What does Google’s latest update mean for businesses?

By: Darren Baines / May 8, 2024
Tags: Content, SEO

What does Google’s latest update mean for businesses?

It’s fair to say that Google has been playing around with its search algorithm quite a bit so far in 2024. Towards the end of April, the search giant confirmed that it had concluded the rollout of its first core update of the year. Their goal was to reduce unhelpful content by 40%, which it claims to have superseded.

As a website owner or SEO professional, you might have noticed the concerns raised on X (formerly Twitter) about the dominance of Reddit and Quora forums. You might also be aware of the conspiracy theories surrounding the alleged degradation of organic search results to promote Google’s Ads platform.

If you are a business owner whose website has tanked due to the HCU and March Core Update, these provide some comfort.

Equally, your site may not have been impacted one iota.

In either case, it is important to keep abreast of Google’s direction, why it’s making these changes, and what you should do to keep pace.

More broadly, it is also worth considering how users’ search habits are changing, what they are finding useful, and where they are looking for answers.

The very basics

Let’s not overcomplicate things. People want to find the answers they need in an engaging and smooth experience.

What people are not looking for is meandering content that hides the information they are seeking. They are not looking for pop-ups or ads to block their experience. And they definitely don’t want to feel like they’ve read something that is generic, repetitive or robotic.

There are very few shortcuts when it comes to building reliable, steady visibility on Google.

While this may go against the grain for those website owners celebrating exponential growth, typically, but not always, this is short-lived. I would argue that some of those complaining about Google’s recent search updates are likely to have followed this path.

The AI battleground

Even though Google is experimenting with its AI-powered search tool, the Search Generative Experience (SGE), it doesn’t necessarily mean it fully embraces everything AI. Neither should it.

Let’s be completely honest. Have you read something that’s been completely AI-generated? The vast majority of it is absolute trash. That’s not because AI, as a generative text tool, doesn’t work. It’s because the people behind the websites, blogs, or forums have become lazy.

To buck the system that rewards new, fresh content, some site owners have over-embraced AI to give them volume and frequency. In some circumstances hundreds, if not thousands of pages are added in a period of a couple of months. Then a couple of months later, you see the site owner celebrating search growth on social media. Another website owner sees this as their path to success, and they then attempt the same thing. Then the problem spreads like a disease.

Google is trying to avoid this, not because it dislikes AI but because those who abuse it and those who lack quality standards have spammed the internet with useless content.

In short, if you are providing quality content that demonstrates experience, expertise, authority and trustworthiness, you’re on the right path to improve your website’s search visibility.

If you can do that using AI, then good for you. If you can do that at volume, even better. However, the current evidence suggests that there is a decline in quality when this happens.

Behaviours are changing

We want to be entertained. We don’t want to work too hard to find the answers. We want to feel a connection.

Gen Z, in particular, is turning to social media platforms such as TikTok for search. Social media allows people to be entertained, build a connection, and not have to sift through a thousand-word essay to find the answer.

Granted, if you wanted to find out something complex, social media is unlikely to be your preferred resource. However, it’s very useful if you want to see what people say about a product, show or celebrity.

If you need real-life guidance, forums such as Reddit or Quora can be a great way to gather that timely intel. Traditionally, these forums haven’t been spammed to death by lengthy SEO articles. Other users have voted up useful information, ensuring the answers are curated and evaluated by the community.

This is why Reddit and Quora are becoming more prominent in search. Google can see users are enjoying these forums. If you are a website owner whose traffic has crashed, that sucks. But did Google change, or have our behaviours changed?

What do you do if you’ve been hit by these updates?

If you’ve noticed your search traffic declining, understanding why is vital. The fixes could be very simple, such as speeding up your site, fixing broken links, or taking other actions that improve user experience.

If content is generally pretty poor, either because it’s massively out of date, or simply no longer helpful, spending time to increase quality and relevancy will help.

The great thing is you don’t need expensive SEO tools to find the answer. You just need to be super critical and honest with yourself. Go to your website or get a friend to do it for you. Imagine you’re a customer and critique the hell out of it—from how it works on mobile to how interesting or engaging the content is to how easy it is to actually find or buy something.

Equally, if you want a more rounded audit of where the issues are and the opportunities for search growth, we can certainly help.

Darren Baines

Marketing Specialist & Director

Darren is an experienced marketer, having worked both client and agency side to deliver digital and traditional campaigns.

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