Since the start of August Google has launched three updates to its search algorithm that are all connected and that can have more impact on your website than you might initially think.
So the three back-to-back updates that Google recently launched are the:
- Helpful Content Update (rollout started 25/08/2022)
- Core Algorithm Update (rollout started 12/09/2022)
- Product Reviews Update (rollout started 20/09/2022)
These three updates were separated by less than a month and that makes analyzing their impact difficult, even for SEOs. Non-SEOs can barely understand what is happening, let alone take away any lesson from the most recent updates. They’re dependent on Google’s guidance around updates, which is, to be frank, quite vague. That’s good for SEOs because their expertise is needed, but less good for everyone else.
Google core updates tend to reward domains for good quality, which can come down to fine differences. When the keyword overlap between domains is high, and they go head to head with each other, they can fight for the same real estate on Google.
Almost all sites that were affected by the 3 most recent updates were either hit or rewarded in Google’s November 2021 and May 2022 core updates (and some even by more recent updates).
On the one hand, once you’re affected by a quality penalty, it takes a lot of work to get out. On the other hand, many cases exist where a site makes no changes and regains the traffic it lost in a previous update simply because Google “changed its opinion” about the site. Competition in the search results is so high that it can come down to very fine signals.
Here is how the updates are connected and what they mean for strategic SEO moving forwards.
Google Raises The Bar For Low-Quality Content
Competing successfully in the search results is becoming tougher and tougher. In fact, with some search results, the goal has gone beyond reaching position 1 and instead the goal has been changed to reach position 0.
What you might not realise is that even Google’s resources are finite. So don’t waste them. If your website is full of low-quality and duplicated content then you can expect to have been impacted by the helpful content update (HCU).
A lot of websites that were hit by HCU also seem to have been affected by previous core updates.
The Door Slams Shut On Poor-Intent Traffic Ads
The September Core update took a particularly stringent view on websites that have a single purpose. These websites target low-competiition keywords only to monetise the traffic using Adsense.
I refer to this as Poor-Intent. This is because the user’s search intent is so simple, that clicking through to another site is unnecessary. There will still be an army of websites out there that will continue to try, but it will become a lot harder for them.
What stands out when you click on one of these sites is the heavy monetization with popup Ads that significantly harm the user experience.
In short combining shallow content with ads equals a bad user experience which could see you punished.
The End Of Cheap Product Reviews
Affiliate marketing has been rife across the internet for years. Publishers and blogs that create product reviews and run an affiliate business model technically turn every organic click on to an ad-heavy page. That creates a problem for Google because it loses ad revenue. On top of that, if Google sends an organic click to a product review of poor quality, there’s a high chance the user just goes straight to Amazon and reads product reviews there.
A Bet On Ecommerce
Google has (for a few years) offered product comparisons right in the search results to shorten the product evaluation time and send users straight to the right destination (though lately, more videos started to appear for comparison queries). That is where the position 0 comes into play. If I had to place a bet on this, I would guess that the ideal destination for Google is not Amazon. As a result, if your domain doesn’t provide very in-depth product content with real reviews – meaning the author actually tried the product out – your site won’t be valuable in Google’s eyes.
The fact that Google has released four updates in such a short period that are all focused on improving eCommerce results goes some way to show how important eCommerce is for Google. Product reviews are an essential part of the shopping user journey. Amazon is the number one shopping destination, and its ad revenue has crossed 31% in 2021. That ad revenue directly competes with Google’s ad revenue.
Three things stand out from these most recent updates. First, is that all 3 updates could have impacted the same site. For example, some domains with product review content were affected by the HCU, even though you’d expect them to be hit by the Product Reviews update. The only differentiator is that HCU was rolled out in the English language only, whereas the other two were launched globally. Second, domains that are very broad and offer reviews on products from books to baby toys need to answer the question ‘How likely is it that the site is an expert in every category?’ To be fair, big publishers get away with this despite the breadth of topics. And third, if your site smells a lot like low-quality AI content then it might be time to evaluate your content creation strategy.