scroll down and look at the left sidebar, you will see the different ranking factors with a bar beside it.
The green bar shows that the factor is relevant to help rank your page.
So in the case of the average number of words, you really do need to write around 2,700+ words about ist to rank.
To make sense of these other factors, let’s go to the SERPs on the page.
Currently, patient.info sits at 11th place for the keyword. So the site somehow was able to recover some of the rankings it lost since then.
However, we established earlier that the content was last edited in 2016. Maybe it’s time to take another stab at the article and make it fresher.
To do this, click on the Audit link on the right side of the page.
What this does is compare the page to the ranking factors shown earlier.
The tool will then share with you the potential problems and issues that are preventing the page from ranking higher.
Here are the results of the audit:
Scrolling down the page, you will see suggestions on how to optimize the page further.
By adding more words in the content and removing the mention of the exact keyword in the article, there’s a good chance that the page can jump up SERPs.
So that’s how you can use SurferSEO as part of your recovery process.
Keep in mind that you’ll do this on all of the pages that greatly affected your traffic.
Regarding on how many pages you need to rework, this tool nonetheless makes it easier for you to optimize your content.
Analyze and Review Information
Let’s assume you have identified the pages that lost your site the most traffic.
Surely, that’s the end of it, right?
Unfortunately, not yet!
(and don’t call me Shirley!)
Please refer back to the article I wrote about Search Quality Guidelines here. It covers all factors that can help improve your search traffic post-Medic.
However, below are additional ideas that you need to consider to help increase your site’s performance:
- Improve Your About Us page – Sharing more about yourself and your expertise lets you put a face on your brand and humanizes it for your audience.
- Link to other sites – Don’t be afraid to link away from your site, especially if the authoritative content is useful for your audience. Also, linking to content related to the page’s topic can help increase your search rankings. RebootOnline.com launched a study that confirms outbound links as ranking signals
- Fix duplicate content – This issue is common among e-commerce sites. If you have multiple pages with the same content, use canonicals to help inform search spiders which page to crawl
Getting back lost rankings and traffic after Google Medic is not impossible.
To recap the process:
- Monitor SERP activity and see drastic changes that could affect your website and industry
- Run a website audit and check if you have site issues and problems that need your utmost attention
- Review keywords you’ve lost so far and the affected pages
- Look for other potential factors that caused the devaluation of your site
Again, the process should help identify the E-A-T rating of your site and what you must do to improve it.
However, depending on the number of pages you need to fix, it’s still a tall order.
And this is what happens during a core update – you’re forced to make fundamental changes on your site from the ground up.
That means changing and tweaking different factors of all pages on your site.
But let’s be clear on one thing here:
The user reigns supreme.
If your content isn’t serving up the necessary information about the topic, then you don’t deserve to rank on organic search.
So make it about your visitors instead of how much you can earn from your site!
This way, you don’t have to worry about getting devalued ever again.