Each year Google releases at least one broad core algorithm update. These updates are usually announced on Twitter by Google’s SearchLiason account in some form of a vague, robotic tweet. Needless to say, these updates and their announcement, drive SEO’s — those working in Search Engine Optimisation — and other digital professionals crazy.
Google rolls out these general updates to periodically assess page and content quality — to continually improve the user’s search experience and maintain the reputation of the search engine. This action is both sensible and straightforward — the only catch is, we have no idea how Google does it.
It’s thought there are hundreds of different factors that Google’s algorithm assesses when reviewing a website, but not even search specialists are clued up on the specifics of this process. For example, although people have a good idea what Google considers important, nobody is certain how each quality factor weighs up against others.
The mystery surrounding Google’s algorithm updates results in many websites being unexpectedly hit by each update, ending in dramatic ranking losses. To help you to survive Google’s next update — or recover from a recent algorithm shift — we’ve crafted this handy how-to guide on protecting your website’s ranking at all costs. Although nobody will ever uncover all of Google’s secrets, some of them could hide in plain sight.
Revise Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines — Google will never reveal how its algorithm works, and we shouldn’t expect it to. After all, if people knew the intricacies of Google’s core machine, they would surely figure out a way to cheat it. With that said, Google does give away much of its game in its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. The 166-page document outlines Google’s “search quality raters” — presumably the key factors assessed by the algorithm.
Within this PDF, Google talks about the acronym E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust) — a term developed by Google to highlight the three key factors of content quality. In this document the search engine shares what each factor means, while also referring to six content types that should contain high E-A-T content; medical advice, news articles, information pages, advice pages, pages on hobbies and sensitive advice pages (such as financial or legal). Collectively, these categories account for much of the internet’s content, meaning E-A-T principles will apply 99% of the time.
It isn’t rocket science — if you follow these explicit rules set by the search engine, you’ll be on the right track to avoid disappointment after Google’s next update.
Although you’ll never know which of the three factors Google is prioritizing, this is a long-term approach to protecting your website’s ranking. Since the Google Medic update in 2018 and the newer June Core update, it seems Google is focusing on expert content which goes hand in hand with employing authoritative and trustworthy sources.
Commit to Creating Consistent, Expert Content — To comply with the E in Google’s E-A-T guidelines, it’s imperative you focus on adding quality content to your website — namely, content with an expert focus. But what does Google consider as expert content?
- Accredited authors write expert content. Ideally, authors should be representative of a consensus on a topic and hold a prestigious qualification relevant to their respective industry. For example, medical or scientific content should preferably be written or backed by a source with a Ph.D. or equivalent status. The chances are you might not have a Ph.D. up your sleeve. But don’t panic, you can invest in freelance scientific writers to either fact check or create content on your behalf.
- Expert content should have a laser-focus. Make sure headings, sub-titles, and the meta descriptions within your article — as well as the main content — focus on a specific angle, question, or target audience. In other words, try to avoid creating content that’s general and tries to please the crowd rather than individuals. Your content should whole-heartedly satisfy a user’s query meaning after reading your content, they shouldn’t feel the need to return to Google for more information. After writing a piece of content, take a moment to reverse the process, and get into the mindset of the user. Would you feel the need to look for more information after reading?
- A framework of policies and editorial integrity backs expert content. While you should keep a close eye on the content, your efforts could all be in vain if your website isn’t seen as a trustworthy source in the first place. Within the E-A-T section of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, the search engine states: “sources typically have established editorial policies and robust review processes.” To address this, you should consider adding some policy pages to your website, which explain how you determine quality content and how this relates to your website’s core mission.
- Expert content is maintained and updated regularly. With this in mind, it’s important to remove the “out of sight out of mind” mindset. Instead, you should add a reminder to fact check your original article, provide visitors with newsworthy updates, and respond to constructive criticism left by readers. Only the best publications do this. Consider the New York Times, a high-profile publication which produces in-depth content on heavy subject matter. In April, the website published an interactive article on climate change, which has since been corrected twice to ensure complete transparency with its readers. Expert content doesn’t necessarily mean perfect content — rather, expertise means providing honest, reliable, and human information at all costs to the reader.
Forget Google and Do What’s Right for the User — You’ll notice that providing expert content is less about pleasing Google and more about doing what is right for the person who’s sitting behind the screen. In fact, to get into Google’s good books, you’ll need to have the searcher in mind. As the searcher is Google’s core audience, they are also Google’s priority. Whether or not we understand the inner workings of the search engine, it’s simple enough to figure out that Google wants what’s best for its customers.
For this reason, Google is obsessed with content that closely matches search intent. To consistently provide content that lives up to this, you should focus on creating content that’s not only interesting but also highly informational.
Naturally, it’s smart to avoid clickbait titles in a bid to win high volumes of traffic. Lots of people are likely to be interested in “Kylie Jenner’s Biggest Secret,” but even more people will be irked if they click the article to find you don’t know what it is either. More than ever, Google is on a quest to fight misinformation. As such, the search engine is likely to be unforgiving if it spots publications using shock tactics to gain heightened visibility. Google has an entire program dedicated to journalistic integrity, showing they are cracking down on fake news scandals in more ways than just algorithm updates.
In short, always make sure you’re providing value to site visitors. In turn, Google will then determine your website as good quality, ensuring your precious ranking positions will remain intact — if not be boosted — for good behavior by the search engine.
Get Rid of “Fake Friends” and Bad Influences — Once you’ve made sure you’re not a bad influence, it’s time to make sure you don’t have any unhelpful friends hanging around. What we mean is, you should audit your backlink profile to make sure you’re not associated with any spammy websites which use dirty tactics.
If you do find a few “fake friends” that might be tainting your reputation, you should learn how to disavow backlinks so Google won’t view the two of you as close acquaintances.
When cleaning up your website’s reputation, it’s helpful to think of your website as a house within a wider neighborhood. That neighborhood is within a large city — in this case, the internet. Your key goal is to make sure your house remains in a good neighborhood — and that the authorities don’t flag your website as a cause for concern.
Keep Calm and Check Out These Resources — If all else fails, it might be better to do nothing until you have a clearer view of how to recover or protect your website. As the old saying goes, knowledge is power.
The following resources are examples of high E-A-T content on Google’s activity. In other words, on these websites, you’ll find regular commentary on the latest updates and digital marketing best practices. Simply reading a few articles each week from these guys should keep you in the digital loop.
Yoast —This SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) blog has the strapline “SEO for everyone.” It’s basically a digital version of SEO for dummies — providing expert information in a non-condescending manner. In these blogs, you won’t find any jargon (unless it’s thoroughly explained) — which makes it a great place to start if you’re feeling overwhelmed by changes on the internet.
Search Engine Land — Like Disneyland, but for SEO, Search Engine Land is the perfect place to get lost in expert commentary on all things technical. It’s home to plenty of well-respected search columnists and comprehensive case studies. If you’re a visual learner, you’ll love the way Search Engine Land breaks up complicated topics with real-life examples.
Exposure Ninja — This isn’t just another agency blog, Exposure Ninja focus on SEO content amongst other digital marketing topics with a fun and fresh slant. The brand uses its mascot cartoon Ninja, Shinobi to explain otherwise stuffy topics in plain English. These blogs are written as though a close friend is giving you some vital advice. In other words, they’re both comforting and constructive.
About the Author: Ramya Sriram is a UK-based digital content writer and marketer. She manages communications at Kolabtree, a London-based startup that helps businesses hire freelance scientists online. Her experience spans 10 years in publishing, advertising, and digital content creation.