The State of SEO in 2023
Search engine optimization (SEO) is an ever-evolving beast, with Google (all but synonymous with the term “search engine”) updating their algorithm constantly. These updates are intended to improve the user experience and prevent websites from manipulating search rankings to appear higher in search results. In late 2022, Google implemented the Helpful Content update, which prioritizes websites with unique and in-depth content while downranking sites that use common tactics like keyword stuffing and link spamming, along with the relatively hotter trend of AI generated content.
Here, we dive into some key changes and offer suggestions on how to best manage your SEO this year.
How is the helpful content update different from prior Google updates?
Though this update significantly changed the tactics of SEO, it is consistent with Google’s overt objective to increase the quality of the content that ranks highly. Though the measures used to qualify quality have shifted over time, SEOs and content writers should expect to continue to see future updates aligned with this ethos, where the most user-focused content, and therefore the user, wins.
As shared by Rebekah Edwards, SEO expert, CEO and co-founder of Clara Agency, “Google wants to rank someone with expertise creating a unique and in-depth piece of content that’s not artificially created in any way. It has always followed the northstar of trying to get better and better at keeping manipulators from finding success.”
The impacts of this update are potentially detrimental to sites using certain strategies common in SEO to date, while those who stand to benefit are sites that have consistently focused on generating high-quality, interactive content. The changes to Google’s algorithm focus on rewarding sites and pages with informative content, rather than those who went all-in on keyword stuffing and participating in backlink-sharing groups that involve purchasing or trading links en masse. In order to stay compliant, web designers and writers need to focus on creating unique and in-depth pieces that answer questions and provide value to the audiences they’re targeting.
Who should be most concerned about the Helpful Content update?
Any business, blogger, or entrepreneur who relies on SEO should be aware of the changes and how to manage them. Those who intend to base their business traffic on search performance, but aren’t well versed in SEO, will have an especially difficult time. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Edwards highlighted that “You can compete as a little guy, but you need to know more about what Google thinks is good content than what you think is good content.”
While the previous “best practices” in SEO are now potentially detrimental to those who invested in tricks instead of focusing on generating great content, this update presents an opportunity for small businesses to focus on local search and niche markets, rather than trying to compete on broad topics.
What areas of content strategy need to be revised?
The new SEO strategic framework shouldn’t be much of a surprise, as it does not deviate from the expectations of the trajectory of the industry. Content needs to create informative and engaging experiences.You can optimize sites and pages for user experience (UX) by using on-page tools like calculators and writing with natural language processing (NLP) in mind to improve topical authority.
Other practical steps to improve SEO include the anti-intuitive measure of reducing total content by deindexing (removing from search engine results) any pages that don't deliver value. All content that is more than two years old or targeting specific keywords should be refreshed to ensure healthy SEO practices are in place.
Google itself provides educational resources on SEO and information on how to manage your SEO in accordance with their structure and expectations.
The SEO Outlook
Overall, the helpful content update is a positive change for both content writers and users alike, as it rewards websites that create high-quality content while penalizing those that rely on lazy methods that aim to rank highly for certain keywords. “It’s always good when better content wins,” Edwards notes.
However, a potential downside is that this can disproportionately affect smaller businesses that may not have the resources to compete with larger websites. By focusing on local search and creating helpful and informative content, small businesses can still compete in the SEO space. “More people should focus in on local communities. There’s opportunity in local markets that is greater than that in the broad market,” remarks Edwards.
As for other search engines taking a similar approach, it's possible that they will follow Google's lead, especially as AI technology continues to evolve. However, Google remains the dominant search engine, with over 92% of the global market share, so it's unlikely that other search engines’ changes will have the same impact as those made by the leader.
SEO in 2023 is focused on creating informative, unique, engaging, and, well, helpful content that answers user questions and provides value. While the helpful content update can present more challenges for small businesses without the time or resources to invest in updating and consistently optimizing for SEO, there are still opportunities to compete by focusing on local search and creating high-quality content. Features that provide positive user experiences, like on-page calculators and other in-moment tools, along with familiarity using natural language processing in writing, can allow content writers and web designers to align with the current state and trajectory of Google's algorithms and improve their search engine rankings.
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