Google’s Update and Your Website

Posted by Brian Beltz

What Google’s August Update Means for Your Website

By now, there has been a lot of discussion regarding the impact Google’s August algorithm update has had on organic results. In these dialogues, many have identified what verticals have been the most heavily impacted. While there has been a variety of specific factors addressed in these discussions, from site experience to number of ads on a page, we wanted to get out of the specifics and instead discuss the broader implications that you should factor in to your digital strategy.

The Evolution of SEO

In order to understand just what the August update means to your digital strategy, let’s first start by putting it in context with a brief history of SEO. When search engines first came into use, the most relevant factor was whether or not you included the target terms consistently throughout your web page. If you said the same keyword enough times, then obviously the page content was about it...right? Factor that in to the amount of other sites that linked to you webpage – the keywords and text they used to describe your site allowed for search engines to have solid foundation for their indexes. The more times a specific word was used on your site and others, the more often your webpage would be a relevant and reliable source for that topic.

Over time, more signals were identified as being valuable by the search engines and factored into their algorithms in an effort to deliver the information users were actually seeking, becoming less reliant on just the words and elements contained on a webpage and more reliant on what those words conveyed. Search engines started understanding the intent of a user’s search query and connecting that intent to a webpage whose content would address their need. They even started to feature content pulled directly from those pages on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) itself to address the user’s need as quickly as possible, often times saving them a click.

Which brings us to what the August update likely means for the future of organic search. While different verticals have been impacted more than others, no area has been left unaffected. But the type of content that seems to have been affected the most, specifically Your Money Your Life (YMYL) content as it’s being called, may be telling as to the intent of the algorithm update. YMYL is where many companies compete for top position to recommend searchers to use their products or take their financial advice and where the content being produced is trying to accomplish something other than just answering a searcher’s question.

What Google’s August Update may be Indicating

While Google has spent a lot of time and effort in understanding the intent of a user’s search query, the same focus does not appear to have been placed on the intent of a website itself. Things such as domain authority place a relative value to a website’s content, but Google hasn’t seemed to consider what that website is trying to accomplish. Are they trying to sell you something? Are they trying to sway your opinion?

If you’re an editorial company that makes money primarily through advertising that’s featured on your site, it’s in your best interest to produce sensational content that could go viral. If you’re a company that sells a product, it’s in your best interest to present your product as the solution to the problem users are expressing in their search.

Which brings us to what I believe Google’s August update is attempting to address. Google is attempting to promote the content of websites whose purpose aligns with the content and the intent of the searcher, and specifically to protect them from biased content or content with an ulterior motive. Websites with less trustworthy content, that potentially have ulterior motives, appear to have suffered the most. And this may be the first in more updates to come aimed at removing bias and ulterior motives from the organic search results.

Now to be clear, we’re not saying that if you’ve been affected the content you’re producing is intentionally misleading or biased. Rather that if you’re competing on search queries, Google deems requiring a high level of trust and objectivity.

Changes to Make to Your Digital Content Strategy

The biggest change you can make to your digital content strategy is to start factoring in whether the intent of your business aligns with the intent of a user searching the keyword you are targeting. Simply selling or doing something is no longer a strong enough qualification for providing information on a topic. If you’re promoting the adoption of solar energy, try to target terms such as “why should I switch to solar?” instead of “which type of energy source is best?” to avoid biases.

Within the e-commerce space we’ve seen the growth of expert content for years from companies such as Revzilla and American Muscle which have increased their trustworthiness. They do much more than list the products they have for sale and instead offer expert information to users. And so, the intent of their web pages isn’t just to sell you on a specific product, but rather to provide you with a robust amount of information from various sources to help you make an informed purchase. They’ve made the purpose of their website to be an authority on the space overall as well as the products they offer. Additionally, you should bolster the content of the internal pages of your website. Add content that helps differentiate you from the other websites you compete and demonstrates your authority that speaks to your website’s holistic purpose. Produce authentic content that is valuable to people with a similar intent.

We can’t know what the future of search holds, but by looking at how it’s evolved we can get a sense of where it’s going. The purpose of a search engine is to provide the most valuable content to address the need expressed by a user. Understanding the objectivity of the source through the site’s intentions and trustworthiness seems like the next logical step in the evolution of search engines and future updates will likely continue this pursuit.