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A Wired story named The Complexity of Simply Searching For Medical Advice came out yesterday and is getting a lot of attention – in short it talks about how Google deals with returning quality information in search, when the information available on the web is limited for the query.
For most of you SEOs, these “keyword voids” or “data voids” as the article puts it is opportunity to rank your content. But for Google, Google wants quality content that helps the searcher. If there is a void of information around that keyword phrase, how does Google address it.
Google historically called these “evil unicorns” as Matt Cutts, formerly of Google, said on Twitter, “when I was at Google I called this the “evil unicorn problem” (because there’s not much content for evil unicorns, but you can still search for that), but “keyword voids” is much more evocative.”

When I was at Google I called this the “evil unicorn problem” (because there’s not much content for evil unicorns, but you can still search for that), but “keyword voids” is much more evocative. An important piece by @noUpside https://t.co/oUMxUhvLQb
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) July 5, 2018
Danny Sullivan, whose roll it is to defend Google, went ahead and posted about the story on Twitter. In fact, none of this is new, but it is fun to read through:

This article from @noUpside covers the issue of getting good health info when there’s a “data void” or “search void” using “vitamin k shot” as an example, where a site advising against this for newborns ranks tops. Here’s how Google addresses such things. https://t.co/aoaDZ8n961
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 5, 2018

Most important, we began working with trusted health partners to ensure we surface high-quality medical information for a variety of diseases and symptoms. This began in 2015. Here are some examples and background: https://t.co/ttyFPTLo0ahttps://t.co/h2pYQEwSdx pic.twitter.com/MstKH2dwih
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 5, 2018

Those special boxes continue to grow. As for our search results, we’re constantly working to improve those so they reflect high-quality authoritative content. We even test our improvements against human raters, to see if they’re increasing the quality….
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 5, 2018

Human raters don’t directly impact search results. Rather, they’re like when you go to a restaurant and fill out a comment card to say how your meal was. We test our new “recipes” or algorithms against human raters. https://t.co/cTveD8XNxp pic.twitter.com/7tZ1mB0044
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 5, 2018

Getting it right with health information is so important that we classify it as a “Your Money or Your Life” situation in our guidelines to raters for review how well our latest algorithm changes seem to work. https://t.co/pO3AHxFVrV pic.twitter.com/u0TfPrrBII
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 5, 2018

This issue of Vitamin K shots came to our attention last month, after there was a lot of attention from a viral story about a child who died after their parents refused the shot, as @noUpside tweeted about: https://t.co/JThVqcwIQn
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 5, 2018

Several Googlers who heard the news noted a site against shots was outranking authoritative medical sites like the CDC & reported this to our search team to review. Yes, Googlers complain to us about search results too! And anyone can use “Send feedback” at bottom of results. pic.twitter.com/faKjOcc4qZ
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 5, 2018

In turn, the search team looked at the issue & is considering how our systems might improve. Changes don’t happen right away because we want to solve for classes of problems, not one particular query — especially when we deal with *billions* of searches per day, 15% brand new.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 5, 2018

The issue isn’t so much that there’s a data “void” but that people generate new, non-medical and sometimes controversial information about health issues. With this influx, the challenge is ensuring authoritative info keeps rising to the top. Hopefully, that will improve here.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 5, 2018

Our results will never be 100% perfect for anything, and health can be difficult when some issues have legitimate differences of opinions or multiple treatments. But we feel a focus on ranking authoritative content well is a good approach and one we’ll keep working to improve on.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) July 5, 2018
I bet Matt Cutts is thinking, thank goodness I no longer have to deal with these stories. 🙂
Forum discussion at Twitter.

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