Dear Google, What Should Psychics Do?

COVID-19 instilled a heightened sense of uncertainty, ultimately resulting in shifts in general life behavior. To cope with this sense of uncertainty, people have sought out advice, from therapists, and counselors, to intuitive advisors and psychics. 

While the demand for psychics has increased, the user experience in the SERPs has deteriorated for those seeking psychic services. 

That’s where we come into play.

Seer has been working with a psychic service provider for over 13 years now. When you think about 13 years of SEO, we’ve navigated a lot of Google updates together: Florida, Panda, Penguin, Fred, Mobilegeddon, and countless other unnamed ones.

But the current landscape is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before - not only for our client, but for the entire psychic service industry and its audience members, and we’re wondering if you’ve seen any pockets getting impacted like this where entire SERPS changed overnight and now none of the people who provide the actual service can rank, and instead are replaced by daily press releases?

The Situation

In December 2020, Google's Core Algorithm Update effectively wiped out all psychic service providers for search queries that clearly ask to see them in the results. 

*details on the source data used in this chart can be found here

What shows up there instead? A poor experience of paid syndications through news sites and press releases.

💡 Check it out for yourself; search “online psychic reading”.

Aggregated lists on reputable websites can absolutely be helpful to the user, but this SERP seems to exclusively reward fast posts on websites with sponsored content paid for by affiliate brands. 

We’re not here to blame Google; we’re pretty confident no one is sitting over at Google purposely figuring out ways to take down the Psychic industry! But we’re trying to uncover what’s happening in the SERPs and how we can help these people find the best services for their needs. 

The Data: More People Want Psychic Services

Quick Industry Background

Psychics provide intuitive guidance and emotional support from a metaphysical perspective, closely aligned to New Thought Spirituality. This then meets a pressing need for non-therapeutic intervention and invention about esoteric subjects that individuals find interesting, helpful, or even comforting, in times of need (like, say, during a pandemic). 

+11% Increase in People Searching for Psychic Services

We never expect you to just take our word for it, let’s look at the data. 

  • Data Set: 520 low funnel search terms (e.g. “online psychic reading”)
  • Finding: +11.16% increase in search volume (Q4 2020 vs. Q4 2019)
  • Source:  Google Keyword Planner

Year over year, this increase shows us that more users sought comfort from psychic-related services in 2020 - makes sense when we consider the way 2020 unfolded.

Yet with more people looking for psychic services, why aren’t psychic service providers in the Search results? Why are the SERPs only showing paid articles that all say the same thing?

SERP Shift to Sponsored Articles & Paid Syndicates

Since December 3rd, 2020, users seeking solace through psychic advisors have encountered poor UX when searching for a service provider that’s right for them.

What was once a SERP of reputable psychic advisor brands, creating a cohesive user experience, is now filled with a variety of sponsored articles and pay-to-post syndication websites

Psychic service providers fell out of search overnight, with their count of low-funnel keywords ranking on page 1 drastically plummeting.

Aside from organic results, we're still able to pay for ads in this space, and we see increased conversions during this time frame without any major campaign changes. 

People Are Still Looking for (and Converting On) These Terms

Facts + Fixing > Blaming

From what we saw in December, all signs pointed to a Google algorithm shift. So we proceeded with our usual operating procedure to understand the issue at hand:

  • Get the data 
  • Decipher the facts
  • Test hypotheses
  • Repeat 

We’ve evaluated keyword rankings and backlink profiles, but we’re still confused as to what’s happening, and paid affiliates continue to own valuable SERP real estate. 

Most importantly, SERPs aren’t showing relevant results for users.

Diving Deeper Into the Data

Leading Psychic brands’ visibility for non-branded, low funnel terms has been diminishing since May 2020, but it was December 2020 that took a hard and swift hit. This aligns with the December Core Algorithm Update release.

In the image above, we pulled all ranking data for Psychic Source, California Psychics, Kasamba, and Keen (all highly reputable Psychic brands) for the past year by month. 

We then tagged all low-funnel keywords, so we can isolate low vs. high funnel trends. Low-funnel keywords revolve around getting a reading or finding a psychic. 

Low funnel keyword examples include:

  • love psychic reading
  • angel card reading
  • medium reading online
  • online psychic reading
  • tarot card readers

With this diminishing visibility, press release syndications and news sites with sponsored post sections are showing instead. It’s no secret that aggregate articles show up across all industries, but in the case of the Psychic services industry, they aren’t impartial aggregators; they’re paid affiliates syndicating press releases and sponsored articles.

A SERP in the Wild

Let’s take a look at the live SERP for the query, “online psychic reading.”

The SERP is filled with press releases and sponsored articles, primarily pages that look like this:

Sure, these sponsored articles may be helpful for someone who is at the beginning stages of their journey in finding a psychic provider, but when a user is looking for “online psychic readings,” there is clearer indication in what they are looking for.

What Are We Incentivizing?

The search results are now full of sponsored posts and press releases, with each one talking about nearly the same thing. Then they link to the same psychic service providers that used to rank through affiliate links.

By removing psychic service providers from the SERPs, we created a channel where a psychic service has to pay an affiliate in order to win within the psychic space.

We created a channel incentivized by producing content that does not provide unique value to those looking for psychic services.

The table below illustrates this by summarizing page 1 Search results for “online psychic reading”. You’ll notice 8/10 spots are held by paid articles that all link to the same five psychic service providers.

Are These Search Results Useful?

Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” but are these SERPs truly useful and accessible for those looking for psychic services? 

A SERP dominated by paying affiliates pumping out quick press releases and not actual psychic service providers doesn’t sound that way. 

Shouldn’t actual psychic service providers have more expertise, authority, and trustworthiness than paid aggregators in the form of press releases? Google’s AI isn’t providing the best user experience in this case. 

With the current ranking algorithm, margin industries, like psychic service providers, may be getting penalized by Google, ultimately impacting their organic visibility in search results. 

Your Money or Your Life and Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness

As mentioned above, all signs are pointing to a Google Algorithm update. 

Hypothesis: The psychic industry is caught up in COVID-19 and Medical YMYL/EAT signals, as seeking out a psychic service provider can impact people's lives. 

We definitely have questions on that. But why would psychic service providers be grouped into a medical category? Or are they being grouped as therapy? But if we take a look at the SERPs for a service like “online therapy,” the results include dedicated service providers - which may be an indication that the psychic service industry may be being marginalized. 

Or, is the focus on money? Individuals who seek out psychic services are willing to pay money for spiritual guidance to ease their worries, ultimately impacting their lives.

Or is it something else?

An Admirable AI Attempt

We understand Google wants to provide trustworthy, authoritative resources to users as it impacts their lives, as well as the attempt to be impartial in this unique space. 

We believe that this loss in visibility may be an unexpected outcome of what is an AI attempt by Google to surface relevant YMYL and EAT resources - perhaps with a focus on larger industries that fall into that category.

Although Google’s intentions may be positive, this shift is ultimately making it harder for users to find the services they want. 

So Google, What Should Psychics Do?

If we’re off here, please tell us, but it seems like the wrong sites are being rewarded at the expense of reputable companies that have connected psychics to their online audience for decades. 

It seems like low-quality sponsored posts are more effective than quality content and that isn't a good long-term strategy for Google or People.

Have a solution or another industry affected? Leave a comment below! 


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Kimberly Dougherty
Kimberly Dougherty
Lead (People), SEO