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Did Your Organic Site Traffic Dip in May? Here's Why

Google has officially confirmed their latest algorithm update, the “Quality Update,” which rolled out at the beginning of May. Although Google hasn’t officially stated how their algorithm now processes quality signals, it’s clear that this update does not target a specific category of site (like how-to sites, blogs, etc.) and is not a spam-fighting update. Rather, this update seeks to provide more relevant and quality sites to users — the Quality Update is all about your site’s content!

Due to stringent legal restrictions for branded DTP prescription drug sites, pharma manufacturers and marketers often face difficulty in creating “valuable” or “quality” content for patients. We know that unbranded disease state awareness content helps brand sites rank in organic search, but it’s difficult to get that content approved. This often causes brand drug sites to have thin or duplicative content. Have you seen a dip in organic traffic since May? Your site may have been affected by Google’s Quality Update. 

How does Google process “quality”?

Although Google does not disclose the specifics of their ranking algorithms, they have provided some guidance on how to build high-quality sites. A few questions that content creators, webmasters, and pharma marketers should ask when building content include:

  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant content?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests or readers; does the site generate content by guessing what will rank well in search engines?
  • Is the content short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in specifics?
  • Are there at least 300–500 words of content on each page?
  • For a health related query, would you trust the information on the site?
  • Does the content provide original information, reporting, or research?

If your content is not original, substantial, and of intrinsic value to patients, consider excluding it from the site. More content does not mean better content! For example, it’s more valuable to have one in-depth page about blood sugar levels than multiple thin-content pages for hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia, and blood sugar levels.

How might a site be affected by the Quality Update?

We’ve pulled some blinded data from a Merkle Health client that aligns to these best practices and one that doesn’t, and you can see a significant difference in performance following the algorithm update:

  • Client 1 has a high volume of duplicated content and many pages with under 150 words of text.
  • Client 1’s rankings began to drop in early May, and traffic declined week over week following the rollout of the Quality Update.

Client 1's Traffic

One health client's organic traffic dipped as a result of Google's Quality Update

  • Client 2 aligns to our content best practices for unique headings and text.
  • Client 2 has at least 300 words of HTML text on almost all pages.
  • Client 2’s unbranded rankings jumped to page 1 following the algorithm update — traffic saw a massive increase following this ranking improvement.

Client 2's Traffic

Another health client's traffic rose because is was already in good shape

How can a site bounce back from low rankings due to low-quality content?

Keep Google’s recommended questions in mind when developing new site content. Developing DTP content in pharma is difficult, but remember: quality over quantity. Only create new content that will provide value to searchers, and consider consolidating or removing content that is thin or duplicative.

Consider the content that patients want or need — perhaps disease state awareness or disease state education content is valuable for patients recently prescribed a medication, but patients further along in their therapeutic journey might need content more focused on dosing adjustments or adverse events.

Since low-quality content can affect an entire site’s rankings, remove low quality pages or improve the pages to fit Google’s standards for content. If shallow pages cannot be made robust due to legal restrictions on language or sparse resources, consider removing the pages entirely or migrating them to a microsite.

Quality content benefits more than just rankings

As you can see, the new algorithm update has the potential to make a huge impact on rankings and site traffic, so aligning to SEO best practices will help keep your client’s site visible in search results.