On August 1st, Google rolled out a core algorithm update, which means they made a change to how the algorithm scores and values the many factors that determine how well a site does or does not rank for a given keyword.
Google is constantly pushing out small updates to its algorithm to try and improve the results it serves to searchers, but this was one of the biggest many SEO experts had ever seen.
If you don’t follow SEO-related news closely, chances are you probably noticed a change to your site’s traffic sometimes from August 1st – August 8th. Whether it increased or declined, the August 1st update had some pretty big impacts for a lot of sites.
According to data gathered by SEO publication sites (and a ton of chatter and first-hand accounts on site where SEOs hang out), this update seemed to target sites related to the health industry and related keywords. However, health was just one industry of many that was affected.
Here’s a graph from SERoundtable that that pulls a bunch of info together to show which industries were most affected:
Expert Speculation and What Google Says
This core algorithm update–dubbed the Medic Update by an industry news site because it largely targets health-realted sites–took a solid week to fully roll out.
Sites that pushed “alternate health” advice saw the biggest initial drop. Examples include DrAxe.com and Prevention.com.
This led several experts to push the idea that Google had tweaked their algorithm to reward sites that are true authorities relating to the healthcare industry. In Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines (QRG), a document that spells out what does (and does not) constitute a high-quality site, Google spells out the importance of E-A-T:
Expertise. Authority. Trust.
The initial takes on the update pointed to sites like DrAxe.com losing organic traffic rankings, while sites with more “traditional” authority in the medical industry, like (the health section of) ScienceDaily.com gaining a significant amount of organic traffic through better rankings:
Marie Haynes pointed to the Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines–specifically the Trust part of the E-A-T acronym as to the reason why sites lost ground in their rankings:
If you run a [health related] site, the following are all going to be important factors in how you rank:
- Is your content written by people who are truly known as authorities in their field?
- Do your business and your writers have a good reputation?
- Are you selling products that are potentially either scams, not helpful, or even harmful to people?
If you are lacking business or author reputation or have products that don’t inspire trust, then re-establishing trust and ranking well again may be difficult.
Many were quick to jump on the E-A-T bandwagon to explain the drastically changed search results. However, focusing only on the matter of Trust and Expertise is to ignore many important factors that may impact a site. As Glenn Gabe wrote re: the update:
I highly recommend reading the QRG to see what Google deems high versus low quality, to understand how Google treats [health-related] sites, to understand the importance of E-A-T, to understand the impact of aggressive, disruptive, and deceptive ads, and much more.
But it’s not the only thing you should do. …don’t ignore technical SEO, thin content, performance problems, and other things like that. Think about the site holistically and root out all potential problems.
This is evergreen good advice when it comes to SEO.
Here’s what Google team member Danny Sullivan said about the update:
Want to do better with a broad change? Have great content. Yeah, the same boring answer. But if you want a better idea of what we consider great content, read our raters guidelines. That’s like almost 200 pages of things to consider: https://t.co/pO3AHxFVrV
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) August 1, 2018
What the update was targeting (and what to do about it)
Now that you understand the scope and a little bit about what this update targeted (trust, yes, but many other issues), you’re probably wondering what you can do about this update if you lost some ground.
The most important thing to remember when reading the next section is: this was a broad core algorithm update. The key is “broad.” It wasn’t just one thing. It’s not just targeting the medical/health niche, although they were hit particularly hard. It’s not just about query intent or site speed or content. It’s about ALL of them.
The second most important thing to remember when reading these updates from various SEOs: how does their advice relate to their product? Bias is a hell of a lens to view the world through, so just be aware of what’s on offer.
Is a particular ‘expert’ or agency really hammering, say, individual author authority as the biggest thing this update targeted? Do they happen to offer reputation management? If so, take their advice into consideration with the bias in mind.
At Smash Digital, we build links. And we’re really good at it. So just be aware of the bias that we think building powerful links is one of the most important things you can do for your business.
Also, we’re totally right about this, but keep that in mind when you listen to our take–and anyone else’s take–on the update.
With those points covered, let’s dig into what the August 1st update might have targeted and, if possible, what you can do about it.
1. For some queries, in some niches, the intent behind the query changed
For some queries–specifically related to medical niches–Google seemed to do the SERP equivalent of reaching over the table and mixing up your plate of food right as you were about to Instagram it.
I’ve seen several queries that went from being “transactional” in nature i.e. showing results assuming the person searching was looking to buy something to informational i.e. showing results assuming the person searching is looking for information. So if you’re an ecommerce site that used to rank a product page for a particularly valuable medical-related query, and Google (or their algorithm) changed the Query Intent to informational and are not showing products anymore, you gotta step up your content game.
If this is the case, try to write a “buyer’s guide” or similar educationally-focused post that teaches rather than sells. Flex your authority and trust by showing you’ve got the searcher’s best interest at heart, and are just trying to spread knowledge.
We’ve seen some early promising results where rankings have popped back up after dialing back the sales-talk, turning away from pushing a product and just letting the content teach–and that’s it.
So check your main keywords to see if the Query Intent of the results has changed.
2. What kind of page is ranking, and does your site match up?
This will be brief, as it’s similar to point #1.
Choose a page that lost some rankings and look at what URL Google is ranking for your site. Is it a fresh af blog post? Is it the homepage?
Now look at the top 10 and compare. If you notice something like, most of the pages in the top 10 are deeply categorized blog posts, but you’ve been trying to rank the homepage…
3. User experience matters. A lot.
This may come as shock, but Google doesn’t care about your site’s profit.
So if you need to be aggressive with ads to make enough to pay for all that beautiful epic content they want you to create, maybe say goodbye to your good rankings. If not now, soon.
Chances are, if you’re a big media site that’s ugly with deceptive ads, you probably got slapped in this last update.
Other obvious things that may have hurt your site (or will, if you don’t get it together):
- slowly-loading sites
- pop-ups that block content (especially on mobile)
- excessive ads
- autoplaying videos
- and other terrible experience.
4. All the obvious things you’ve heard
The update is not even a month old at the time this post is being written. Getting perspective on an update–especially one this big and far-reaching, can take months to years to fully understand. Of course, SEOs are relentlessly curious and data-curious, so there’s a lot it’s possible to piece together even only a few weeks out.
But the majority of what we understand about this update is ahead of us, not behind.
In the mean time, stick to (and follow!) the SEO advice you constantly hear. It’s your best guard against future updates.
Make sure your on-page SEO is solid.
Links are important; you need good ones.
Produce high-quality content that demonstrates your authority.
Link out to sources; don’t be outbound-link-greedy.
User experience is vital; make it good.
Need some help?
If you think you were impacted by the August 1st update and want to see if we’d be able to help, just hit up the contact page and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
Other reading on the subject that we enjoyed and learned from