If you work in SEO, chances are you’ve done some head-scratching in the past few weeks trying to figure out exactly what Google’s recent algorithm Core Update means for digital marketing professionals — and in particular for SEO professionals?
Let’s face it, that’s been THE question for most of August.
The jury is still out on what this change means for Google searches, because it seems like not many folks have experienced the same outcome, although medical and health-related sites seems to be have a rougher time than others.
Is there a reason for that? Yep. It all goes back to E-A-T.
But in the meantime, it’s going to take some more time to sort it out.
So, what exactly is a Core Update and what are the long-term implications for search rankings?
What Did Google Do On Aug. 1?
On Aug. 1, there was a big update in Google search results. Google started rolling out a broad core algorithm update for search results.
This isn’t all that unusual or unique. It’s known that Google makes frequent algorithm changes each year, designed to address particular faults.
Back in 2012, for example, we had Google Penguin, an update by Google designed to reward high-quality websites and diminish the search engine results page (SERP) presence of websites engaged in potential manipulative link schemes and keyword stuffing. Think of Penguin as a way to tackle the issue of SEO spam.
And this latest algorithm change? What’s important to know about it?
That’s a good question. And if you’ve ever wondered how to decipher Google’s ranking algorithm, you’re definitely not alone.
So let’s step back a bit, and review what Google did in November 2015 that still has a major impact today.
In that year, Google released a version of their Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, its search quality rater guidelines. The change was designed for the benefit of Google’s ranking evaluators.
But it also offered some clues about what Google wants when it comes to online searches to find pages that are considered high quality and authority — and how they could perform better according to Google’s algorithm.
One of the rankings that Google created was E-A-T, or Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness. Essentially, Google is saying this is what high-quality pages should have and hinting that lower quality pages will be the ones that don’t.
The criteria for E-A-T was based on several standards, including:
- What the Main Content is that a website provides to its users and visitors;
- Whether a website has Expert and Authoritative Content;
- Whether a site has a positive reputation for delivering quality content;
- If there is Auxiliary information provided, such as Contact Us and About Us pages;
- Whether there is Supplementary or extra content provided for the pleasure or enjoyment of the user;
- If the website has solid Functionality, so its easy for users to quickly locate information;
- If the website gets regularly maintained, edited and updated.
In other words, if you want to rank high, give us a reason to believe you’re an expert in the subject matter you’re offering to visitors.
We know Google has used the E-A-T criteria to determine a page’s quality level and reputation on the web. Is the information the site is providing useful to users? It is detailed? Can it be trusted as being an authority on the subject?
And in November 2015, Google also unveiled another acronym: YMYL – which meant that quality content, in essence, asks the user for either Your Money or Your Life.
Essentially what it means is that Google would be paying special attention to websites that people turn to for major, quality of life issues, and make determinations whether the content truly was authoritative, and could be trusted as such. These are pages that Google expects to be written by top quality experts – providing information, advice and counseling on matters that are financial, medical, or legal, for example.
Is someone searching the web looking for information about how to obtain a divorce or file for bankruptcy? Or do they need answers for coping with a specific health condition? Do they need advice on investment opportunities?
And when Google says it’s about Your Money or Your Life, they’re cautioning that a bad page can be potentially deadly if it gives users bad information. At the same time, the sites written by experts can be, well — potentially lifesaving, whether it comes to your finances, health and medical needs, or legal concerns.
That’s why Google’s guidelines often call for content that is:
- High quality;
- And trustworthy.
And that’s why the higher the quality of the content, the more likely it is to be a top-ranking page in Google searches.
So both E-A-T and YMYL make it perfectly clear that any website that wants to rank highly needs solid content — and professional writers to provide it.
What Did Google’s Core Update Do?
Google’s broad search algorithm update on Aug. 1 is still something of a mystery. And since it has impacted the search rankings for some websites, it’s proven to be problematic — particularly for those who haven’t been following the rules of E-A-T and YMYL.
If E-A-T is still Google best’s way to figure out who it can trust when sending a user to a website, there have already been reports that sites related to health, fitness, nutrition and wellness got a rude awakening from the change this month. Why? It could be that their content was determined to have a low E-A-T score which is ranking factor when Google evaluates pages.
Google has made it clear they care about the purpose of your page and if your main content truly helps users. Google is also concerned about how much content you have and your website’s reputation.
In other words, it needs you to take E-A-T very seriously.
In the long run, the Aug. 1 update may turn out to be one of the more significant updates for organic search.
So if your rankings dropped, what should you do?
Google has recommended that in response to this new algorithm, webmasters shouldn’t rush to make technical changes. A much better approach, Google noted, would be to find ways of providing better-quality content and improving the overall experiences for your visitors – the essence of the E-A-T formula.
And it’s not necessary to start getting nervous about what it means for SEO, since as well all know, there are constantly new changes happening in search.
And to repeat, Google makes a lot – often hundreds – of algorithm changes each year. Granted, a core update is a different animal, since this is a change to the main search algorithm itself. And this month, Google appears to have revised the order, weight, values and importance of many ranking factors.
It’s going to take some time to sort out how that affects your specific SEO efforts, and since the update has left quite a few SEO professionals looking for answers, Google responded with a statement:
“Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year….”
If Google has changed the way it ranks everything, it could mean that if your site dropped and so did someone else’s — but there could be entirely different reasons for those results.
How do you recover? There’s likely no one answer for that. It depends on each website and what its E-A-T factor is.
It’s also not clear that the algorithm update was intended to, or resulted in, anyone being penalized for what they were doing. In fact, Google could be rewarding sites that had been undervalued for far too long.
So it’s best to go back to the basics. Continue to focus on quality content that provides value to your visitors and continue finding ways to improve your site, no matter how high your ranking already is.
Another bit of advice: continue to Establish Your Trust in as many ways as you can. Google wants to know if your website can be trusted. Be sure you have an About Us Page to let people know who you are and why your site is worth visiting.
Also, have a Contact Page to provide online support to your customers.
You can also establish editorial guidelines for your content and ensure you follow those rules.
What Google wants to know most: you’re real and authentic, and therefore Google should be ranking you high so people will discover you.
It’s going to take some time to fully determine the impact of Google’s core update, and it seems that in the short run, everyone’s website is going to be impacted in a different way.
With the focus on authenticity and expertise, there’s no question that medical and health care sites are likely to undergo the highest degree of scrutiny under the new Google algorithm.
So if your rankings have been impacted and Google is telling us there’s no quick “fix” to that, a better solution will be to put the focus on very high quality content.
That may be the best way to future-proof your site and ensure it performs better over time.
In conclusion: Be an expert. Be an authority on your content. Provide value.