The Google search algorithm update from August 1 is now fully rolled out, and here is what we know about the update, who we think was impacted and some of the analysis of what, if any, actions you may want to consider taking if you were negatively impacted.

In summary, Google is calling this a broad, global, core update, but based on much of the analysis done thus far, there seems to be a focus on health and medical sites and YMYL Your Money Your Life sites. But many sites besides those were impacted by the update. Google is telling us that there is nothing you can do to fix your site, so you should just focus on making a great experience, offer better content and a more useful website. This update has taken on the name the Medic Update because of its focus on the medical and health space. This specific focus is something Google will not confirm.

What we know from Google

Google has said that this update was a “broad core algorithm update” and that it does these updates “several times per year.”

Google references its advice from the previous core updates, saying 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 also said, “As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded.”

Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan also confirmed this is a “global” rollout and impacts all Google search results, no matter what language or region.

Google would not tell us how much of the search results were impacted by this update, as Google has done in the past with Panda, Penguin and others:

Finally, we know the update has been fully rolled out and is done as of sometime yesterday or earlier.

Who was impacted by this update

As we explained above, Google said this is a “global” update, which implies every niche and every type of site could have been impacted. But based on the data that I’ve been seeing from surveys, multiple data companies and SEO consultants, there seems to be a focus on medical and health niches, as well as “Your Money Your Life” types of sites, with creeping into the entertainment and gaming niches as well. I’ve shown Google this data and a Google spokesperson responded by referencing the statements made above.

What is YMYL? As we explained in 2013, “Your Money or Your Life” pages are those focused on money and life events. The Google raters’ guideline defined them as:

  • Pages that solicit personal information, such as personal identification numbers, bank account numbers, drivers license numbers, etc., which could be used for identity theft.
  • Pages used for monetary transactions, on which users might give their credit account or bank account information; for example, any page that allows you to buy something.
  • Pages that offer medical or health information that could impact your physical well-being.
  • Pages offering advice on major life decisions, such as pages on parenting, purchasing a home, a vehicle and so on.
  • Pages offering advice on major life issues that could impact your future happiness and finances, such as pages giving legal or financial advice.

I have data from several analytics and data companies, including Sistrix, RankRanger, SEMRush, and my own survey data from a few hundred SEOs impacted.

Sistrix shared some of the early data, saying, “The majority of changes can be seen for YMYL-sites and even there we generally only see an uplift or loss of a few percentage points.” I followed up with Sistrix, which responded that “Mostly health and finance pages have been affected by this update.” “But also, as you can see on the lists, e-commerces, educational as well as dubious automotive websites got their share of movement,” Juan González from Sistrix told me.

Sistrix shared some of the sites that saw gains in rankings with this update. Notice the types of sites that saw losses:

Here are some of the bigger winners:

Sistrix also shared with us two sites, both in the health space, one that saw a nice gain and one that saw a significant decline in Google traffic:

RankRanger also has a nice dataset, and shared metrics across different verticals and how much the search results in Google changed with this update. The company’s data showed that the health, finance and home goods industry showed significant rank movement, even at the first position. First-position fluctuations are not as common, RankRanger tells me, even with big Google updates.

Here is a chart RankRanger sent me showing the organic visibility change for a site across the Family & Lifecycle niche (blue) compared to the Health & Fitness niche (green):

This is one of many examples. Below is another way to look at it, showing the fluctuations by niche for the first, second and third results before this Google update and then during this Google update. You can quickly see how the ranking changes were seen across specific niches, including health, finance and home goods. For example, the home goods industry moved from showing a 91 percent match of the first result during the baseline period to just 83 percent during the update. Mordy Oberstein from RankRanger told me this is something the RankRanger team has never seen with previous updates and shows to him how massive this update was.

Here are these charts he shared with me. You can quickly glance at this and see how far some of these industries are from the baseline metrics the month before:

SEMRush in its SEMrush Sensor ranked the Google August 1 update an overall 9.4 on its scale, which is very high. But the firm also ranked it by niche and according to SEMrush, all industries saw significant fluctuations, with less so in the travel sector and real estate section. Here are the rankings for that day from SEMrush:

  • 9.4 Arts & Entertainment.
  • 9.4 Autos & Vehicles.
  • 9.4 Beauty & Fitness.
  • 9.3 Books & Literature.
  • 9.3 Business & Industrial.
  • 9.3 Computers & Electronics.
  • 9.4 Finance.
  • 9.4 Food & Drink.
  • 9.4 Games.
  • 9.4 Health.
  • 9.4 Hobbies & Leisure.
  • 9.4 Home & Garden.
  • 9.4 Internet & Telecom.
  • 9.4 Jobs & Education.
  • 9.4 Law & Government.
  • 9.4 News.
  • 9.4 Online Communities.
  • 9.4 People & Society.
  • 9.4 Pets & Animals.
  • 9.1 Real Estate.
  • 9.4 Reference.
  • 9.4 Science.
  • 9.4 Shopping.
  • 9.4 Sports.
  • 8.7 Travel.

Moz posted their data after this story published, they also saw more activity in the health industry than others. Here is the Moz chart:

Dr. Pete Meyers from Moz wrote:

At first glance, the “Health” category does appear to be the most impacted. Keywords in that category had a daily average temperature of 124°F. Note, though, that all categories showed temperatures over 100°F on August 1st – this isn’t a situation where one category was blasted and the rest were left untouched. It’s also important to note that this pattern shifted during the other three days of heavy flux, with other categories showing higher average temperatures. The multi-day update impacted a wide range of verticals.

On Search Engine Roundtable, my personal SEO blog, I collected over 300 domains from SEOs who said they were impacted and ran the results after manually categorizing all of them. I updated the results before publishing this story, and of the 325 submissions, almost half of them were in the medical and health space. Here is the pie chart breaking down those categories:

What can you do?

So, now that we know what Google said and what the data is showing, what can you do? That is the biggest question for those who were negatively impacted.

As we said above, Google said there is nothing you can do. There is no fix. That is not so helpful, is it? But Google has been suggesting that you can continue to work on improving your website, make better content, make a better overall user experience and ultimately, the next update may lead to your site ranking better.

Glenn Gabe wrote a very large post after analyzing over 200 sites, summarizing:

The core algorithm update that rolled out on August 1, 2018 was massive and many sites across the web were impacted. Although there were a lot of health sites impacted, many others in non-YMYL categories were affected as well. If you have been negatively impacted by the 8/1 update, then it’s important to objectively analyze your site to find ways to improve. And remember, there’s never one smoking gun. There’s usually a battery of them. So go find them now.

Marie Haynes also wrote her thoughts saying:

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.

BrightLocal shared a similar message:

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.

In summary

Google did a massive algorithm update impacting the search results and affecting many webmasters, site owners and SEOs on August 1. It seems to have had a larger impact in the health and medical space, also on YMYL types of sites. The advice overall has been to make your site, content and user experience better overall and keep working at small changes that can have a big impact on your rankings.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz is Search Engine Land’s News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on SEM topics.

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