The case against clickbait: Google update good news for firms
Andy Cullwick considers the new Google algorithm update and SEO
The three words no marketer wants to hear - ‘Google algorithm update.’
But with its monopoly on the global search engine market, it’s not something any business can afford to ignore.
For firms, however, the latest update, which was rolled out earlier this month, appears to be a win-win – pushing original, helpful content up the rankings without requiring any action at all.
Content: good v bad
Like its predecessors before it (Penguin, Panda and Possum to name a few), Google’s helpful content update aims to improve the user experience.
It pledges to prioritise ‘original, helpful content written by people, for people’ and crack down on ‘unsatisfying’ articles – namely clickbait.
Helpful content is defined as that which answers users’ questions and adds value, demonstrating ‘first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge’ that leaves readers ‘feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal.’
Examples may include articles explaining complex points of law, the different steps involved in making a claim, or case studies so potential clients can read about others who have been through a similar experience.
Unsatisfying or unhelpful content could be ‘summarising what others have to say without adding much value’ or written simply because a topic is trending rather than it being of genuine use to the reader.
It is typically written in a bid to boost search engine optimisation (SEO) and drive traffic to a particular website, rather than to provide useful information.
A good example of this is only too apparent to fans of BBC’s Line of Duty.
Do you know the release date for season 7? No, me neither.
But type the question into Google and numerous websites promising all the details pop up.
On closer inspection - spoiler alert – there is no season 7. At least not yet anyway. Just quotes from the cast confirming their interest should one ever be on the cards.
It’s clickbait, pure and simple, but maybe not for much longer.
The update is, in itself, an admission by Google more needs to be done to seed out the spam, which has often borrowed heavily from another source but ends up ranking higher than the original.
Clickbait has long been frowned upon – and until now, Google has responded by downranking the page or piece of content. This update goes one step further – it will penalise the entire site.
My own view is Google needs to see off the likes of TikTok and Reddit, to which people who’ve had a less than satisfactory experience are now starting to turn – and use as search engines.
Platforms such as these have traditionally been seen as unlikely places for firms to attract new business, but more are starting to explore their potential.
Google’s update won’t wipe unhelpful sites off the top of search results immediately or completely and I don’t think there will be any big winners, but – particularly given the search engine has already confirmed further, similar updates are in the pipeline – gains may be small but incremental.
It’s certainly worth monitoring your keyword rankings to see whether there has been any movement. So too where you’re advertising to make sure it’s not on a heavily penalised site. Businesses can often be naïve about where their adverts appear, but there are enough tools now available to help you keep track.
While significant, this update should hold no fear for the majority of businesses who are producing original and useful content – and firms are an excellent example of this. It doesn’t pay to draw people in, then not answer their question, as they will just go somewhere that will.
Google is constantly introducing algorithm changes – and as I write has rolled out another – the fifth iteration of its update, aimed at giving a higher ranking to useful content related to product reviews.
Even for us seasoned professionals, it can sometimes be difficult to work out what difference they actually make, which is why the helpful content update was so refreshing – it was one we could understand.
For now, however, the answer is simply to keep doing what you’ve been doing and producing quality content that gives readers the information they want in a way that is easy and quick to digest.
It has been a long game, but hopefully now those whose focus is on the consumer, rather than where they rank, are finally starting to emerge as winners.
Andy Cullwick is head of marketing at First4Lawyers: https://jointhepanel.first4lawyers.com