The latest analysis shows that the Google Medic and YMYL updates had one of the most profound effects yet. It forced businesses in Health & Finance to rethink their marketing practices – and held publishers to account for the information they circulate on the web. Whereas Google is now doing a pretty good job to protect consumers against dangerous information, it is important to realize that the process may not be automated, but carried out via manual review. In such a process, human judgment is involved. With a 6 month window to reflect on the updates, it is crystal clear how organizations should navigate the consequences of these updates. Budget allocations and strategy will never be the same again for the business types that were affected.
For those who are not yet familiar with these updates: The Google Medic update essentially ditched medical sites from the search results, particularly where unqualified people gave out advise on medical issues that could adversely affect the health of potential readers. Rightfully so – since it is not the kind of content that should be allowed to go viral unless it is endorsed by a medical professional. The YMYL update dealt with a wider range of sites – where people could be induced to make decisions that could be harmful to their financial situation. This rolled out at the same time – and is thus seen as one update, however since we deal with clients from different industries, we as digital marketers chose to separate this into “Medic” and “YMYL”.
Before sharing analysis on this, it is interesting to note that some sites were well ahead of the curve and pulled out of medical content way before these updates occurred. Mashable and Businessinsider closed the medical categories on their sites at least 2 years before this update rolled out. Partly insight, partly luck? It was the best decision they made.
Below we are going to share statistical details on a few sites that suffered – as well as sites that benefited from the update.
Drilling down to precise causes of traffic losses:
Before jumping to conclusions or firing away with knee jerk strategic responses, a more in depth analysis should be made. Sites like prevention.com that is owned by Hearst media got hit really hard, whereas healthline.com came out on top – it benefited. In reality, there is no less link spam on either of the sites – they run at similar levels. But here is a major difference:
Articles on both websites contained good, accurate information, but healthline offered a satisfactory response to the EAT requirement of Google reviewers. Here is an additional snippet that appears alongside an article we accessed:
“Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on April 10, 2017 — Written by Kristeen Cherney”
Analysis and interpretation:
The evidence suggest that by demonstrating authority, expertise and trustworthy credentials, healthline did more than survive the onslaught: they added millions of visitors (and almost certainly higher revenues) at the cost of Hearst Media (Prevention.com). Indeed it is debatable whether this was a fair decision, as prevention.com provides some reliable content with a lot of expert involvement. Yet the one thing is clear: failing to relay appropriate credentials is a caveat. Furthermore, healthline links to substantial sources of academic research. They also acquired a site called “authoritynutrition”, which is almost a library of academic content carrying substantial weight.
Advertisers and publishers have an equal interest to keep the web free from harmful information. Beyond that, there is clearly a duty to convey expertise to the public – not only through accurate information that links to authoritative sources, but through qualified professionals. Now publishers will face the real consequence of these SEO updates: advertisers will start to pay more careful attention about their native content placements – as they are likely to associate huge traffic dips with a “bad neighborhood” they wish to steer clear from. The landscape of SEM/SEO changed substantially for the industries of health and finance – I predict there will be more industries to follow soon.