If you woke up in the middle of the night on Nov. 16, 2021 in a nervous, sweaty panic, you may have had a premonition that Google was about to drop another algorithm update—specifically pertaining to the quality of content—that could affect your website ranking. The following morning, Google made the announcement and unceremoniously dropped the bomb that very afternoon.
The SEO community was in an uproar: “Before the holiday season? What were they thinking?!”
Now that the update has had time to comb through content for more than three months, sites that were initially knocked may be feeling the pain even more.
The latest Google update focuses squarely on content—content quality, in particular. Google’s algorithm will now dramatically favor content meeting their high standards for quality over run-of-the-mill copy. Some changes may be noticeable right away, while others may be more evident after three or more months.
Of course, you didn’t have to be psychic to see this coming. There’s nothing novel in the update that hasn’t been said over and over since 2005. Google is simply enforcing the recommendations they’ve been making all along in a stronger effort to improve the search experience and banish crummy content from our lives forever.
3 takeaways from the Google November 2021 Core Update
In “What Webmasters Should Know,” Google shared tips on meeting the bar:
- “Focus on offering the best content you can.” Google recommends focusing on Quality (original, comprehensive, and share-worthy content); Expertise (clear sources, trustworthy links, and verifiable facts); Presentation (error-free, user-friendly display, and limited ads); and Competition (unique value).
- “Think like a quality rater.” Google leans on human raters to gauge the effectiveness of their service, much like how restaurants use feedback cards from diners. These people can’t be bribed and do not have direct access to rankings, but Google’s raters help verify content quality using the E-A-T criteria (Experience-Authority-Trust). A high E-A-T page might be medical advice published in a peer-reviewed journal or a news article with confirmed sources.
- “Google is doing their best.” In a nutshell, Google advises “focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can,” as that’s what their algorithms “seek to reward.” Google doesn’t claim to be perfect, but their algorithm is the closest thing to true Artificial Intelligence out there, and it is rigorously tested prior to launch and honed thereafter. Algorithm updates will continue to be a fact of life, as technological capabilities improve and Google determines better ways to elevate quality content, while weeding out those who try to game the system for selfish benefit.
If your blood pressure tends to spike with every Google algorithm change, it’s time to work with a dedicated team of content marketing professionals. In good hands, you needn’t panic. MarketSmiths clients are well-positioned to weather these seemingly sudden shifts. Achieving high standards for quality is simply what MarketSmiths does all the time.
What we understand about producing quality content—and why we’re snoozing soundly all night long, even after Google’s November update is this:
Compelling content delivers better results than regurgitated rewording
A topic like “how to lose weight” offers 52 million Google search results. How many of these articles say to “eat breakfast,” “exercise,” and “drink more water”? If it was just that easy, we’d all be catwalk-ready. For years, companies were hiring writers at $5 a pop to “spin” articles published in mainstream periodicals—borrowing the same conclusions and sources as the original, with slightly different wording to avoid the duplicate content penalty. Serial system gamers could create livelihoods building websites full of cheap, lousy content with zero value for information-seekers, designed solely to funnel traffic to advertisers.
The latest Google update seeks to filter out the unoriginal content cluttering up the search results. If you want Google to promote your content, it has to be better. Before writing, consider your competition: What do they do well? What are they lacking? How is your perspective different, more current, or more in-depth? The best content features unique ideas worthy of sharing with friends and colleagues. It contains anecdotes from your subject matter experts’ personal and professional lives that readers won’t find anywhere else. Perhaps you’re working with a research or survey firm to gather unique data and insights. If you can draw upon credible sources that support your analysis, even better.
Thorough content answers all the questions a reader might have
While it doesn’t take much to crank out a 200-word “thought of the day” blog, thin content rarely captures what Google’s curious information-seekers are truly looking for in their searches. Would you rather have the whole donut or just a few leftover crumbs? Though 7.5 million blogs are published each day, most of the top-ranking posts have 1,500-2,500 words. One in five writers spends 6+ hours on each blog.
Substantial content consolidates all the existing information out there, so users don’t have to leave the article to gather all parts of the problems they’re trying to solve. The narrative you’re telling needs a beginning, middle, and end. Proactively answering questions and demonstrating that you’ve considered the issue from every possible angle ultimately earns your reader’s trust. Strategically speaking, we like to create main pillar posts, along with subtopic clusters, to drive long-term SEO and satisfy every curiosity our readers have.
Relevant content gives audiences exactly what they’re anticipating
Clickbait preys on universal, innate human curiosity and the dopamine reward centers in our brains. We don’t know why we’re clicking on “Husband Divorces Wife After Taking a Look at THIS Photo,” or “You Won’t Believe What The Cast of The Neverending Story Looks Like Now”—we just do. Google knows that a click does not imply satisfaction, which is why they’re also looking at bounce rates and search paths.
This latest Google algorithm specifically addresses the use of overly sensational headlines. Titles can be the most difficult part of writing. Sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night with the perfect, pithy hook, but most of the time we write the title last, after we’ve fully developed our thoughts. This latest update doesn’t mean you have to throw out all your titillating titles. You can still use numbers, keywords, and power words like “free” or “amazing”—just as long as you don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Writing effective titles for search means: “Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content? Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?”
Trustworthy content reassures readers with sourcing and expertise
How many times have you come across the same statistic across a plethora of articles, but the original source is nowhere to be found? It seems one person fabricated it and everyone else just copied it. Beyond sheer laziness, have you noticed misspellings, typos, and ambiguous phrasing in mainstream media—supposedly written by journalists and vetted by editors. You’re not imagining it. Writing quality has diminished along with the rise of fast-paced news cycles and short-staffed news outlets. Are a few careless mistakes enough to drop a titan like CNN down in the rankings? That is yet to be seen, but Google has made it clear they’re trying to raise the bar back up.
To rank well, aim for error-free articles with impeccable spelling and grammar—you know, like the olden days. If you can’t verify the facts, delete them, but do include links to trusted sites with high domain authority ranking. Whenever possible, give your writers a byline; not only will they appreciate the exposure, but readers prefer hearing from an identifiable author, rather than a faceless brand. Google prefers when brands stick to content within their wheelhouse. If you’re a microbrewery, it’s cool to write about selecting the right hops, but it seems a bit self-serving to write about different types of wine (which you don’t make or sell) and conclude that microbrews offer better variety.
Useful content arrives well-presented, on a user-friendly platform
Will the “50 Best Vacations” slideshows (requiring 50 clicks to get through 50 pointless paragraphs) become a relic of the past? We sure hope so. Thin content is right up there with slow-loading mobile sites, email popups, and shifting media elements of Google user pet peeves, and yet, issues persist.
In June 2021, prior to this most recent content update, Google rolled out a progressive algorithm change focused on usability issues like poor mobile-optimization or automated slideshows that cause sudden, unexpected content shifts. In addition to having a team of copywriters, editors, and strategists, you’ll need a devoted webmaster who keeps a proactive eye on usability issues across the site to be sure your content is well-presented.
Why MarketSmiths clients are futureproofed
When Google updates roll out, MarketSmiths clients see a bump in traffic. We attribute this to several factors:
- Content strategy: We may publish 80 new pieces over two months, adding to 300+ over the years.
- Backlink strategy: In addition to internal links, our client may have 1.2K links to trustworthy sources.
- Website quality: We aim for GTmetrix scores of 90-100 in accessibility, best practices, and SEO.
- Content quality: We know how to write substantial, well-researched, interesting thought leadership.
When you come to MarketSmiths, you don’t just get the content. You get a content program that rocks, with a dedicated content strategist and multiple writers attuned to SEO, messaging goals, web development, and user experience. The Google algorithm change can be daunting to those who try to game the system. But us? We eat, sleep, and breathe quality content…and we sleep with one eye open to keep pace with these updates, so you can focus on living your dream.