On or around November 7, 2019, Google rolled out a change to it’s core algorithm. The algorithm update impacted medical sites as well as news, tech and finance sites and sites in other niches as well.
What we know about the November 7, 2019 Algorithm Update:
- This update was not huge but did impact select sites significantly. I can say with certainty that this is definitely Google twisting the dials of the algorithm in an effort to provide the best results, especially in YMYL niches.
- These types of tweaks are most definitely not going away any time soon. Sites impacted should expect fluctuations in the future.
- One site I personally have access to was impacted during the 8/1/2018 Broad Core Algorithm Update and the March 2019 Broad Core Algorithm Update. This is further evidence that Google is tweaking the core.
- I am seeing portions of sites impacted. Stepping into the “YMYL danger zone” can have a site-wide impact on affected sites, meaning having YMYL content on your site puts the entire domain at risk. However, I am indeed seeing some sites lose traffic to just certain pages. In these cases, this is not a penalty, this is simply Google placing sites they feel are more relevant ahead of less relevant pages.
- Some sites which moved down on page 1 lost their Featured Snippets.
- This does not appear related to the 3 pack fluctuations of November 2019.
If you have a site impacted.
It is vital to understand that there is no one single answer to “fixing” a site which is negatively impacted by an algorithm change. There are a wide variety of variables in play. Indeed, sites which lost traffic on November 7th could have technical problems, thin content, and/or true SEO problems (I see eCommerce sites hit by core algo updates all the time). However, in many cases, Google has simply pushed sites ahead of you which they deem are more relevant. These are indeed niches where there are many more factors in play than simply having good links and good content. Thankfully, good links, good content & good reviews is still all it takes for most small business owners to rank well. But, once you’re in the YMYL danger zone, you’ve entered a whole new ballgame where even Google gets it wrong sometimes.
I’ll come back to relevance in a moment. Actions for sites negatively impacted varies from site to site. There are usually several options for sites impacted, so do not take this as advice by any means. Some options for site owners could include:
- Do nothing.
– Sometimes there is absolutely nothing to change. Here’s a site that I have access to which did just that which recovered on the October 23, 2019 algorithm update (screenshots available at the link). In that case, the site owner was unwilling to make any changes to their site. It turned out that many sites in their niche recovered at the same time. This was basically Google dialing back the algo. Anyways, they did nothing and made a complete recovery.
– In other “do nothing” cases, there is no recovery. Simply put, Google has moved sites ahead of yours which are more important. Some people hate hearing that, but, it’s true. However, I would argue here that you can “shift” the content a bit instead of doing nothing.
- Kill YMYL content.
– This really has to be evaluated on a case by case basis. One site I worked with was a dating website. There was a big chunk of content written about mental health and the psychology of dating. The only problem was, it was all written by a teenage girl. This content not only lacked E-A-T (Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness), it was absolutely ridiculous and terrible advice. As my colleague Glenn Gabe says: “stay in your lane“. In this case, we deleted all of their mental health content, and in a few months when the next algorithm rolled around they made a complete recovery.
– In other cases it may make sense to re-purpose content or move it off of the main domain to another domain.
Sites dabbling in YMYL content are facing an uphill battle. Google has made it extremely clear what they want ranking, and if you’re not Healthline, WebMD or the Mayo Clinic, you’re in for a disappointing journey. That said, all medical sites are treated differently. Dietary sites, mental health sites, sites about alternative medicines are all affected differently by Google’s algorithms (more on this in a future article).
Winners and Losers.
Ok, first of all, I really should NOT be calling this section “winners and losers”. However, by looking at sites impacted we can gather together some takeaways on the knobs Google twisted in this algorithm change.
Alternative Medicine site:
I can’t name this site and I have no great takeaways, other than this gigantic article I just wrote about alternative medicine websites. I really don’t have a lot of say about this site other than it exists to sell supplements via affiliate marketing.
Tech site. I honestly haven’t even looked at this site yet. But I wanted to mention that tech sites, travel sites, finance sites, etc. were also impacted by this algorithm, not just health sites.
This is a site in the travel niche:
A site with medical content:
Now this site is extremely interesting to me for several reasons which I’ll cover below the screenshot.
This is a site which dabbles in medical content. The medical content only makes up a small portion of the site. This one is interesting for several reasons:
- The traffic loss came from a handful of medical terms dropping. However, the terms didn’t necessarily drop, but, Google simply moved sites ahead which they deem more relevant. I proactively warned the site owner this would likely occur eventually and it was amazing Google took so long to get to it. Sites which moved past them for certain terms are high authority sites such as healthline, Mayo Clinic, aaos.org, medlineplus.gov, WebMD, etc. Interestingly, those same sites had no big surges in this update, but, they definitely moved ahead for some small terms.
- The rest of this site’s rankings remained 100% in place. It’s important to remember in cases like this that sites have not been penalized.
- Sites dabbling in medical content can indeed suffer a site-wide loss in rankings. That was not the case on this site. It’s a really powerful site. But, WedMD and Mayo Clinic are the authorities in medical content.
How is Google measuring Authority and Trust for medical content?
For years I have stuck with the thought that Google measures the authority of a site via its backlinks. This absolutely applies to the vast majority of websites on the Internet. But what about medical content? A correlation ALL medical sites have which rank better and better is very high authority links. These are not the type of links you can hire someone to go build for you. High authority medical links come from the well known sites such as Mayo Clinic, WebMD, Healthline, medlineplus.gov, etc.
Medical content is special, however. Could Google also be paying attention to the actual entity displaying the content? Google has trusted Wikidata for information retrieval for quite some time for providing information in knowledge panels. It has been established that Google cannot measure content accuracy or monitor scientific consensus, however, displaying content with scientific consensus is absolutely the goal of their search results. To accomplish this, a search engine could tap the knowledge graph. For example, the Wikidata page for MedlinePlus describes MedlinePlus as an “online information service produced by the United States National Library of Medicine.” Mayo Clinic’s Wikidata entry (Q1130172) clearly shows that Mayo Clinic is a research institute, that it is in the healthcare industry, and that it’s a non-profit. These should obviously be the highest authority sites in the medical niche. For further thoughts on this see my article Do Google’s Algorithms use Scientific Consensus to Censor Health Content?
The other thought here is that Google could be manually selecting certain sites to perform better than others. Google insists they do not do this, however, and doing so would open a gigantic can of worms.
- It wasn’t all medical. For example, FranksRedHot got a boost. Apparently, you can put that on anything!
- Google twisted some knobs. That isn’t going to stop anytime soon.
- I honestly don’t feel like there is anything major to report here other than my findings and speculations above. Google did not comment on this update, as, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about. Their mission has not changed, and nor should yours.
Feel free to comment below with any thoughts and/or findings you have.
And as always, please feel free to email us your URL if you’d like us to take a quick glance at it. We do enjoy having the opportunity to see which sites were impacted and the more data we have the better.