Throughout 2022, Google published 10 different updates to its search engine algorithms throughout 2022, including two core updates in May and September. As is often the case, these updates sent a lot of marketers and businesses scrambling to respond as they saw previously successful webpages tumble down the rankings.
It’s important not to overreact to short-term changes in page performance and rankings right after an update – sometimes a ranking drop will correct itself over the next few weeks. But in other cases, pages rank lower permanently, and content strategy needs to adjust because a formerly valuable and high-traffic piece of content simply doesn’t rank highly for relevant searches anymore.
To adapt and solve for those types of changes, an understanding of Google algorithms is important for any business looking to expand their reach through content marketing. So, let’s talk about the updates that took place these past twelve months and how to account for Google updates in general when building and executing a content marketing strategy.
What are Google’s algorithms, and how do they work?
An algorithm is a process or set of rules that a computer or software (such as a search engine) follows to perform its intended function. In the case of Google, their search engine uses a complex system of algorithms to deliver webpages ranked by relevance whenever a user puts a search query into Google.
Or, in the plainest of terms: Google’s algorithms determine what pops up when you type something into Google and hit “search.”
If you want an exact rundown of how Google’s proprietary search algorithms work – well, you and every other business in the world. The exact details of how Google’s algorithms work is the best-kept and most sought-after commercial secret since the recipe for Coca-Cola. Google provides broad guidelines that they suggest content creators follow to perform well in search rankings, but they never describe the exact inner workings of their algorithms.
The bottom line is that Google does not want you to fully understand how their algorithms work nor feel like you have to. They don’t want to encourage gaming of their algorithms or a piranha-like SEO frenzy every time they make an algorithm update. Google’s message is essentially: you focus on creating great content and let us worry about the algorithms.
However, down here in the real world, where marketing happens – and where being on page one of Google versus page two is the difference between search traffic and no traffic – getting an edge over the competition matters. Understanding Google’s algorithms can help you do that, so it’s worth your time.
You should never sacrifice your content quality or readability to try and appease algorithms you don’t fully understand and that may change tomorrow. But if you can create outstanding, helpful content and infuse it with a dash of algorithmic understanding for a boost in search engine rankings – well, now you’re cooking with spice.
What happens when Google makes these updates?
Google tends to release updates to its search engine and the algorithms that power it on a roughly once-per month schedule. While Google might seem like they have a near-monopoly in the search engine game, there are always competitors – like Bing, for example – sharpening their own technology and looking to take a bite out of Google’s market share.
Google understands today’s monolith can become tomorrow’s gravestone (think Myspace, AOL, or Hotmail), so they’re constantly looking to improve the experience users get from their search engine and other pages. Filtering out unhelpful content and showing users the high-quality content that best aligns with the intent behind their search query is Google’s highest priority.
A few times a year, Google publishes a large-scale core algorithm update that makes broad changes to its search algorithms and systems. The aim of these updates is to improve the quality and relevance of Google search results. Sometimes, these core updates can lead to big shuffle-ups in search engine rankings.
Helpful content updates
In August, Google launched its first helpful content update, which augmented its algorithms with a new machine-learning model designed to find and weed out content that’s written primarily to rank in search engines rather than provide helpful information to users. In December, Google published an additional update to further refine this system.
As with everything Google-related, how exactly this all works is highly proprietary and carefully guarded, but compared to a core update, most SEO analysts have reported that the impact of these “helpful content” updates has been more subtle. Low quality sites that pump out lots of thin, superficial, spammy, or automatically generated content have the most to worry about from these helpful content updates.
Other updates, including link spam updates
Google also makes other miscellaneous updates throughout the year to try and deliver incremental refinements in search engine performance. For example, in December, Google released a link spam update designed to defeat the sketchy SEO strategy of link spam, which is the practice of taking a link to your website and posting it all over the internet with no regard for context or relevancy.
Bad SEO actors post these spammy links because links from other sites pointing to theirs (also known as “backlinks”) can serve as an important signal for Google’s algorithms that a site is publishing valuable content and should receive a boost in rankings. Natural backlinks (where users or other content creators post links to your content) remain valuable, but Google has been working for years to crack down on unnatural links generated by spammers and shady SEO operations for no purpose other than to boost search rankings.
RELATED: How to Get More High-Quality Website Traffic — Today
Okay, so how do I respond to these Google updates?
The May 2022 and September 2022 core updates in particular introduced plenty of volatility into search engine rankings, and content marketers are still working to figure out exactly how to respond.
Generally, though, trying to make drastic moves in response to every Google update is a recipe for frustration and tail-chasing. The best overarching advice to navigate these updates is this: if you’re doing the right things, don’t panic.
By “doing the right things,” we mean creating helpful, detailed, and comprehensive content that:
- Gets to the point (no long, tangential introductions please!)
- Delivers an answer to the reader’s search question very quickly
- Breaks up content into sections marked by skimmable, descriptive headlines
- Includes images, pull quotes, and other elements that engage the visual part of the brain
- Relies on thorough research and accurate facts
- Aligns with the general expert consensus on the topic (or prevents powerful and detailed evidence to the contrary)
- Anticipates searchers’ follow-up questions and related topics and addresses them rather than sending them elsewhere to read more
If your content marketing strategy doesn’t align with those practices – and especially if you work with an SEO firm that’s engaging in shady “black hat” practices like link spam, keyword stuffing, and publishing low-quality or automatically generated content, you absolutely should panic. Every Google update is designed to further crack down on these types of practices and enforce Google’s spam policies, and if you’re somehow still getting away with them now, you won’t be for long.
Beyond those overarching best practices, there are a couple other tactics you can adopt that will help your site fare well in the current search engine environment and align with the ongoing changes we can anticipate.
EEAT like a king
In 2021, Google announced the introduction of its “EAT” guidelines, which especially apply to websites and content that relate to “your money, your life” (YMYL). (Yes, I know this is a lot of acronyms. I’m keeping it to the bare minimum, I swear.)
Google defines YMYL content as “pages or topics that could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.” Think websites and content from law firms, healthcare providers, accountants, financial advisors, banks, and so forth.
For YMYL content, Google has tailored its algorithms to try and present searchers with content that appears to show:
- Expertise: The content is written by a person with significant, expert-level knowledge of the subject matter, as evidenced by factors like the quality of the content, the history and track record of the website, the bio of the author.
- Authoritativeness: The content is in-depth, up to date, includes links and references to credible sources, and has attracted natural (non-spam!) backlinks from other reputable websites.
- Trustworthiness: The source seems reliable based on factors like author and website credentials, the business’ online ratings and awards, and detailed contact information.
In December 2022, Google also added an extra “E” to its EAT guidelines:
- Experience: The content looks it was created based on some degree of real-world experience. For example, an attorney writing a blog article about a medical malpractice case has handled such cases and weaves their personal observations and experiences into the article.
So, how do we translate this to the content we plan to publish? To meet Google’s definition for EEAT content and follow Google’s search essentials, you can:
- Include links to scholarly or scientific resources in your content. For example, if you’re writing an article with a public health angle, strengthen your argument with a link to a corroborating report from the CDC or a study from the National Library of Medicine.
- Show the reader who’s writing the content and why they’re worth listening to. For example, include a short author bio below the main headline or at the conclusion of your article.
- Publish a detailed “about” page that describes your business and details the experience and successes you’ve accrued in your field.
Audit your website content and update, consolidate, or remove old pages that aren’t performing
Sometimes, a piece of content doesn’t perform as you hoped – it’s the nature of the game. No one who published blog articles or other content has a 100 percent success rate. And even highly successful content can get stale and slide down the rankings as years go by.
Eventually, if you publish content on a frequent basis year after year, you’re going to wind up with a sizable tar pit of old content that gets virtually no traffic and delivers almost zero value. And the bigger that tar pit grows, the more a large share of your site’s traffic comes from a relatively small percentage of pages, which isn’t something Google likes to see when evaluating whether a website provides high-quality content overall.
One proven way to improve the performance of your entire website is to perform “spring cleaning” of sorts in the form of a content audit. This process involves assessing all the content on your website to identify what you’ve published, what’s delivering value, and what isn’t. For pages that aren’t seeing any traffic, you can:
- Update or rewrite them, if you think the content is still relevant and addresses a topic your audience is likely to search for
- Combine them into one comprehensive piece of content, if you have multiple shorter pages that address the same topic
- Go full Marie Kondo and just get rid of them!
A content audit is a detailed and vital marketing initiative that delivers benefits that extend far beyond search engine performance. We could write a whole separate article about the topic – and we did. Check out the following link for a detailed guide that will help you plan and execute a content audit.
RELATED: Not Sure if Your Website’s Content is Working? Execute a Content Audit
LaFleur: Rolling with the changes, no matter how many algorithm updates
Keeping up with the constant changes to search engine algorithms can feel like a full-time job. Fortunately, it is our full-time job, so you don’t have to try and become an SEO specialist – we’re right here.
LaFleur has been designing content marketing strategies that succeed and deliver value for years, and we’re more than just an SEO partner or even a marketer. We’re a data-driven partner and adviser that helps your business grow and evolve.
Connect with our team today by completing our simple online form. Someone will get back to you right away.
Our latest update to the quality rater guidelines: E-A-T gets an extra E for Experience. (2022, December 15). Google Search Central.