Chart showing a traffic drop on a Your Money or Your Life website that deals in personal health.

Google’s March update may be bad for health and “sensitive” industries.

Google’s big update on March 12th has had some rather negative effects for one of our clients (you can read about the update on Seoroundtable.com).

Above is a screenshot showing a client’s website that had a huge traffic drop after the Google update. This is a healthcare website that would fit into Google’s “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) content category (more on that on Searchenginewatch.com).

They’re getting roughly half the traffic they were previously getting from Google search. The majority of affected pages seem to be topics covering personal matters like diet and nutrition, not broader less personal topics like travel tips.

Why did this site get “penalized”?

Google has said drops like this aren’t because of a penalty. That if you experience this with your site, there’s nothing you can do.

But the reality is, search engines are about competition. There’s a winner and loser. So somebody is doing something better than someone else.

There’s a formula (ie: algorithm) that determines who is the winner for a certain search phrase. This comes down to how relevant your search is to a searcher’s query. And if you’re in a personal health industry like dieting, nutrition, or fitness you have a higher bar set for you in terms of making your content relevant (or “high quality” in Google’s robotic eyes) than other industries.

OK, so what do we do now?

A poll of SEO professionals found nobody has a solid understanding of what happened or why. Which means, there’s no great solution other than to “make your site better” (see Seoroundtable.com). But we’re going to try our best to rebound. Here’s my plan.

Our initial research shows this may be a link source problem. I think it’s more of a devaluing of links than a penalty. Meaning, some websites are no longer seen as an authority in their topic / industry, which has this trickle down effect of reducing rank to other sites they link to. This is all speculation now, but it’s an angle we’re looking into.

If this is the case, the obvious question is: what did those websites do to lose authority aside from have less valuable backlinks? It has to start somewhere with a content issue. Otherwise, how does Google decide what a good or bad link is? The website has to indicate its quality in another way. And we need to figure that out.

Regardless, there needs to be a solid link building strategy and effort put in place to get higher quality links from non-affected sources. This is a “no brainer” SEO activity. But we’re putting an emphasis on getting exposure on sites that aren’t affected by this update.

Next, we’re going to focus on reading through Google’s Quality Guide (open the PDF) and developing a better standard for optimizing and creating content for sensitive subject matter. Then we’ll apply this to the website.

I imagine we’ll be looking at things like:

  • Lack of known expert-level authorship
  • Lack of high quality links from non-affected sites
  • Lack of detailed about us information
  • Pop-ups / lead generation on YMYL pages
  • Layout that matches a lead generation site vs. an informational site

There’s a lot of uncertainty around if or when changes will have a noticeable impact. Are we waiting for another update to see a rollback or is it applied on the next Google bot crawl? As with most things Google, this is unclear.

I’ll be in touch with updates on this as we see results or you can follow us on LinkedIn as that’s our primary platform for sharing these days.

See something concerning on your end or have feedback? Shoot me an email (graham [at] gaintap.com) and we can chat.

Here at GainTap, we find and fix serious issues with your website and marketing
so your business can get back to growing.