May 4, 2020 Google Core Update
Addiction Treatment Websites See a Dramatic Drop in Traffic

Bottom Line

The May 4, 2020 Google Core Update hurt addiction treatment websites dramatically. To recover from the update, audit your content, create new content, and invest in unique content.

Google’s “Force” Update

The May 4, 2020 Google Core Update is being dubbed the “Force Update” because it rolled out on Star Wars Day. The update dropped traffic to many websites dramatically and created high search volatility. One measure of search volatility, which uses a scale of 1-10, saw an increase from 2.9 to 9.4 on May 4th.1 So, volatility rose from the bottom 29th percentile, all the way to the 94th percentile in one day.

Did Your Traffic Drop?

One of the most important things to remember is that while your traffic may be down, the volatility means it can come back up on its own. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Google updates are usually rolled out over time, so we don’t know the full results yet.

  • New Google updates produce a lot of false positives at first and Google generally fixes most of those errors

  • Search engine results are a zero-sum game. If you lost traffic, someone else gained it

With those points in mind let’s dive into the issue in more detail.

The Force Update is Hurting Healthcare Websites the Most

The May 4, 2020 Google Core Update negatively affected healthcare websites more than any other segment. Within healthcare, addiction treatment centers saw a huge drop in traffic and search positions.

Why did traffic to addiction treatment websites plummet? While Google never explains its updates, several ideas are cementing themselves in the digital marketing community.

Was the May 4, 2020 Core Update That Bad for Addiction Treatment Websites?

According to Search Engine Journal, the May 4th update was one of the largest seen during the last 17 years.2 The update was also described as “carnage” and “the worst update I ever saw in my years of SEO.”3

Another digital marketer stated:

Well, I know it’s early going, but I’ve never seen my traffic just die like this before. Just watching some keywords, blinking in and out, some falling about 10 pages. Traffic has completely flatlined. I mean it’s dead. I’ve never seen anything like this, even during past updates.4

Here’s another anecdote; one website owner commented:

Drop of I’d say over 75%. My site’s no longer ranking #1 for its name. I’ve lost nearly all of my major page 1 keywords, and most of my small ones.5

  • Addiction Treatment Websites that lost traffic in both April 2020 and May 2020 Google Updates 88% 88%
  • Average Traffic Drop on Addiction Treatment Websites: April 2020 Google Update 22% 22%
  • Average Traffic Drop on Addiction Treatment Websites: May 2020 Google Update 44% 44%

Using our internal data, 88% of addiction treatment websites that lost traffic in April 2020 also lost traffic after the May 4th update. On average, addiction treatment websites lost 22% of their traffic after Google’s April 2020 shift of focus to larger health organizations, while those same websites lost 41% of their traffic after the May 4th update. The average traffic loss of the most visited sites was 46% compared to only a 14% loss for sites with lower traffic volumes.

So, yes, this update has hit healthcare websites hard. The question to ask is why did the update affect healthcare websites so much?

Current Theories on Drops in Addiction Treatment Website Traffic

COVID-19 Pandemic

The most popular theory is that Google is prioritizing medical information from big websites during the pandemic. Under this theory, Google wants everyone dealing with the pandemic to have good information and it threw out a lot of good content to reach that goal quickly.

Many addiction treatment websites saw the COVID-19 traffic drop beginning in early April 2020. On March 31, 2020, Google’s Daniel Waisberg announced an initiative to help “international health ministries and US State level agencies be more visible on Google Search.”6 This announcement by Google supports the COVID-19 traffic drop theory and our search tracking data.

The most-visited addiction treatment websites lost, on average, 46% of their traffic. These were sites that were providing a lot of great healthcare information to the public. With high-quality healthcare content being the main driver of traffic to these sites and Google bumping them off page one of the search results to focus more on governmental websites, it’s hardly surprising to see such a huge drop in traffic.

Cumulative Update Problems 

Historically, if an industry is hurt by a Google update, the next update will cause even larger traffic drops. Healthcare websites dropped the most in the January 2020 Google update and most likely saw a COVID-19 drop in April 2020. So, you would expect even larger drops in healthcare-related content with the May 4, 2020 Google Core Update.

As stated above, 88% of sites that lost traffic in the April 2020 update also lost traffic after the “Force” update. It’s early yet, but this concept seems likely to be one part of the answer to drops in traffic for addiction treatment centers.

Thin Content 

Another theory is that healthcare websites have been providing a lot of thin content in their marketing strategies. Thin content means webpages that do not answer the questions being asked by the readers. So, if an addiction treatment center is not writing quality content, they will be penalized in the search rankings. However, many websites with high-quality content are being hurt by recent Google updates too, so thin content can’t be the sole answer.

Google Might Consider Your Content Stale

There is a theory that if your top traffic pages haven’t updated between Google core updates, Google will drop that content and put fresher content in your place. While we haven’t seen a lot of data to back this theory, it does fit in with Google’s general practices. Many websites are hesitant to tinker with pages that are performing well, but it could be more important than ever to frequently update your top content.

Addiction treatment websites have many pages that don’t seem like they would need an update. If you have created a comprehensive article about a common drug (like cocaine or heroin) there might not be much new information coming out on those drugs. But, with creativity, it’s possible to add new content that increases the value of an older article.

Does Google Target Certain Industries with Updates?

No one knows for sure why a particular industry is hurt by a Google update. Google has stated that it doesn’t target the healthcare content in its updates. John Mueller from Google stated:

The update we launched . . . was more of a general ranking update. Like we always do. So it’s not specific to medical sites.7

But he didn’t rule out algorithm changes coincidentally affecting one industry more than others.

Is Google’s BERT Update Dropping Addiction Treatment Websites?

The BERT update rolled out in October 2019, and many people feel it has targeted certain industries more than others. BERT is Google’s attempt to give users better answers using contextual information. Google stated that 1 in 10 searches would be affected by BERT. However, John Mueller has stated that traffic drops are more closely related to core updates, and the BERT wasn’t affecting rankings.8

Are Addiction Treatment Websites More Vulnerable to Google Updates?

Many addiction treatment websites have been following similar strategies with content marketing. Many of the same topics were on dozens of websites, and they were driving traffic to their websites. Those results led many in the addiction treatment industry to stick to older marketing strategies that were still working. Why reinvent the wheel? However, because many addiction treatment centers use similar marketing strategies, the entire industry is uniquely vulnerable to algorithm changes.

How Can an Addiction Treatment Website Recover from the May 4, 2020 Google Core Update?

Content Auditing 

If your traffic dropped after the May 4, 2020 Google Core Update, the first thing you should do is a comprehensive content audit of your website. During the audit you look for the following problems:

Short Content That Provides Little Value

If you find short content that provides little value, you have a decision to make. If the topic is important to your industry, you should rewrite the page to add more content and provide answers to the questions people are looking for in the Google search engine. If the short content isn’t on an important topic, you might decide to tell Google to ignore it, so it doesn’t hurt your website in Google’s estimation.

Longer Content That Isn’t Well Written

If you find long content that is poorly written, see if it can be transformed with good editing. If it’s too far gone for editing to help, it is probably best to just have the whole article created by a better writer.

Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is a big problem for older websites. When you create great, new content, you might not even remember you wrote a short blog post about the topic three years ago. It’s important that you identify duplicate content and tell Google which webpage you want it to index for the search rankings. This is one of the easier parts of a content audit, but it can take time if you have hundreds of pages. Spending the time will be worth it in the long run. Not only will you clarify content for Google indexing, but you will also have an outline of your website that you can reference when creating new content.

Keyword Stuffing Remnants from Older Best Practices

Years back, to rank for a keyword, all you needed to do was create a short post that used the keyword often. Google’s algorithm wasn’t sophisticated enough to weed these out. Now, Google’s algorithm is remarkably good at looking at contextual information and finding pages that are keyword-stuffed and provide no value.

So, your old, valid SEO strategy could have included keyword-stuffed posts. You can easily overlook those old posts, but Google’s indexing doesn’t overlook them. You need to tell Google not to index these pages, so it doesn’t penalize you in the search results.

Content That is Too Similar to Articles on Other Websites

If you outsourced some of your articles, your writers may have plagiarized content from other webpages without you realizing it. This problem comes up less frequently than the others, but it’s a huge red flag for Google. It’s worth the time to check each of your indexed pages to make sure they weren’t created by plagiarizing other content.

New, or Updated, Content 

New content is the key to ranking in search engine results. You must be providing new quality content on a regular basis to move up Google’s search results. As discussed above, it also might be wise to frequently update your top-performing pages to keep them fresh in the “eyes” of the algorithm.

The important thing to remember about new, or updated, content, is that it must be well written and answer a question a search engine user is searching for. There are less shortcuts for ranking these days, you must provide great content.

Unique Insights  

Most of Google’s newest updates are designed to provide search engine users with the best answers to their questions. Part of this push for the best content is to value unique content more and more.

While you should be providing content to your readers in a useful format, even if it isn’t new information; you might consider creating your own insights with data journalism for at least a few of your pages. Google values new, unique information highly. So, it is probably worth the extra cost to create quality data journalism pages on your site.

What is Data Journalism?

The definition of data journalism is hotly contested right now. The definition we like the best is – creating content using data as the basis for analysis, presentation, and great storytelling. We are inundated with data. Parsing that data for compelling analysis and storytelling is becoming more important every day. Companies like Google and Facebook are already acting as personal editors of your data. Data journalism strives to provide you valuable information that makes it to you through this personal editing process.

Key Takeaways

Recent Google updates have dropped traffic to healthcare-related websites 

The traffic drop is most likely the result of a Google initiative to move governmental healthcare information to the top of the search results. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic has dragged on, cumulative Google updates have hurt addiction treatment centers with exponential traffic drops.

Google’s efforts during the pandemic have put a spotlight on a website’s “thin content”. Or, content that doesn’t answer the questions Google users are looking for.

If your traffic dropped after the May 4th, 2020 Google Core update, audit your content to make sure your website meets Google’s definition of excellence. 

Create new quality content that is provably useful for Google search users. 

Find your own unique insights with marketing tools like data journalism. 

We Can Help You Recover from Traffic Drops Caused by Google’s “Force” Update 

Active Marketing creates top content for addiction treatment websites. We are here to help you make sense of traffic drops after Google updates and to recover your lost visitors and rankings in the search results. Let us show you how we can help, contact us for a free digital marketing consultation.

Give us a call today: (877) 814-5716