On August 1st, Google released one of their biggest core algorithm updates ever, on the magnitude of Panda in 2011 and Penguin in 2012. Do these algorithm updates seem less crazy because they have cute animal names? Yes. This core algorithm update comes on the heels of smaller core algorithm updates in March and April 2018, which explains the high level of search engine ranking volatility we’ve seen this year.
Like their previous updates, Google was vague about the changes including; what ranking factors were affected, what types of websites were involved and what magnitude of change we could expect. After thorough research and analysis, here is what we can hypothesize so far.
Your Money or Your Life
While this was a “global” update, meaning it was not targeted at a specific “type” of website, sites covering sensitive topics seemed to stand out. Google refers to these types of websites as “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) sites. I know right – intense. These are sites that deal with critical info and processes, such as ecommerce, financial, legal, health, wellness and medical. In a survey of over 300 sites that were negatively affected by this update, over 40 percent were health/medical content sites, prompting search experts to refer to this update as the “Medic Update”.
(Excerpt from the Google Quality Raters Guidelines – emphasis added)
In diving deeper into these samples of negatively affected YMYL sites, there are some common trends that appear that may be contributing factors to the visibility drop and potentially hint at what this core algorithm update was designed to accomplish.
In Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines (learn more about Quality Raters and what they do), they refer to a concept called E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness of a particular website. This title makes us hungry, too. This is one of the most important parts of their assessment of quality for a site. The weight of each element varies based upon the type of website, the topic and the way users interact with it.
Another critical element that Google refers to in the Quality Raters Guidelines is reputation – both on-site reputation (testimonials, user engagement, etc) and off-site reputation (outside, independent reviews, expert recommendations, awards, professional accreditation, news articles and other ratings or mentions). They specifically say that “if your site is considered YMYL then it likely will not rank well unless external information is available”.
This element of reputation applies to the website as a whole as well as the people, organization and entities behind that website. There are several other instances over the last year where Google has launched algorithm updates or made other statements that make clear their importance of real, verifiable, visible reputation for websites. Since they are prompting their Quality Raters to proactively seek out a website and author’s reputation, it’s in everyone’s best interest to make those reputation signals accurate and easily discoverable.
What Can We Do?
While it’s easy to point to E-A-T and reputation as the guilty culprits in this case, algorithm updates of this magnitude hit on many different ranking factors all at once. So it’s important to look at quality fixes holistically across the site (content, UX, technical SEO, etc) and plan for a significant long-term remediation plan.
(This advice was tweeted by Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mu, in response to a discussion on this algorithm update)
Here are some recommendations for improving the perception and presentation of E-A-T and reputation.
- Integrate clear and visually compelling author bylines to the top and bottom of blog post design templates that include some combination of a headshot, bio, links to professional social profiles (LinkedIn, RealSelf, Super Lawyers, Financial Advisors, etc), applicable ratings and a link to a full About page. One approach could be making the post overtly authored by the expert (like “Dr. Smith Says”… with a photo at the top of each Q&A type of post, or “The Doctor’s Corner” with a photo at the top of each blog post).
- Strengthen the About page credibility: go deep on the author’s expertise, include elements such as education, credentials, awards, press mentions, and years of experience. Answer the question – why should I trust you?
- Elevate ratings, reviews, and testimonials in the website design. Include these in footers, headers, main body content and sidebar elements.
- Label each post with a disclaimer announcing the expertise involved in the piece. For example, “This article was researched, written, and verified by John Smith, LLC, a top-rated personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles with over 25 years experience representing injured citizens in Southern California.”
- Strengthen the author’s LinkedIn, RealSelf, Super Lawyers, Financial Advisors and other external profiles. Build them out to their full extent and keep them updated.
- Strengthen blog post design presentation by increasing font darkness on white backgrounds, keeping font size above 16px, keeping paragraphs to less than five sentences, using H tag subheadings, ordered and unordered lists, bold, italics, block quotes, photos, illustrations and video.
If you have any questions, please reach out!