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Google Broad Core Updates And Why Some Health Sites Affected

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Google’s John Mueller has stated that Google’s broad core updates have not been targeting health sites. But there is a perception that some health related sites tend to be sensitive to Google updates. What kinds of changes can affect health sites while not specifically targeting health sites?

User Satisfaction Metrics

Google has a long history of using their log files to help deduce what kinds of web pages satisfy users for certain kinds of search queries. Factors like click through rate were used in the past for quality control, for understanding what users want.

Rank Brain and Neural Matching

Over the past few years Google introduced Neural Matching and Rank Brain to help Google better understand search queries (neural matching) and to help Google understand web pages better by matching pages to concepts (rank brain).

In my opinion, a better understanding of what users mean when they ask a query could affect health related sites. Health topics can be divided between strictly scientific meanings and alternative and so-called natural cures.

Thus, if Google better understands that a query requires a scientific response, then it makes sense that sites promoting non-medical alternative solutions will suffer.

It’s not that Google is targeting health sites, but that Google is getting better at understanding what users want and are satisfied with when they make these kinds of queries.

The Mercola managed to sail through the 2018 Google broad core updates, even though it offered the same kind of “alternative” health information that other losing sites offered.

That points in the direction that an additional signal was added or possibly that other signals were dialed down.

Even if your site is not in the health niche, it may be useful to read the conversation about health sites and traffic losses. Whatever is affecting them could be affecting your sites as well.

Dr. Pete Meyers on Health Sites and Traffic Losses

I asked Dr. Pete why health sites tend to keep being affected.

Here is what he offered:

“(1) There’s clearly a correlation between sites impacted in later core updates and the original core update. It seems logical that the levers that Google pulls in a “core” update are going to be qualitatively different than the levers they pull in more routine updates (even if we don’t know what those levers are), so there’s going to be a connection between them.

(2) It seems very likely that any given core update is imperfect and successive core updates will iterate on it. The data we’ve seen matches that assumption, to some degree. That doesn’t mean Core Update #5 is going to reverse Core Update #4, but we can expect that some changes won’t measure up to Google’s expectations and they’ll work to mitigate and refine those changes.

(3) Do we know for a fact that the update didn’t target health sites? I find Google’s language — while often accurate — to be very precise (almost to a fault). I believe that Google wasn’t hand-targeting specific medical sites, but we know that YMYL queries, for example, are very important to them. It’s possible this is even broader — mechanisms, for example, that try to analyze trust in verticals where trust is especially important (or where untrustworthy information is dangerous). Does that mean they “targeted” health sites? No, but they didn’t not target health queries 🙂

(4) Related to #3, something in this article (Google Tweaked Algorithm After Rise in US Shootings)  struck me as very interesting:

“In these last few years, there’s been a tragic increase in shootings,” Nayak said. “And it turns out that during these shootings, in the fog of events that are unfolding, a lot of misinformation can arise in various ways.

And so to address that we have developed algorithms that recognize that a bad event is taking place and that we should increase our notions of ‘authority‘, increase the weight of ‘authority‘ in our ranking so that we surface high quality content rather than misinformation in this critical time here.”

That almost makes it sound like authority is situational; in some cases, Google isn’t going to require high authority, since it’s not necessary or not risky. But in other cases they’re going to set a high authority threshold. Note that ‘authority’ here could mean something more akin to trust/expertise than link equity.”

I followed up on Pete’s response saying that the important question, which he addressed and I agree on, is what factors? Authority? Truth?

Here is how Pete answered:

“Yeah, that’s the kicker — How has Google actually translated these ideas into code? Generally speaking, do I think E-A-T is a good idea? Absolutely. You should build Expertise, Authority, and Trust, if you want to build a legitimate business/career. That’s going to be good for marketing, and at least indirectly good for SEO. Does that mean E-A-T is specifically built into the algorithm? No. If E or A or T are built in (which is likely, to some degree), it also doesn’t tell us how that translates into factors.

Of course, Google doesn’t want us to have that granular information that could be gamed.”

Cyrus Shepard on Why Health Sites May Be Sensitive to Updates

Cyrus Shepard contributed several thoughtful ideas about why health related sites seem to be sensitive to Google’s broad core algorithm updates:

“I suspect for YMYL queries, Google is tightening the screws on less reputable sites in 1 of 3 ways:

1. Online Sentiment Analysis.
One of the top sites hit, Mercola.com, has a ton of negative articles written about it. Because it’s in the health space, Google may be extra sensitive to this sentiment.

2. Link-based Signals
Evidence is scant, but it seems Google may be favoring sites with links closer to a trusted seed set. See Bill Slawski’s writeup of Google patents in this area.

3. YMYL Queries
Finally, for YMYL queries, Google may be demoting sites that it sees as dangerous if they disagree with standardized “facts” — such as those obtained from entity graphs. Sites such as Diet Doctor (promotes fasting) and Dr. Mercola (promotes anti-vax theories) disagree with conventional medical wisdom, and could thus be demoted.

In reality, it could be one of these factors, or a combination of all three. Regardless, it’s obvious Google is moving towards presenting a standardized set of information from authoritative sites for YMYL queries.

SEO Signals Lab Facebook Group Opinions

I asked Steve Kang, the admin of the popular SEO Signals Lab Facebook Group (only members can see discussions) to ask members about this topic. A lively discussion ensued.

Verified Facts and Negative Sentiment

A member suggested that medical information is factual and can be cross referenced for validity by published research and regulatory warnings sent by organizations like the FDA to web publishers:

“Health/health care is 1/6 of the economy and deals with critical life-and-death issues. So while there are huge opportunities for fraud or quackery there is also massive amounts of research coupled with massive regulatory oversight.

It’s a simple matter of “Stay in your lane”… you want to talk about acupuncture for pain management? Fine, because this is something that credentialed medical professionals and orgs will discuss. You start talking about acupuncture for depression, it’s bye-bye.”

Crackdown on Fake Information?

Another member commented that increasing government concern over the spread of bad information may play a role. Certainly Google’s users may be concerned about the accuracy of information.

“With governments working to assign accountability to Facebook, Google and et al for fake news, so-called hate postings, etc., tech companies are motivated to avoid liability.

Lawsuits in the health industry offer some of the largest payouts making it a magnet for greedy lawyers and impetus for Google to avoid exposure.

Unless you’re the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic or an accredited provider, earning authority from Google won’t be easy.”

Takeaways

There are many possible reasons why health sites tend to be sensitive to Google broad core updates. Factors such as what users want to see when they type a query, factual correctness of information and sentiment analysis can all play a role. But we don’t know that as facts.

What is known is that Google has not been targeting health sites. So this means that the changes may affect a broad range of sites, not just health related sites. It may be useful to investigate why some health sites are losing traffic because that may give clues as to what is affecting some non-health websites.

Images by Shutterstock, Modified by Author



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New site Hotspot Law like ZocDoc for lawyers

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Local search is probably more visible than it has ever been since the advent of Google Maps. Yet, paradoxically, there’s almost no consumer-facing innovation taking place. There’s Google, Yelp, Facebook (somewhat) and a range of specialized vertical apps and sites, some of which have simply survived but aren’t thriving.

Little or no ‘horizontal’ innovation. Part of the lack of “horizontal” innovation in local is likely the result of venture capital not wanting to fund anything that goes up directly against Google. The company may appear to many investors now like an insurmountable juggernaut in local/mobile search.

Any new local-consumer startups, therefore, are likely to appear in specific industries or otherwise offer specialized use cases. Such is the case with Hotspot Law, a new legal search site that hopes to bring ZocDoc-style appointment scheduling to the legal profession. It also seeks to provide a more reliable and cost-effective flow of leads to consumer attorneys.

The legal vertical has a quite a few competitors, including Avvo (Internet Brands), LegalZoom, FindLaw and several others. Despite this, Hotspot Law founder Felix Shipkevich believes he’s solving two unsolved problems in the legal vertical.

“The legal market is in dire need of an upgrade,” argues Shipkevich.

Making direct connections with lawyers. “Once you’ve finished searching online, you have to start calling,” he said. “You don’t get to speak directly to attorneys, you typically talk to a gatekeeper.” He points out that this process of getting to a lawyer is time consuming for people who need legal help. “None of these [completing] platforms directly connect the consumer with an attorney.”

Shipkevich, who is an attorney and faculty member at Hofstra Law School, said he was inspired by ZocDoc and the way it enables direct connections between doctors and patients. Similarly, he wanted to remove the friction in lawyer-consumer matchmaking. Shipkevich explained that also sees Hotspot Law as a way to make “justice” more accessible to consumers.

Why you should care. Legal lead-gen is costly. Shipkevich believes that existing legal sites and ad solutions don’t serve lawyers particularly well either. “PPC advertising can be extremely expensive; in New York it can be $60 to $80 per click.” He adds that “Yelp is expensive. Sometimes it takes $2,000 to $4,000 to bring in a case.”

He wants to solve that problem with simplified reasonable pricing for lawyers who may be struggling to find clients. But he also sees Hotspot Law evolving into a platform to help attorneys manage existing clients. Currently the site only operates in New York, with plans to expand geographic coverage in the coming months.

For the time being Shipkevich will need to rely on SEO for discovery but over time he hopes to build a branded consumer destination. It will be very challenging given the current structure of local SERPs. One has to admire the ambition and chutzpah.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He researches and writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

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Remembering the Tragedy That Made Our Community Start Talking

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About one year ago, everything changed for me and for our community.

A tragedy that struck home so hard it shook us to our core.

A suicide.

A dear friend, brilliant mind, adored father, respected colleague … the list goes on, left us in a way that hits straight to the heart and wakes you up like very few other events can.

I certainly woke up that day. That alarm screamed as loud as it could and I still hear it to this day.

I know I wasn’t alone. So many of my peers experienced similar emotions, sensations, and reactions.

We Could No Longer Ignore the Problem

Sadly, this wasn’t the first tragedy we’d encountered that year – we lost other friends and colleagues as well.

But we knew we couldn’t stand to lose any more amazing people.

We couldn’t look away. We couldn’t just carry on anymore.

So we started talking.

I have been blown away by our internet marketing community. Many of us have never even met face to face and yet the comradery, the friendship, the support among us run rampant!

Never before have I seen a group of people come together so quickly and so openly as when we were forced to face this tragedy.

Groups were formed. Calls were made. Texts were sent. Face-to-face get-togethers were had. Columns like this one were created.

And the best part of it all? It didn’t stop!

We saw the need to stay connected. We recognized that we are a family that needs to support each other. And, perhaps most of all, we saw that we were not alone in our struggles.

It has been amazing to see the openness and honesty that has become so commonplace over the past year. I have seen people that once felt they couldn’t risk being seen without their mask on break down and lay themselves out in the most vulnerable ways.

I include myself in that list. I have become more able to reveal myself to the world around me. That has only been made possible by others sharing in that journey with me.

In leading up to this piece, I knew that I wanted to really find a way to focus on the positive changes that our community has seen because of Jordan Kasteler.

I wanted to honor him in a way that really brought some form of good to this incredible loss that we all experienced due to his passing.

Where Are We Now? Thoughts from Our Community

I reached out and asked a few people in our community if they would share some words of how they have been changed for the better as well as how they have seen our community as whole making changes to support each other over the past year.

Here is what they had to say:

Alexandra Tachalova:

“Working days, nights, and weekends was normal for me a few years ago. However, at that time I couldn’t say that I was really happy. I didn’t understand at the time that my work-life balance was completely off, and I now know that that could have developed into something truly horrifying.

I eventually reached such an emotionally unstable point that I hit a time where one week I was super productive, but the following week I felt hugely demotivated and absolutely miserable. (I know this is a familiar story with many others as well, I hear people telling similar stories and sharing similar experiences regularly.)

Over the past while, I have been working diligently to save myself from this emotional trap. This new focus has led me to investing more time into things that are not related to work and putting more time into the things that help to create a happier life for myself.

I can see that more people in our community are becoming more aware of the need to make this sort of a switch to their schedules and priorities as well, which is brilliant to see!”

Melissa Fach:

“In the past year, I have noticed a massive shift in our community not being ashamed to reach out and ask for help, advice, or just a kind word. I feel like masks have been dropped, and people are not embarrassed to discuss what make them “real”; I love it!

I think many people used to feel they had to have public persona that was acceptable, and now they know we all have issues and it is OK to talk about.

I have a picture of Jordan out that I see every day. I moved past the guilt and the pain when I looked at it, and he is now a daily reminder to stay present with my friends as much as I can.

And, it is a reminder to me to stay focused on my well-being as well. I tend to overwork and do too much for everyone and end up exhausted. I take steps now to take care of me more than ever before.”

Steve Wiideman:

“Though I’ve been in the industry for years, I’m still a somewhat newer member of the SEO community. Call it fear of rejection, social anxiety, whatever, I’ve always been nervous to put myself in a position to be judged by my peers.

It really wasn’t until I was invited to an amazing Facebook group made up of a small close-knit group of industry peers focusing on supporting each other through the day-to-day struggles that I realized that nearly everyone shared the same fears, anxieties and experiences that I have.

What a relief it is to know there is a place where we share what we are feeling and have so much empathy! Finally I have a place I can turn to where people understand me.

Even if I don’t share as much as others, I have peace of mind knowing there are people there ready and willing to listen and help, where there’s no judgement, just open arms.”

Danny Goodwin:

“We’ve definitely made a lot of progress over the past year as a community. However, if I’m being completely honest, we still have a long way to go. I’m still hearing about issues of bullying. I’m seeing people piling on people they disagree with on Twitter.

While, thankfully, these are in the minority, the polarization and black-and-white thinking needs to stop. The judging and assuming needs to stop. The trolling and “mob mentality” needs to stop.

We need to stop fighting each other and start lifting each other up – treating everyone like human beings. Nobody is perfect, but I hope we will continue to see more people be able to let go of their hate and negativity to accept love and positivity into their lives. I know that will continue to be our aim with Friday Focus – to remind everyone that they are not alone in their struggles.

Ultimately, though, I am so happy to be a part of something so positive in our community – and it’s great to see so many others jumping onboard, too.”

Kim Krause Berg:

“It’s easy to assume that your peers are generally doing better than you, making more money than you, and are super successful in every way. It is only in the past few years that I realized this is baloney.

I respect people who remove their masks and show who they really are. We are people with lives and struggles, heartache, depression, and pain.

In the past year I have opened up more and made new friendships as a result. We have more in common with each other than we might think.”

Dave Davies:

“Over the past year I’ve seen an incredible shift in our community.

Social media itself breeds an environment where we see only the best of our peers and post the best of ourselves and being in marketing, needing to be on social media, needing to market ourselves on social media and seeing only the best version of those trained in presenting the best version of themselves – one can feel very alone in difficult times. Compounding that we face an often isolated profession where even sitting beside someone, we are focused on a screen and all they contain.

Sadly, we all know too well what that leads to, and over the past year we collectively recognized that we are human. That those around us are human. That others need support and perhaps most importantly, that we do too.

We finally heard the words spoken all too often after those tragic events, “If only they had asked for help.” And we took it upon ourselves to do so.

We finally knew to listen, to watch and to find out how those around us were doing, lest we face the loss of another friend who we would have dropped everything for, ‘If only they had asked for help.’

The community has grown it’s heart and soul over the past year.

There is still a lot to do. There are still many who don’t know where to turn. Many who don’t know who to talk to. But each time we reach out and each time we talk about challenges openly, share our own and listen to theirs … each time we do that, the community grows it’s heart a little more.

It has been a incredible year of change. While we will forever mourn the spark, the now burning fire keeps us all warmer.”

Jeremy Knauff:

“One thing that has changed dramatically in our industry over the last year, is that as individuals, we’ve become a lot more vocal about asking for help when we need it.

I think most people are more than willing to help each other. They just have to know that someone needs help. Now that people are starting to open up more about their personal struggles, the community is able to better support them.”

Thank You!

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you – whether I know you in person, whether I know you online, even if I don’t know you at all –- thank you for being here.

Thank you for caring and sharing and being a part of the positive change that we are all working so hard at creating.

Keep being a force for good in our community.

Together we will make a difference.

Remembering the Tragedy That Made Our Community Start Talking  

 

This piece is written in memory, honor, recognition, and gratitude of Jordan Kasteler. For all that he gave us, shared with us, taught us and left us with. We are eternally grateful.

 


***PLEASE DO NOT STRUGGLE ALONE! Reach out, ask for help and know that you are valued.
CLICK HERE for a list of phone numbers for Suicide Hotlines around the world.***



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20190718 SEL Brief

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