Google and Examine.com
Google is waging war on the peddling of magical pills and miracle cures by questionable health sites — and Examine.com seems to have been caught in the crossfire.
Examine.com was born in 2011 out of our personal frustration with the poor quality of information on nutrition and supplementation available on the Internet, and since then we’ve helped tens of millions of people get health information free from advertorial pressures, miracle cures, and clickbait headlines that tease you with promises that lead nowhere.
But over the past month, a lot of regular users have contacted us to say that they can no longer find us when they use Google to search for health-related information.
Alas, it seems that, in Google’s battle against the immense amount of misinformation and outright lies in the health space, Examine.com has been caught in the crossfire.
We only care about the research
One of the ways we know we’re finding the right balance is that we’re constantly being accused of bias — by opposite camps. We’ve sold our soul to the low-carb cult … and the low-fat cult, too. We’re shills for Big Pharma, but also for Alternative Health. We’re secretly paid by the government. By corporations. By billionaires.
Actually, we’re paid only by you. Our sole income comes from the guides you buy from us. You allow us to stay independent, so we can focus on analyzing the studies and report back exactly what we find without fear of losing a sponsor or an advertiser.
And you can see that in our articles:
- Curcumin is not a panacea.
- Diet soda is unlikely to hurt your health.
- Lemon water is not a magic potion.
- Saturated fat is not inherently bad for you, but neither is it really great for you either.
- You do not need to worry about MSG.
You won’t find clickbait articles on Examine.com. You won’t find empty listicles on our site. You won’t find stretched-out content.
You only need to look at our latest article — our complete breakdown of a study that analyzed the effects on multiple sclerosis of both fasting and the ketogenic diet — to know that we’re just nerds who love to analyze research.
Examine.com only cares what the published peer-researched papers show. And we review all of them. We don’t cherry-pick studies, and new studies can change our minds (and our articles), whatever the topic.
Google’s battle against health misinformation
Google tends to be pretty cagey about revealing what their latest search-engine updates are doing. And that’s understandable — every update is an occasion for all the scammers out there to try to game the system to improve the rankings of their dodgey websites.
But that means that when, after a recent update, Examine.com triggered a penalty from Google, we could only guess at what the trigger was.
In fact, we still don’t know.
We’re up-front about who’s on our team.
We’re up-front about how our content is verified.
We support every single claim we make with studies (over 55,000 references on the website).
We are a trusted source for respected organizations (for example, when the New York Times created a guide on “how to get strong”, they sourced their entire supplement section from Examine.com).
Way back in 2014, Men’s Fitness called us a game changer, and Fast Company said we were a top-10 innovative company in health and fitness.
We’ve spoken at the biggest health and fitness conferences — from IDEA to the FNCE (hosted by the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition).
Our social media is devoid of any hype and instead gets super nerdy and technical. For example, we recently posted about a hypothesized CHO-serotonin connection which could explain how carbs affect mood.
The author of one of the largest low-carb vs. low-fat studies, Dr. Christopher Gardner, singled out our analysis of his study for praise.
We’ve even had our work plagiarized and published in a respected scientific journal!
As part of its screening process, Google looks at mentions of a brand to see if it’s being mentioned in a positive or negative manner. But there again, you’ll almost universally see Examine.com associated with praise (positive words).
And if you search on Google for Examine.com and look at the “People also searched for”, the websites that come up include WebMD, Mayo Clinic, and the NIH.
By every conceivable measure of trustworthiness, Examine.com should pass the smell test for what qualifies as a trusted source.
A slow death …
We’re finally posting this after a recent search-engine update, but past updates weren’t any gentler. Over the past 2.5 years, Google has decreased traffic to Examine.com by roughly 90%.
Let’s be clear: Google owes us nothing. They are a private organization, they can do whatever they want.
And obviously I’m a little biased — I’ve been working on Examine.com for over eight years now.
But I would argue that we provide more reliable, nuanced, and honest information than anyone else out there. If Google’s goal is to organize information and help people find what they are looking for while protecting them from scammers, they should see in us an ally for many health topics.
The latest update was roughly a month ago, and it essentially wiped us out. Even our users noticed:
And it wasn’t just our users — respected SEO analysts noticed, such as Cyrus Shepard and Glen Allsopp.
You can even just look at people’s comments; they show how much Examine.com is trusted!
Once more, let me be clear:
Some people think this is some grand conspiracy by Google.
We do not think there is a conspiracy here. I don’t think we got singled out. I think that, in Google’s attempt to battle health misinformation, we got caught in the crossfire. In their attempt to balance signal and noise, they unwittingly associated us with the noise. What happened to us seems similar to what happened to MetaFilter.
There is a good side to all this: we’ve implemented a lot of little improvements. We fixed little site issues that had to be taken care of. The user experience is better than ever.
Over the years, Google has been slowly but surely decreasing the traffic Examine.com gets. We’ve used this as an opportunity to improve the site.
The future of Examine.com
As a bootstrapped company, we’ve always focused on a long-term vision. As an organization, we’ve always tried to remember that we have one job (via Jobs to be Done): to solve your problem.
So even with Google turning off the faucet, we still get over a million visitors a month. We still have hundreds of thousands of Examine.com Insiders. We’re still moving forward with our product development plans (more on that soon — we are very excited)!
Those of you who are new to our website can have a look at this preview of our Nutrition Examination Research Digest for an example of how in-depth we go when we analyze research.
We will continue as we always have — as an independent organization that is 100% focused on research. No ads. No sponsorships. No partnerships.
We are lucky to have a dedicated audience that not only tells others about what we do, but also supports us, thus allowing us to stay entirely unbiased.
We’ve always tried to be up-front with how we operate, and we’ve decided to post about the Google issue because so many of our users mentioned it to us.
Regardless, we’ve always taken a very long-term view, and even with Google sending us far less traffic than before, we will continue to work as we have before.
I’d like to think that Google will eventually tweak their algorithm and have us ranking high again, but that is of course their prerogative.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who has used the site over the last 8+ years, our amazing team, and all the people who bought our products. Examine.com wouldn’t be what it is without all of you.