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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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BrightLocal launches ‘Local RankFlux’ Google local algorithm tracking tool

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BrightLocal has launched a new free tool called “Local RankFlux,” designed to alert marketers to changes in local search rankings across multiple industries.

Exclusively focused on the Google local algorithm, it offers tracking for 26 verticals. The ranking fluctuations of individual industries can then be compared to the overall sample.

Tracking over 14,000 keywords. Local RankFlux tracks roughly 560 keywords per industry vertical in 20 cities, according to BrightLocal’s blog post. It “plots the ranking position of each business in the top 20 search results and compares that ranking to the previous day’s position to determine the daily change.” 

Source: BrightLocal

Changes in higher SERP positions (e.g., 1 – 2) are weighted more heavily and are treated as more significant than changes in lower rankings (e.g., 19 – 20) in its scoring. “Local RankFlux then multiplies the change in position between today’s and yesterday’s rankings by the weighting to create a total daily fluctuation. This total is then converted into an average based on the number of keywords that returned meaningful results^ and a score produced for All Industries and for each individual industry.”

Scores above 6 suggest an update. BrightLocal explains that scores between 0 – 3 indicate nothing meaningful has happened – given that there are regular, even daily fluctuations going on. Scores of more than 3 but less than 6 indicate a minor change in the algorithm, according to BrightLocal, while scores of 6 to 10 suggest a local algorithm update. The spike in the chart below (industry average of 6.1) on August 8 suggests a meaningful change in the algorithm.

Local RankFlux score: legal category vs industry average

Source: BrightLocal

In early August Google made a core algorithm update. But the last time there was a significant local impact was in August of last year (and possibly in June, 2019 after another core update). In August 2018, SterlingSky’s Joy Hawkins detailed the ways in which her small business customers were impacted by that 2018 core algorithm update.

Why we should care. This free tool will be a useful way for local SEOs to reality check against broader industry benchmarks, to confirm whether there was indeed a local algorithm update. Informally, a number of local SEOs praised the tool based on early exposure.

Take a look and provide feedback on whether it aligns with your observations and experiences. And be sure not to miss SMX East’s full–day track on local SEO and location-based marketing for brands.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.

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Google’s John Mueller on Where to Insert JSON-LD Structured Data

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In the latest instalment of the #AskGoogleWebmasters video series, Google’s John Mueller answers a common question about JSON-LD structured data.

Here is the question that was submitted:

“Is it possible to insert JSON structured data at the bottom of theinstead of the? It seems to work fine for many websites.”

In response, Mueller says “yes.” JSON-LD structured data can absolutely be inserted in either the head or body of the page. Just as the person who submitted the question assumed – it will work fine either way.

JSON-LD can also be inserted into pages using JavaScript, if that’s what happens to suit your pages better.

What’s the Difference Between JSON-LD and Other Structured Data Types?

Before answering the question, Mueller gave a brief explanation of each type of structured data and how they’re different from each other.

There are two other types of structured data in addition to JSON-LD. Here are the differences between each of them.

  • JSON-LD: A JavaScript notation embedded in a script tag in the page head or body.
  • Microdata: An open-community HTML mspecification used to nest structured data within HTML content.
  • RDFA: An HTML5 extension that supports link data through additional attributes added to existing HTML tags on the page.

Although all of these types of structured data are acceptable to use, Mueller has gone on record saying Google prefers the use of JSON-LD.



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Subdomain leasing and the giant hole in Google’s Medic update

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ConsumerAffairs provides buying guides for everything from mattresses to home warranties. But they also direct consumers on purchasing hearing aids, dentures, diabetic supplies, and even lasik surgery. Many have questioned the legitimacy of ConsumerAffairs buying guides, largely because top-rated brands often have financial relationships with the organization. ConsumerAffairs’ health content has been hit in the post-medic world, but now it seems they’ve found a way to circumvent the algorithm update by hosting slightly modified versions of their buying guides on local news websites around the country. Google “hearing aids in Phoenix” and you’ll discover just how well this strategy is working. Local ABC affiliate station ABC15 hosts all of ConsumerAffairs’ buying guides, including those in the health category, on their new “reviews” subdomain. So far, I’ve counted almost 100 of these ConsumerAffairs content mirrors. Despite cracking down on low-authority medical advice and subdomain leasing, Google seems to be missing this huge hack on their ranking algorithm.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Abram Bailey, AuD is a Doctor of Audiology and the founder of HearingTracker.com, the leading independent resource for informed hearing aid consumers.

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