Google's "medic update" to its search algorithm penalizes alternative health websites

Hip

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A major update to Google's search ranking algorithm implemented on 1 August 2018, and dubbed the "medic update", has penalized alternative medicine websites, placing them lower down in search results listings, especially if they are promoting or selling products.

Alternative health websites such as draxe.com, www.mercola.com, www.livestrong.com lost as much as 50% of their web traffic overnight after the medic update. Although www.healthline.com actually experienced a 20% increase in traffic from the update, so was clearly doing something right in Google's eyes.

This article explains why HealthLine did well from the medic update, but Dr Axe was penalized:
HealthLine is a repository of health articles authored by medical doctors and certified nutritionists. Dr. Axe is a health site authored by a chiropractor.
So Google is promoting what it views as authoritative, trustworthy and legitimate sources, over those which are less legitimate.

This medic algorithm update is thought to be connected to general concerns about fake news.



So as a test of the sort of heath and medical websites that Google now serves up, I compared Google's search results to those of duckduckgo.com on the search phrase "chronic fatigue syndrome treatment". I also did the same comparison on the phrase "Parkinson's treatment".

In my test, I examined the websites in the top 10 search results served up by these two search engines. I did not look at the advertised sites, only the top 10 organic search results.

The thing that immediately struck me was that Google's search results were more boring and less useful in comparison to DuckDuckGo's.

DuckDuckGo served up more interesting websites offering useful ME/CFS treatments in its top 10 results, with some websites detailing conventional medicine and pharmaceutical treatments, other websites detailing alternative health and supplement treatments, and some websites giving both conventional and alternative treatments.

Whereas Google's top 10 ME/CFS treatment results were as dull as ditchwater, and provided almost no websites whatsoever listing any ME/CFS treatments.

On the search for "Parkinson's treatment" it was not quite so bad, but DuckDuckGo still gave me more webpages immediately listing various Parkinson's treatments. Whereas quite a few of the webpages provided by Google were just waffly — all pages from official and authoritative websites, but they did not actually list any Parkinson's treatments, which is what I was actually searching for.



So it seems that in their algorithmic efforts to try to avoid fake news and stick to only authoritative and legitimate sources, Google may have made their medical search results listing more boring and less to the point. Perhaps in their endeavors to exclude dubious medical info, Google may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

I've never really used any other search engine apart from Google, because I've usually found Google do an excellent job at serving up the most relevant websites.

But for medical searches, I think I may start testing out DuckDuckGo in future.



Some articles on Google's "medic update" to its search algorithm:
The Google Medic Update: Health Niches Penalties
My thoughts on the August 1, 2018 Google Algorithm Update
 
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hixxy

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IMO you really shouldn't use quotes in searches unless you've already failed to get good results without them. Did you do a comparison without quotes as well?

Edit: This also tells you little about the effects of the algorithm change because you have no before and after.
 

Hip

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IMO you really shouldn't use quotes in searches unless you've already failed to get good results without them. Did you do the comparison's without quotes as well?
I did not actually use the quotes in the search itself. So I searched on chronic fatigue syndrome treatment rather than "chronic fatigue syndrome treatment".
 

hixxy

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When I compared a search for parkinson's treatment on both DuckDuckGo and Google they were pretty similar really, mostly mainstream medical websites and support organisations.

CFS on the other hand shows a couple of alternative health websites missing on Google but otherwise much the same kind of results. The alternative health pages are still listed, just not until the next page. I'd honestly prefer to have major medical, government and support organisation websites on the front page than www.draxe.com and www.verywellhealth.com.
 

Hip

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When I compared a search for parkinson's treatment on both DuckDuckGo and Google they were pretty similar really, mostly mainstream medical websites and support organisations.
When looking for the names of drugs, supplements or other forms of treatment that may be helpful, I like to have those listed directly on the page.

When searching for ME/CFS treatments on Google (and ignoring any CBT/GET stuff), only one page out of 10 gave a list of treatments. Whereas on DuckDuckGo, 4 out of 10 pages directly listed treatments, those pages: here, here, here and here.

For Parkinson's, 6 out of the top 10 Google search results directly listed treatments on the page. Whereas on DuckDuckGo, 9 out of 10 pages directly listed Parkinson's treatments.

I'm just thinking that if Google is restricting itself to websites of known authority, it may miss some websites that are well-written and provide good info, but are not considered as established authorities.


Admittedly the above quick tests do not conclusively demonstrate an inferiority of Google's medical search offerings; but I am going to be testing Google and DuckDuckGo side by side in my future medical searches, so that I can get a better idea of the difference between them.

Note that I am in the UK, and it's possible you will get a different set of search results in other countries.
 
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There is a metasearch-engine called searx where you can choose what search-engines you want it to use (under preferences in the top right corner). It includes more well known search-engines like Bing, Yahoo, Yandex and DuckDuckGo, but also some lesser-known such as Mojeek. It can also redirect paywall-links directly to sci-hub if you enable "Open Access DOI rewrite" which is handy. Searx.me is the most popular instance but there is many other public searx instances which can be compared here.
 

Hope4

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It's interesting your link mentions StartPage uses results from Google. I just perform the same search on StartPage, and it does indeed serve up the same results as Google.
Hi, Hip. I, too, think it is odd. Some years ago, startpage had, in my opinion, better results than google. Now, I just use startpage to compare, sometimes, with what appears on duckduckgo.
 
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Seems like when I try to use other search engines, in a few moments I find I am back on Google, like it just seems to head right over there.
 

Hip

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There is a metasearch-engine called searx where you can choose what search-engines you want it to use
Searcx looks interesting, I am going to check it out. I like the idea of including direct links to Sci Hub in the search results listing.


One search facility I would really like someone to implement is the ability to search the full text of articles on Sci Hub. I am sure a lot of important scientific info is missed because there is nowhere on the Internet that allows you to search the millions of paywalled scientific studies.

It's great to have Sci Hub, so that we can download the full text of most papers; but it would even better if Sci Hub in future provided a full text search facility for all the papers on their servers.