“Is Google getting worse?” It’s not a new question, but certainly one that has come up more frequently this year. On Twitter, people were divided and blamed the decline on Google as well as the web. There is more and more mediocre content online, not least due to the rise of Artificial Intelligence. Anyone who has tried out OpenAI’s chat function in recent weeks will have noticed that the output looks plausible and professional at first glance, but in various cases it doesn’t quite add up. In any case, Google did not sit still and announced one algorithm update after another last year.
Focus on helpful content created by real people
The names Google gave to updates last year spoke volumes about their intention: the Helpful Content Update and the Product Reviews Update are meant to ensure that the quality of content and reviews displayed in Google are of high quality and helpful to the user.
Now that anyone can produce and publish thousands of pieces of content in a snap, Google is looking for ways to identify real experiences written by people with expertise on the subject. It’s up to marketing departments to look beyond their own departments and let real experts within the company speak. Only then will the quality of the content get a boost.
The Helpful Content Update and Product Reviews Updates didn’t exactly shake up Google’s results, but that could change with the link spam update announced at the end of December.
SpamBrain tackles malicious backlinks
Backlinks and content are important drivers for good organic performance. For years, Google has not been very good at punishing purchased backlinks. Many websites are still not shy about buying backlinks: it seems to work just fine and it remains virtually consequence-free.
In December 2022, Google rolled out the Link Spam Update. This update uses SpamBrain, Google’s own AI spam prevention system. The update tackles link spam and detects websites that buy links and sites that place bought links. As a result, these links no longer have any value, and the results in Google are less easily manipulable. Google even asks to report malicious link building practices.
It’s high time for SEOs to stop focusing on obtaining links on other people’s websites in 2023, but to put content on their own websites that other websites will want to link to and to implement a thoughtful digital PR strategy.
From E-A-T to E-E-A-T: Experiencing is more important than staying home
At the last minute of 2022, Google updated the Quality Rater Guidelines, which provide a good indication of what Google considers important. Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trust are central to the manual. Now, with Experience, Google adds another E.
Some degree of experience, such as using a product, visiting a place, or telling how someone experienced an event, is more important than generic descriptions. Writers in their attic who describe topics (mostly with the help of Google) without actually experiencing them will no longer get away with this. With E-E-A-T, Google may be able to silence the criticism that Reddit is a better place to find real people’s experiences than Google itself.
The future is visual
How many people actually use Reddit as an alternative to Google is unclear, but it became clear this summer that TikTok is used as a search engine. Google executive Prabhakar Raghavan revealed that 40% of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 looking for a place to have lunch do not use Google, but use TikTok or Instagram.
Google’s own results are also becoming more visual. Searchmetrics detects videos in the search results in 48% of Dutch results and an image pack in 36%. This is a significant increase compared to six months ago. Investing in video content is now a must, while the trend to move away from stock photos has been ongoing for some time.
Fewer clicks from Google with consistent positions
Even if keywords have been ranking steadily for years, you may have noticed that you’ve been getting fewer visitors in recent years. Overall, we’ve been seeing a decline in click-through rates from Google for several years. The many SERP features, such as People Also Ask boxes and Featured Snippets, keep people within Google more often and they no longer click through to websites. This makes it increasingly difficult for SEOs to achieve the same result.
From a performance perspective, you could say that Google is indeed “worse” than before. On the other hand, the features provide an opportunity to make businesses and products more visible in search results. Websites can be visible in multiple places within the same search result by nesting themselves in multiple SERP features. The ever-increasing costs of paid marketing also make SEO the most attractive option for sustainable growth. Adapting to the new reality is therefore the advice.
Let’s not drown the internet in 2023 with a gray mass of generic content, but make sure that visitors find the right experience, expertise, authority, and reliability in search results.