SEO Medic Update -E.A.T Update - Query Intent Update

Was the Google Medic (E.A.T) Update Also A Query Intent Update?

Have you Completed an E.A.T Audit and Implemented Changes but You Are Still Not Seeing Any Improvement? Then Read This.

If you have read much about the Medic update, I am sure you have heard of E.A.T and the Google search quality guidelines and how important those are to YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) pages, so we are not going to rehash that here today.

Now that a few months have passed since the Medic update rolled out, our research has uncovered some interesting information.

Before we go any further, I want to reiterate that the E.A.T guidelines are great and working to make your site comply with them can increase the perceived trustworthiness of your website. This in turn can lead to better user engagement and conversions, so do not ignore the quality guidelines. However, E.A.T signals are not the only thing impacted by the Medic Update.

Today I will cover two other issues that seem to have a very significant importance after the recent update.

But First…

Here are a couple example sites we have reviewed where E.A.T Quality did not have the expected impact.

Great E.A.T – Terrible Rankings

The above snapshot is from a medical services website. ALL the content on the entire website is written by and attributed to one of the top doctors in his field. Additionally, the company has:

  • More reviews and a higher rating than their competitors
  • Hundreds of pages of detailed information about procedures, including educational videos and last updated dates
  • Clear and indexable information about the company, the staff, and their expertise (even validated by 3rd party success rate tracking in their field)

We completed a full E.A.T audit on this website and found only small issues, all of which are also present on sites ranking very well after the Medic update.

This is just one of many sites we have reviewed and found to have similar circumstances. On the flipside, here is a site without good E.A.T

Terrible E.A.T. – Rankings Improved?

Unlike the above site, this is a finance site with very poor E.A.T. This site does not have an established off-site reputation currently. In addition:

  • The content is not attributed to niche experts
  • Last updated information is not present
  • There is not clear information about the Company indexable by Google.

Even so, following the Medic update the number of keywords in the top 3 doubled and in those in the top 10 increased by over 300%. However, in November when an update to the original Medic update occurred, rankings returned to their pre-update levels.

Does this mean the weight of E.A.T was increased for finance sites or that another factor was adjusted?

The Common Denominator (s)

The above sites are just two of many examples we have reviewed since YMYL pages have come under fire.

As the number of sites reviewed by our team grows, we continue to find sites with the following issues are performing poorly across the board:

  • Query Intent
  • Poor Page Structure & Optimization Practices

 

Query Intent Matters More Than Ever

At Stellar SEO, we are known as one of the top link building services in the U.S. Our team screens hundreds of websites each week as part of our outreach process to ensure our link placements are beneficial and safe.

Semrush organic research is part of our screening criteria, to ensure sites get organic traffic currently and to identify serious drops to that traffic over the preceding months. We look at both traffic and keywords to understand what type and how much traffic a site receives.

One of the first items that came to light in this screening is that many sites that have lost a lot of keywords have lost them in position 21-50 or 50-100. For many sites, if you view all keywords in the top 100, you will notice a strong downward trend over the past 5 months, giving the impression the site is unhealthy. However, if you view the same sites but narrow the keyword data to top 10 or top 20 positions, you will find those same sites have seen strong growth over the that period.

Keywords that rank pages 5-10 are typically those that are loosely related to the query intent, just do a search and go to page 7 or 8 and see for yourself.

Having screened over 5K websites since the Medic update, the percentage of them in which positions 1-20 have grown while 21-100 have fallen is staggering but also telling.

To better understand why, you need to understand what query intent is, what the types of search queries are, and why Google is focused on understanding them better.

 

What is Query/User Intent?

In the context of this article, Query Intent or User Intent have the same meaning.

User intent can be defined as the motivation behind a search. It refers to the need or problem the person searching is trying to resolve.

If you are hungry and looking for takeout, you may search “takeout restaurants near me” and the likely results would be local restaurant map listings.

If you are interested in the top restaurants in a city you plan to visit next month, you may search “best (type of restaurant) in city” which would likely return some map listings, but it would also have more comparison posts or sites present.

Google believes that the key to maintaining dominance is their ability to use context clues to determine the intent of the searcher in cases where it may not be clear based upon the search query alone. This is further explained in the below Patent application.

Recent Patent Filed Regarding Query Intent: Bill Slawski reported that on November 22, 2018 Google filed the following patent: PREDICTING INTENT OF A SEARCH FOR A PARTICULAR CONTEXT .

While that is potentially the future of search intent, let’s stop and consider what we know to already be in use, starting with the types of search intent.

What are the 3 Types of Search Intent?

Currently there are 3 commonly referenced types. These are used by content marketers to develop content that corresponds with the searchers current stage in a buying or comparison cycle. The three types are:

1.       Informational Queries

Information searches are done with the intent of gaining knowledge. This can be advanced knowledge such as “Angular JS advanced framework” or simple information such as “what’s the current temperature outside”.  Comparison searches are also commonly informational queries, but they could be transactional.

For example: “best Chinese restaurant Nashville”

2.      Navigational Queries

Navigational searches are done when someone is trying to reach a specific site. These are commonly branded searches. If you search “Facebook” or “Netflix” those are both meant to help you navigate directly to the site.

3.      Transactional Queries

Transactional searches are done by people looking to buy. If you sell Dodge Challenger hats on your website, a keyword such as “buy Dodge Challenger hat” is a transactional term for which you would want your page to appear.

Once you understand the general purpose behind a search, your web pages need to serve that purpose according to Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines.

In July, Google updated their quality rater guidelines to include a new section covering the purpose of a page: Google Search Quality Rater Guidelines Updated: Beneficial Purpose, Creator Reputation & More

 

How Can You Determine the Search Intent of Target Keywords?

The easiest way to determine search intent is by analyzing the current first page search results. Simple enough, right?

While the concept isn’t new (I spoke on this topic at SEMPO Cities in 2016 **view slide deck here**) it is one that is not put to good use often enough. The desire to do things at scale can cause simple, yet effective tactics to be overlooked or ignored, which seems to be the case, based upon the impact of the query intent update.

 

Page Structure & On Page Optimization

We know that Google at some level can understand content and determine topics based upon the co-occurrence of terms in certain areas of a page. However, Google may not be as advanced in this department as many speculate.

In one recent contest, Kyle Roof was able to rank a website containing content that is almost entirely Latin. The purpose of this successful test was to prove that Google’s understanding of content is mathematical in nature.

This shed light of weaknesses within Google’s current algorithms while also re-affirming the fact that competitor-based optimization is superior to “best practices”. This was done using a tool to identify:

  • Where and how often a primary keyword is used
  • Where and how related terms are used on the page
  • The structure of ranking pages (headings, images, lists, video, etc.)

Page Optimizer Pro is his tool, but it is not the only tool that can offer these insights. Tools like Cora provide that data and much more. Regardless of tool preference, there is no denying that a smart SEO practitioner in 2019 is using competitor data to build the type of page Google is rewarding.

Here is an example: Our team used competitor averages and structural elements to revamp a page for a finance keyword getting 201,000 monthly searches. The original page did not rank in the top 100 for the term. The new page reached position 31 roughly 2 weeks after being published. What’s more, this if for the same site mentioned above with poor E.A.T, even though this is a transactional term on a YMYL page.

Further investigation by our team uncovered that over 90% of the keywords targeted by this website, which lost rankings, were not the right type of content for the search intent. To recover this site, a comprehensive revamp of the content/keyword mapping is underway, and new content that is both properly structured and written to meet searcher intent is being created. Both of which are showing early wins as this revamp gets underway.

As mentioned earlier, improving E.A.T is great for user experience and more trust generally means higher conversion rates. Building strong E.A.T over the next 6-12 months is part of the recovery plan as well, but not the only part!

Had we focused solely upon E.A.T. guidelines while ignoring search intent and page structure, huge growth and recovery opportunities would have been missed.

To help you through the recovery process, here is a quick checklist to follow as you begin your own recovery work.

Medic Update Checklist – What to Do If You Were Hit by The Medic Update

  1. Complete A Website Audit, Including an E.A.T Review of Your Website
  2. Go to SEMrush (Or Your KW Tool of Choice) And Export Your Before and After Keyword Lists.
  3. Make an Audit Findings Action List and Work to Correct Issues from Most to Least Impactful
  4. Identify Terms You Ranked For Prior To The Update but No Longer Rank For.
  5. Review the First Page Sites Currently Ranking for Those Terms and Identify the Type of Content (Internal Page, Blog Post, Sales Page, Home Page)
  6. Check Your Previously Ranking URL To See If Your Content Is the Same Type as Currently Ranking Sites
  7. If the Content Type Is the Same, Conduct A Competitor On-Page Comparison (and Update the Page) & Focus On E.A.T Improvements
  8. If the Content Type Is Not the Same, Create A New Page of The Correct Type Using Competitor Averages for Keywords & Structure
  9. Once the Content Is Created, Complete A Link Gap Analysis to Determine If/How Many Links Are Needed to The Page and Launch a Link Building Campaign to Close That Gap.
  10. If Further Updates Change the Top 3 Sites, Repeat the Above Process and Adjust as Needed.

If you have already went through one or a few E.A.T audits and are struggling to gain traction, don’t hesitate to reach out and see if our team can help you uncover the real problem behind the loss of traffic.

It is easy to get swept up by “recent” happenings and jump to conclusions, which can delay or prevent recovery. We leverage data to dictate adjustments to find true issues.