The medical behemoth ‘Mercola.com’ was slapped with a manual Google penalty, which saw its traffic wiped-out by almost 99%.
If you have an ear for Google SEO news, you might have come across the Google medical update that happened around June 3.
Basically mercola.com disappeared from the face of Google’s search results.
Today, you can’t find Mercola in the top 100 positions for any of the keywords that it used to rank with ease and pleasure.
After the massive update, Mercola has come-out with articles and Youtube videos (ironically published in another Google property) voicing grievous outrage against Google. Basically, mercola sees itself as the victim of Google’s Orwellian ‘big brother’ attitude where it feels free to eliminate anyone that stands-in the way of dictating the online world as it sees fit.
But If you look at it objectively, there is no other way to but to notice the discrepancies in Dr. Mercola’s argument. For someone who works in the search engine optimization industry, this discrepancy only becomes even more obvious.
Without further adieu, let me get into those and what we could potentially learn about what Google is trying to achieve through this update.
Mercola.com was all-about SEO until June 4
I’ve added Mercola’s traffic report in ahrefs. You can realistically expect the actual traffic numbers to be the double of the numbers shown in the image.
As per ahref stats, the actual traffic numbers would be twice or thrice of this number.
Moreover, if you have ever gone to Mercola.com, it’s full of on-your-face offers and enticing up-sells. There are multiple SEO techniques that don’t help visitor, but increase page views and time to read an article.
Enough said. Now, let’s look at what actually conspired to penalize on Mercola.
Google needs to retain and reinforce their position as the starting point of every web session across the Globe. For this, they need to continue providing the best possible answer to every query. Their existence depends on it.
This obliges Google’s to limit the number of unhelpful and incorrect results within its search results.
Why Google singled-out Mercola.com for the manual Penalty?
Why would Google actually impose manual Penalty rather than roll-out an overall algorithmic update as they have always done?
Is it because Mercola owned a large share of traffic for highly lucrative medical keywords? Did Google ever have a financial motive behind this move? Did Google make Mercola.com its proverbial scapegoat for everything wrong with the internet today? Is it secret grudge?
Although all these seem to be the apparent answers, I think that there’s much more reasonable explanation about why this happened.
Is manual penalty the new way of working-out chinks in Google update?
I have a hypothesis about why Google would go the manual penalty route rather than the normal algorithmic updates.
By that I mean that it’s time to put-on those fashionable tin hats and go for a ride. Here we go!
Today, there are over one billion websites in the world. Even Google cannot gather enough work-force to manually review even a sample of all these websites. Instead, it’s done through implementing search filters.
We have come to know of these filters as Google updates. The purpose of these filters is sifting-out bad websites from Google search results.
Usually, these filters are less than effective or go way overboard at achieving their objectives. Google makes multiple back-and-forth updates to achieve their objective. This means large server cost, more workload for Google engineers and more discontent webmasters and business/website owners.
Enter Google’s manual penalty system.
By penalizing a large humongous individual website that deserves penalizing, Google would be able to collect data that directly correlates to the effect of the update.
For example, by penalizing mercola.com, Google can directly track the overall variations in indexes and search behavior. This would help them avoid the large-scale testing and associated errors associated with creating a new updates.
1. Review effects within the Google’s AI-based Rankbrain algorithm
Google introduced its full-fledged version of Google’s Rankbrain algorithm around the last quarter of 2016. Based on the Rankbrain algorithm, all new search terms are reviewed based on the co-relation with other similar terms.
In other words, the AI-based algorithm works as the end-product of all searches conducted by the actual user and the user satisfaction associated with these searches. We have some rouge ideas about how Google measure the user satisfaction. For example, we can say that Google measures CTR and dwell time for each individual post.
2.Track social conversations around Mercola.com
On June 24th, Google applied its magic eraser and removed all traces of Mercola.com from its search engine results.
If Mercola.com already had a steady following, this would lead to large level of discontent. It could have resulted in a big uproar or a complete PR meltdown. Like, what we witnessed after the game of thrones 8th season.
But that simply didn’t happen.
Instead, when I search for Mercola in twitter, I’m only able to see tweets and from other SEO’s about this change. And, almost all of them are echoing opinions that are similar to my own.
Expect for Dr. Mercola’s youtube video around the same subject, we have seen similar low levels of interest around this subject.
3. Mercola.com claims to be peer reviewed, but are they really?
Let’s say somebody Google “Is swine flu deadly?” As per Mercola, it’s just another kind of measly flu that plays touch-and-go with its patients. But as per studies, swine flu caused 36,000 deaths within the US alone.
Being a search engine for information, Google is obliged to ensure that all information is being discovered through its interface is safe and sound. In countless cases, this hasn’t been the case with Mercola.com.
In their website, Dr.Mercola claims that his studies have been verified by peers. In reality, I couldn’t find any proof of Peer verified content by Dr.Mercola.
Again, I return to my trusted partners of research at Google and Ahrefs. I was able to discover quality .com and .org domain links, but none of them belonged to any actual medical publications.
4. Can Google measure the Trustworthiness of a Domain?
Yes. Google measures the EAT (expertness, authority and trust) of a domain. Is it possible for Google to actually measure the trustworthiness of a website and its information?
Based on my simple Google searches, I was able to find their listing at quackwatch.org. A notice of alert was published against Dr. Mercola by a fellow doctor. But this time, it’s an actual doctor with an MD in the area of specialization.
Here is my hunch.
Similar to Local listings, Google’s could utilize websites such as these to discover and blacklist untrustworthy websites.
5. Can Google measure the type of links?
Whether it’s a social post or review website, a positive or negative review will generate a link for the brand.
Until a few months ago, Google wasn’t able to recognize the intent behind an individual link. Without recognizing the true intent behind an individual link, Google was stuck with rewarding that each link as a vote of confidence.
In the recent months, this situation has undergone a massive change.
As per Marie Hynes, Google has developed the ability to discover the nature of intent surrounding each link.
If you follow the bread trail crumbs, you can see that there are a lot of negative conversations happening around mercola.com.
I verified this by entering Dr. Mercola into the popular Q&A forum Quora. The first question that I found was “Is Dr. Mercola a reliable source of information?”. All the answers varied between recommending taking a surefooted approach or calling him a downright fraud.
If you have an overwhelmingly negative undertone around your business, Google may think that it’s not wise to send traffic your way, right?
As SEO’s, we are continually trying to read between the lines and infer whatever we can through Google’s different updates. I wrote this article hoping to share my thoughts on why Google would bother with this extreme measure.
Also, whatever I could infer to learn from the misfortune of Dr. Mercola. It was truly never my intention to hurt anyone’s feeling.( if Mr.Mercola happens to read this article.)
Also, I beg to differ from the opinion that Google is a toxic influence on the web. I beg to differ. Even if it’s not necessarily at the best interest of web, I believe that it’s at the best interest of searchers.
Please feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comment section.
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Mr. Prassanna Kumar is Industry veteran with in-depth experience in various fields of digital marketing such as SEO, PPC and Facebook marketing. With his integrative knowledge, he helps business to grow fast. With almost 10 year experience in the digital field, you can almost say that he has seen it and done it all….You can connect with him at his linkedin profile