The December 2020 Google Core Algorithm Update: What it Means for You

While Google makes changes to its algorithm all the time, less frequently (usually a couple times a year) they release a more comprehensive update called a “core algorithm update.” On December 3rd, Google confirmed via Twitter that they were releasing such an update.  Danica, our Director of SEO Services, and I have spoken a couple of times about this update. We’ve checked our clients’ data, read some articles. Then discussed it a bit more.  But we didn’t talk much about it publicly. Why? Because there was much (yet) to say.  Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to observe the changes, I figure it’s time to share what we’ve seen so far.

The cliff notes version?  We haven’t seen anything yet that will dramatically change our recommendations or approach. In fact, it seems like Google is rewarding many of the things we’ve been doing for the last couple of years even more.

However, the changes have impacted some therapists and other helping professionals websites. It looks like less than 4% of the websites we manage saw a significant drop in rankings since the release. However, the changes are still worth noting and we may emphasize a couple of things a little more in our recommendations moving forward.

Again, these are all just preliminary observations as the roll out is less than a month old. Therefore, our recommendations may shift again as we gain a better picture of the impact of Google’s changes.

A few notes about the recent algorithm changes….

Photo of Amazon's logo on a tablet representing how some sources say December 2020's Google Algorithm update may have had a negative impact on big businesses.“Big” Websites May Be Impacted

One interesting thing I’ve read is that the initial data is showing some big sites such as Amazon, Pinterest, CDC, etc. took a hit and saw their organic visibility decline after the December 2020 update. Since many of our clients are psychotherapy practice owners (psychologists, counselors, LCSWs, etc) I was interested in the impact on the “big dog” in our industry from an SEO standpoint: Psychology Today.  It’s too early to say for sure, but anecdotally it looks like there are times where more small, private practice websites are able to rank above Psychology today.

There Are Mixed Signals for Medical Terms

I’ve seen a few different contradictory messages from things I’ve read about the impact on medical terms.  Specifically we’ve heard of some “alternative medicine” sites ranking better but then also heard of medical sites decreasing in ranking. I’m not 100% sure how that’ll impact our field yet since there’s a lot of overlap in our work.

We checked on a couple of our websites that might be targeting more “medical” type terms and again, we noticed mixed results.  A client who had a lot of keywords related to medical professionals such as “counseling for nurses” had our most significant drops. However, several of our clients with keywords directly related to medical terms (ex: counseling for chronic illness or CBT for chronic pain or bulimia treatment) have actually had modest improvements in their SEO since the release.

So, while there’s a lot of chatter out there about the impact of this update on medical sites, I’m not confident enough to draw any conclusion about the impact on our typical client sites just yet.

Ultimately, Good Content Still Matters

With Google’s latest algorithm update, writing the content people are truly looking for matters. Honestly, it has always mattered. Google wants to show content that people actually want to read.  So, the quality of content being important seems obvious but it’s still popping up in all of the chatter.  Just keep in mind that you still want to be really focused on truly writing content that speaks to the needs of your ideal clients.

Most of our SEO Suggestions Stay the Same After the Update

E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness & Trustworthiness

Since August 2018,  people in the SEO world have been talking about “E-A-T” was important. The update in the Spring 2020 had us talking even more and the discussion has continued with this update. Let’s dig a little more into this…


Google needs to see that you are an expert in your field. When all else is equal, Google will try to give preferential treatment to information by people seen as “experts” in their field. For this reason, you want to make it clear that you have the education, qualifications and training to speak about the subject you’re discussing. Luckily…our staff have always recommended you find subtle ways to communicate to both readers and Google that you are an expert.  For example, we talk to clients about placing an “About the Author” type section at the bottom of your blog posts which can help demonstrate in a succinct, clear way that you have some knowledge on the topic you are discussing.  This doesn’t need to be lengthy, but a quick blurb stating your credentials and that you’ve received additional training and experience related to the topic is helpful.


This is about reputation. You need to show Google that other people trust you and that you have a good reputation online. Links from other relevant, authoritative sites make a difference. Again, our staff have long talked about the importance of getting backlinks, particularly high quality backlinks, to your site.

That said, it’s worth noting that even if you don’t get a direct “follow” backlink, just being mentioned on an authoritative website appears to be helpful.  Therefore, even being mentioned on an authoritative website matters! So if you answer a HARO inquiry and are quoted but have a no follow (or even no) link, it’s still helpful for SEO.


Are you honest, transparent and clear on your website? Again, we’ve often made suggestions that our clients do things that will improve their trustworthiness. For example, we’ve recommended things like writing a call to action section that show sufficient contact information. Things like this or including the “About the author section” on blogs can show transparency about who is writing the content. Accuracy also matters, so citing other trustworthy sources on your website can be helpful. We recommend the occasional, carefully chosen external link to show this.

The word content in block letters representing how high quality content is an important SEO strategy for therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, birth workers, SLPs, educators and others in the helping profession.

Content, Content & Content

Every article we’ve read is clear that it’s more important to have high quality, rich content with this latest Google algorithm update!  This is the single biggest thing we talk to new clients about during consultations, onboarding meetings and truly throughout the time we’re optimizing a website.  Google rewards websites that have rich, meaningful content.

Now, I’m not telling you to write a bunch of useless material on your website. Don’t go write a 3,000 word blog post where you just look for a thousand different ways to say the word “eating disorder.” But do try to think deeply about what information your ideal clients are seeking. Then, make sure you have enough content on your website to truly explain those things.

Many of our clients balk at the idea of writing 500 word service pages or blog posts. But we feel like it is really important that your website has high quality content on it that helps answering the questions bringing potential clients to your site. The simple truth is that content rich websites tend to rank better on Google. Don’t worry, we’ll give you lots of tips about what content to include and walk you through every step of the way.

Headings & Subheadings

Ok, now I could write a book on this one. In fact, I have a feeling you’ll see a blog post about this in the near future… But for now, let’s just say that having clear subheadings that describe what’s in the article and make it clear when you scan the article that you provide helpful information is more important than ever. I’ve long advocated for including subheadings on a website. I truly feel like it helps the reader, because they can quickly scan the page, get a feel for the content. Then, the reader can choose which sections give the exact information they’re looking for. Google understands this. So, Google looks at subheadings to get a feel for the structure of a page. But data is now suggesting that Google is really rewarding people like our clients who are writing those clear headings.

Reference Reputable Sources

I mentioned this one above but thought it needed its own bullet point as well. It looks like with the new update, it’s helpful to have references to really reputable sources on your own site.  I think helping professionals can overdo this a bit when they start including long passages from research papers. But a quick reference to statistic or finding of that research article that links to it can be helpful. It shows Google that you know who the reputable people are on this topic. For example, a couples therapist might like to the Gottman page or an EMDR therapist might link to EMDRIA. And, since Google already trusts these reputable sites, it increases Google’s confidence that the information you’re providing is accurate. And, we’ve already established Google cares about accuracy.

User experience matters!

Google really cares about the user experience.  There are a lot of different things they look at related to user experience that impact SEO. For example, Google has expressed disliking intrusive popups on websites for awhile now, so I have always recommended that website popups be carefully created to avoid being considered “intrusive.”

Now, this new update seems to be showing that now Google is favoring websites without a lot of ads on them. Honestly, most of the helping professionals we work with don’t have a lot of ads on their website. But, it sounds like a significant enough component of this update I wanted to mention.

An updated website design is better for user experience

The last thing I’ve seen some buzz about this month related to user experience is suggesting that websites that clearly haven’t updated their website design in a really long time may have taken a hit with this update. I have always made the general recommendation that you want to redesign your site or at least make updates (the longer you’ve had a site the more difficult an actual redesign becomes) at least every 2-3 years. I’ve made this suggestion from a user experience standpoint. Even if we increase traffic to your site, a really outdated design will have difficulty converting potential clients. Considering Google’s goal to give user’s the best possible experience, it makes sense that outdated designs may (remember, these are all preliminary observations) impact your SEO a bit.

Photo of a person jumping from 2020 to 2021 representing how Simplified SEO Consulting is looking at how to change our SEO strategy as we head into the new year following Google's December 2020 core algorithm update

We May Emphasize Some Things More in Our Approach to SEO

As I’ve said, I don’t think we’ll make any major updates to our SEO strategy based on what I’ve seen so far. However, our team may begin emphasizing a few things more than we have in the past:

Social Media

Over time, having some social media presence has seemed to correlate with better search engine rankings and I briefly read that may be even more of a factor with this roll out. Our team has been playing around more with social media for awhile and will continue to look at the relationship between social media and SEO. For now, let’s suffice it to say that having some social media accounts that you post on occasionally doesn’t hurt. And “social shares” of pages on your site seem particularly valuable. So, it’s worth having social media if for no other reason than to share your most recent blog posts and other pages of your site. 🙂

Reputation Management

Google sees all aspects of and mentions of your website across the web.  So, reputation management matters.  For many of our clients, particularly therapists, this can be a bit tricky.  In a perfect world, your website would at least have 5-10 Google reviews with an average score of 4.5 stars or higher. Furthermore, you’d respond to all of those reviews within 24 hours. But for some of our clients, there are ethical limitations to what you can do to both solicit and respond to reviews. So, we talk about this with our paying clients frequently.  We look for ethical ways to look at this idea of reputation management.  Because at the end of the day, I personally believe (very strongly believe) that being an ethical professional is even more important than ranking well.


We’ve already established that backlinks are important.  And I’ve often talked about directories being a pretty quick and easy way to get a backlink. But directories may do even more than just get you a good backlink. They include your NAP information. In other words, they list your name, address and phone number. This gives you more credibility in Google’s eyes, because they see that your information is consistent across listings. Therefore, I recommend you make sure your directory listings (Google Maps, Facebook, Yellow Pages, Hula Frog, etc) are accurate. If you have duplicate listings or ones with incorrect information I recommend updating those.

If you’re looking for more information, I do have a recent blog post about therapist specific directories.

Interested in Doing More for Your SEO?

Do you need help really applying all of this? Are you ready to get serious about your SEO and truly start to rank on Google? Are you looking for an SEO team that keeps up to date with the latest changes to SEO strategy when Google releases an update? The Simplified SEO Consulting team takes a unique approach to Search Engine Optimization for helping professionals like therapists, psychiatrists, birth professionals and others.  We try to balance your unique brand, user experience and SEO to get you truly awesome results.  And we have found a core set of ranking factors to focus on that work well and have stood the test of several rounds of Google updates.

So, if you’re ready to get ranking, schedule a free consultation to talk about the options. Our most popular services are our Done for You SEO services where we ask you to provide us the content and we do the optimizing! However, we also have really affordable SEO courses for the DIY type and a 12 week “Done with You” program for those with the time and motivation to optimize their own site!

So what’s stopping you? You don’t have to stay stuck on page 10. It IS possible to reach more of the clients you love to serve and we’re happy to help you get there.


Photo of Jessica Tappana, a group private practice owner and therapist who helps other mental health professionals improve their SEO and rank better on GoogleAbout the Author

Jessica Tappana is the founder of both Simplified SEO Consulting and Aspire Counseling. Aspire Counseling is a private pay group psychotherapy practice in Columbia, MO.  Jessica believes deeply in the power of high quality therapy to change lives.  And she knows SEO is what has allowed her to grow the type of practice where she can focus on doing just that: connecting clients with the therapist who has the capacity (i.e. isn’t burned out, has the time, can do the trainings) to truly help.  Furthermore, she believes when the Simplified Team helps other practice owners, they’re furthering that mission.

By helping YOU get your website to the top of Google, our team gives you the ability to be more focused in the clients you accept.  And when you aren’t worrying about where the next client will come from or taking on people who aren’t truly a good fit just to keep the bills paid, you’ll be free to do your very best work.

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