What Google’s 2021 Algorithm Update Means for Medical Websites: The 7 Metrics You Need to Know

Medical Websites

You may already be aware that Google is rolling out a new algorithm update in May of 2021 that will impact your medical website’s search ranking. Don’t be scared (yet) if you are nervous that your website doesn’t meet Google’s new standards; you still have time to update your website so that your ranking isn’t negatively affected. Updating your site based on seven key metrics will not only be useful for ranking on Google, but also for keeping users engaged on your site by providing a better user experience.

Many potential patients are searching for your services online, so your website cannot be an afterthought. Not only does your website need to be designed with your target audience in mind, but for optimal search rankings and engagement, it’s also important to consider the metrics Google uses when assessing the quality of your website.

What is the 2021 Google Algorithm Update?

Google’s broad Core Update impacts SEO, or search visibility of websites, and upon each release, re-ranks websites on search engine result pages (SERPs) based on expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T). In 2021, the Google algorithm update will expand the impact of user experience (UX) in how your site ranks. If you want to grow or maintain your position on SERPs, then designing your website to improve UX is critical.

UX design focuses on understanding how users interact with your website and creating interactions that meet a user’s goals or needs. Since your site is often the first touch point that a potential customer has with your brand, creating a good user experience is an essential component to the perception of your brand and a user’s decision to stay on your site.

Below we outline the seven metrics that determine how your site’s UX will impact its Google rankings, and how you can improve your score across each signal.

1. Page Loading Time

Your ranking with Google will be affected if your website takes too long to load.

The optimal page loading time is 2 seconds, but if you can get under the average 5.4 seconds that it takes for healthcare websites to load, then you’ll be ahead of the industry.

You can easily test how long it takes your site to load using Lighthouse. Website developers have a number of tools at their disposal to improve your website’s loading time, including:

  • Enabling compression
  • Optimizing JavaScript, CSS, and HTML
  • Reducing the number of redirects your website has
  • Optimizing images

2. Time to Interactivity 

Time to interactivity boils down to how long it takes your website to become fully interactive — like logging in to a portal or signing up for a newsletter. A page should respond to user interactions within 50 milliseconds.

Lighthouse can be used to test your site’s time to interactivity, and a major way to improve your score is to defer or remove unnecessary code.

3. Visual Stability

If buttons, images, or other elements on your web page move around as it loads, then your site is not visually stable and can cause users to click on links by mistake, or force them to relearn where information is on the page.

Popular tools to test visual stability are Chrome’s User Experience Report, PageSpeed Insights, and Google Search Console.

Some common issues that impact shifts in layout are when an image or video has unknown dimensions, a font rendering complications, or a third-party ad or widget that resizes itself.

4. Mobile-friendly Design

It is important to ensure that your healthcare organization’s website is also mobile-friendly. If you have optimized your website for desktop only, your site is at a disadvantage.

In the US, 94% of people with smartphones search for local information on their phones. If your website is not optimized for mobile, users will often become frustrated and leave.

You can test whether your site is mobile-friendly with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.

To optimize your website for mobile, consider the following:

  • Remove text-blocking ads and popups
  • Improve loading speeds
  • Compress images
  • Eliminate old technologies, like Flash

5. Safe Browsing

As the healthcare industry experiences heightened cybersecurity threats, providing a safe browsing experience for users has never been more important.

With the help of Google Search Console, you can see what security issues your healthcare organization’s website might be facing, and how to fix them.

Their Safe Browsing tool scans websites for the following security issues:

  • Malware
  • Deceptive pages
  • Harmful downloads
  • Social engineering attacks, better known as phishing

Even if you do not believe your website contains any of the following security issues, by registering your website with Google Search Console, you will receive notifications if an issue arises so you can address it right away.

6. HTTPS

HTTPS, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, is encryption you can add to your website to help secure the communication over your computer network, which is especially important for healthcare organizations that collect and store protected health information.

Using HTTPS rather than HTTP is essential and can be implemented by taking the following steps:

  • Purchase your SSL certificate
  • Activate and install the certificate
  • Update your website to use HTTPS

7. Intrusive Interstitials

An interstitial is a pop-up that tends to block most or all of a webpage, which a user must dismiss before they can continue reading and interacting with your site.

Google takes into account any intrusive interstitials when testing for mobile-friendliness. Even though you can be penalized for these pop-ups, Google makes exceptions for legal interstitials like data collection and privacy policies, or login dialogs.

Additionally, you can reduce the intrusive nature of interstitials by:

  • Decreasing their size
  • Confining them to the bottom or side of a page
  • Ensuring the “X” is clearly visible
  • Segmenting by audience (to make the message more relevant)

Best practices in SEO and medical website design are changing every day. As Google places greater emphasis on page experience in 2021, now is the time to evaluate your site and make sure it meets or exceeds the seven standards used to measure UX. Don’t let your website fall behind. Contact us today for a free website usability and security audit.

Clement is a marketing director at Medical Web Experts and experienced in digital marketing, communications, and brand management for B2B & B2C tech, consumer goods, higher education, and medical device organizations. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a master’s in marketing and business analysis. Aside from advancing healthtech, Clement is passionate about emerging forms of human-computer interaction and developments in biotechnology.

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