Something interesting happened in the health world recently, and I haven’t seen any news stories about it.
Google is deliberately censoring all “non-mainstream” health websites that have gained any kind of serious traction, without exception.
They’re not showing information that users want to see, or respecting what they’re searching for. Instead, Google is taking it on themselves to decide what health information you’re allowed to see, and changing your search results from behind the scenes.
I know what you’re probably thinking: this sounds like a conspiracy theory.
But that’s exactly why I wrote this post. If you look at the evidence I present in this post, you’ll quickly see that this is no kooky conspiracy theory — it’s real, and barely even a secret.
Now, when I say “censor,” I mean that Google has deliberately placed a systematic penalty on the vast majority of health sites to make sure that they don’t show up on the first page of search results. SelfHacked and Examine are just two of the sites that have been caught up in Google’s latest “blacklist” — but we’re also far from the only ones.
You can easily see this in action for yourself. In order to find SelfHacked content on Google now, you have to add “SelfHacked” to your search term or else it won’t show up. This isn’t the case if you try the same searches on Bing, Yahoo, or DuckDuckGo, where we still rank highly for many health-related search terms. (DuckDuckGo has additional benefits in that they don’t track you and serve much fewer ads, by the way.)
This isn’t just a change that affects service providers like us — these changes are also going to have a major effect on everyone’s ability to find accurate, scientific, and useful health information online.
Unlike other search engines, Google is censoring non-mainstream health websites, including SelfHacked. If you still use Google, your ability to find accurate and useful health information is compromised.
Google as the Thought Police
Google has become the Thought Police for health content.
There’s been a lot of news about big tech companies de-platforming and censoring some right-wing figures.
There’s been testimony in the senate that Google has a strong political bias that it pushes on people in its search results (Google and Youtube).
For example, the 10 commandments are too controversial because it contains the word murder in it, so youtube has censored such videos.
We know about Google firing James Damore and their ideological echo chamber.
There have been rumors that Google is working with China, even though they won’t work with the United States military. Peter Thiel recently wrote a piece in the NY Times describing their willingness to work for China, but not the US.
We also know that Google is moving away from their “don’t be evil” mantra, which is quite a low bar to begin with, if you ask me.
But what isn’t getting coverage is that Google has started censoring high-quality health content — even content that is backed up by research published in conventional medical and academic journals.
Some people have suggested that Google is in the hands of Big Pharma. They cite evidence of Google’s partnership with GSK, and their willingness to share their data and forge business partnerships with them.
Now, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and I don’t subscribe to Google being bought out by big pharma — or at least, I don’t believe that’s their main influence.
I chalk it up to Google’s ideological echo chamber.
The question is, who gave Google the authority to say that SelfHacked and the hundreds of other sites they are censoring are not reliable websites?
For example, Google’s John Mueller keeps claiming that Google ranks sites that display “expertise,” “authoritativeness,” and “trustworthiness” (E-A-T). He has even suggested that website owners like me can improve our site’s rankings by asking other experts to weigh in on whether our site has these characteristics, and adjust it accordingly until relevant experts approve.
The thing is, no matter who I ask, they’ve all told me that SelfHacked is already authoritative, trustworthy, and displays expertise. You can look at any of our posts and judge for yourself.
Yet they’ve obviously decided to penalize us anyways. As it turns out, what Google says about their new policy is clearly a lie.
The bottom line is that Google has not been transparent about what they are doing, and hasn’t publicly announced any of the search changes that we’re going to be talking about in this post. But the evidence is easy to find if you know where to look.
Google is not being transparent about their ideological practices and search changes. They insist you need to display expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness to rank, yet they penalize sites that fulfill these criteria.
Google Voted Down a Proposal to Not Censor Information
In 2007, the founders and shareholders of Google voted down an anti-censorship proposal for the company. Some of the text of the failed proposal stated that :
- The company will not engage in proactive censorship.
- The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures.
- Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access.
- The company will document all cases where legally-binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available.
These all seem reasonable, right? Well, Google doesn’t think so.
Since Google downvoted an anti-censorship proposal in 2007, you can’t know if the information you are viewing has been censored or not.
What is Google’s Job?
First, let’s quickly back up and think about what Google’s role should be when it comes to their relationships with you and I, the users.
Google’s job isn’t to take sides in a debate — it’s to give you the information that you’re searching for.
They are medium through which to find information, and it isn’t their job to tell you what you should be looking for, or what you should or shouldn’t be allowed to know about.
They are pretending to be an unbiased medium — but in actuality, they are making strong statements simply by deciding which sites they rank and don’t rank.
If they had a broad algorithm that applied equally to every site, that would be one thing. And if people are “cheating” and using “black-hat” SEO tricks to inflate their rankings, then this would also be totally understandable for them to penalize.
But it seems like they decided that there’s no way to algorithmically penalize certain sites — so instead they do it manually, behind the scenes, without telling anyone.
Without anyone noticing, they stopped showing the results of hundreds, if not thousands, of non-institutional health websites — some of them quite reputable and well-established.
Google is supposed to be a platform where anyone can publish anything and will be treated equally if they follow the rules set out. But we’ve followed all of the rules, and we’re still being censored.
Google should be an unbiased medium that gives users the information they are searching for. Instead, they are deciding which sites should not rank by manually and covertly penalizing them.
Hundreds of Websites Got Severely Penalized by Google’s Updates
Now, let’s be clear: some of the sites in this list are indeed less trustworthy, and don’t have the highest-quality health information. Nonetheless, Google sure threw the baby out with the bathwater in their recent updates by penalizing every single site that they decided is not “mainstream” enough, no matter how good their science is.
This is only a fraction of the websites that got hit in Google updates over the past year. Each new Google update has knocked down more and more of these sites:
- Dr. Axe
- Dr. Weil
- Chris Kresser
- Kelly Brogan, M.D.
- Mark’s Daily Apple
- The Third Wave
- Robb Wolf
- Dr Jockers
With each new update, Google penalized more sites they judged to be insufficiently “mainstream,” even if their content was scientifically accurate. No website has been spared.
Google Now Ranks Objectively Bad Health Content
The result of this interference is that Google now delivers and promotes objectively bad information on health topics. Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo deliver much better search results.
To be fair, Google was miles ahead of these other search engines for quite a while. But sometime in the past year, they decided to start ignoring their own time-tested algorithms in favor of manually penalizing hundreds, if not thousands, of health websites.
You can check it out for yourself: type any health topic in Google, and look at what comes up in the first 10 results. WebMD, Healthline, and some hospitals usually. Then type it in Bing: you’ll see that Bing gives better and more relevant results every time.
Just so we’re clear, I’m not just talking about anti-vaccine content, which we already know that big tech is taking steps to censor. I’m talking about websites that are extremely diligent about getting the science right, and who reference every statement with a scientific study — including SelfHacked, Examine, and some others.
Literally every health website has been penalized that is not affiliated with mainstream hospitals or institutions (such as the Mayo or Cleveland clinic), or that is not WebMD or Healthline (the 2 largest sites).
At the moment, the only other exceptions are health websites that are still small enough that Google hasn’t gotten around to them yet — but you can bet that those penalties will be coming, especially if they ever start to become more popular.
All these recent changes have started to create an online vacuum that is now being quickly filled by much lower-quality “health sites” that promote unscientific — and sometimes even dangerous — information.
Google currently favors objectively bad health content, ranking only big, institutional websites followed by suspicious, unscientific new blogs. Bing, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo deliver better search results.
Institutional Websites are Actually Less Scientific than SelfHacked
Defining Institutional Websites
When I say “institutional” health websites, I am referring to sites that started in the 90’s — often for hospitals or government institutions — and which tend to adopt a uniform position in their content.
They often even take information right from each other’s websites — which is not only lazy, but can also create the illusion of false consensus on otherwise very complex and hotly-debated health-related issues.
Some well-known examples of “institutional” sites include:
- WebMD (which openly partners with pharmaceutical companies)
- Healthline (originally launched in 1999, it owns Drugs.com, Livestrong, Greatist, MedicalNewsToday)
- VerywellHealth (partners with the Cleveland Clinic, started as an About.com company)
- Many Hospital websites (such as UMMC, the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic, Sloan-Kettering, NYU, etc.)
- Governmental institutions (NIH/Pubmed, CDC, ODS, FDA, etc.)
- Other medical news sites (which are almost always owned by WebMD or Healthline)
Apart from this “protected” group of websites, every other reasonably-sized website has been penalized, censored, and no longer shows up on the first page of Google for any popular search term or keyword.
The term “institutional health websites” refers to sites founded in the 90s, mostly hospitals and governmental institutions. They take information from each other and provide uniform content that people don’t question.
Where Institutional Websites Get Their Information
The issue with these institutional websites is that they don’t take their information directly from peer-reviewed scientific literature, as SelfHacked or Examine do.
The two main sources of references that institutional health websites get their information from are:
- Other websites that these sites deem automatically “credible”, such as the Mayo Clinic, CDC, etc. (Healthline, WebMD, and VeryWellHealth do this)
- Interviews with doctors (the Cleveland Clinic is a good example of this)
Occasionally, institutional websites will link to peer-reviewed sources — but these only make up a small percentage of their links.
Most importantly, these sites don’t reference where they get each statement from.
Their content is also almost always written by people who have no scientific qualifications at all — which makes it all the more troubling when they don’t carefully cite the sources for their claims.
Institutional websites rarely reference peer-reviewed scientific articles. Instead, they link to each other’s posts or get information by interviewing doctors. Their writers often lack scientific qualifications.
Although WebMD’s name sure makes it sound like medical doctors are the ones writing the posts, it’s unlikely that any of the writers are actually M.D.s. In fact, I would bet that the vast majority of their writers have no medical or scientific credentials whatsoever.
I suspect that this is at least part of the reason why they never even tell you who is writing their posts: they don’t want you to know that it’s not an M.D., or someone without any credentials.
As you can see here, the sources for this post about NAC (N-acetylcysteine) by WebMD come only from hospitals (Sloan-Kettering, NYU Medical Center, and the University of Maryland Medical Center).
When I tried searching for the references, I can’t even find the article written by NYU and University of Maryland Medical Center.
Sloan-Kettering’s article contains 43 references to peer-reviewed studies — which might sound impressive until you compare it to our post on NAC, which has 207 references. In fact, even Examine’s article on NAC beats WebMD handily, with 107 references to peer-reviewed studies.
WebMD hides the authors of their posts. It’s also hard to trace the source of their information, which often comes from hospital websites.
I’ve actually interviewed several people who used to write for Healthline. They would frequently write about extremely serious and complex medical topics, such as cancer. I asked these people if they would be interested in writing a SelfHacked article. They all replied similarly, to the effect of: “oh, I don’t have the necessary background for that. Healthline articles are easy to write — I wouldn’t be qualified to write SelfHacked articles.”
Healthline covers complex medical topics, the science of which their writers may not be qualified enough to grasp.
I decided to check out a random post on VerywellHealth after seeing them come up in the top 5 results on Google for NAC.
(SelfHacked used to rank as the first search result for quite a long time — now, we’re not even in the top 100 results on Google.)
Their article was totally discredited after I read these statements:
- “Due to a lack of supporting research, it’s too soon to recommend N-acetylcysteine for any condition.”
- “Although N-acetylcysteine may offer certain health benefits, self-treating a chronic health problem with N-acetylcysteine supplements may have serious health consequences.”
- “Little is known about the safety of long-term use of N-acetylcysteine.”
The problem is, all of these statements are incorrect. Where are the specific references for these statements? We don’t know, because none of the references appear alongside these statements.
This post’s author has no scientific training — nor does she seem to be particularly adept at researching the scientific basis for her claims:
- There’s not a single study which mentions any kind of serious health consequences from taking normal dosages of NAC. Hospitals have been safely using high dosages of NAC for decades to treat patients with Tylenol poisoning.
- A typical pill of NAC has about 600mg of NAC, which is a form of cysteine. Cysteine is an essential amino acid found in the foods we eat. The average person will get more than 600mg of cysteine a day. If you eat 70g of protein a day — which is not even a lot — you would already be getting around 600-650mg of cysteine in your diet .
- NAC has been quite extensively researched and used for decades. Close to one thousand clinical trials of NAC have been published — and anyone can see many of these for themselves with a quick search on PubMed!
VerywellHealth’s claim that their content was reviewed by “a board-certified physician” is meaningless since we don’t know who this person is, their scientific background, or their medical area of specialty. The vast majority of board-certified M.D.s have little in-depth knowledge of dietary supplements — and yet they are being tasked to review these posts.
In addition, given the inaccuracy of the content from VerywellHealth, I have a hard time believing that anyone with half of a brain reviewed the content — yet they claim a “board-certified doctor” reviewed it. What a sham!
Note: in a bizarre coincidence, right after I wrote this post (August 5th), they changed the content and removed the false information. This shows that they realized it wasn’t good. But questions still remain about the reliability of their content, why they were ranking in the first place, and why Google sees them as reliable.
As you can see from this excerpt from one of our company’s science discussion channels on Slack, I originally found Verywellhealth’s post on NAC on July 12th 2019, and began writing about it later that month:
VerywellHealth’s post about NAC ranked among the top 5 results on Google, despite providing inaccurate and false information.
Let’s take a look at Mayoclinic’s post on Creatine. This post came up as the top result on Google. You can bet this means that websites like WebMD, Healthline, and VeryWellHealth will soon all be using it as a primary reference, and will take whatever it says totally for granted.
The problem is…
- The post is not comprehensive, which means the author didn’t do in-depth research before writing about it.
- It has no listed author, so we have no idea who even wrote it – and more importantly what their qualifications or background is.
- It does not list any reviewers, so we don’t know who reviewed it — or if it was even reviewed by experts at all.
- The references DO NOT go to peer-reviewed journals, and it’s hard to track down where they’re coming from. Many of the sites they do link to are often behind expensive paywalls.
- You can’t see which piece of information is found in which of the three references provided. This means it could easily take me all day to track some piece of information down — not to mention all the money I’d have to spend to access the sources in the first place! Every additional reference makes it exponentially harder to see where the information came from.
So not only is the quality of the content not good, it’s hard to verify anything they are saying. They seem to expect you as the reader to simply have blind faith in their content!
This is exactly why SelfHacked references every single statement we make, and why each of our posts are written by qualified scientists.
Clearly, Google is fine with these sub-par sources of information dominating your search results – as long as it comes from ‘trusted’ institutions.
The Cleveland Clinic often gets its information from interviews with doctors.
The problem is your average medical doctor is simply way too busy keeping up with the demands of treating their patients.
There just aren’t enough hours left over in the day for them to also go and read what all the latest medical and scientific journals are saying about the newest supplements and other “health hacks” — and then write comprehensive posts about them online!
Therefore, you likely won’t be getting the very latest scientific health information from interviews with doctors.
Since the Cleveland Clinic bases most of its claims on interviews with doctors, they are providing fragmented information instead of keeping up with the latest science.
Where SelfHacked Gets Its Information
SelfHacked has the strictest sourcing guidelines in the entire health and medical industry. We link almost exclusively to medical, peer-reviewed studies, and which are usually available for you to check out on PubMed.
We especially never link to third party websites — we are only interested in the original scientific sources themselves, not someone else’s say-so. We believe that the most accurate information is found directly in the scientific source, from the mouths of the very scientists who are doing the work.
We also believe in the concept of “trust, but verify.” To implement this, we make sure that every statement has scientific references at the end, so that you don’t just have to blindly “trust” us. In other words, we want it to be as easy as possible for you to check what we’re saying for yourself. We are dedicated to providing the most scientifically-valid, unbiased, and comprehensive information on any given topic.
Our writing team is also made up of trained M.D.s, Ph.D.s, pharmacists, qualified scientists, and other certified health and wellness specialists.
Everyone who applies to join our science team goes through the strictest vetting process in the health industry — and in fact we often end up rejecting applicants who have written for the institutional health websites, because they can’t pass our rigorous tests!
Everyone who joins our team must pass long, technical science tests, as well as challenging assessments of their logical reasoning and reading comprehension skills. They then submit test articles that are reviewed by our team of scientists to make sure that their work is up to our standards.
Finally, at least two scientists review each post after it is written.
Any writer who works for us is continually monitored by our internal peer-review process, and if we see anyone making significant science errors, we don’t let them write for us again.
There is no other health website that has designed such a rigorous process to vet writers.
It took us years to build these processes and refine it to where it is today. And as we’ve grown as a company and had more resources at our disposal, we’ve even gone back and re-written older articles that no longer meet our evolving standards for quality.
Yet, with all our rigorous processes in place, Google has decided to make it harder for you to reach us and find our content. Apparently, they think that we should never be allowed to rank on the first page of your search results. This has actually cut our traffic by 90% in the past year alone, despite constantly making improvements to our scientific research and writing practices!
SelfHacked links to peer-reviewed studies, which you can access on PubMed. Our posts are written by qualified health professionals. Despite our rigorous processes, our traffic was cut by 90% in the past year.
Google Doesn’t Care About What You Want to Find
There’s a phrase in the search engine industry called “search intent.”
This is actually where Google shines the brightest in terms of tech. What this means is that they use algorithms to interpret and predict the kind of content you want, even if you didn’t use the exact same words as some of the most relevant search results.
By becoming better at guessing what you “really” want to see, search providers like Google can deliver content that satisfies you better than if they took your search terms entirely literally. This is great, and is one of the reasons why Google was traditionally better than other search engines.
Bing doesn’t understand on a deeper level what you want, and they more heavily rely on the words in the title, H2 headings, the URL, the content of the post, etc…
So Bing is a “dumber” search engine in certain ways.
The problem is, Google has recently decided to ignore what you want to see, and instead to show you what they want you to see.
Google’s algorithms can guess what you want to see based on your search terms. But they recently decided to ignore your search intent, showing you what they want you to see instead.
In Health, Google Doesn’t Show You What You Want to See
While I think there’s a lot of promise in “natural” or non-mainstream health strategies, I also think that there are a lot of people who hype up natural health treatments.
Whether you believe in natural cures or treatments for cancer or not, if someone were to type in the term “natural cancer cures” or “natural cancer treatments”, it’s pretty obvious that they would want to see natural cures or treatments for cancer.
This seems obvious — and a year ago, Google would have shown these results. If you were to try the same thing now, however, you would not get the results that you wanted for your search query.
What this means is Google has made it clear that it doesn’t care about what you want to find, or what your intent is to find for health information — instead they will give you the information that they want you to see.
Whether there are natural cures or treatments for cancer can be a topic of debate, but it’s a different question when you search for it and they don’t show you the information you want to see.
This currently applies to any term or idea you want to see in health. You will not get the posts you want to see, but rather the posts that Google wants you to see.
Google won’t show you the health information you are looking for, they’ll only let you see what they deem is acceptable.
Top Results for “Natural Cancer Cures” and “Natural Cancer Treatments” on Google
The top 10 results are posts that all disagree with natural cancer treatments, or that aren’t even relevant.
Here are top posts that come up, where the titles say it all:
- Natural Cancer ‘Cures’: What Are the Risks? – Stories at Yale Medicine
- The Truth behind Three Natural Cancer “Cures” – Memorial Sloan-Kettering
- Alternative cancer treatments: 10 options to consider – Mayo Clinic
- Cancer is ‘natural.’ The best treatments for it aren’t – STAT
- Pictures of Cancer ‘Cures’ That Don’t Work – WebMD
My personal opinion is that there is a lot of quackery in the “natural cancer cures” space, but it’s not Google’s job to decide that. Google’s job is to give people the information that they want to see.
Top Results for “Natural Cancer Cures” on Bing
As you can see, it’s a world of a difference when you search “natural cancer cures” on Bing. Even though Bing is “dumber” than Google and doesn’t understand search intent as much, they still do a much better job at providing posts that people want to read.
- Top 10 Natural & Maybe Best Cancer Cures
- Treating Cancer Naturally: 11 Strategies That Work
- 10 Natural Cancer Treatments to Consider – Dr. Axe
- Cancer: Forbidden Cures – Natural Cancer Treatment
- Top seven natural cures for cancer that got buried by the government agencies
- Cancer: Treatments & Home Remedies – Organic Facts
- Unapproved but Effective Cancer Cures – Health Impact News
Again, I am not taking a position on whether any of these treatments work, or whether these posts are all full quackery. I haven’t even read them. Also, we have never written about natural cancer treatments on SelfHacked.
My position is that search engines should display the information that you want to see — not the information that they want you to see.
If Google wants, they can warn people that a site is untrustworthy or controversial in their opinion. I have no problem with that. My problem is they are doing this without telling the users at all. They are manually adjusting their algorithms to show you the information that they want you to see.
Given that people rely on Google to give them the information that they are seeking, this is an abuse of power and a breach of trust with its users.
By censoring your search results, Google is abusing its power and assuming the right to decide what you want to see for you–without your knowledge. Bing doesn’t do this.
Google is Taking a Minority Position and Pushing Their Ideology on People
Recently, Google has been in the news for banning some right-wing pundits on YouTube, who they claim violated their policies against incitement.
However, at least bothered to explain — publicly — that these individuals had acted against their policies, and that this was why they were removed.
But when it comes to non-mainstream healthcare — whether you call it “natural,” “alternative,” or “integrative” medicine — a sizeable majority of Americans across the socioeconomic and political spectrum believe it to be safe and effective. That means it isn’t a fringe thing.
According to a Harris poll, two in three Americans view alternative therapies as safe (69%) and effective (63%), and half think they are reliable (50%) .
All in all, around 2/3 people think “alternative” therapies are effective. Quite a lot of doctors, scientists, and health professionals will agree on that. This is not a fringe topic in 2019 — it’s actually the mainstream position.
Mainstream healthcare is failing people. We spend 20% of our money on a broken healthcare system, and people are sicker than ever.
So it’s understandable that more and more people are looking to take their health into their own hands.
I fixed all of the health issues that debilitated me and left me unable to hold a job or go to school. No doctor could figure it out. I “Googled” information, read a lot of PubMed articles, and put the pieces of the puzzle together.
I tried to look at WebMD, but the information was either irrelevant or unhelpful.
But Google has recently decided to foist their echo chamber on everyone, now that they have a monopoly-like control over internet searches. And now they’re using their influence to suit their own interests.
Google should not take a minority position in such an important topic and foist their ideology on people. At the very least, they should make their decision to suppress alternative medicine clear and known to its users.
This is the slippery slope that people like myself were afraid about when they started censoring right-wing pundits. They have started to chart an ideological path that they want people to follow, and there is simply no telling where it will end.
Now we are at a point where they are censoring the health information that a majority of Americans want to see.
Given that Google is getting into bed with the pharmaceutical companies, we have to ask ourselves if there’s a conflict of interest here.
Google holds a monoply on search results and it is imposing its ideology on users. Most people want to read about alternative medicine, but Google considers it a topic that they shouldn’t know more about.
Imagine someone is searching for “miracle stories about Jesus.” If you type that in Google, all of the results will come up with searches that speak about that exact topic.
Now we can reasonably guess that Google is ideologically opposed to religion and doesn’t believe religion is good for people.
So one day, they may decide to only promote posts that say “why miracle stories about Jesus are false.” They can make an argument that they are protecting people because “religion can be harmful.”
Even if you don’t believe in Jesus — or God for that matter — you might still find that problematic. Why? Because it’s not up to Google to make that decision for you. Google’s job is to give you the information that you are searching for.
The fact that Google is deeply involved in making decisions based on their ideology is very problematic, and there’s no telling where it will stop.
Google has the power to shape your ideology by promoting content that reflects its own beliefs.
How Do I Know This is Censorship Rather than an Algorithm?
It seems like Google went to lengths to penalize the sites I mentioned.
You can see that by looking at Google’s rankings.
You’ll usually notice that the first 5-7 results come from the aforementioned institutional websites. Things get a bit wonky from there, as the least credible websites with low content quality start to rank.
Example #1: Cardarine Search
As an example, for the past 4 years we were ranked as either the first or second Google result for “Cardarine“, a research chemical used by bodybuilders. Our article is science-based, fair, and balanced.
We are now the 10th result for cardarine, which I found shocking because the institutional websites didn’t even write posts about it, so it was a relatively easy term to rank for.
Here are the sites that came up:
All of these sites are among the least reliable I’ve ever seen. They all make sweeping and dramatic claims about the benefits of cardarine while minimizing the potential side effects and risks. Cardarine is a substance we don’t really have much information about, is not an approved drug, and doesn’t have much evidence to back it up.
Many of these sites are owned by the same person or entity, as can be seen by the similar styles.
These sites are more like promotional pages to get you to buy this substance. They either sell it, or make a commission from those who do.
These websites all have horrible “domain authority,” which is a rough measure of the “trust” that a website builds up over time. Basically, after years of SelfHacked expertise building up, Google has decided that our content is less trustworthy than these obvious scam pages that now all appear in the top 10 search results.
Now I am sure Google will catch up and penalize these sites eventually. Nonetheless, if Google’s recent changes were the result of a tweak to their algorithm, it almost surely would’ve immediately detected that these sites are untrustworthy. However, if these changes in search results are based on manual penalties, then it makes sense that it would now take them considerably longer to catch all the countless smaller websites that are spreading untrustworthy information.
These websites are now growing unchecked because Google penalized the more reliable sites, leaving a vacuum for sites with low domain rankings to spring up and spread false and highly-biased information.
By penalizing sites like SelfHacked, Google created a vacuum that is being filled by potentially dangerous websites that spread false health information.
Check out the growth of some of these sites over time:
At the time of writing this, Sciencescape is currently the top Google result for cardarine.
Their post is titled: “GW501516: Shocking Secrets About Cardarine Revealed”.
The domain has a ranking of 38 on Ahrefs, a service that site owners like me use to track the performance of websites. Their score is actually quite low, especially for a site appearing as the top result. By comparison, SelfHacked has a domain ranking of 72, nearly twice as high as Sciencescape.
Yet this scam website was able to grow super fast in only 4 months. Their content is also extremely unreliable and biased, like the rest of the websites listed above.
It’s also unclear who owns this site, or what their connection is to the company that they are promoting to buy cardarine from.
Bluecloud is the second Google result for cardarine at the time of writing this.
Like Sciencescape, its domain ranking on Ahrefs is also surprisingly low — just 39.
The post is titled: “Cardarine: Stupid-Simple Guide To GW-501516 – Shocking Info Inside!”
Since January of 2019, Bluecloud has three times the organic traffic of SelfHacked and Examine, with only a fraction of our content.
Their content is blatantly biased, low quality, and untrustworthy. It’s essentially a clear funnel to sell untested bodybuilding research chemicals. You can see their explosive growth since the beginning of the year.
Sciencescape and Bluecloud are examples of unreliable websites that recently appeared out of nowhere to promote untested bodybuilding chemicals–yet they are experiencing rapid growth.
Example #2: Adrafinil Search
In another example, if you search on Google for “adrafinil,” you can check out the top 5 results.
There are 35,000 people searching for “adrafinil” every month — and even more if you include other terms people search for with it (such as “adrafinil dosage,” for example) — so this term gets a fair amount of traffic.
You would think that Google would be interested in making sure that all these people would get quality results for their search! Yet none of the top 5 results are comprehensive, and most of them are by upstart websites with relatively low domain authority:
- A new website called HealthTrends
- A Medium.com post by a Jonathan Roseland
If we look at the actual content, we will see that the Medium post is unreliable, not sourced, and not thorough. (Interestingly, Google penalized the author’s main site, but trusts his content when it’s on Medium.)
On the other hand, the HealthTrends post is not too bad — but it’s nothing special, either. We can also see that healthtrends’ traffic is shooting up, probably because it no longer has to compete with all of the more comprehensive and scientifically-accurate health sites that were recently knocked out by Google. (Of course, if they continue to grow they’ll probably be in for an unpleasant surprise in one of Google’s next updates…)
PubChem is a site that no one but a professional chemist would be able to collect relevant information from. Check out their adrafinil post. Here’s what most of it looks like — but since Google deems them “trustworthy,” they will keep showing up even if their content is practically useless to most people:
If we look at the post from HVMN, we will likewise see a non-thorough and low-quality post. Nonetheless, we can see their site traffic growing quite rapidly — again, probably because all of their better competition has already been cleared out of Google’s public search results:
By contrast, our post on adrafinil was written by a legitimate scientist with a relevant Ph.D., and was also reviewed by a certified pharmacologist and PharmD. I wouldn’t say it’s our best post, necessarily — but it’s certainly better than any of the current top 5 results in terms of authoritativeness and quality.
Yet, we only show up as the 70th result on Google, while the exact same post comes up in the top 10 on Bing!
A Google search on adrafinil will give you either unreliable, low-quality, or hard-to-read posts as the top 5 results. Our post on adrafinil is the 70th result on Google but in the top 10 on Bing.
Example #3: Best CBD Oil
When you search for “best CBD oil”, we see a new site popping up that has very low domain authority. The quality of the content is terrible and it has low trust or authoritativeness (E-A-T).
The site started sometime in March or April and already has more organic traffic than SelfHacked and Examine combined.
Example # 4: Ashwagandha
We used to be in the top 5 for the natural supplement “Ashwagandha.” It’s quite a competitive keyword and gets a lot of search queries. Now we don’t show in the top 100 results of Google. So I decided to check out who does show up. We have quite a comprehensive post on the topic here.
The top 5 articles are now:
- Gaia herbs
The first 4 were to be expected given Google’s update, no matter if people were interested in the article or whether they were written well.
The 5th one was interesting, because the domain authority was pretty bad, and they weren’t even a health content website.
This is literally half of the post on Gaia Herbs:
So we have an example of a low domain authority website, with a terrible quality post, and it’s ranking at number 5 for a super competitive keyword. Hundreds of health websites with higher quality posts, domain authority and trustworthiness (including SelfHacked) have written posts on the topic, but none of them show up.
I think the reason is because Gaia is a store, and Google hasn’t tagged them as a health website yet and therefore didn’t penalize them.
SelfHacked used to be in the top 5 results for “Ashwagandha,” a competitive keyword. Google now ranks mainstream websites and companies that sell the supplement without providing any useful information.
Example #5: Alpha GPC Search
If we search for Alpha GPC on Google, we will see the first 3 results are from WebMD, RXlist (owned by WebMD), and Neurohacker.
I actually know the guys from Neurohacker, and I like them.
Similar to Gaia, they started out as an eCommerce site and then started releasing health information in the past year. So Google hasn’t tagged them as a health content site, and they haven’t been penalized yet. But I have a bad feeling that it won’t be much longer until they are targeted, too.
In any case, while they have some solid articles on their site, I have to admit that their alpha-GPC post isn’t one of them. This is literally the entire alpha-GPC post:
By comparison, our post on Alpha GPC is well-written, thorough, and authoritative. It was also written by experts in pharmacology, and was even medically reviewed by 2 additional relevant professionals and experts. It has 42 unique references going to Pubmed and peer-reviewed journals.
Yet our alpha-GPC post is not even in the top 100 results in Google. Since no one sees it, no one shares it, and if nothing changes it probably won’t ever rank.
Neurohacker’s traffic has been going up, and their domain authority ranking is 64 (compared to ours, which is currently 72). They are very close to the point where they will be on Google’s radar, at which point they’ll probably take a sudden, “mysterious” hit in their traffic.
In any case, since this hasn’t happened yet, their post ranks highly on Google even though it barely has any relevant or useful content.
SelfHacked’s Alpha-GPC post is not in the top 100 results on Google, despite providing accurate, easy-to-read, science-based information. Posts that provide barely any useful information rank.
Traffic to Non-Institutional Health Websites
As you will see, SelfHacked and Examine both got destroyed by Google rankings over the past year. Both sites are highly committed to scientific accuracy and quality of content.
We both spoke to the top SEO experts over the past year and they are all dumbfounded.
However, when you look at the broader health field, hundreds of other sites got penalized, even those with some of the highest domain authority, such as Mercola.
Let’s compare that to SelfHacked. As our content kept improving, our rankings kept getting lower. Every update made our traffic drop further.
Let’s look at Examine.com.
Examine founder Sol Orwell created a post on Reddit trying to solicit feedback to understand why his traffic declined.
As our content kept improving, our Google traffic kept declining with each update. Similarly, Examine’s traffic took a steep drop for no apparent reason.
Mercola published that they have lost 99% of their Google traffic from the June 2019 Google Broad Core update. Kelly Brogan has made similar claims about her traffic.
Mercola has many millions of links going to his site from other sites. They’ve been writing health content since 1997. That’s twenty-two years of health content. They have an established brand.
No matter how many links from other sites that they have, Google destroyed them. No simple adjustment of an algorithm would do this.
Google clearly put a big penalty on Mercola, and it’s important to know that you won’t ever see any of his content if you don’t type his name into the search results.
Google severely penalized Mercola, who lost 99% of his traffic in a little over a year.
Result of Censoring by Google
As a result of censoring, Google is inhibiting innovation in the health field. Sites like SelfHacked cannot continue to release independent and in-depth health content without getting Google traffic. Therefore, we will need to stop writing content sooner or later.
More importantly, it’s clear that Google is no longer ranking the best health and science content.
There was an unsaid pact that if a site creates the best content, Google will rank that site. Not anymore. Now you need to belong to Google’s ideology or else you won’t show up.
In addition to these censorship trends, Google is also slowly but surely increasing the number of ads they display on search results (making it more pay-to-play), and increasingly giving their own answers to topics (that they take from websites), so that you don’t even have to leave Google’s bubble in the first place.
These changes are making it extremely difficult to produce great, thorough, and independent science posts on topics while also being able to keep food on the table.
By censoring content, Google is restraining health innovation and forcing high-quality websites out of business.
What You Can Do
1. Whenever you search a topic, add the name of a site that you trust and that has a lot of content that you’re interested in.
For example, if you’re trying to learn about a supplement like NAC, search for “NAC selfhacked” to make sure that reliable, thorough, well-written, and layman-friendly content will show up in your search results.
I personally always add keywords like “SelfHacked” or “PubMed” when researching health topics that I am interested in. This small step saves me all the hassle and wasted time of having to sift through a bunch of low-quality content before finding the accurate and useful information I’m actually looking for.
Add the name of the site you want to see information from when performing a Google search (e.g. “NAC selfhacked”).
2. Use other search engines, like DuckDuckGo.
As ideological as Google is, they are a ruthless business. Google earns close to 80% of all of its revenue from searches alone.
At the end of the day, the only way to make them change is to hit them in their wallet. All they have to see is people switching to a different search engine and they will change in the blink of an eye.
Take the power away from Google by switching to other search engine like DuckDuckGo.
3. Reduce your reliance on third-party content providers — the middle-men of the internet — by engaging directly with the sources you trust.
When it comes to keeping yourself informed of the latest developments in the health world — or in any field, for that matter — the best way to remain as independent as possible is simply to cut out the middle-man entirely.
For example, if you want to stay updated on the latest health information directly, you can subscribe to SelfHacked’s official mailing list by clicking here. This ensures that you’ll get the latest information delivered directly to your inbox, without giving companies like Google the chance to influence the kind of information you can access.
Engaging with trusted sources directly enables you to remain as independent as possible — andeliminates the risk that other peoples’ biases and personal financial interests will be influencing the content you consume.
Don’t blindly trust Google to give you trustworthy content. Stay informed and independent by following the sources you trust directly.
4. Share this post so that people understand what is happening.
The fact that content providers like Google are interfering with your access to information is bad enough on its own — but one of the most alarming aspects is that they have done this without informing you and the rest of the public about it.
After all, that would allow you to change the way you search for information, which would take away from Google’s ability to influence your thinking on important topics related to your health and well-being.
Let’s be honest: “mainstream” systems of medicine and health definitely have their place, and I’m not saying that they’re all bad.
However, since we can’t always rely on conventional doctors to know everything, there is a genuine need for (so-called) “alternative” sources to help bridge the knowledge gap — and that’s exactly why sites like SelfHacked exist. Helping people like you get a handle on the latest scientific developments in health and medicine is exactly what we’re passionate about here at SelfHacked, and is why we do what we do.
Unfortunately, it seems like Google is no longer interested in showing you the content youwant to see — rather, they’re only showing you the content that they want you to see.
In other words, Google has foisted its ideological echo chamber onto the rest of the world.
As Google continues to roll out new updates that penalize more and more health sites like us, they are going to make it harder and harder for readers like you to access the latest and most cutting-edge health information.
They’ve boosted a small handful of sites that have the exact same ideology and ways of doing things. And if you dig under the surface just a little bit, you’ll quickly see that they all just have a circle-jerk of linking to each other, instead of linking directly to the scientific literature. This makes it extremely difficult to trace the information to its sources — and therefore also makes it nearly impossible to find out for yourself how accurate or trustworthy their content is.
At the same time, they are effectively censoring websites that are more diligent with science than these large institutions are.
This also creates an online environment where a bunch of new, untrustworthy sites can constantly pop up, using biased and distorted “science” to sell you products without informing you of the potential dangers or risks. These kinds of scams used to be less visible due to competition from better, older sites that actually had a reputation to protect — but with these sites out of the picture, the potential for misleading and dangerous health information to spread is increasing rapidly.
If nothing changes, the online ecosystem for accurate and reliable health information is going to slowly dry up until nothing else is left except for the most biased sources — just Google’s “approved” mainstream sources, and a bunch of crackpot sites looking to make a quick buck by selling you over-hyped products.
But at the end of the day, this isn’t just about business for us — this is about our mission to serve you, our readers, as well as everyone’s freedom to decide what information they want for look for, without interference from a supposedly “neutral” search provider like Google.
News outlets are also not talking about this, even though it’s a very significant change that is taking place right under people’s noses. So help us get the word out by sharing this post with people you know so that they don’t fall prey to Google’s attempts to influence their access to information!
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