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3 Updates in 2 Weeks – Google’s January Shakeup

The past few weeks have seen some major changes coming from Google Search. So far, there have been three distinct events:

  • January 9-10, 2016: This weekend saw major volatility in search rankings. Google confirmed what many suspected: a core algorithm update. Updates to the core algorithm happen hundreds of times per year, but this is the first one that Google has confirmed since May 2015, indicating its importance.
  • January 12, 2016: Google announces that Panda is now baked into its core search algorithm on a 3rd party blog. Google Panda was originally introduced way back in 2011 and, in a nutshell, serves to reduce spam in the search results by judging the quality of a website. (Read on to learn more about Panda. This does not mean that the first update was a Panda update, but the timing is interesting.)
  • January 16-17, 2016: With the dust still settling from the updates over the previous weekend, the subsequent weekend saw more volatility in the search results. Very little has been confirmed about this update, only that it happened and was again an update to the core algorithm.

The two updates to the core algorithm, by consensus, have really affected one thing: branded search terms. Some major websites have lost massive amounts of rankings on news posts related to brand terms. Still, it has only been a short time since these updates went live and the full scope of their repercussions is not quite understood.

For full context, it is also necessary to mention that the search engine optimization (SEO) community has been holding its collective breath for an update to the Penguin algorithm. This is because Google has been hinting at an update to make it function in real-time since back in June of last year. These recent updates were initially suspected to be the Penguin update, but Google quickly dispelled those rumors.

So, to recap: We have two core algorithm updates a week apart and the announcement that Panda is now part of the core algorithm, all with a major Penguin update looming ahead. What does this all mean for healthcare? First, let’s take a moment to explain Google’s monochromatic menagerie of algorithms.

Panda

pandaGoogle Panda was originally released back in February 2011 with the goal of removing low quality websites from the search results. Panda functions by judging the quality of a website. This quality score is now a part of the main search algorithm. What makes a quality website in Panda’s eyes? I’ll refer you to Google’s own list of questions a webmaster should consider about his/her website and content:

  • 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?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health-related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

(Source: Google Webmaster Center Blog: More guidance on building high-quality sites)

Penguin

penguinPengiun is Google’s algorithm to determine whether or not a website has acquired their links unnaturally. Links are a major part of how most search engines function. Each time someone publishes a link to your website on their website, it is a vote of confidence. It says I trust this website enough to send them traffic from my website. Since the early days of SEO, webmasters have tried to increase their search rankings by getting more websites to link to their site. This practice is called link building. Many have tried to game this system and increase their search engine rankings by buying links. This practice is exactly what Penguin was developed to deter. Joost de Valk does a great job explaining Penguin in this video:

What do these Google updates mean for healthcare?

Since there are really three different updates in question, I’ll break down the effects by update:

Branded search terms update

This update may affect pharmaceutical and medical device rankings for branded search terms that are in the news. As for brick and mortar healthcare practices, there really should not be much of an effect at all.

Panda update

Adding Panda to the main search algorithm most likely happened a while ago, with Google simply announcing it this past week. Any ramifications of this update would have already been felt. That said, making it a part of the core algorithm increases its importance and anything Panda-related should carry more weight going forward. After reviewing the Google-sanctioned Panda guidelines, I have one main takeaway for you:

Quality content is more important than ever, and, when it comes to Panda specifically, it has nothing to do with keywords. Panda does not base their quality scoring on keywords, content type (e.g,. text, video, image, etc.), or anything like that. So what do they base this scoring on? I don’t know for sure, but my educated guess is that they really look at pogo sticking. This is when you Google something, click on a result, are dissatisfied with the page that loads, then you quickly go back to the search results. Google records this user behavior and uses it as a metric to judge how well a website has satisfied a searcher’s query. This way, even if a website has gamed its way high up in the search rankings for a keyword despite actually being low quality, with enough negative user data, Panda will put it back in its place.

Pending Penguin update

As it works right now, Penguin rolls out every few months and knocks sites that have not been playing by the rules right out of the search results. Whenever Google decides to roll it out in real time, as they have hinted, it will only serve to reward the sites that have been playing by the rules. In healthcare, as with everywhere else, the practices who have engaged with dubiously inexpensive SEO vendors with excellent results will likely see their search traffic dry up entirely after they are hit with a manual penalty. Those that have taken the more difficult road of manually earning links have nothing to worry about.


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