Google’s 2014 Algorithm Updates: Implications for Your 2015 Medical Marketing Strategy

January 22, 2015
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As a medical industry marketer, day-to-day tasks can be quite overwhelming. It’s no wonder, then, that most of Google’s 500-600 annual algorithm updates fall through the cracks. While most of these updates are minor, each year Google introduces “major” algorithmic updates that affect search engine results in a monumental way.Digital Medical Marketing, Google

As a medical industry marketer, day-to-day tasks can be quite overwhelming. It’s no wonder, then, that most of Google’s 500-600 annual algorithm updates fall through the cracks. While most of these updates are minor, each year Google introduces “major” algorithmic updates that affect search engine results in a monumental way.Digital Medical Marketing, Google

Improving SEO, monitoring changes in page rank and fueling organic traffic are three essential elements of any well-executed search engine marketing (SEM) strategy. To maximize the results of the aforementioned initiatives, it’s imperative that medical marketers remain up-to-date on all of Google’s major algorithm updates.

Though many sources site more than 10 major Google algorithm updates in 2014, today we’ll focus on five and discuss steps you can take to optimize your medical SEM strategy in 2015.

February 2014: Page Layout #3

Google’s Page Layout algorithm, a.k.a “Top Heavy,” received an update in February—it dings sites that load too many ads above the fold. In a move to improve user experience (UX), Google is ensuring, with this update, that users can quickly find the exact information they were looking for when they click on a search result.  

2015 Plan of Action:

For medical marketers, ensuring a pleasant and seamless user experience is paramount. Obviously, adjusting to this update could be as easy as simply removing excess ads above the fold, however, moving forward, your overall focus should be on improving the user experience. Undoubtedly, Google will continue to reward sites with quality UX in its 2015 algorithm updates and beyond.  

May 2014: Panda 4.0

With a tweet, Matt Cutts announced the rollout of Google’s major Panda 4.0 update to his 403K+ followers. Designed to help small businesses and websites that create great content, Panda 4.0 improves the ranking of quality content in Google search results.  

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2015 Plan of Action:

Top search results are no longer reserved for the rich and famous, so to speak. Google cracked down on sites churning out low-quality content bogged down by keywords or duplicated material so that high quality content, no matter the source, could have its share of search-result limelight. When it comes to medical inbound marketing efforts in 2015, quality, not quantity, will reign supreme.

Whether you’re working for a medical giant or even just a small practice physician, providing users with valuable, relevant content will not only boost SEO, but it will also help your organization establish credibility in a heavily-saturated market.

July 2014: Pigeon 1.0

According to Search Engine Land, Google released the Pigeon algorithm to “provide more useful, relevant and accurate local search results that are tied more closely to traditional web search ranking signals.”

Pigeon 1.0 improved Google’s distance and location ranking parameters, but took a toll on many local businesses. Search Engine Land’s survey of more than 600 SEOs and SMBs found that 53% believe the update was bad for businesss, and 58% have changed or plan to change their search strategy as a result of the Pigeon update. A majority believe the update has benefited searchers.

“The tighter geographic radius of results implies greater targeting of results, and the re-focusing of the “centroid” around the user and not the city makes results more user-centric,” states Search Engine Land’s survey report.

2015 Plan of Action:

So how should medical marketers address this update in 2015? Studies on the Pigeon update have found that more power is given to traditional organic search ranking factors (domain authority, links, etc.), while pure local signals have lost power. Keep a strong focus on brand, reputation and relationship-building, as Google tends to reward businesses with higher trust and engagement factors. 

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August 2014: HTTPS/SSL as a Ranking Signal

With this update, Google announced that it would start giving a small ranking boost to secure HTTPS/SSL sites. In the official update, Google cited this change as part of a broader effort to make the internet a safer place. However, the company also mentioned that, “for now it’s only a very lightweight signal — affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content.”

2015 Plan of Action:

Plain and simple, make sure your medical website is secure. With this update, adding a SSL 2048-bit key certificate will give your site a small ranking benefit. Security should be a given when it comes to medical websites, especially when customers are required to submit personal information. Although this update may not provide the largest boost in search engine rankings, medical marketers should address any and all updates that can give them a leg up on the competition. 

September 2014: Panda 4.1

The 27th version of Google’s Panda Update, Panda 4.1 made the search engine filter more precise to better identify poor quality content v. high quality content. Doing so allows small and medium-sized sites with high quality content to rank better in search results.

2015 Plan of Action:

Though this update was much smaller than Panda’s May 2014 update, I’ve included it in this list to emphasize the significant role high quality content production will play in 2015. You know it, I know it, Google definitely knows it: the Web is chock-full of poor quality, spammy content—and it’s being penalized. Even though producing original, high-quality content may require more time, money and energy, it has the power to make or break your 2015 search engine marketing strategy.