A Prescription for Google’s Medic Update

On August 1, 2018, Google rolled out its latest algorithm update. Dubbed the “Medic” by SEO experts, this update has been credited with re-shuffling the positions of popular websites – many of them operating within the healthcare industry. So, why does this matter to doctors?  
Your website may have been affected. If so, you should take restorative action now.

Which websites were affected the most by the Medic?

Websites focusing on topics like diet and nutrition have been shuffled. Websites selling medical supplies have also been affected. But the websites hit the hardest were YMYL websites. YMYL stands for ‘Your Money Your Life’ and refers to any website that publishes content related to your health, happiness, or financial stability. In short, if your website contains content about medicine or medical issues, expect to feel the effects.

How can I tell if my website was affected?

Unless you manage your website by yourself, you’ll have to consult your webmaster. But if you’ve noticed a drop in online referrals or appointment requests, the Medic update may be responsible. If you haven’t experienced any negative effects, you should still investigate. 

Here are five important questions you should ask your webmaster ASAP…

  • Has our website traffic decreased since August 1, 2018?

An unexpected drop in web traffic s may be a sign patients have not finding you online.

  • Are my practice’s phone number and email address easy to find?

Many practices insert their email and phone number into their website’s header. This is because your header follows visitors everywhere they go – ensuring your contact information is always close. Your header is the colored band (usually white) that occupies the top of your website. This is the interface responsible for directing patients around your website. Your website’s header typically contains simple directory labels such as “About Us” and “Contact Us”.

  • Have our keyword rankings dropped since August 1, 2018?

For the unfamiliar, a “keyword” refers to the word or phrase you plug into a search engine when you want to find something. If you are an OB/GYN practicing in Richmond, Virginia, it would be ideal for your website to appear on the first page of Google for a keyword like “best obgyn richmond virginia”.

  • Are my credentials listed on my website?

We’ll explain why this is important later, but here’s the abridged version: Google prioritizes three traits: expertiseauthority, and trust. Any material that validates those traits should be present on your website. Your “About Us” or “Physicians” page is a good home for this information. 

  • How many seconds does it take for our home page to load?

Page speed matters. If a website loads slowly, most users will abandon it. A website that takes longer than three seconds to load can lose more than half of its potential traffic. While the Medic update likely did not concern itself with page speed, if you have not considered this variable before, now is a good time to start.

What was the goal of the Medic update?

The update appears to be Google’s effort to crack down on predatory websites spreading inaccurate information. The reason is obvious – bad healthcare advice can kill. The frustrating part – your website is not spreading questionable information. But some of you have been impacted by this update because your websites discuss important medical conditions, treatments, and preventative care options – the same subjects the bad actors are discussing. 

To comply with Google’s new YMYL standards, a doctor’s website must demonstrate his expertise, his authority, and his trustworthiness.

How can I optimize my website and show off my expertise?

Practicing medicine is a privilege. You worked hard to earn that privilege. Communicate your expertise to patients by clearly identifying where you studied, what you studied, and your professional affiliations. If your practice has produced marketing videos in the past, make sure they are accessible – but a word of caution. If these materials feature patients, make sure you obtain written permission before posting them online. We can provide template release forms for you.

How can I optimize my website and show off my authority?

Reference creative projects related to your work as a physician. If you have written articles in the past, consider making those publications available on your website or, if not feasible, at least list of your publications. A physician who writes regularly and is published frequently is more likely to be perceived as a thought leader in his field of study; particularly in peer-reviewed journals. 

If you wrote a guest article for a popular blog, ask the website’s administrator to insert a link to your website somewhere in the post. This is called backlinking, and to summarize, if a respected website in the healthcare space links to your website, your website’s authority will slowly increase as a result. The more authority that website has, the more authority will be transferred to your website. That’s why if you author a piece in the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal, your website will receive secondary benefit. 

Lastly, if you are regularly invited to talk about your work at professional conferences, ask your webmaster to track down footage of your session. Assuming the conference organizer provides permission to use the material, this content can be turned into a short video and published on your website.

How can I optimize my website and show off my trustworthiness?

Incorporating patient reviews into your website can make you appear more trustworthy to new patients. Asking your existing patients to post reviews to top ranking sites like RateMDs, Healthgrades, and Vitals will increase your visibility and perceived trustworthiness. 

Patient reviews happen to be our specialty – our platform posts 99% of reviews collected. To review our preferred collection strategies, read: How to Get More Patient Reviews – 11 Essential Questions Doctors Must Answer

What else can I do to improve my website?

Bulk Up Your “About Us” Page

This is where prospective patients go to learn more about you and why you are qualified to treat them. Consider including photographs, credentialing information, professional affiliations, and even some of your publications. Further, humanize yourself. If you participate in community activities, charities, sports, or hobbies, don’t be shy. 

Update Your Content Regularly

Some physicians write articles about healthcare topics and share them on their websites. Consider revisiting these articles on a monthly basis and updating them. 

Discuss emerging treatment options and share your opinions about them. If someone in your field makes an important discovery, bring it to your patients’ attention in the form of a short analysis. 

To drive this point home, add a short biography to the bottom of every article you write. Include your name and your credentials. This will let your audience know who you are and why you are qualified to discuss medicine.

On surviving the initial impact…

The transition from top to bottom (or bottom to top) occurs slowly. But once the dust settles, unless you can quickly identify your flaws and execute improvements, expect to be stuck down there (or up there) for a while. At least until the next update shakes things up again.

Considering the volume of questionable healthcare information online, perhaps this update was long overdue. We leave that up to you.

On the subject of Google’s new “review-gating” policy…

This is a subject, unrelated to Medic, we are still researching, but it appears Google is penalizing businesses that filter candidates before soliciting reviews. We expect this change will force some vendors to change how they help doctors collect reviews, and it may push some vendors out of the market all together. Expect an in-depth analysis to be published in the coming weeks. 

In conclusion…

The prescription for the Medic update will continue developing as time passes. Future updates may render these suggestions obsolete, but that’s the nature of SEO. What matters is that those impacted take this opportunity to educate themselves and consult with qualified experts before making any strategic decisions. Yoast.com has written an even more detailed article on Google’s Medic update, and we suggest all of our visitors start (or resume) their SEO education by giving the article a few minutes of their day. Seroundtable.com is another great resource.

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