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Health Websites That Have Been Crushed by Google’s Censorship (and those crushing it)

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

The data from this post is all coming from ahrefs. This post is a companion to the post I wrote here about Google censorship.

Here’s a Brief Diagram

Below there’s a more comprehensive spreadsheet of sites that have been crushed, and sites that have been crushing it.

Why I Am Publishing This

There seems to be some naive people in the SEO world that think that the declines are mostly due to technical issues. Most of the larger websites here, including SelfHacked and Examine, consulted with many SEO experts and implemented a variety of changes, while our traffic continued to decline after each successive update.

Some of the websites that declined may indeed have some technical SEO problems, but Google is smart enough to not place much emphasis on this.

When looking at all the data, it’s hard for me not to think that up to 95% of the variation in health websites have nothing to do with anything SEO technicalities.

In fact, the first post I ever read about SEO in my life was a year ago. I always believed that if you create the best content, Google will rank you. But after these changes, I studied SEO very intensively in the past year and made a bunch of changes to the website.

We focused on the most important aspects such as site speed, user experience, quality and authoritativeness of the content. We also fixed significant technical SEO issues. Examine and other sites did the same.

Those SEO changes actually helped us quite a lot with the ‘dumber’ search engines such as Bing and DuckDuckGo, but our Google traffic kept going down. After a year of searching and consulting with experts, and looking at the industry as a whole, I’ve come to realize that this is not a technical SEO problem.

Google is only getting smarter and it would be stupid to think they are caring about irrelevant technical SEO details.

Google is simply not ranking any sites that are not on their “approved” list. Whether they did this through algorithm or manually is irrelevant, as the results are the same.

This is a shame because sites like SelfHacked work tirelessly to create the most thorough and reliable information out there and we have the most rigorous process in creating content in the health industry.

Google has gone from waging a battle against clear falsehoods, to waging war against their “unapproved truth”.

Our traffic from DuckDuckGo looks similar to non-Google search engines:

Here’s our traffic from Google as we worked to fix outstanding SEO issues: 

Now, almost all of our searches from Google are either “branded”, non-medical or health topics, or longtail keywords that the mega-brand websites haven’t written about.

Sites That Have Been Crushed by Google’s Updates in the Past 1.5 Years (~Feb 2018)

It’s important to mention that there are hundreds of smaller sites that have disappeared but I haven’t brought them down because they are too small. However, cumulatively, they can make up quite a lot of traffic. They have disappeared without anyone noticing.

While the sites that didn’t do well can be classified as “alternative”, in actuality, there’s a huge variance in how these sites operate. At SelfHacked, we try to not be classified as part of any discipline. We only care about facts, not opinions or beliefs.

We state as accurately as possible, in a lay person-friendly way, what the science on a subject says, without injecting our opinions. However, since Google has classified us as “alternative”, then I guess that’s what we are.

Why Did I Set 1.5 Years as the Threshold

Google’s medic update first came out on August 1st, 2018. However, it’s possible smaller medic updates came out before, so I pushed the timeline back another 6 months to get a bigger picture of traffic.

Also, some sites like Examine got hit for seemingly technical reasons initially before the medic updates happened. As they fixed their technical issues, their traffic should’ve gone up. So it’s misleading to just look at their traffic from right before the update because it doesn’t take into account that they fixed technical issues and still declined even further. This is why I set 1.5 years as the threshold rather than 1 year.

How We Came Up with Percentage Decline

Since Google’s updates can cause fluctuation, we took the highest point of traffic in the past 1.5 years, and compared it to traffic as of August 22nd, 2019.

Domain Rating

DR is the Domain Rating. This basically says how well the backlink profile to a site is. The higher the backlink profile, the more “authority” the site has.

The reason we are including the domain rating is because search engines place a strong emphasis on it. So if you see a site with a high domain rating go down significantly over a short period, that means that something significant is taking place. A domain rating over 70 would indicate a relatively high authority site in the eyes of search engines.

Very large websites will have a domain rating of over 85. Two years ago, Mercola and Dr Axe were the most trafficked alternative health websites. Dr. Axe has a DR of 86 and Mercola 88.

The website with the highest domain rating in the health and medical industry would be WebMD at 92.

However, Google has ignored a websites domain rating when coming out with these changes. Mercola got hit the hardest and has the highest domain rating in the “alternative” health space at 88.

Sites Excluded

It’s important to note that we didn’t cherry-pick which sites to include or exclude to fit our theory. We excluded sites that never got significant SEO traffic. We didn’t have any hard cutoff because we also included historical traffic and brand recognition as well in deciding who to include.

We also excluded a few sites that changed their domain name in middle of all of the updates, so it was difficult to see exactly what change the decline had. For example, “healthygut.com” was excluded because it was formerly SCDlifestyle.com and while the owner says his traffic declined by over 50% by the updates, it’s hard for me to tell how much with ahrefs.

The Percentages are Underestimating Declines (they are actually higher)

Branded searches

In many of these cases, the declines can be significantly higher than it seems. For example, Examine, Greenmedinfo, and KellyBroganMD only get “branded” search results show up. What this means is that the only way you will find their content is by typing the domain name of the website with the search query.

“Ashwagandha SelfHacked” would be an example of a branded search, or even simply “Selfhacked” or “Self hacked”.

Examine claims that almost all of their traffic is from branded search results, so even though it shows a “94%” decline, it’s actually closer to 98%-99% when you exclude the branded searches.

In the case of KellyBroganMD, all of her searches are currently branded, which means people are typing into Google her name. So in reality, her traffic decline is close to 100%, but it only shows 85% here.

Searches that are not health or medically related

Another reason why these declines are even more than they seem is because Google has stopped ranking these sites for terms that can be considered health or medically related.

For example, at SelfHacked, most of our search traffic from Google is from food results, such as purple sweet potatoes.

Sites like WellnessMama declined by ‘only’ 66% because their content is more diverse. A lot of their posts have to do with recipes, product reviews, and foods. They rank for terms such as “bone broth”, and their article is about how to make homemade bone broth. This isn’t a medical topic, so they still rank for it. For a topic like “colloidal silver” (a health/medical topic), they don’t show up in the top 100 results of Google.

This means that the more websites speak about health or medical topics, the more the whole domain gets downranked. In addition, specific posts talking about health and medical topics also got downranked.

This is why sites like SelfHacked and Examine got hit particularly hard – because we don’t have many posts about foods or recipes.

In their quest to censor websites, they not only downranked domains, but they also downranked traffic from terms that can be considered health or medical.

Ecommerce Sites

If you notice, Lifeextension.com doesn’t seemed to have faired so poorly. You may think that they are doing something right, but that’s not the case. For some reason, Google algorithm didn’t penalize ecommerce sites as much, and actually elevated quite a few of them. Life extension sells a lot of supplements on their site and they are more of an ecommerce site than a content website. But by being ecommerce, they were able to escape some of the harshest treatment.

SiteURLGoogle Traffic in past 1.5 yrs by percentage (from peak if decline…if increase, then increase since 1.5 yrs ago)DRType of site/Owned by/Notes
Mercolaarticles.mercola.com-100%88
Ayzdorovayzdorov.ru-99%66
Top 10 Home Remediestop10homeremedies.com-99%73
Nootrimentnootriment.com-98%62
Dr. Jockersdrjockers.com-98%65
Natural Living Ideasnaturallivingideas.com-97%75
Steady Healthsteadyhealth.com-97%61
Phoenix Risingphoenixrising.me-96%51
Honey Colonyhoneycolony.com-96%62
LongeCitylongecity.org-95%53
Doc’s Opiniondocsopinion.com-95%55
GreenMedInfoGreenmedinfo.com-95%77
Bulletproofblog.bulletproof.com-94%78
Braintropicbraintropic.com-94%41
Examineexamine.com-94%79
Global Healing Centerglobalhealingcenter.com-94%79
Nootropedianootropedia.com-93%60
SelfHackedselfhacked.com-93%72
Superfoodlysuperfoodly.com-93%59
Dr. Axedraxe.com-91%86
Be Brain Fitbebrainfit.com-86%71
Robb Wolfrobbwolf.com-85%73
Kelly Brogan MDkellybroganmd.com-85%64
Dr. Weildrweil.com-84%80
Patient InfoPatient.info-84%83
Gundry MDgundrymd.com-84%69
People’s Pharmacypeoplespharmacy.com-81%71
Preventionprevention.com-81%84Hearst
PaleoHackspaleohacks.com-80%72
Diet vs Diseasedietvsdisease.org-80%58
Legion Athleticslegionathletics.com-79%72
Ruled.meruled.me-78%73
Everyday Healtheverydayhealth.com-76%87
Organic Factsorganicfacts.net-69%82Currently ranks for some keywords related to foods, recipes, etc…Not health or medical topics.
Mark’s Daily Applemarksdailyapple.com-68%78Currently ranks for some keywords related to foods, recipes, etc…Not health or medical topics.
MindBodyGreenmindbodygreen.com-67%86Currently ranks for some keywords related to foods, recipes, etc…Not health or medical topics.
The Third Wavethethirdwave.co-67%57
Diet Doctordietdoctor.com-67%77
Wellness Mamawellnessmama.com-66%80Currently ranks for food information, recipes…used to rank for medical/health topics.
LiveStronglivestrong.com-65%89Varied content, a lot of health
Men’s Journalmensjournal.com-64%84Varied content, some health
Low Carb Yumlowcarbyum.com-60%65Currently ranks for some keywords related to foods, recipes, etc…Not health or medical topics.
The Paleo Dietthepaleodiet.com-56%74
Paleo Leappaleoleap.com-54%74
Eat thiseatthis.com-52%78
Dr. Ozdoctoroz.com-51%83
Chris Kresserchriskresser.com-50%77
Nerd Fitnessnerdfitness.com-43%76More about fitness than medical topics
Precision Nutritionprecisionnutrition.com-43%79
MedicineNetmedicinenet.com-43%88WebMD
Medscapemedscape.com-34%90WebMD
LifeExtentionlifeextension.com-13%76Ecommerce, lots of health content

Sites That Have Done Well With Google’s Update in the Past 1.5 Years (Feb 2018)

Percentages Can be Misleading

In some cases, percentages can seem crazy high, but that’s because sites went from very little traffic to hundreds of thousands of views a month. In these cases, percentages can be misleading. I created a limit at 4000% even though they are technically higher.

Percentages can also be misleading in the case of other websites. For example, Healthline increased by 120%. However, in absolute terms, they increased by 57 million searches a month. This number alone could account for half of the search traffic taken away from all of the “alternative” health sites combined.

So when these huge institutions have modest percent increases, it can actually be quite big, since they were already large to begin with.

Mega-Brand Institutions

As you notice, the trend is clear that mega-brand institutions have been doing very well in the past 1.5 years, and especially in the past year.

They’ve basically dominated all the top 10 health or medical search results since Google hit the last nail in the search coffin on July 12th 2019.

They comprise established institutions such as WebMD, Healthline, and Verywell (subsidiary of an About/Dotdash). In addition, they comprise of hospitals, governmental institutions, professional societies.

These sites will rank even if their content is inaccurate, not thorough, unsourced or thinly referenced, and display very little authority (E-A-T), beyond the name of their institution.

Ecommerce

As mentioned, sites that combine ecommerce and health content seemed to have done well in this update.

Sites like Gaia herbs, HVMN, Neurohacker don’t have the best content – as it’s not their specialty, but they have done very well in the updates because of their ecommerce status. My guess is that this is short-lived and Google will punish them in the next update.

Vegan Site

Interestingly, there was one vegan promotion site that has done well, called nutritionfacts.org.

I personally think this website is quite biased and dogmatic, but it is a non-profit and is run by an MD.

I’m not aware of other vegan health sites that create content for search engines, but it’s interesting that NutritionFacts is on their “approved” list.

Dangerous Bodybuilding Sites

There’s a number of sites with explosive growth that were started in 2019 that are promoting dangerous and pseudoscientific ways to increase muscle – and penis size. Healtheiron, Bluecloud, and Science Scape are some of the largest of these websites.

Healtheiron and Bluecloud are getting 300-350k monthly search results from Google.

In both of these cases, it seems like the buyers bought existing domains in a different niche. For example, prior to 2015, Bluecloud.org had something to do with Indian reservations. It was used for bodybuilding information towards the end of 2018, so it presumably hasn’t been classified as a health or medical website yet, and therefore hasn’t gone through Google’s health censorship algorithms.

Possibly, part of their algorithm has to do with what sites are linking to your site. If they see Mercola link to you, as he does to SelfHacked, you are more likely to get tagged as “alternative” and be downranked.

My guess is that since these sites are too new, Google’s algorithm hasn’t had a chance to categorize them as health websites. I believe that the clock is ticking and they will get penalized in time.

The main reason why sites like these are ranking even with their low DR (in the 30’s) is simply because their better competition got significantly downranked by Google.

Usually, the mega-brand institutional sites don’t have posts on research chemicals. With their more established competition taken out, these are the only sites that show up now.

Healtheironhealtheiron.com4000%33Recently started website; Promotes dangerous ways to increase muscle and ‘performance’
Blue CloudBluecloud.org4000%39Recently started website; Promotes dangerous ways to increase muscle and ‘performance’
Science ScapeSciencescape.org4000%38Recently started website; Promotes dangerous ways to increase muscle and ‘performance’
HVMNHVMN.com350%67Ecommerce, health content since ~June 2018
Neurohackerneurohacker.com550%64Ecommerce, health content since ~April 2018
MedicalNewsTodaymedicalnewstoday.com230%90Healthline
Gaia Herbsgaiaherbs.com225%64Ecommerce, health content since ~Jan 2019
Verywell Healthverywellhealth.com225%87Dotdash (formerly About)
Cleveland Clinicmy.clevelandclinic.org166%87Mega Brand Hospital
Pharmacy timesPharmacytimes.com160%76For profit that provides continuing education for pharmacists
Healthlinehealthline.com120%91Healthline
Mayo Clinicmayoclinic.org95%91Mega Brand Hospital
Selfself.com93%86Women’s Workouts, Health Advice & Beauty Tips; Conde Nast
Sloan-Ketteringmskcc.org92%82Mega Brand Hospital
Your Hormonesyourhormones.info65%71Professional Association; Non Profit; Society for Endocrinology
Verywell Mindverywellmind.com60%85Dotdash (formerly About)
Science Dailysciencedaily.com50%91Science News; independent publisher
Men’s Healthmenshealth.com49%86Mostly non medical fitness; Hearst
RxListrxlist.com47%81WebMD
Nutrition Factsnutritionfacts.org36%79Non profit, promoting vegan diet
Drugs.comdrugs.com31%86Healthline
Lab Tests Onlinelabtestsonline.org29%76Professional Association; AACC – formerly known as the American Association for Clinical Chemistry
WebMDwebmd.com26%92WebMD (counted from August 2018)
Hormonehormone.org20%76Professional Association; Endocrine society
Healthhealth.com17%87Mostly non medical fitness, pop culture; Meredith Corporation
Medline Plusmedlineplus.gov17%90NIH: Governmental Organization
Eat Righteatright.org17%85Professional association/society of nutritionists and dietitians
PubMedncbi.nlm.nih.gov12%94NIH: Governmental Organization
emedicinehealthemedicinehealth.com9%79WebMD

About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

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