The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.
With recent shake-ups to the Google algorithm, Lily Ray joins us for this week’s episode to walk you through three of the most important types of search engine updates that can affect your SEO strategies.
Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!
Hey, everyone. I’m Lily Ray, and today I’m going to be talking about a few different types of Google updates.
Helpful content update
So we’re going to start with the helpful content update, which was announced and rolled out in August of 2022. The helpful content update introduced a new concept in the SEO space, which is a sitewide classifier that will be identifying unhelpful content. This is content that Google decided or determined is primarily written for search engines and is not exactly helpful for users.
This new sitewide classifier that they’re using with the helpful content update will be applied to sites that Google believes is doing this type of thing at scale. So if the majority of the content on the website is considered unhelpful, it’s written primarily for search engines and not for users, the helpful content update classifier can be applied to those sites, which can have the impact of affecting the rankings for the whole site. So it’s not just one or two pages. It’s potentially the entire site, including even if the website has some content that’s actually helpful.
So this was introduced in about mid-2022, and Google has explained that it’s going to be using machine learning with the helpful content update classifier, which means that the classifier is learning and growing and evolving over time. As it begins to understand different patterns and different signals about sites that do provide unhelpful content, it can continue to impact those sites over time.
So while they told us the update rolled out in August, and it lasted about two weeks, and it concluded, we also know that Google will likely be leveraging the helpful content update classifier all the time or in future updates. They told us if it’s a big, significant change to how they use this update, they’ll let us know, but otherwise, we should assume that it’s kind of there operating in the background. So this was a new development for 2022.
Product reviews update
The product reviews update, there have been a variety of them. They started in 2021, and this was also a new type of update from Google in which Google is telling us that if you’re a website that provides product review content, you need to meet a certain criteria for content quality that they’re looking for. The backstory behind this and the reason that I believe Google rolled out these product review updates is because there are many, many websites that have reviews of products, that have affiliate links, that are making money through SEO, through having these affiliate websites, but they don’t add a lot of value. They don’t tell you a lot of insights about the product that’s different than what Google has already seen before. Google has received a lot of feedback from users that it’s not particularly helpful when they read a product review that’s just saying the same thing the manufacturer said about the products or that other sites have already said about the products.
So there’s been a variety of different product review updates because I believe that they’re refining this set of algorithms to basically elevate the best product reviews on the internet. Google has told us that they should be written by experts or enthusiasts that know the products very well. So people that are obsessed with tech devices, like smart watches or TVs or whatever, they need to prove that they’ve spent a lot of time analyzing these products, that they have an obsession with it, maybe they studied it, maybe they have pictures of themselves using it, anything that gives the user and search engines evidence that they’ve actually spent a lot of time with the product.
This is another very important concept from these updates. Google has specifically said, if you’re providing product reviews, we need evidence. We need photos of you using the product. We need videos of you using it. We need anything that shows us that you’re not just rehashing what everybody else has already said online. We need proof that you’ve actually spent the time doing it.
So a lot of sites are starting to adapt their product review strategy to meet Google’s expectations of what makes a good product review. As a result of this, almost every product review update that rolls out, you’ll see a lot of volatility in the search results because some product review sites are winning from these updates, some are losing. Then there are other sites that are being impacted by these ranking changes, such as e-commerce websites, who might see gains or losses in rankings because maybe the product review site that Google was previously ranking was affected by the update, so the e-commerce site wins out a little bit more. This has been a big change for a lot of sites in this category. We’ve seen a lot of ranking volatility with product review sites.
The third type of update that we’re all probably very familiar with and has existed for a very long time are Google’s core updates. These are nothing new, but the nature of them changes over time. So they pretty much happen quarterly. That’s not like 100% true for every year, but it’s pretty much every few months that Google will roll out a big core update. They’ve started to basically just name them after the month. So you might have like the September 22 core update, for example. What makes these tricky is that Google doesn’t give us a lot of specificity each time they’re rolled out about what changed.
They almost always reference back to the same article that says what site owners should know about Google core updates. That article gives 25 questions or so that the reader or the content creator should read with regard to what makes a good page, a good website. Does the website demonstrate E-A-T? Does the website have good quality content? These are all the questions that you should consider if you’ve been affected by core updates. Even if you haven’t been affected, you should read them because it positions you well to do well when the next core update is rolled out.
Another concept that a lot of people don’t understand about core updates is that they often operate on a sitewide level, similar to the helpful content update, which means if Google has determined a large-scale pattern of either great quality content or not good quality content, or perhaps a lack of E-A-T, expertise, authority, and trust in certain areas, a core update can impact the rankings of almost all your content at scale. So that’s not necessarily to say that there’s one individual article that dropped in rankings because that article is bad. You could actually just be impacted by the core update as a whole because Google decided that your site, in general, shouldn’t be ranking as well as it is. So people don’t always understand that core updates operate in a sitewide fashion.
Content quality is extremely important during core updates. So if you read Google’s questions about the core update, almost all of them tie back to: How much is this website meeting the expectations of users? How much does the content offer something unique that I couldn’t get from other people’s websites? Is the spelling good? Is the grammar good? Is the usability good? All of this points back to quality.
Technical SEO is also part of content quality. If your website is easy for users and search engines to crawl through and to navigate without terrible page speeds or a bad user interface or things like that, this all factors into their quality evaluations. So it’s not just content. It’s also technical SEO. It’s also performance, usability, website navigation. All these things factor into content quality.
Then intent is the last point I want to make because one thing that I’ve noticed with my core update analyses is that Google tends to be getting better at understanding user intent. That’s not always to say somebody typed “I want to go to this store,” like that’s a pretty clear intent. When you type a keyword like “dogs,” there’s a lot of different intents that the user might be looking for. They might be looking to adopt a dog. They might be looking to feed a dog. They might be looking to take a dog on a walk. There are so many different things. Google has so much data that they understand the intent better behind every keyword.
When they launch a core update, you often see that the types of results that are ranking will change. So you might see a dictionary website start to rank during a core update. So let’s say the example is dogs. After a core update happens, perhaps a dictionary takes the number one position. That’s because Google determined most users want to define what the word “dog” means. If that happens, it’s very hard to say that your site did something right or wrong. It’s just that Google got better at understanding intent. So that’s very important to understand with core updates. It doesn’t always mean your site did anything wrong. It could just be that Google is getting smarter.
So with all of that, these updates will probably continue to happen going forward, so you should get a good understanding of how they work, and best of luck to you in your rankings.