Hi AdThrivers! Hank Azarian here, AdThrive’s new VP of Audience Development. My goal is to help you create strategies to grow your audience, traffic, and revenue, so your business is set up for long-term success. I’m excited to hit the ground running here, helping put SEO details into simple, human terms and helping you make decisions based on the most sound data analysis.
We’re going to dive right in today, taking a look at the latest Google core update that rolled out this month. Our team has been poring over all the available data to identify some emerging patterns.
We’ll look at some of the biggest patterns so far and suggest action steps you can take to align your direction with these latest updates.
On May 4, 2020, Google rolled out a core algorithm update
Throughout the year, Google makes hundreds of changes to refine its algorithms, the underlying scoring systems that rank the search results we ultimately look at on our phones or computers. Often these changes are minor and most users or publishers don’t even notice that they’ve taken place.
Several times a year, however, Google will make “significant, broad changes” to the entire algorithm system, a core algorithm update. These are typically released in batches and regions, taking 1–2 weeks to fully roll out.
The May Core Update finished its rollout earlier this week, according to Google.
What categories were impacted by the May 4 Google core algorithm update?
This was a wide-reaching update, with movement across almost all content verticals. As with other recent core updates, it appears that the May 2020 Core Update had the biggest effect on YMYL (your money, your life) websites. A YMYL website primarily offers content that can directly impact users’ health, happiness, safety, well-being, or financial security.
Some categories with significant changes in organic visibility:
- Nutrition and recipes
- Drugs, alcohol, and rehab
- Science and medical news
- Banking and finance
- Music and entertainment
- Natural medicine
Emerging pattern #1: Search intent
In recent years, Google has introduced search features designed to help readers more easily find the content they are searching for. These features include the Top Stories carousel, video integration, and shopping widgets.
One of the things we noticed in our data is that many of the more broad search terms that saw rankings shifts were also pages with multiple types of search features.
Google search features try to understand the user intent, or “journey”
The goal with these features is to provide user satisfaction by guessing the intent behind the user’s search query. Sometimes this is relatively easy — when certain search terms are used, Google can tell what kind of journey the user is on.
They could clearly be on a transactional journey — using terms such as “buy” or best” shows that they are probably searching for products to purchase. Or a navigational journey, using terms like “where” or “near me” to find locations or services in their area. Terms like “how” or “when” shows that the searcher is likely on an informational journey.
At other times, the intent is ambiguous or, to use an industry term, fractured.
General search terms get a lot of features, as Google tries to understand fractured intent
The more general a search term is, the more search features Google shows on the results page. Google wants to provide answers or refinements to the users’ questions in the results, keeping them on the page wherever possible.
These search features significantly boost the click-through rate (CTR) for the content that appears in them, but they can lower CTRs across the remaining results.
Here’s an example of fractured intent in search results for “pasta primavera”:
I did this search on an anonymous browser, with Google knowing very little about me outside of location. You can imagine how these result pages may change, as this search becomes personalized.
Have I previously searched for recipes or Italian restaurants? Do I normally search for recipes or do I usually dine out? Do I visit any local Italian restaurants? Do any of these answers change depending on the time and day of the week?
Everything Google knows about me goes into presenting some amalgamation of these features on my results page, as the algorithm tries to understand exactly what I want when I type in “pasta primavera.”
Understand the search features for your important keywords and optimize based on user intent
Knowing the positive impact that comes from these search features, there are a few tools available that help you see which ones come up regularly for your most important keywords.
One tool we use is the Keyword Difficulty report in SEMrush. This allows you to bulk export a number of keywords alongside several useful metrics. SEMrush’s Keyword Difficulty report gives you a handy table showing the various search features available for your keywords:
Armed with this information, you can revisit the keyword on Google and review the content you are trying to position for that search audience.
First, look at the search features Google provides and use that information to figure out what Google is assuming about the searcher. Which type of journey are they on — informational, transactional, etc.?
Then, check to see if your content is providing them with what they need.
If you see very fractured intent on a keyword, as represented by many various search features, it means there’s likely to be some volatility on these results, based on whatever data Google is using to personalize the search results to consumers.
Different searchers will get different results and features, based on their search history and web browsing habits.
Emerging pattern #2: Comprehensive vs keyword-focused content
As we review rankings by Google across a broad number of keywords, we are seeing more comprehensive content gaining advantage over more heavily keyword-focused content.
Some of the pages we saw that were impacted by this core algorithm update may have seen changes in their position based on the level of keyword-focus in their on-page elements.
For example, repeating the exact same phrase throughout a post on various headings, image alt text, title tags, etc. Often, this happens when some kind of automation (either human or machine) causes the exact same words to appear on many different parts of the page.
It’s a good time to evaluate each keyword’s use and add variations when reasonable. Aim for comprehensive but not repetitive coverage.
Emerging pattern #3: Inbound links
As I know you know, it’s important to have inbound links to your content. It helps to demonstrate your content’s worth to others, and inbound links only increased in importance with the May 2020 Core Algorithm update.
Brief or shallow content
Brief content without many inbound links lost ground in this update. While brief content with a diverse inbound link profile did better (especially with later algorithm adjustments), the overall picture on these types of pages is still relatively clear:
Google believes comprehensive content is more valuable to searchers.
If pages are essentially doorways to other content, such as a round-up style post, in Google’s eyes, they provide less value to users. These “doorway” pages are most likely viewed as shallow content unless the content curation itself is very valuable.
How does Google know if the act of curation is valuable? If the content has a significant following shown by diverse and active inbound links to the page.
Revisit shorter posts and round-ups that dropped in traffic and consider how you can provide more value to your readers within those posts.
Content that was previously ranking without a lot of links
Unfortunately, it looks like publishers who have focused all along on producing great content, but haven’t also focused on promoting that content and encouraging inbound links were affected by this update. Many top-ranking spots were taken by higher-authority sites (with stronger inbound links), making it more challenging for small or mid-sized publishers to retake those top spots in the search results.
Ahrefs is a great tool to get a sense of how your competitors are getting links. Identify sites similar to yours and look at their inbound links, not for prospects but for ideas to solve problems with your expertise and content.
For example, if you are a food publisher and see a lot of homeschooling-focused sites in competitor links, maybe you create and publish a weekly easy-to-make nutritious menu for homeschoolers with a downloadable element they can print at home, and shopping lists to make the process easier. Then, you could reach out to homeschooling sites and introduce them to this concept and why you created it, and ask for their feedback to make it better. As we engage with like-minded communities, we solve problems together.
Focusing on your content should be the primary objective, but knowing the relative authority of competitors you’re trying to outrank for your most important keywords lets you establish baseline expectations and trackable goals.
Tiered link-building strategies
One strategy that seems to have thrived with this update is a tiered approach to link building.
The idea here is to build a layer of inbound links to your top content— for example, writing guest posts where you link to your own post— then seeking out a second layer of links to those guest posts, then focusing on a third layer of links that link to the second layer, and so on.
This is a legitimate strategy that I’m a fan of, but we may now see a lot of publishers trying to game the system using this approach.
3 key takeaways
- Work to understand the search intent that leads users to your top keywords and optimize for search features there.
- Watch out for overly-repetitive keyword usage in your title, headings, image alt tags, etc.
- Inbound links are more important than ever to tell Google that your content is a valuable destination for that keyword.
There are always winners and losers when a core update is rolled out, but your goals and Google’s goals are still well-aligned — getting the most valuable content in front of searchers’ eyes.
We’re watching the data and repercussions from this update and subsequent adjustments closely, and we’ll continue to offer our best recommendations for your content!