Google makes nearly five hundred minor tweaks to its algorithms each and every year. Most of them are small changes and tests, but do not affect search rankings in a major way. But what should you do when Google makes a broad algorithm update that affects traffic and your patient pipeline? How can your practice recover from a Google update? That’s what we’ll explore this week on the Medical Marketing Podcast.
It’s a situation nobody wants: you wake up one day, check a tool like Google Analytics or Google Search Console, and see that your traffic has taken a nosedive.
If you’re anything like most people, panic ensues. Where did the drop come from? Have you been hit with a penalty? Thoughts like these are bound to be racing through your head.
So you do a little more research. You read some industry blogs, check your SEO tools, and discover that Google has rolled out a broad core algorithm update. Many people like you are in the same boat. What do you do?
Hello everybody, and welcome to another episode of the Medical Marketing Podcast from Messenger – this is the show where we give you actionable tips and advice to help improve your practice marketing, grow your revenue, and take patient experience to the next level. I’m your host, Crawford Ifland, and today we’re going to be discussing what you should do when a Google algorithm update causes your traffic and patient leads to drop off a cliff.
A Few Things to Understand
This happened with Google not too long ago. In fact, they actually pre-announced their algorithm update, which is incredibly rare – they almost never confirm rumors or pre-announce anything. Most times, you’re lucky if you can get a tweet out of them confirming a change.
In their most recent algorithm update, a large number of sites – especially healthcare-related websites – saw their traffic decline dramatically, virtually overnight. This caused many doctors and practice marketing managers to wonder if they had been hit with a Google penalty.
And while Google never confirmed that this update was specifically health-related, they did clarify a few things…and we should, too:
#1: If your page or website lost traffic, it’s most likely not because you were hit with a penalty.
To check if you’ve been hit with a penalty, log into Google Search Console and navigate to “Manual Actions.” If Google has taken a manual action against your site for a specific reason, it will show up here. If there’s nothing to see here, the drop in rankings is part of their core algorithm update, not the result of a direct action against your site.
#2: Just because your website lost traffic doesn’t mean that your site is bad – it’s just that Google decided that other sites are more relevant.
Here is what John Mueller of Google had to say about core updates and sites that gain or lose rankings: “It’s essentially saying we’ve kind of changed our calculations and found other pages that we think are more relevant. So it’s not a matter of doing anything wrong and then you fix it (and then Google recognizes it and shows it properly).…it’s more a matter of, ‘Well, we didn’t think these pages were as relevant as they originally were.’”
So, How Do I Improve?
If you see rankings drop, the very first thing to do is to start off with a technical audit of your website. The items that come up here are the things you can change on your site, and changing them will give you the very best chance to rank better.
If we want to rank well, we’ve got to make Google happy…and making our sites as technically compliant as they can be makes Google happy.
Be sure to check Google Search Console’s “Errors” section to make sure Google hasn’t found anything wrong with your website that might be preventing you from being indexed. Any errors you find here might not necessarily be factors that determine how highly you rank for certain keywords, but they can prevent your website from being indexed or being shown to patients – not to mention the fact that they can hinder patient experience – so they’ve very important.
Next, expand the scope of your audit to include external factors. What is your backlink profile like? What is the user experience of your website, especially on mobile devices? While these elements may not directly correlate to less traffic coming from organic search, all of them are important to understand if you want to get a holistic sense of how your site is performing.
Our advice is to perform technical audits like this on a regular basis – at least quarterly, if not monthly. That way, your marketing team will know about potential issues sooner and can deal with them before they affect patient experience.
Run through the list of questions to determine and improve E-A-T.
If you don’t know, E-A-T is a major factor that Google uses to evaluate content and determine how highly that content should rank.
It stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
E-A-T is an especially important factor in determining how high healthcare-related websites should rank, because healthcare is in a category that Google calls “Your Money or Your Life.”
“Your Money or Your Life” related websites give advice that could have an outsized effect on the lives of those who areas them.
If any of the advice a YMYL website gives is untrustworthy or misleading, it could potentially have an adverse effect in the lives of its users.
Think about an example from finance, which is a YMYL-related industry. If a finance-related blog is doling out bad advice on how to save for retirement, it could have a very negative effect on the financial well-being of people who take the advice to heart.
The same is true with healthcare and surgical procedures. If a doctor promotes a treatment or surgery that hasn’t been proven safe and effective, it could have negatives consequences of the health and well-being of patients who blindly accept what they read online.
Google offers some advice on how to address these issues, and some questions to ask. These are the questions they have their Quality Raters ask when they evaluate websites:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
- Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
I know it can be frustrating that Google doesn’t offer specifics here, just the advice of “keep creating good content.” But if you educate yourself on what Google is looking for, you’ll have a better idea of how to create content that they deem as “good.”
If you want more information on this topic, I recommend you read Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines – this is Google’s training document for its Search Quality Evaluators who evaluate and rank the content online. We’ll have it linked in the show notes if you want to read more.
Fair warning: it’s about 200 pages long, but it gives loads of advice and helpful examples on how to create web content that is full of expertise, is authoritative, and is trustworthy. We’ll have a link in the show notes.
Once you’ve audited your website and gone through your content to ensure that it adequately meets Google’s expectations for E-A-T, the next step is to develop a strategy for moving forward.
Make a list: which items stand out as immediate needs to be addressed, and what’s your priority for each? Which items are still important, but not as urgent?
Make a list and a plan for dealing with every item that you’ve deemed to be lacking, and execute on that list.
And finally, as frustrating as that original piece of advice from Google may be, it’s probably the best advice we can give. Keep creating great content. Continue to answer patients’ questions. Keep building good links from a variety of sources. Stay focused on patient experience on your website. Regularly audit your reviews around the web to see what patients are saying about your practice.
Take a more holistic view of your online presence. Google doesn’t just look at one factor when it updates its algorithms, so the way your website ranks doesn’t just come from one source.
So, let’s recap what we’ve learned today:
- Remember, just because you see a huge drop in traffic doesn’t mean you’ve been hit with a penalty. Check Google Search Console to confirm before you react to anything. If you don’t see a manual action, it means you were part of an algorithm change.
- Remember to take a deep breath and figure out the best way forward. Just because your rankings dropped doesn’t mean there’s anything “wrong” with your site – it may just mean you need to step up your game in some areas.
- Regularly audit your website and online presence for both technical fixes and issues with your reputation online – focus on anything that could affect your E-A-T in the eyes of Google either on your website or elsewhere online.
- If you want to better understand how Google “sees” your website and your practice, read the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. You may have to read between the lines in some places, but it’s the most explicit resource we have from Google in regards to what they want to see.
- And finally, as frustrating as the advice may be, the best way to recover from a Google algorithm update? Keep creating great content.
That’s all for today’s episode of the Medical Marketing Podcast. If you liked this episode, please subscribe to the show and leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform – it helps us grow!
Next week, we’ll explore the relationship between SEO and Pay Per Click Advertising on platforms like Google Ads – does one have an effect on the other? And what’s the right mix for your practice? We’ll cover all of this and more, so be sure to tune in.
As always, you can check out the description for a link to the show notes for today’s episode, and while you’re at it, browse our website at www.messenger.md – we’ve got tons of great resources on how to improve your practice marketing, grow revenue, and take your patient experience to the next level. For Messenger, I’m Crawford Ifland – see you next week!
Crawford Ifland is the Founder and Creative Director of Messenger Medical Marketing. Messenger is a digital marketing agency specializing in custom medical website design, healthcare SEO, practice promotional videos, and more. Messenger helps the nation’s leading physicians and medical device companies grow their businesses through websites, promotional videos, and smart marketing strategies.