On August 1st, 2018, Google released a broad core algorithm update that seems to have had an impact on both local and organic rankings.
One of the functions of the update has been to demote advice pages with questionable expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) in rankings.
YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) websites and pages seem to have been a particular focus.
You’ll no doubt have noticed, whether from reading the news or experiencing its effects yourself, that on August 1st, Google released what it’s called a ‘broad core algorithm’ update. This is the same way it referred to the updates in March and April, perhaps in an effort to move away from the irregular, major updates like Possum, Pigeon, Panda, etc. which inevitably send shockwaves throughout the SEO and content industry.
This week we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. Our guidance about such updates remains the same as in March, as we covered here: https://t.co/uPlEdSLHoX
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) 1 August 2018
In characteristic fashion, Google has refrained from supplying any kind of context or intended function for the update, and as usual has instead referred back to advice they provided over Twitter in March, namely that site owners should continue to continue to focus on ‘building great content’.
There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) 12 March 2018
As a content creator myself, I can tell you this advice is as vague as it comes, particularly as there’s no standard definition of ‘great content’ and what works in one industry can be entirely different to what works in another.
While we wait for every SEO in the land to feverishly check ranking changes, we can thank our lucky stars that there’s such a dedicated community of local SEO professionals out there to help fill in the gaps left by Google. Here I’ll group together some of the sterling analysis and case studies presented by these stalwarts of SEO.
N.b. At the time of writing, we’ve no widely accepted name for this update, so I’ve proffered ‘Peacock’, as it’s about website content that acts as if it has more authority on a topic than it actually does. More on this below. (Update: Since publication, the name ‘Google Medic Update’ has been widely accepted as the moniker for this update. Ah well, maybe next time?)
What are Local SEOs saying about Google’s latest algorithm update?
Although initially the community wasn’t sure whether the update had affected local pack rankings, Sterling Sky‘s Joy Hawkins soon found evidence of a big change in local pack rankings:
Doing a consultation for someone that had a huge hit with the algorithm update recently. Seeing the drops happen July 31 (not August 1) an.d they DID impact the local results too, not just organic. pic.twitter.com/QH4wQMYzUo
— Joy Hawkins (@JoyanneHawkins) 3 August 2018
And that was just the start. After more digging, Joy discovered that the update had affected rankings across both local and organic:
Seeing a ton of organic AND local ranking changes as a result of this big algorithm update. I’m still looking through cases but I’m seeing a large amount of movement and will try and update this thread with findings: https://t.co/pEXZTnHxxe
— Joy Hawkins (@JoyanneHawkins) 3 August 2018
It’s still early days with this update, and no doubt more data will come to light, but one thing anyone running multi-location websites will want to know is whether it will affect one or two of their local websites or have an impact across the board:
I’ve seen some commentary that multi location brands took a hit in packs for SMBs. I cannot back that up with rank tracking/traffic data. Curious if anyone else can? https://t.co/YSHbZVndDZ
— Dan Leibson (@DanLeibson) 6 August 2018
Later on, Marie Haynes and others discovered that the update had particularly negatively affected YMYL websites, with a particular focus on E-A-T (more on these in a bit):
Definitely seeing massive changes in SERPS for diet and nutrition sites. Looks like EAT had become even more important. https://t.co/AO3KwBl2BN
— Marie Haynes (@Marie_Haynes) 4 August 2018
Before we get into the types of sites we’re seeing negatively affected, I just want to recommend reading Marie’s excellent blog on the update, and also encourage you to get involved in the conversation on the Local Search Forum.
After all, it’s only through working together that our merry band of local SEOs can really get to the bottom of what’s changed and, crucially, start to adjust our strategies if required.
What is E-A-T in SEO?
E-A-T stands for ‘expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness’ and plays a big part in Google’s Search Quality Guidelines. I’m going to assume you don’t have the time right now to read the 164-page PDF I just linked to, so I’ll summarise this for you here.
Making expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness big factors in Page Quality is Google’s way of trying to avoid negatively impacting people’s lives. By ranking sites that offer questionable advice from non-authoritative sources lower than more authoritative ones, they reduce the risk of searchers being scammed, or in more extreme cases, suffering worse physical and mental health.
For example, as Google states in its guidelines, with regard to medical sites,
“High E-A-T medical advice should be written or produced by people or organizations with appropriate medical expertise or accreditation. High E-A-T medical advice or information should be written or produced in a professional style and should be edited, reviewed, and updated on a regular basis.”
This approach extends to news articles (something that’s particularly relevant these days), information pages, financial/legal/tax advice, home improvement sites, and even pages on hobbies such as photography or musicianship.
Qualifying a website or content creator’s expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, without performing deep research into authors’ experience or qualifications, is highly subjective, so it’s assumed that Googlers have a way of fairly quickly assessing these factors for millions of websites.
In this update, it would seem that websites with low E-A-T are being hit the hardest, so if you’re working with a local business with a tendency to overreach their expertise with their site content, you’ll want to look carefully at its site rankings and assess whether it’s time to find another way to highlight the worth of the site and business.
UPDATE: It seems that the Google Medic Update goes beyond E-A-T, as shown in this detailed research from CanIRank, who looked at data from 100+ websites to see if there were other trends at play for the sites affected.
What is a YMYL website?
Another term that’s cropping up more since Google’s August core broad algorithm update is YMYL, which stands for ‘Your Money or Your Life’.
What Google calls YMYL websites are closely tied to E-A-T, as they include pages that “could potentially impact the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users.” YMYL isn’t a statement of quality; it’s more a category of page or website that has the potential to significantly affect someone’s life, for better or for worse.
These include the following (per Google):
- Shopping or financial transaction pages
- Financial information pages
- Medical information pages
- Legal information pages
- Legal information pages
- News articles or public/official information pages important for having an informed citizenry
- Other (based on evaluator judgment)
I’d encourage you to take a look at page 9 of the Google Search Quality Guidelines for more details on these.
This latest algorithm update, if what we’re seeing from the community is to be believed, may well have been focused on demoting YMYL pages with low E-A-T.
Whilst this will definitely impact websites like forums with low-quality advice, it should be noted that local businesses are just as at risk (as shown by Joy and Marie above) from providing advice that doesn’t come from a place of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.
We’d love to hear what you think
Have you seen your clients’ or business’ website rankings suffer in the latest update? Which pages in particular have been affected? As I mentioned above, the more we as a community share our findings, the sooner we can make adjustments that will restore or improve rankings and traffic, so let me know what you’ve found in the comments below! Remember, you can keep on top of changes to the local search algorithm with our free tool Local RankFlux, as well as monitoring your own rankings through BrightLocal.
We were recently joined by local search experts Joy Hawkins, Marie Haynes, and Andrew Shotland, who performed a full postmortem into what Google’s latest changes meant for local businesses. You can catch it here!