My thoughts on the August 1, 2018 Google Algorithm Update
Last updated: August 8, 2018
I have been covering algorithm updates for a long time and this is one of the biggest updates that I can recall. It is important to note that most sites that I monitor did not see any significant changes. However, the majority of those that did see changes were very strongly affected.
This algorithm update appears to have affected both the organic search results and the local results (i.e. maps listings.) I initially had wondered if the local changes were just reflecting the differences in organic, as organic rankings are likely a factor in where Google places you locally. However, as local SEO expert Joy Hawkins has pointed out, this does not appear to be the case. This really does look like a change to both of the organic and local ranking algorithms.
Note: While this article focuses on mainly the effects of this update on YMYL sites, it looks like it is much broader than just that. There is a local component, and also some sites that are not YMYL are affected as well.
Added August 8: Barry Schwartz has coined this the Medic Update as a large number of sites in medical niches were affected. But please know that this update does expand outside of those verticals.
Usually when I write a post about a big algorithm update, I wait for a couple of weeks to pass so that I can fully investigate. However, in this case, I am getting so many emails that I wanted to have my thoughts in an article quickly. The fact that I’m getting this many emails tells us that this is an update with huge impact. The influx of emails is at least five times as many as we received for the March 9 update and that was a huge update as well.
Here are my early observations:
- This update has mostly affected YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) sites.
- Many sites in the diet, nutrition and medical device niches were greatly affected.
- Many large changes with multiple locations across the country appear to have dropped in rankings in favor of smaller, locally based businesses.
I’ll explain these in greater detail later in this article.
What we know so far
Google does not always announce that they have made an algorithm update. However, this time they have. Danny Sullivan, using the Search Liaison twitter account tweeted the following, which essentially just told us that this was a similar update to the March 9 Google update:
When asked how a site could recover from being negatively affected by this update, Danny gave the usual Googley answer of “just create great content”. He pointed out that the Quality Raters’ Guidelines (QRG) are a great guide to help us determine what Google considers to be high quality. I was thrilled to see that Danny quoted a tweet of mine as an example of how a site can see improvements after implementing changes based on the QRG:
And paying attention to them apparently can work. I really loved this tweet that seemed to be an example of that: https://t.co/iJXBG83cXZ
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) August 1, 2018
For this particular site, we had done a site quality review and had recommended a number of changes. The most important changes though were in how this site demonstrated their E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust) and also in improved internal linking. With a couple of months of instituting changes, they jumped from page 2-3 for their main terms to top three rankings for most of them.
Here is the checklist my team and I use when evaluating sites in the eyes of Google's Quality Raters' Guidelines.
We also know that this update has not finished rolling out yet:
Diet and Nutrition Sites
There was huge movement in this vertical. Some sites saw massive drops (screenshots from SEMRush):
And others saw incredible gains:
I believe that what we are seeing here is the effect of Google finding new ways to evaluate YMYL sites in terms of safety and trust.
What the QRG say about safety
This highlighted section was recently added to Google’s QRG:
They also added information to say that even if a website or the creator of its content have a mildly negative reputation, this can be a sign of low quality:
To investigate this, I looked at the SERPS for “keto diet”. (I’m really familiar with most of these websites as I’ve been actively keto for seven months now and down almost 30 lbs. Woohoo!)
The site that used to rank #1 for this phrase in July of 2018 was ketodash.com. They were hit REALLY hard:
If you look at the page that used to rank well for this term, it has loads of good, helpful information. So why were they hit?
No one outside of Google can say what changed in the algorithm to cause this drop. But, here are my thoughts based on things in the QRG.
1) There is no about page for this site. The QRG are really clear in saying that it should be obvious who is responsible for the information on a site:
2) The site has very little external reputation. The main purpose of this site appears to be to sell their “keto dash system”. Now, there’s nothing wrong with selling a product on your website. However, the QRG state that a product should have a really good reputation. Lack of reputation, or even a mildly negative reputation can be a sign of low quality.
When we searched for reviews on the keto dash system, there were none easily found:
3) The site may be advocating a medical treatment that goes against the scientifically agreed upon consensus. Here is what the QRG say:
This website is a big advocate of exogenous ketones. Now, I could be wrong on this, but from what I understand, the general scientific consensus on exogenous ketones is that they can help increase ketone levels, but they don’t really do much to contribute to weight loss.
I do think that this is important.
If you are selling a health related product that has either a negative reputation, or has no obvious scientific backing, you may find that Google’s algorithms trust you less.
Qualities of diet/nutrition sites that saw gains
The top result right now for “keto diet” is from dietdoctor.com. Here are my thoughts on why they saw improvement.
1) The author of articles are clearly labelled. Also, they are physicians with high E-A-T.
Dr. Eenfeldt has a Wikipedia page, has authored many books and is known as an authoritative leader in the field of low carb, high fat diets.
2) The main purpose of the site appears to be in providing information, rather than selling a product.
When I look at the home page of the keto site that saw losses, there are sales pitches everywhere for their system. On dietdoctor, I could not find a product or a sales pitch. Again, it’s not wrong to sell a product on your site. But, Google wants to rank sites that set out with a primary purpose of helping people rather than selling to them.
Regarding ketone supplements, they have this to say, “Any prescription-free supplements for sale that are not dangerous or illegal (like steroids) are likely to have a small or negligible effect on your weight.” In other words, they’re not pushing products that go against the scientific consensus in terms of efficacy.
3) They have a lot of signs of authority. The site has thousands of user comments that are helpful to people. There are reviews online (of their advice, not of products) which all seem to be good:
It also helps that they have an incredible amount of content in each of their articles.
What can we learn from looking at these two sites?
It is my opinion that the August 1, 2018 Google update was hard on nutrition and diet sites because it found new ways to investigate safety. This fits with the “T” in E-A-T - Trust.
If you run a diet or nutrition site, the following are all going to be important factors in how you rank:
- Is your content written by people who are truly known as authorities in their field?
- Do your business and your writers have a good reputation?
- Are you selling products that are potentially either scams, not helpful, or even harmful to people?
If you are lacking business or author reputation or have products that don't inspire trust, then re-establishing trust and ranking well again may be difficult.
Another niche that saw incredible shifts is in sites that sell medical products. Let’s once again look at some examples. In July of 2018 if you did a search for “glucometer”, you would see that this post ranked #2 behind Amazon.
However, this site has seen big drops with this update.
Keeping in mind what the QRG says about E-A-T, here are my thoughts as to why they saw drops:
1) Although they have some medical E-A-T, it’s likely not enough. Their About page lists several contributors who are nurses. This is better than most sites. But, their #2 ranking behind Amazon was taken over by Cnoga Medical. You can see on their About page that this company is recognized as an authority on glucometers. The company is lead by Dr. Yosef Segman who is published all over the place and well recognized.
2) The author of this post has no medical E-A-T.
If you click on Bridget’s name, you won’t see an author bio, but rather, just a list of articles she has written on the site. I had to do a bit of searching, but did find her LinkedIn bio. It looks like she is a great writer, and although she has been writing on this type of subject for a while, she has no medical E-A-T.
Some of their authors don’t even have a last name:
Again, the QRG say that lack of author E-A-T is a sign of low quality:
3) There is no obvious purpose for this site. The new version of the QRG has a lot of information on how important it is to be able to discern the purpose of a site. They instruct the quality raters to determine the site’s purpose and then decide whether they are fulfilling their purpose. They say that all of the following could be a sign that the website is not fulfilling their purpose:
The home page of this site is simply a list of articles. As a reader, I would like to see more that inspires trust. It should be really clear whether your site exists to sell products, to inform people, or for some other reason. If you are an affiliate site, then tell that to your readers! If you sell leads, then this needs to be disclosed. People do not want to go to a place for information and then suddenly realize that they are expected to buy a product or speak to someone to be sold as a lead.
4) There is very little external reputation for this site. When I Google “Diabetes Council” it turns out that there is an officially recognized organization with this name. I could not find much reputation information on thediabetescouncil.com.
I feel that this part of the update may be separate from what we have discussed above. However, it is possible that this is just another change in the way that Google recognizes E-A-T.
I don’t have nearly as much information on this topic than on the changes seen in the YMYL sites listed above. I’m including it though as I think there is more research to be done in this area just yet.
I had several large multi-location national chains reach out to me to say that they had seen an overall drop in location keywords with this update. It seems to be that in many cases Google has boosted a locally recognized authority in the SERPS. Here is an example:
2) Home Advisor
3) The Air King
2) Detroithvacinc.com (formerly #11)
3) Home Advisor
Joy Hawkins is noticing that in the local rankings, some sites that were previously filtered out are now displaying. Also, some sites that used to display are now being filtered.
I will come back and update this post if I can get more information on what is happening here.
The August 1, 2018 Google update was a massive one. I believe that it was primarily about Google’s ability to determine E-A-T for a website. I also think that the T in E-A-T became even more important as Google is working harder to determine which websites are the most trustworthy to show searchers.
What can you do if you were hit?
If you are a multi-location business that saw drops, stay tuned. As I get more information I’ll share that with you. You may want to sign up for my newsletter so that you can be notified of my findings. And here is a link you can follow if you are interested in following our progress in the Wix SEO competition.
If you are a YMYL site that saw drops, I would recommend the following:
- Display all of your E-A-T. Your About page should be full of reasons why you are known as the most authoritative business in your vertical. Brag about awards won, press recognition, years of experience and more. Note: We don't know whether Google actually gets this information from your About page or not. But, our thought is that whatever we can do to help Google understand our E-A-T is good.
- Display your author E-A-T. Every article on your site should have an author listed. That listing should link to an author bio that brags about their E-A-T.
- Improve the reputation of your business and your authors. You can often do this by getting favorable press coverage. But, know that Google is pretty good at knowing which parts of sites are written by journalists who can be paid off vs staff journalists who are truly uncovering the news. Other ways to improve your reputation include fostering user reviews across the web, increasing the number of testimonials displayed on your site, getting your authors published in authoritative places outside of your site amongst other things. If you are looking for help in establishing E-A-T, my team and I can do an E-A-T review for you and give you some suggestions. You can contact me for details.
- Take a good hard look at the products that you are offering. If you sell a product that could be considered sketchy, spammy or harmful to people, then this could be the cause of your ranking drops. I recognize that in some of these niches, competition is fierce to the point of competitors slandering each other with bad reviews. Hopefully Google is able to look past that. If you have real users leaving bad reviews about your products or complaining about your business, then this issue must be addressed.
- If applicable, build up product E-A-T. If you sell a diet product, a medical device, or some other health related product, then there needs to be extensive information on the web about this product. You can improve product E-A-T by fostering reviews, generating discussions and having a product that is so good that people truly want to talk about it.
These are all things that are pretty hard to fix unless you truly are one of the most trustworthy and helpful sites in your industry. I do think that recovery is possible for some of these sites, but extremely difficult. We have worked with some sites to help them display their E-A-T in a better way, help them determine what types of press they can get to help and also make other changes in their site such as better displaying the purpose of their pages. We have seen some of these sites make nice improvements.
Here is a site that already had good authority in their vertical, but were not displaying their E-A-T well. They saw nice improvements after making changes to their About page. Keep in mind though that we also recommended a number of other changes as well:
Here is another site that had serious E-A-T issues. This is a medical site. They had articles that were written by people with no medical E-A-T. After working with us, they hired physicians to co-author medical articles. Again, other changes to improve quality were made, but we believe that the recent gains seen were due to the improvement in E-A-T:
Were you affected by this algorithm update? I’d love for you to leave a comment below. If you are interested in having my team and I review your site, we offer site quality reviews, or also reviews that look at your site in the eyes of Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines. You can contact me for a quote.
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