To stay on top, Google is always trying to improve its search engine, both in the way it presents the information it has to Internet users and in the way it finds this information in the first place. If he can’t give people the answers they’re looking for, why would they keep turning to the big G? In its latest round of changes (called the Helpful Content Update), Google says it’s trying to show “more content by people, for peoplein search results by targeting sites that attempt to trick its results pages with low-quality, algorithmically generated content. Instead, it says it will prioritize original content and expert product reviews.
For most people, customer-facing changes will always be the most obvious. Think about things like the quick reply box you see at the top of more and more searches (officially called Featured excerpts), Google’s AI-driven efforts last year to deliver more comprehensive search suggestions to complex queries, and the knowledge graph, which tells you actor birthdays, moon phases, and other facts when you search for them. All of these changes are important and noticeable in the way Google presents information about what you’ve searched for and are designed to help you find what you’re looking for faster.
But while these front-end changes might seem dramatic, especially given how the Google search page has evolved over the years, it’s the core tweaks that can have the most profound effects on the results you see. In the old days, popular sites were basically purged from top results by updates to Google’s search algorithms.
A big part of the problem for Google is search engine optimization, or SEO. While not inherently bad, sites can go overboard with SEO by trying to game Google’s results pages. In its most benign form, SEO is simply taking reasonable steps to ensure that Google can understand and access the content you post, and make sure it loads quickly and is readable for everyone. (Google doesn’t want to link to a site that takes a long time to load and, when it does, is unreadable on mobile devices.)
Essentially, this means making sure the content is written logically, that you include the type of keyphrases that people are actually looking for, and that your site is well designed and maintained. As for individual articles, ideally they should answer a question and then actually answer it. And whether you’re viewing the article on a desktop computer or a smartphone, it should look good and load quickly. All in all, a win for everyone.
But there is also the dark side. Online, traffic is money. If you get people to visit your website and see ads, you get paid. The higher your site appears in Google rankings on average, the more traffic it generates and, therefore, the more money you make. The incentives for trying to mess with Google’s algorithms are pretty clear.
You’ve almost certainly come across SEO-focused sites that are set up just to get traffic and not really to help people. For example, millions of people (including many of us here in PopSci) are eagerly awaiting the third season of Ted Lasso. The release date hasn’t been announced yet, but if you google “ted lasso season 3 release date” you’ll get a dozen sites with titles that make it look like it was. . Similarly, there are many automated sites that grab content from the web and repackage it with ads, without adding anything else of value. These are the kinds of sites that Google’s latest update is targeting.
It’s all part of Google’s larger strategy to promote useful and relevant content. A updated earlier this year, for example, aimed to display better product reviews. It was designed to rank in-depth, well-researched, and practical reviews written by people with product experience rather than simple roundups.
This latest useful content update adopts a similar strategy and aims to promote content “by people, for people”. In other words, things that are written to be read by humans, not Google’s search algorithms. He says he will do this by ranking original content higher, rather than articles that aggregate publicly available information with nothing, and by promoting expert reviews.
If you run a site and you’re worried about Google taking away some of your hard-earned (or barely-earned) traffic, you can check out a guide posted at what creators need to know about the update. If you just want to learn more about how Google Search works, this is also a good read.