Welcome again to my new newsletter format. The whole newsletter is in this email now. You don't need to go to my website, but if you want to you can read the newsletters here.
A note re paid subscriptions:
My paid subscribers now get a new weekly newsletter instead of extra content: Marie's thoughts. In this week's episode I shared my detailed recommendations for improving content for a site impacted by the March Core update.
If you are a paid subscriber, you received Marie's thoughts via email on Friday. If you subscribed before September 2023, you can read all paid newsletters here:
I am working with Convertkit to make it so you can eventually read these on my Convertkit feed. Thank you for bearing with me as we figure this out.
A new helpful content system update
Google has updated the helpful content system. In this article I share my thoughts on what has changed with the September 14 helpful content system update.
I asked Claude to summarize my article:
- Google now factors in helpfulness of content on subdomains when evaluating overall site helpfulness. This may possibly address "parasite SEO" tactics.
- Google changed "written by an expert" to "written or reviewed by an expert" - likely focusing on expert-level content rather than just author expertise. (This is a good thread by Blair MacGregor on working with expert reviewers.)
- "Content written by people" changed to "content created for people" - may signal more openness to AI-generated content if high quality.
- Added note about not changing dates to seem fresher - perhaps freshness may be more rewarded in rankings now?
- Vague reference to adding/removing content - possibly about gaming freshness or topical authority with low-quality AI content.
- Focus should remain on creating truly helpful content that provides information gain, not just gaming systems.
|Read my full article on what's changed with the helpful content system|
As Glenn Gabe pointed out, Google did not mention the “hidden gems” update Google has been teasing about that is designed to better recognize and reward those who are topic experts and enthusiasts producing helpful content.
What to do When Algorithm Updates Give You the Blues?
This section is sponsored and provided by Nicole DeLeon from North Star Inbound. She and her team do really great work in helping businesses get links and mentions that I believe are likely to be rewarded by Google. Below is a great example of how good Nicole's work is.
Hey SNYCU fans!
We have a client who has the SEO blues. They are in the travel vertical, and by every measure, they’re doing all they can according to best practices. They have specialized travel writers that they send out to locations so content can be written from first-hand experience.
They strive to provide unique content that solves problems for travelers considering where to go, stay, and what to do. For years, they were handsomely rewarded for their integrity and high editorial standards. And then, they were hit. Even as their competitors, a few of whom were not providing quality content, overtook them.
So what do you do when you’re ALREADY doing all the right things?
First, take a step back and consider what you’re doing well. I’m not suggesting you engage in positive self-talk like Stuart Smalley. Although, after the year SEOs have had, maybe that’s a good idea.
You take a break from analyzing why the pages and keywords that have dropped can’t recover no matter what you do and focus on the ones that are doing well. Do you see any patterns? Hopefully, what emerges is a tendency to rank better within a subset of topics in your niche. These topics represent your core topical authority in the eyes of Google.
Second, your move-forward strategy should focus exclusively on this core area of topical authority. Nothing else. For now.
This can be hard if the higher-volume or value pages lie elsewhere. But we’ve seen this time and again. Sometimes it’s better to redefine the battlefield than to keep fighting a losing battle.
Third, don’t ignore keyword difficulty. Again, what’s already working is your teacher. If your site is struggling, you may have a high DR but find yourself unable to rank for medium-difficulty words. Don’t ignore that. Find the median difficulty keywords that are outperforming and set that as your high bar. Do now target keywords that have higher difficulty. Again, for now.
Finally, if all else fails, is there anything that your style of SEO has been ignoring? Is there something your resources haven’t allowed you to look into that you’ve always suspected might be playing a small role?
For instance, are you an SEO that doesn’t emphasize UX? Technical? Does your budget not allow for high authority links or a modern design?
Take a hard look at these assumptions. There’s likely more there than you realize
What to expect:
We’ve had many clients with this exact misfortune. If I’m honest, righting the ship can take a while. In the graph below, we worked with this client for over a year. There have been engagements where the payoff took even longer. But persistence in great content paired with a smart strategy never hurts.
How-To results are no longer shown on desktop
This change happened September 13, 2023. It’s possible it is the cause of some of the traffic fluctuations some are seeing.
My thought: There’s little need for how-to information in the SERPs if SGE can provide that info.
It’s possible something else happened September 13 though. I have seen a few reports of wild changes.
Glenn Gabe points out that FAQ snippets are still being seen, but only for well-known, authoritative health and government websites.
More UGC sites seen ranking
Not unexpected, as these are a good source of first hand experiential information.
Ahrefs’ estimates of traffic show Quora seeing a nice boost that starts during the August core update rollout.
Reddit’s traffic was already increasing.
US Congress met to discuss AI
If you have time, I would recommend watching this full video. It was fascinating to hear US senators discussing how AI is developing in the US, its potential for harm, including from foreign entities and also, the good that can come out of the explosion of AI use.
I’ve sent a link to my full 17 pages of notes on this video to my paid subscribers. Here is Claude’s summary:
- China has a systematic campaign to steal US intellectual property and intelligence to advance their economy. Chinese laws compel citizens to share information with China even if restricted.
- The US has over 4000 Chinese nationals working in labs, some may feel pressured to steal IP. There was great concern over how this information was presented so as to not hurt or raise animosity against Chinese people as many have worked hard to help advance AI in the US.
- AI can be manipulated for harm, like providing instructions for weapons. Deepfakes and disinformation are threats. Watermarking/validating AI output and more is needed.
- AI can help streamline permitting, improve disaster response, and more. Building an AI workforce and transition programs is key. Possibly starting in kindergarten to Grade 12.
- Risks of AI aligning with human values must be assessed. Bias and impacts on civil liberties are concerns. Protecting privacy is critical as AI can alter lives through personal data.
- The government should not decide what's "true" but can validate human vs AI generated content. More oversight on AI development overall is needed.
There was also an untelevised meeting between the US Senate and AI leaders including Sundar Pichai, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and more. The goal was to create a consensus on what the US congressional framework surrounding AI should look like.
I expect this meeting was kept private as many security concerns were likely discussed. The Washington Post reports that one speaker shared how with $800, his team was able to bypass Meta’s safety controls on LLaMA 2 and quickly create instructions to develop a biological weapon. Mark Zuckerberg replied by saying that information was already on the internet to be found.
Bill Gates said that AI can transform society for good. For example, it could be used to solve hunger. There was once again discussion on “the workforce” that will be needed to advance AI.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the European Commission has put forth guidelines for a global approach to understanding the impact of AI.
The Information reported that Google has given a small group of companies access to its “highly anticipated conversational artificial intelligence software”, Gemini. It’s interesting that they called Gemini software rather than a model.
Google is encouraging some users to try SGE with a banner overlaid over regular search results.
How will SGE impact your traffic from Google?
This study on the potential impact of SGE was fascinating. It discusses several possible scenarios that could happen in regards to clicks to websites once SGE arrives.
I have so many thoughts on this that I wrote a full article about it. I will publish this soon.
For now, here is the Claude summary of my upcoming article on how SGE is likely to impact search traffic for many websites.
- Study showed websites could see 18-64% traffic drops from SGE based on various scenarios. Significant traffic loss expected.
- To rank alongside SGE answers, websites will likely need to provide additional information gain beyond what SGE already summarizes.
- For YMYL topics, authoritativeness and expertise will be critical to be shown.
- For non-YMYL queries, SGE may show sites that provide helpful supplemental info that is relevant to the searcher’s main need/intent.
- SEO companies will try to reverse engineer SGE, but will get harder over time.
- Queries are becoming conversations, not keywords. Hard to track/optimize for.
- Google wants real world expertise and originality. Hard to manufacture.
- Focus should be on creating content that helps real users
Stay tuned for the full article on my blog.
More things I found interesting and helpful
I’d recommend reading this tweet thread by Dejan SEO on people making jokes about LSI keywords. He says that latent semantic analysis is a valid natural language processing tool and has value when used appropriately.
These instructions from Rob Lennon helped me figure out how to make it so my book and paid newsletter appear below my Twitter profile. This comes and goes, so Twitter may be testing a few things.
Google says the issue where incorrect sitenames are appearing has mostly been resolved.
Regarding local SEO:
This is the second time I’ve seen someone quote John Mueller as answering “Yes” when asked whether SEO is dead. It’s possible he’s being facetious after being asked this question for so many years. Or, it’s possible that the new area that Gemini ushers in will be one where we are no longer optimizing for search engines, but rather, determining what content our audience will find helpful beyond an AI generated answer and producing that. SEO is not dead - businesses will still need to be found online. But a lot of what we currently succeed with in SEO will no longer be necessary most likely.
Researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCL have developed an AI system called RETFound that can identify eye diseases and predict general health conditions like heart attacks, stroke, and Parkinson's by analyzing retinal scans.
A mom entered her son’s medical information into ChatGPT and it correctly suggested a rare diagnosis of tethered cord syndrome. The boy had seen 17 doctors over 3 years with no answers.
You can use Google’s new emoji kitchen to combine two emojis…here is a mind-blown Penguin.
Check out Stability AI’s Stable Audio that lets you generate music from text prompt.
Speaking of Audio, Adobe premiere now lets you use AI to cleanup the ums, and extra noise in your audio.
This is wild. New software lets you upload a video and within minutes it not only translates what you’re saying into another language, but moves your lips along with the translation.
Some great discussions from the Search Bar
I’m really enjoying watching my new community evolve. In the paid member section we’ve got some great discussions (although some below are part of the free section too.) I’ve added a 2 week free trial in case you’d like to test out the premium area before fully committing.
Marie's thoughts are published in the paid Search Bar area as well.
Here’s the video I was looking for. If you have not seen Frédéric Dubut discuss how SEO’s need to shift from keyword research to intent research, I’d recommend watching it.
I'm in Austin this week
I'll be giving a masterclass along with Elmer Boutin at Pubcon Pro in Austin this week. I'm teaching on producing helpful content with a knowledge of how Google uses AI in its systems. It's my first travel in over three years! Really looking forward to connecting with those of you who are there.
Hope you have a great week!