Google's algorithm update versus your brand

Google made the (still unexpected) decision to announce a core update before it happened. It's called the "helpful content update" because that makes it hard for people to object to it and because it readies an army of SEOs to now push their clients to have more helpful content. I have no objections to the tactic.

At first blush, the update makes sense. As so strongly signposted, the goal is to reward helpful content, and the expense of content made just for search engines.

You can imagine the latter type, cookie-cutter templates, low-quality churn, and if you're imaginative, you might even waggle a warning finger at all those guest posts which are variations on a theme. 

Brands that care about their content, and most do, should have nothing to worry about. This update is about moving some search oomph off the internet's lower end to reward the content creators' upper tier.

In just a bit, I want to explain why I've titled this post "Google's algorithm update versus your brand" if that assessment of brands and the strength of their content is accurate.

Google has a second, Search Central post to explain what "good content" looks like.

It's people-first content, which means;

  • content that satisfies the needs of your current audience
  • content demonstrate first-hand expertise
  • a focus
  • a satisfying user experience

In contrast, search-first (bad) content might be;

  • written just with SEO in mind
  • chasing topics and trends with search volume in mind
  • heavily automated to pursue a broad spectrum of topics
  • leaning too heavily on summarising others without adding your own value add
  • not answering questions
  • short on expertise

For example, if Google changes their logo to celebrate an artist's birthday and links to that artist's search results, you should not expect to rank by copying quotes from Wikipedia, experts or other sites into an aggregated collage of content on the said artist.

Google's algorithms will make a call, and whole sites, not just bad pages on the site, will be affected. 

I see two devils in the details, and the first is your brand.

Your brand

I've worked with brands that have their own terms to describe things. For example, they might say "denim" rather than "jeans", "teeth brightening" rather than "teeth whitening", or "early learning centre" rather than "nursery". 

It's Google versus your brand because the search engine does not care what your brand positioning is or if people are using terms the way you want them to. Google is rewarding people-first content, not brand positioning. 

I've worked with brands that insisted they add paragraphs of text to every page because an SEO said so, or commissioning articles tangentially related to their businesses or, more commonly, having a "skinny jeans" approach to content, not saying much in fear of answering one question comes at the cost of not answering two. In this update, Google's even called out writing to SEO / length rules as a red flag.

Here the platform does not care what you want as a customer brand experience. It's Google versus brand because the search engine will determine what it considers a good user journey and will hold you accountable to that unknowable truth.

I frequently encounter brands where the marcoms teams do not have easy access to the professionals and experts who work for them. These companies often have content from in-house or agencies, rarely from the people who provide the service. Equally, I often work with brands that would rather say nothing than say something wrong or which might be changed later. For example, a brand might announce that a new product is to be released, but the date of when that particular product will be in stores omitted, never to be mentioned on the site, and left to the retailers to publicise if they want.

I argue this is also Google versus your brand as the concerns above are valid but also instances of not being able to show first-hand experience or actually answer the specific questions searchers might have.

I've been delaying buying a new smartwatch for years, and I'd like my replacement, when it finally comes, to be a Pixel Watch. If I search Google for the Pixel Watch release date right now, I get lots of media speculation about what we know about the watch and commentary on rumours as to when the release date might be. Potentially, the Helpful Content Update could be impactful here.

Your brand values/vision/mission or marketing strategy was not on the list of things Google considers good content. 


I said I saw two devils in the implicit details of this update, and the second is curation via reviews.

Google's been making many changes to how it handles reviews, around but not exclusively with schema. In the main public blog post about this coming update, reviews are mentioned twice and used as an example once.

Here's the example;

For example, if you search for information about a new movie, you might have previously seen articles that aggregated reviews from other sites without adding perspectives beyond what's available elsewhere. This isn't very helpful if you're expecting to read something new. With this update, you'll see more results with unique, authentic information, so you're more likely to read something you haven't seen before.

I think this is a fascinating example. 

Firstly, there is a strong focus on what I've seen before. This leads to the question, "Does this update up weight my search history in the algorithm? ". Also, "How does Google know what I've read before?" 

Secondly, reading a summary of critic or pundit reviews on a movie seems like an excellent user experience and far superior to reading through all those separate reviews.

Combining this anti-aggregated post view with the ongoing efforts from Google to tweak how it handles reviews makes me wonder what the search engine has planned. It's pure speculation, but perhaps the search engine with the mission to organise the world's information sees itself as the natural curator with no desire to facilitate intermediaries. 

For example, if I want to know about a new movie and an overview of what many different critics might have said, then perhaps Google could (and will) use its natural language processing to compile that for me. They already do, to an extent, but imagine what that might look like extended to retail, travel, or real-time analysis of fact versus opinion on a topical subject.

What do you think? 

Image credit: Tim Mossholder.

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