This May, RealSelf started seeing year-over-year traffic increases on our consumer site, sometimes exceeding a 20% traffic jump versus the same day a year prior and up 2x since December.
Google’s most recent core algorithm update, which went live on May 4, directly precipitated this traffic lift, making it clear that the changes RealSelf has been making since last year to improve consumer experience are now paying off in terms of visitor volume.
What Doctors Should Know About This Update
Google releases these “core updates,” or changes to its algorithm, around once per quarter. The goal: to increase the quality of their search results, and reward sites that Google deems safe, credible, and easy to navigate with higher search rankings.
The May 4 update saw Google doubling down on the same principles that drove their previous core algorithm updates: prioritizing sites that exhibit expertise, authority, and trust (or E-A-T in SEO parlance).
There weren’t any dramatic changes from the previous update in January. Rather, Google continued to refine their algorithm to better identify sites that exhibit those E-A-T standards. Those that took earlier Google updates as a cue to commit to the right changes likely saw, as RealSelf did, that the May 4 update locked in a lift in their rankings, teeing them up to get more visitors.
The key takeaway: Committing to SEO best practices is the best way for your practice to fare well in terms of SEO and traffic potential.
What RealSelf Did to Increase Our Traffic
In January, we discussed the major steps we were taking to reorganize RealSelf.com, elevate consumers’ experience, and improve our standing in Google search results. In short, they included:
Publishing more data-driven content.
We took a closer look at the searches consumers were conducting, then published and/or updated content that lined up with those searches. One insight that practices should find interesting: we saw a critical mass of searches related to both procedure pricing and the specifics of recovery from procedures.
Cleaning up the site.
We untangled the layers of code and sometimes-confusing navigation that were the product of years of overlapping work on RealSelf. We also removed and reduced duplicate and non-value-added content across RealSelf. In Q2 alone, RealSelf removed around 5,000 pages from the site.
Reimagining the site navigation.
We created a clear separation between authoritative content about procedures (e.g. author-attributed procedure pages) and the user-generated content (re.g. patient reviews) published by consumers. We allowed visitors to choose one or the other pathway from the RealSelf homepage, while also making it easy for visitors to navigate between authoritative and user-generated content as they explore.
Focusing on site performance.
Google wants to send its visitors to sites that offer a great experience. That entails not just relevant and trustworthy content, but also performance-related considerations, like whether the site loads fast and works well on mobile.
Our team made technical changes that significantly increased page speed, and has also been working to considerably track and reduce other technical SEO errors that can kill organic traffic.
What Should My Practice Do?
Google’s SEO best practices and algorithm updates apply to sites no matter what industry vertical they’re in or how large (or small) they are.
The tactics we’ve implemented require a large team—and scaled-up effort—to implement and maintain, but the core SEO principles that Google rewards with higher search rankings are actually the same. Here are some fundamentals to keep in mind for your own practice website.
Purpose for every page.
Less is more: make sure every page on your site has a unique point of view, and that content isn’t duplicated across multiple pages. This makes it clear to Google which page they should surface to a user who enters a specific search query. It also ensures that just one page gets all of the credit for being the source of information on your site about that topic, giving it a greater chance of ranking on Google.
What to do next. Have a look at your website pages to see if there are any opportunities for consolidation or outright deletion of pages.
One common blind spot when it comes to pages is empty or unnecessary tags and categories. When you create either, new tag and category pages will be created in tandem. These should also be candidates for consolidation or deletion when auditing your practice’s website.
Great user experience.
Again, one of Google’s objectives in tweaking its search algorithm and releasing updates is to facilitate a great user experience by sending its visitors to the best search results on highly-performing sites. Google’s algorithm updates reward sites that deliver those experiences, including operating well on mobile and loading quickly.
Nearly half of internet users expect pages to load in 2 seconds or less. If Google sends a user to a page that loads slowly, there’s a high likelihood that user will exit that site and search elsewhere. Google wants to avoid being a conduit to that type of bad experience.
What to do next: Your webmaster can use tools like GTmetrix to assess website load times and diagnose which elements are slowing down your site speed. Google announced that a “Google Page Experience” update is on deck for 2021, so now is a good time for practices to get their arms around this.
Lights on, someone’s home.
Google also prioritizes pages that are updated regularly, and where there is clear content authorship. It’s one of the reasons why RealSelf lists both the author and medical reviewer for our procedure pages, as well as the date when the page was last updated.
What to do next: Audit the procedure pages on your website to determine whether there are any updates you can make to those pages, and note the date of that most recent change directly on the page with each revision.
Staying in good stead with Google’s algorithm changes is not a one-time deal. It’s possible that a single set of actions could raise or preserve your search presence in the short term, but letting those habits lapse could cause your ranking to fall off.
The lift we saw after the May 4 update was many months in the making, and RealSelf has the plans and resources in place to maintain and extend that work so that consumers and practices continue to benefit.
What to do next. Make following the tips above a scheduled monthly or quarterly exercise. The person who runs your website should sign up for Google Search Console, a free tool that will send alerts when your website is throwing SEO errors that can affect both user experience and your rankings in Google search.
@SearchLiaison is also a great knowledge source: it’s Google’s official Twitter destination for information about how Google search works.