The In Search SEO Podcast· In Search SEO 80: How Effective Are Google’s Core Updates?
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Are Google’s Algorithm Updates Effective Enough? Summary of Episode #80
Lily Ray is here and she’s spinning out depth into Google’s core updates!
We get into:
- The relationship between the core updates and E-A-T
- Are the core update effective?
- How should you approach Googles massive updates?
Plus, we talk about the mindset needed to create truly authoritative content!
How to Write Authoritative Content For SEO: [04:37 – 21:06]
This week, we’re going to get a little more practical. We talk a lot about creating an authoritative content profile in an overall sense, but today we’re going to walk through how to set up a specific piece of content to be authoritative.
As SEOs, when we talk about E-A-T and creating authoritative content, it’s all so novel, which is a little funny because every college student knows what it means to write a piece of authoritative content! Still, it can be very hard to define what exactly authoritative content is. It’s way harder than a purely cognitive issue, it’s a mindset. And adjusting to that mindset can be very hard at times because you still need to think about Google as a simple machine to a certain extent.
Back it all starts with writing for the user. While that may sound simple, understand that your content will come out differently if you write to get traffic or clicks. To keep it simple, just throw all those SEO metrics out the window and write something that helps the user.
There are two legit reasons to write content from an authority perspective:
- You want to help people out
- You love the topic and want to share it
One is a bit more direct in terms of the user and one is more a love affair with knowledge, but both produce deep and helpful content that teaches people something! In both cases, your drive to explore and share and help are the prime mover, not some metric.
This all sounds very cliche and simple, but it’s hard. You have to mean it, you have to have that mindset that you’re writing because you want to help people understand something or because you are interested in the topic and want to share it. You can’t fake that.
This mindset leads to the single most important thing you can do at the practical level to produce authoritative content. Problem-solving. If you are genuinely concerned about creating good content, you will problem-solve.
Let’s run this through according to each purpose for creating content within the authority construct:
1) You’re creating content because you love talking about this topic.
This natural leads to trying to solve problems for the user as well as predicting what problems they might have along the way. In writing because you love the topic you will explore all the nooks and crannies. You’ll make sure you don’t say something that can be taken the wrong way. You’ll create nuanced content. Nuance is authoritative because it’s showing you want to be clear and understood.
2) You legit want to help people.
You’ll worry what you’re saying may be misconstrued. You’ll wonder what problems will the reader face if they follow your advice, how can they deal with those problems, what’s going to be hard about following your advice, and how can readers avoid or deal with that. This all goes back to having very nuanced content that’s very deep and very authoritative.
To summarize, to create an authoritative piece of content it’s all a matter of your mindset and the only way to have that mindset is you have to have pride and passion about what you’re writing about.
If you want Mordy’s best advice, forget getting your content validated by a doctor (if it’s a health article), get the doctor to write it. In other words, if you’re passionate about a topic that your site deals with, write it. If not, get someone else to write it. Forget the idea that anyone can write anything. Your content needs to be written by someone who is passionate about the topics your site deals with.
And if you hire one of these content producing machines, make sure they have people who specialize in your topic or you will get some piece that adds nothing, that’s been done 100 times before, and that has no voice of its own.
Is Something Amiss with Google’s Core Algorithm Updates? A Conversation with Lily Ray [21:06 – 53:01]
Mordy: You’re listening to another In Search SEO podcast interview. So unless you’re new to SEO or you’ve been living in a cave in Afghanistan, you’ve seen her everywhere in the SEO world. She’s an author, speaker, and a record spinner. Whether she’s kicking out some SEO insight or some funky beats. She’s the SEO director of Path Interactive. She’s the one the only Lily Ray.
Lily: Thanks for having. That’s a great intro.
M: All my guests say that and I tell them the same thing. This is the pinnacle of the interview. It’s all downhill from here. How do you have the mental and physical capacity to do SEO all day long and then do a DJ session until three o’clock in the morning?
L: Just having fun. Staying healthy is really helpful. When I was a kid, I used to get sick a lot like everybody, but I learned at around 16 or 17 to just love vegetables, healthy eating, and going to the gym.
M: That’s crazy as I get strep every year.
So today we’re going to talk about core updates. Believe it or not, this is the first interview we’ve done when we talk just about core updates. So just to catch everybody up, what’s a core update?
L: A core update is when Google unveils a new set of algorithms that I guess they’ve been working on over the past few months after collecting data, trying some new experiments, and refining things. They roll these out several times a year, around four or five times a year, and as of the last few years, they’ve been pretty mysterious. Compared to prior years, they’ll inform us exactly what they rolled out, but recently they’ve been more silent as to what was updated.
M: Right, and to iterate, the core updates are not a new thing. They’ve been going on forever. But ever since the Medic Update in August 2018, they’ve almost been like a different set of core updates.
L: Yeah, recently it’s like Google releases the same core update article every time.
M: What do you think of that article?
L: I think it’s great. It links to my company.
M: Best article ever.
L: Exactly. I can’t complain. Keep sharing it, Google.
M: Let’s pretend you’re not LinkedIn for just a second. What would you think hypothetically speaking of that document?
L: I think it’s a helpful document for sure. There’s a lot of different things to consider in there. It’s very similar to the article which had 21 or 22 questions to ask yourself if you’ve been hit by the Panda update. It’s actually really similar. It’s not like Google is necessarily recommending new things or to consider concepts but it does make you have to think from an objective perspective about your content, whether it’s actually valuable. So it’s worth reading that article.
M: I understand that people get upset when there are certain moments where intent shifts and you’re just not relevant anymore. That’s just reality. Is it just about writing good content, assuming that you’re still relevant?
L: No. It is really important. A lot of the SEO industry doesn’t even necessarily believe it’s a thing you’re supposed to work on.
M: That’s a funny thing about this. Gary said that E-A-T is just links.
L: Did he actually say that?
M: I think he actually did say something like that but if he said something like that just to screw with us.
L: Yeah, I know. We’ll take one sentence one of them says and read too much into it.
M: That’s why I call John Mueller the Jesus of SEO.
L: For what it’s worth, I spent three hours with John Mueller when I was in England last time at Brighton SEO and we pretty much talked about E-A-T for those 3 hours. He can’t say that much about it which I thought was really interesting. There were certain questions that I asked him that he just said, “I don’t know if I can talk about that.”
M: Why is that?
L: I have a lot of theories. That’s actually part of my speculation about why the core updates are such a mystery. I think the algorithm updates are the result of them not fully understanding how to factor in all of these elements of the algorithm.
M: That’s an interesting point. You do have Danny Sullivan saying the total opposite of what Gary said. He said something like they try to simulate what a person would consider expertise, authoritative, or trustworthy content through various signals together, which is the total opposite of saying it’s just links. There was another one where John Mueller said that they take a look at a vertical of content and we can see what’s really super authoritative and really great content and compare other content to it.
L: It’s a really complex path. If what they’re saying about E-A-T and the quality guidelines is true, that they know that this is evidence-based and they know that this doesn’t contradict the scientific and medical consensus about this topic, to try to emulate that with algorithms is like insane. That’s so difficult to do. This is why I think that we keep seeing these algorithm updates that are volatile because they’re not getting it right every time.
M: So you think that’s part of the whole debate of if Google is doing what it’s asking for in the Quality Raters Guidelines algorithmically.
L: Yeah, that would be the whole point.
M: Exactly. Why wouldn’t you try to do that?
L: That is how they say they use it. They’re taking the user guidelines data that humans are telling us about our results and putting it in the algorithm. It’s a daunting task and there are some interesting cases, especially with this last update where I think they got it wrong again.
M: Yeah, they got a lot of flack.
L: They should have. It was a bad update.
M: It’s an interesting update. Originally, I was hearing from a bunch of people that this is great and it helped them out. At the same time, usually, an update takes a week to roll out but in this last one, there were a lot of changes still happening a week later, more so I think than previous updates. That’s a very anecdotal, I did not formally look into this. In the end, I turn around and everyone’s ticked off.
L: Yeah. I’ve seen some evidence that this update took two or three weeks to roll out. But the biggest issue that I had with this update was sites that I thought were doing a good job with their SEO, and E-A-T saw a decline. Secondly, some sites that I’ve looked at that are definitely a problem website, are somewhat deceptive, or maybe the website hasn’t been updated at all in a very long time, they came out of nowhere and started to rank really well. I’ve seen examples of a site that hasn’t been updated since 1996 and a shady exact-name domain ranking really well after the update. It’s stuff like that that bothers me. How do you explain this to your clients?
M: Yeah, that’s tough. That’s a hard position. How do you do that?
L: I just say it’s a long ride and hopefully it will be corrected in the future.
M: I really didn’t expect Google to put out an update. I thought that usually there’ll be a March core update like in March 2018 and March 2019, but they’re not going to do the March update that they usually do because of COVID-19. I didn’t expect them to do anything for a few months. I was a little bit surprised they did something in May and personally, I think they botched it.
There are a lot of COVID SERPs that have sort of stabilized a little bit. You can see the rankings are all over the place, there are a bunch of unconfirmed updates throughout April, Google sort of figured it out. But even to this date, a lot of the main COVID SERPs, like the ‘COVID-19 vaccine’ are all a giant mess.
L: What do you mean by that?
M: I mean, it’s like they’re still trying to figure it out. It’s almost like a news result where each day there’s a major shifting in the rankings. And it’s not like the topic matter changed so drastically from one day to the next that this site is now up and that site is now down. It doesn’t seem like there’s any rhyme or reason to it.
L: Yeah, that’s been my biggest issue with this update. With the last three or four core updates, I’ll see it makes sense when I see that these types of websites have been making these types of changes and they’re seeing growth. But this last one has no consistency. I was trying to make sense of some patterns that I was seeing, but then I would see other things that completely contradicted that. So it’s been really tough to analyze.
M: I think they pushed it too soon. I think that COVID-19 changes everything for them. It’s like it sent a shockwave throughout the system because it reaches so many different things. It’s almost as if their AI needs to say, “Are we sure we really understand any of this now?” They tried to push out this update when they really haven’t figured everything out. And they’re still trying to figure it out and it’s been a giant disaster.
L: I was on a webinar last week and we were talking about the same thing. We were wondering if they pushed this out because they were trying to change the game a little bit because of Coronavirus, because plans change so much, and because people have different needs now.
But I actually did a presentation right before the core update about Coronavirus and the impact it was having on the search results. Google’s algorithm seems to be mostly self-regulating at that point. There were a lot of changes in the search results based on intent. For example, a lot of things that offer online services started to rank really well for keywords that didn’t have the word ‘online’ in them, because the search algorithm picked up on the fact that people needed things to be online. So it’s interesting that they rolled out the core update because it was like the algorithm was taking care of itself a little bit.
M: I saw cases of that for sure. I forget the exact keyword, it was an attraction keyword like ‘things to do in New York’ and Google was throwing a page in from the New York Times that had nothing to do with the location but things to do at home during quarantine.
L: Yeah, that’s the thing. Everything changed after Coronavirus. Even if you typed in a state name like ‘visit Kansas’ you will get how many Coronavirus cases are in Kansas.
M: I don’t think people really realize how far it goes. If you think about anything like shipping, cleaning, things to do, or anything with commerce. It impacts everything.
L: And it’s even changing the course of what we’re doing with our clients for sure. We had to have some clients where we had to completely pause their strategy, go into their content, and update all of it. I had a client who was ranked at number one for ‘10 ways to make money in 2020’ and one of the ways was for teenagers to deliver food to the elderly. So, yeah, that needed to change.
M: That’s the best example I’ve ever heard so far.
L: There’s so much like that though. If you go through your content, it’s all different. If you wrote an article about the best stocks to invest in 2020 and you wrote that in January, it’s 100% different now.
M: So we have the May 2020 core update that was kind of a mess. Assuming they’re paying attention, which I assume they are, and they also realize that it was a mess, they’re going to want to fix something. The question is, is the correction going to be worse than the original?
L: One thing that was really interesting about this update was Pinterest. Did you see what happened with Pinterest?
M: Yeah, that’s awesome.
L: Every single international TLD of Pinterest is surging in the US. I searched for ‘curvy women’ and the top four positions were all Pinterest but they were four different international versions of Pinterest. Pinterest is replacing so many different queries.
M: Yeah, that’s a mess. Google has to fix that. But in fixing it, are they running the risk of overcompensating?
L: Yeah. My point above was that Danny Sullivan said that that was a mistake. How do you fix one domain or a set of domains?
M: I have no idea. They probably don’t know what it is.
L: I have a presentation with a million levers on it and Danny Sullivan trying to figure out which one to switch.
M: Amazing. With that, when you’re looking at a core update, what do you look at? Where do you start? How do you analyze it? What’s your approach?
L: Yeah, so I work with Sistrix on this. One nice feature about it is that it collects visibility at any point in time, any day of the year. I have a sheet that I used to plug in any domain or set of domains where I could see their visibility on the day an update was rolled out and then compare it to a week later or a month later. For example, with this update, I had 550 domains that I ran through it, and I published an article about that. Obviously, I can’t analyze every site ever, but after a while, you start to see patterns.
M: That article that you wrote is very interesting. I’m generally not a big winners and losers list person because I don’t really understand what you get out of them. Are these really the top 10 sites on the whole internet that lost? Probably not.
L: Of course not. But it’s that you have to look at the page level too.
M: Alright, it’s true and it’s not true. It’s page level and it’s also not page level, because there’s a lot of domain analysis that Google’s doing. But the 550 URLs are sites. That’s really interesting because there you can sort of pick out patterns.
L: That’s the idea. And the ones that are selected, or like the ones that I’ve seen the most fluctuations in the last couple of years, and also big players like the news category. This last update impacted a lot of news sites.
M: That makes a lot of sense. Theoretically.
L: Theoretically, yes, except for if you look at who they are, there’s no pattern. You have to dig deeper.
M: That’s the hard thing. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to find a pattern in any update. It’s ridiculously hard. Sometimes you dive in and nothing’s there and sometimes it’s right there.
L: I thought the Medic update was pretty clear. That’s actually when I started talking about E-A-T so much because I had a client that was completely lacking E-A-T and was ranking in the top five for every medical keyword before the Medic update. We had so much traffic and we were just auto-generating content. We were ranking amazingly and then the Medic update came and we lost everything.
M: I know it’s a good idea to have an expert write for you, particularly pertinent for medical pages, but beyond looking at author bios, having your content reviewed, or links, what are you looking at? What do you do? How do you profile a site to see if there’s an authority problem or a trust problem?
L: What my team is doing now, which is extremely labor-intensive, is we’ve taken the questions from Google’s document on analyzing core updates and we literally go through some of the best performing or previously best-performing pieces of content and we ask ourselves those questions. And we have it in a tool now that shows if this is the best piece of content on this topic. Yes or no. And if you actually go through that process, you’ll notice for many sites, at least for the ones that we work on, that there’s a lot of fluff in these articles. Or maybe you made a statement about something that’s medical in nature but you didn’t back up your claim with any evidence. It’s almost like analyzing something the way you would if you were in high school and doing a paper.
M: That’s very true. Overall, I found that the updates, in general, have gotten rid of a lot of fluff from the SERP. My “favorite” site is Dr. Axe. A lot of these sites there might have some good content mixed in but it’s really a lot of verbal fluff.
L: That’s one thing that we’re working on with our clients. If there is an unnecessary sentence or intro that doesn’t answer the question of the page we just take it all out.
M: Yeah, I almost think we’re almost seeing the beginning of the end of the age of the marketing writer in a bunch of verticals. You can’t do that anymore, you have to have someone who knows what they’re talking about when writing your content.
L: Right, and the job of the SEO is to understand that stuff. It’s so funny because sometimes when I look at a website, I just like to look at the skeleton right away. I’m looking at the canonical tags, the website structure, and anything I can see on the technical level. But I’m not actually reading the page.
It’s really important to be good at both, or at least to have an SEO team with people who are good at both things.
Optimize It or Disavow It
M: When looking at a core update, would you look at things thematically, i.e., would you perform a thematic/holistic analysis and start reading the page content as you said a few minutes ago, or would you perform a technical analysis?
L: Right now, a thematic analysis.
L: Technical SEO obviously plays a role but I think it’s more important what you’re saying on the page. If the page can’t be crawled, you have a problem. But assuming you don’t have something super problematic like you have a broken canonical, you’re blocking something with robots, or you’re experiencing any other severe technical problems, then that’s a problem. But if you’re not using SSL, that’s fine. I’ve seen sites ranking number one that are non-SSL.
M: Thank you so much for coming on. This is awesome. And keep doing that Voodoo that you do.
L: Awesome. Thanks for having me.
SEO News [53:58 – 56:40]
Smart Shopping Campaign Updates: Some interesting announcements around Smart Shopping campaigns…
- US campaigns can now show shipping annotations
- More visual formats will be coming… at some point
Google to Notify GMB Account Owners of Suspensions: Phew, Google is now telling Google My Business account managers when their listings are suspended!
Google Showing Fewer Results with FAQ Markup: Google is showing fewer results with FAQ markup, well, actually with any markup. Rich results, according to our SERP Feature Tracker, are down about 25% on desktop and 15% on mobile!
How to Show Up on Google Discover: Google has updated its help doc on Discover. A few key points:
- Google looks at the overall E-A-T of the site when choosing articles.
- Titles that summarize but don’t manipulate do well in Discover. High-quality images without your site’s logo in them will also help.