As you may or may not know, Google recently rolled out the March 2023 Core Algorithm Update. Like all Google algorithm updates, this was designed to improve the quality of the search results and rank the most helpful content possible.
But no one really knows what’s going on behind Google's black algorithm box. That said, it's still fun to speculate!
Since I work most closely with people creating content in the health and food space, I wanted to talk about ranking changes and trends I’ve been noticing in this space.
Tune in now to hear about this new update and how it may impact our industry as a whole!
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As you may or may not know, Google recently rolled out the March 2023 Core Algorithm Update.
It ran from March 15th to March 28th, and like all google algorithm updates, was designed to improve the quality of the search results and rank the most helpful content possible.
And as usual, Google is pretty mum on what the algorithm was designed to do, so SEOs and online business owners are left to try and do their own ad hoc analyses to determine which factors may have played a roll in the ranking changes.
Sometimes SEOs who run agencies and have access to the google analytics or google search console data to a lot of their clients sites will attempt to look for patterns of traffic gains or losses amongst their clients in certain industries and then dig deeper to figure out what those sites might have had in common that could have led to traffic losses or gains.
Other people look at rank tracker tools like semrush or visibility tools like Sistrix to analyze the impact of the update on various industries. These tools can typically give aggregate reports on the amount of ranking volatility seen in different niches and a summary of the websites that saw big traffic gains and losses in different niches.
Of course, these types of analyses are far from perfect and are subject to tons of biases and the discovery of correlations that may have nothing to do with causation, etc., so please keep in mind that much of the analyses of the algorithm updates that you will see are just conjecture and theory.
No one really know what’s going on behind Google black algorithm box, but, if you’re anything like me, I still find it really fun to speculate!
There was a lot of chatter on Twitter and in SEO forums that perhaps this algorithm update was attempting to put more emphasis on the new E in EEAT. If you remember, a few months ago Google updated the concept of EAT (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) to be EEAT, with a new E for “experience” at the beginning.
This is the first core update that has come out since the development of this new experience factor, so some people were theorizing that maybe they are working on baking this factor into the core algorithm.
However, interestingly, just a few weeks after this core update completed, Google announced yet another update rolling out, this time called the April 2023 Reviews Update, focused on improving the quality of reviews of all kinds, not just product reviews, which had been the focus of previous updates.
Google specifies that this update is designed to apply to all “articles, blog posts, pages or similar first-party standalone content written with the purpose of providing a recommendation, giving an opinion, or providing analysis.”
So essentially any content that is reviewing or recommending or evaluating something and giving an opinion is now subject to tighter quality control measures, which definitely includes this notion of EXPERIENCE – aka demonstrating that you actually have first hand experience w. The thing that you are reviewing, and you’re not just reading amazon reviews and trying to summarize them, for example.
So including things like videos or pictures showing you using a product or experiencing a location or service, using language that shows that you have firsthand experience, like “our testing shows, based on our experience, etc.”, and creating content designed to genuinely help someone, not just designed to rank and make affiliate sales, are all important things you can do to create content that demonstrates high EEAT.
So overall, I’d say the impact of the March update (and now the April Reviews update, which is still rolling out) is still a little murky.
Since I work most closely with people creating content in the health and food space, I thought I’d talk a little bit about ranking changes and trends I’ve been noticing in this space.
Some of these trends are a lot further reaching than just this latest update and have been in the works for many years or months, but now that enough time has passed, it’s easier to pick up the patterns, so we’ll dive into that.
Google also announced some Google Health related updates in March that i think have an impact on our industry, so I want to chat about those developments to to close out this episode.
So let’s get into it!
Impacts of the March 2023 Core Update in the Health Space
Okay, let’s start by chatting about some of the impacts from the March core algorithm update, particularly in the health space.
Overall, some historically large and dominant editorial style health websites, like Healthline and their sister site Medical News Today, seem to be losing their ranking strongholds.
Government websites and large medical facilities, like Cleveland Clinic, have been gaining or maintaining their rankings, for the most part.
And from what I have seen, in some topic areas, smaller, niche-experts have also been able to rank well on the first page of Google for areas that they have appropriate experience, expertise, authority, and trust in.
The decline of Healthline
So let’s start by diving into the Healthline rankings decline a bit more since I find it super interesting.
According to semrush estimates, Healthline is currently getting an estimates 82 million monthly visitors from Google, which is down significantly from its peak of 281 millions monthly visitors from organic search in May of 2021.
That’s essentially a 70% decrease in organic traffic over the last two-ish years.
I mean, granted, most of us would kill for 82 million monthly visitors, right? Healthline is by all means still a HUGE dominating force in online search, but it’s just not quite at the level it once was.
Looking at the graph, it appears to have been a pretty steady traffic decline over the last 2 years including a continued drop after this latest core update.
So what the heck happened??
Of course, no one knows for sure and this is all just conjecture on my part.
But my hypothesis is that perhaps this is an example of Healthline doing too much, covering too many topics, and not demonstrating sufficient EEAT to rank for some of the topics they are creating content around.
Kind of like the jack of all trades, master of none idea.
If you look at their site, they are covering A LOT of topic areas. Everything from medical conditions, nutrition, mental health, fitness, skin care, womens health, sexual health, and sleep all on one site.
Plus product reviews, recipes, health condition communities, drug info, and more.
I mean, can you REALLY be the go to authority on ALL of those things on ONE site? I’d be a little skeptical, personally.
Additionally, Healthline has changed the way they produce content over the last few years as well. Some branches of their website have transitioned from paying credentialed practitioners to write original content to paying non-credentialed journalists a lower rate to create the content and then pay medical experts a fee on top of that to review and sign off on the content.
There’s really no way of knowing whether that process played any role in their ranking drops, but it’s just one data point to keep in mind as we think about these changes.
If you filter this idea through the lens of EEAT, it’s pretty clear that the original journalists creating the content probably don’t have much first hand experience in some of the health-related topics they may be writing about, so when they’re pitted against content created by actual experts with real world experience, perhaps it’s not quite up to snuff.
I poked around at the type of keywords Healthline is ranking for to see what they are ranking for right now and what they used to rank for, back at their peak in 2021, that they are no longer ranking for today.
Again, overall, healthline is still a huge player in the nutrition space and they remain a website that anyone in creating content in the nutrition niche should keep an eye on.
The currently rank very well for a lot of short-tail, super high volume diet related keywords, like:
- Mediterranean diet (450k, 100)
- Keto diet (368k, 100)
- Intermittent fasting
- Healthy snacks
- High protein foods
- High fiber foods
They also rank highly for a lot of articles on food-related keywords, like:
- Dragon fruit
- Chia seeds
They have high ranking articles on various type of supplements, like:
- Cbd gummies
- Magnesium glycinate
- Castor oil
And interestingly, they still rank for some other sort of random high-volume keywords, like:
- Skin lesions
- Imposter syndrome
- Sativa vs indica
- Pregnancy symptoms
- Delta 8
If you compare that to what they were ranking for in May 2021, they were actually ranking for a much broader set of high volume keywords.
Keto diet was still #1 (and had nearly 3x the monthly search volume then) but also weird things like:
- Prince albert piercing
- Strep throat
- Spider bites
It seems like they LOST a lot of rankings for the more medically type of topics over the last few years.
But again, that makes sense to me, because if you look at who wrote those articles, often times they were written by journalists, sometimes with a health background, like nursing, but usually not by MDs or niche experts in that topic.
If you Google those keywords now and take a look at who is ranking, it seems like they lost their big summary articles on these broad topics to more niche expert sites.
For example, Healthline used to rank #2 for the keyword “coffee” with a post about the health benefits of coffee.
NOW they are in position 11 for that same keyword.
Who is ranking on page 1 now instead?
Well, the search results now include:
- An ad to buy coffee
- Local map to find a coffee shop near you
- Coffee page on wikipedia
- Coffeebean website
- National Coffee Association of USA post – What Is Coffee?
- Encyclopedia Britannica entry on coffee
- Buy coffee on amazon
- Peets coffee website
- Harvard University nutrition post on coffee
- Tasting Table post – 31 best coffee brands ranked
- Starbucks website
- John Hopkins Medicine – 9 reasons why coffee is good for you
So some of the declines I think are due to changes in search intent and some are due to changes in EEAT and topical expertise.
Right now the search results show a roughly 50-50 split, with half of the results targeting purchase intent and half targeting informational intent.
Google also appears to be giving heavy preference to niche authority sites and medical authority sites.
For example, of the sites that provide information, the ones ranking on page one are Wikipedia, the National Coffee Association of the United States, the Britannica Encylopedia, Harvard University, Tasting Table, and John Hopkins Medicine.
I mean, wow, those are some authoritative and/or highly niched sources right there, right?
The decline of editorial health sites and the rise of trustworthy sources
So this is just one small example of a pattern that I’ve been seeing develop in the search results over time.
The emphasis on more established, accredited sources of health information (like nonprofits, government associations, or medical schools) and/or niche experts with a lot of experience and expertise on the topic vs broad publishing style websites that are for-profit and try to cover every topic under the sun.
So for example, other websites of this type that have seen decreases in traffic include:
- WebMD.com [Internet Brands] – currently getting around 80 million monthly organic sessions, according to semrush, but that is down over 50% from their peak in January 2022.
- MedicalNewsToday [Healthline Media] – down ~ 50% since October ‘21
- Rxlist.com [Internet Brands] – steady decline over the last few years
- Medicinenet.com [InternetBrands] – huge drop since Jul ‘21, from 30M to 4M
- Verywellmind.com [DotDash Media] – declining since Jan ‘22, down about 50% since then
- Eatthis.com [galvanized media] down to 1.6mil from 6.6mil in Sept ‘21
- Spine-health.com [Veritas Health] 5 mil → 1.4mil
- Bodybuilding.com from 14M → 1M over the last 5 years
In contrast, other government and medical establishment websites have remained relatively stable or grown, like
- Nih.gov (97M) pretty steady, slight boost [Gov]
- Clevelandclinic.org [Hospital]
- Mountsinai.org [Hospital]
- Usda.gov [gov]
- Thebump.com [up over 20%,) [XO group w. The knot and the bash]
- Aad.org (steadily rising over time)
- Healthpartners.com [hospital]
- Uclahealth.org [hospital]
- Diabetes.org (association)
So to sum up my thoughts….
Maybe Google is no longer favoring large conglomerate sites that cover every topic under the sun in the health space?
Government and medical facility websites are gaining rankings more than editorial websites, so that is something to keep an eye on.
Obviously, an individual content creator is not going to have the same EEAT as a large established medical association, so that will probably make it hard to compete for large broad terms in the health space.
So what do we have to do?
Niche, niche, niche!!
The imprortance of niche experience and expertise
If there is ever a shot to land on page one for competitve terms in your niche, it is by becoming a known niche expert in your space.
Have a CLEAR niche. That can really help you rank better than you perhaps “deserve” based on just your website’s age and backlinks.
For example, if you search for something like “low sodium cheese”, the first few results are from large wellness magazines like eatingwell and women’s health.
Those sites have very high DAs (77 and 87, respectively).
But who is in spot #3???
An article from saltsanity.com with a DA of 5 (!!!!).
This is essentially an entire website about low sodium living and it has only been around for about 1 year. It has an extremely low DA, meaning it has very few backlinks from other websites, but what it DOES have is topical authority on the low sodium diet and experience and expertise because the content is created by a chef.
Action steps for health and wellness bloggers
So if you’re looking for action steps to take away from this episode…
#1: Get CLEAR on your niche
Go hard fleshing out articles around one topic you really want to be known for.
And don’t be afraid to get specific. For example, focus on IBS instead of just generic “gut health”, picky eating instead of just kids nutrition, low fodmap diet instead of just “healthy eating”, kidney stones instead of just renal nutrition, etc.
I know it can feel limiting… but trust me, you will gain traction much faster if you niche down and focus on growing in one area FIRST.
That doesn’t mean you can’t expand later or even build multiple sites in different niches once you get the hang of things.
But the LAST thing you want to do is go too broad, not see any results because you’re not sending any clear signals on what you’re an expert or an authority on, and then just burn out and decide blogging doesn’t work.
#2: Put a BIG focus on improving your EEAT
Not sure how to do this? I highly highly recommend enrolling in the next version of my SEO Made Simple course, coming very soon, for the latest guidance on how to improve your EEAT.
I have completely updated this section of the course with the most up to date recommendations for boosting EEAT, including advice on how to improve your home page, about page, and contact page.
How to use author bylines, bios, and pages on your site. How to evaluate and improve the digital reputation of both your business and the content creators in your business. How to earn more media mentions and links.
And how to send strong trust signals from your website by optimizing your footer, having clear editorial processes, highlighting testimonials and ratings, and more.
Examples of some wins from the March 2023 core update
And just so you know that it’s not all doom and gloom out there, there are many people in
my course who did really well from this update and even people who were previously hit in one of the 2022 updates that are reporting improvements in this update.
- Dietitian in the gut-brain health niche, up 50%
- Women’s health, up slightly (50-100 additional sessions per day)
- Vegan niche, up about 50%
- Cancer niche is up
- Gut health and food sensitivities, up
- PCOS – up
- Another PCOS niche, up over 50% in March
Lots of positive results for the people inside my course, which is great!
Impacts of the March 2023 Core Update in the Food Blogging Space
I will admit that I feel more strongly dialed into the health space than the food space at this moment in time, so my analysis of the impact on the food blogging space may not be as strong.
But aside from specifically what happened during the March core update, I’d love to touch on just a few general trends in this space that you should be aware of if you are a food blogger.
I didn’t notice any mega mega changes in rankings in the food blogging space after this update.
Someone posted a poll in the Facebook group Food Bloggers Central, which is a free Facebook group where a lot of food bloggers hang out, asking what impacts people have seen from the March update.
Over 180 people responded, 70% said no significant changes from the update, 15% noted a modest increase in organic traffic and 15% saw a significant decrease in traffic. No one on the poll noted a super large spike in traffic.
These results make a lot of sense. Most people saw no significant change, but 15% of people seem to have had improvements while another 15% saw losses.
This makes sense because if one person goes down in the rankings, someone else has to move up to take that spot. So the same amount of people who had increases should also have decreases, and that rang true in this poll.
But aside from ranking fluctuations, I think there are some general trends in this space to be aware of.
The first is the rise of different forms of content on mobile search results.
Maybe 6 or 7 years ago, the recipe niche was still mostly dominated by recipe blog posts ranking on the first page of Google.
Video was definitely present and was a way to stand out amongst the competition, but not everyone was doing it and it didn’t always seem *necessary* to rank well in Google.
Today, in 2023, according to semrush, roughly 50% of mobile searches and 1/3rd of all desktop searches in the food and drink category show video in the top 20 search results.
So if you are a food blogger, video is really no longer a nice to have and is really a must have in order to be competitive and really capture all the opportunity that exists in this space.
At this moment in time, semrush only tracks the presence of regular video carousels in the search results. But savvy bloggers who are paying attention know that there are two other types of carousels that show up just as frequently on mobile these days in the food and drink space, and that is Google web stories and short form video like TikTok videos, FB Reels, or YouTube shorts.
I believe that these additional forms of content creation are also becoming must-haves if you want to capture as much space in the serps as possible.
For example, if you search for “snickerdoodle cookies” on your phone on Google, this is what you’ll see in the results:
- Two regular recipe blog posts for snickerdoodle cookies (with video)
- A recipe carousel, which you can get featured in if you use a recipe card in your post (and if you don’t know what that is, definitely put your name on the waitlist for my course at seowaitlist.com, to get notified when it opens up again soon! I walk you through all the steps for publishing an SEO optimized recipe post in the course, including how to use and optimize your recipe card plugin.)
- A People Also Ask box
- A knowledge panel about Snickerdoodles with information about the cookies pulled from Wikipedia and the Google knowledge graph, including another feature of the #1 ranked recipe and a YouTube video as well
- There is a shopping box to purchase cookies
- 2 more regular recipe posts
- A short videos box w. 2 YouTube shorts videos, one TikTok video, and one Facebook Reel
- A Visual Stories box with 4 google webstories from bloggers – and of note – these are NOT the same bloggers who are ranking organically in the 4 previous search results, so this is an opportunity to get higher placement than you might have w. Just a blog post.
- And then a bunch more regular blog posts (but let’s be honest, it’s unlikely anyone is scrolling that far to click on these, given so many options for posts and videos above.)
So in my opinion, if you are a food blogger, I think it is definitely worth your time to create Google Web Stories and short form video (in the form of YouTube shorts, TikTok, and/or Reels) to increase your chances of ranking well in the search results and getting visibility on your content.
Of course, Google Web Stories themselves don’t lead directly to traffic to your blog post, but usually people include a link to the full recipe within the story slides and if you are able to rank for those, a certain % of people will click over to view the actual recipe post and you should see an increase in traffic, which of course then can boost your ad revenue as well.
With short form video, you will actually be sending people to a different location than your blog (like your YouTube channel, TikTok profile, or FB page), but at least in the case of YouTube shorts, you can monetize those with ads if you get enough views, so it’s still a potential win and a new way to build an audience and diversify your business in a way that is still evergreen.
Example of a dietitian food blog that did well in the March 2023 update
Just for fun, I thought I would highlight an example of a dietitian-run food blog that saw gains from the March 2023 core update.
The website mjandhungryman.com is a food blog run by a dietitian named MJ and it is focused on “simple wholesome baby and kid friendly recipes”.
So see again how this site has a clear niche and is creating topical authority by publishing content around baby and kid friendly recipes?
According to semrush estimates, this site is currently getting around 90,000 monthly organic sessions from Google and has really seen a huge surge in growth over the last year or so.
In March 2022 they were only getting an estimated 20k monthly sessions from Google, but now, roughly one year later, they have almost 5x’d their traffic and are close to 100k monthly sessions.
Based on their stats in semrush, it looks like this website was actually founded in 2012, but didn’t hone in on becoming an authority in the kids recipe space until closer to 2018, when she had her first child and started sharing recipes that she was feeding to her own family.
And boom, it all took off from there.
And what I LOVE about this example is that it’s such a good reminder that it’s never too late to niche down and find your special area of expertise.
MJ had a traditional food blog without much of a niche for 6 years before pivoting into baby and kid recipes and once she focused in on that one type of content to become an expert in, things really took off, both in organic search traffic and on other platforms like social media as well.
Today she has nearly 500k followers on IG, which I would bet is directly related to that pivot to creating content that helps parents who are feeding their children.
See the difference there? The pivot was from sharing generic recipes that weren’t really speaking to anyone in particular, to creating content that was actually helping to solve a problem experienced by lots and lots of people – what the heck do I feed my kids?
Today, some of the top keywords that mjandhungryman.com ranks for includes
- Baby yogurt
- Bento box ideas
- Baby led weaning foods
- Toddler breakfast ideas
- School snacks
- Oatmeal for babies
But I also want to highlight how MJ did NOT start over completely from scratch with a new website when she decided to pivot. She didn’t even change her domain name! She just slowly started shifting her content to feature more and more recipes for babies and kids and continued to lean into what was working!
It’s really that simple. Don’t over think things. Taking consistent action (over 10 years in this case) towards your goals is what will bring you eventual success. NOT stopping and starting over 10 different business ideas over 10 years when you don’t see success 1 year in.
Another food blog winner in the March 2023 update
Another interesting website that seems to be kicking butt after this core update is Tastesbetterfromscratch.com
This website is currently getting record high levels of traffic. Semrush estimates over 5 million organic visitors per month.
And on the actual website, they say they get over 10million visitors per month from all traffic sources.
And if you do a super conservative estimate of ad revenue on those traffic numbers, assuming maybe $20 in ad revenue per 1,000 visitors, that would be $200k/month in ad revenue. Bananas!!!
I just wanted to highlight something interesting that I noticed they’re doing and I wonder how it might be helping them w. Their rankings.
This brand holds monthly recipe challenges on FB and IG, where they feature a specific recipe and anyone who makes the recipe and then leaves a review on their website is entered to win a $100 amazon gift card.
They have 300k followers on FB and 150k on IG, so that’s a lot of potential people who could be clicking on, consuming, and rating the recipe they have chosen to feature.
And as we know, recipe ratings are displayed in the organic search results and having lots of good ratings can increase the perceived trust of that content and boost the click through rate if people think the recipe is going to be really good.
Now, one huge caveat here – I think legally, this type of promotion where people are incentivized to leave a review, had to follow some pretty stric rules from the FTC regarding disclosure of incentivized reviews and also giving people the option to enter the sweepstakes in an alternative, passive way, like via mail entry, without actually leaving a review for the recipe.
I do not know if this website is aware of these guidelines or if they are following them, but if you have ever thought about doing something similar, just be aware that there ARE really important FTC guidelines you have to follow when doing a sweepstakes and when incentivizing reviews.
For example, I know Nordstroms used to do a similar type of review contest for clothing products on their websites, but for anyone who submitted a review that also entered them into the sweepstakes, there was a little label on the comment that said “incentivized review”.
I have no idea how that might work on a wordpress website, you’d probably need to do a good amount of work custom coding a solution there, but yeah, I would definitely make sure you’re compliant before trying this type of tactic to avoid potentially hefty fines. But I still think it is an interesting idea.
I can also see how you could strategically hand pick the recipes you want to feature in the contest and try to include recipes that are targeting really competitive keywords with lots of search volume.
For example, they are currently running the sweepstakes around a Belgian waffle recipe that they recently updated. It was originially published in 2018, updated in 2021m, and updated again at the end of march 2023.
Their post currently ranks #2 for the keyword belgian waffles, which has 15k searches per month. So they are likely getting a lot of traffic and clicks to that recipe by ranking #2 right now.
The recipe currently has 146 votes so far, with a 4.8 star rating.
The #1 ranking recipe that they are trying to overtake has 1,600 ratings, so they have a bit to go to compete there, but I understand the strategy they are going for.
Key takeaways for ranking well in 2023
Overall, my advice is pretty much on par with everything we’ve been discussing on the podcast over the last year or so.
More than ever, it is important to become a niche expert in something and really become an authority in your space.
Some of this goes beyond just content and into larger, brand building efforts as well, like getting published, getting media features and mentions, networking with other big names in your space, and working on becoming a name that people can’t help but think of when they think of your niche or the area you work in.
And I don’t want to sugar coat it. These things take time.
I think the days of being able to easily throw up a site with a bunch of mediocre content and rank and bank are pretty much gone. Google wants to reward authoritative, trustworthy sources of content. So how can you become one?
It may not be easy, but I still think it’s worth it. Blogging and online business is a long-game effort, but the payoff when done right is incredible. You can create income streams for yourself that are passive and evergreen AND a blog can also become an excellent asset that you could choose to sell if you’d like to exit the project and try something else.
I know at the top of this episode I also mentioned that I wanted to talk about some announcement from Google Health related to AI advancements in the medical space and some more details about the highlighting of authoritative medical sources on YouTube, but honestly, I think that might be veering into information overload in this episode… so I’m going to save it and maybe make that the episode for next week instead… and then I can do the episode about analyzing a traffic drop the following week.
I really do think some of the things I dug into related to the March Google Health announcements are hugely important and actually tie into some of the things we are seeing with the Google search result ranking fluctuations in the health space as well.
I haven’t seen anyone talking about this or taking this angle of analysis, so I am super excited to report my findings and give you some actionable tips that I have taken away from the information Google has shared.
Essentially, we know that Google wants to share info from trustworthy sources, but what does “trustworthy” really mean and how can we work on becoming a trustworthy source ourselves?
I actually found some really incredibly detailed and actionable information that I can’t wait to share with you on this podcast and of course, I am including step-by-step implementation tutorials in the updated version of my SEO Made Simple course that will be coming out very soon.
So if you’re not on the waitlist yet, please add your name and email at seowaitlist.com to get notified when the course opens again. Hopefully in the next few weeks!
Hope you enjoyed this episode and I’ll catch you next week!