5 Big Questions to Ask Yourself After Google’s January 2020 Core Update

Google went 13 whole days into 2020 without announcing a major update. I hope you all enjoyed the holiday. 

No rest for the wicked, let’s dive into this one. This was Google’s first broad core update since September of 2019 and appears to be a big one.

It caused massive fluctuations and the SEO community reported seeing spikes and drops across a number of different sites, in a number of different categories.

Despite the size of the update, there didn’t seem to be a major takeway, or one major thing (or industry) that this update targeted.

SEO firm

The typical optimistic Twitterverse response to an update

In announcing this, Google actually did something I think is very helpful. They shared the link to a blog about how to react to any Google core update. And most of the points in this blog are actually points that they covered in a blog they wrote in 2011 after the Panda update.

Nine years later, it’s still great advice. The standards of what makes good and user-friendly content have not changed, even though the renewed focus on quality from the best SEO agencies in Toronto and the rest of the world has made it more important than ever.

In that blog, they ask you to look at your content and ask these 5 questions.

1. Would You Expect to See This Content in or Referenced By a Printed Magazine, Encyclopedia Or Book?

It’s time to think less like a marketer and more like a publisher. Nobody opens Google and thinks “Let’s see what SEO blogs can answer my question.”

They think, “Let’s see what articles can answer my question.”

We’re going to see a big shift back to editorial-style blogs in content marketing over the next few years. They will be a lot closer to something you would find at The Huffington Post and The Atlantic. What do I mean by more editorial style?

  • More long-form content and deep dives into topics
  • Better headlines and lead sentences 
  • More interesting images
  • Keywords that are imperceptible to the reader
  • More quotes from experts or statistics to back up the key points

These are the points of focus for magazines that are trying to earn human readers, as opposed to SEO clout. That’s why they should be your points of focus too.

Google’s Danny Sullivan tweeted after the BERT update that “BERT doesn’t change the fundamentals of what we’ve long said: write content for users.”

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Human users are your target audience. Think less like an SEO firm and more like a publisher. This will result in better articles and more SEO wins.

2. Does The Headline and/or Page Title Provide a Descriptive, Helpful Summary of the Content?

Headlines are somewhat treated as an after-thought in the world of content marketing. For too long, headlines have simply been a few other words around your keywords.

Yes, you need to include your keywords in your headline to give google an idea of what the blog is about. But you still need your headline to convince humans to read it.

A lot of marketers don’t spend a lot of time on headlines… and it shows. Their headlines are flat and lifeless. Even if they appear in a social feed or Google SERPs, human users aren’t compelled or inspired to click them.

You don’t need Buzzfeed-level-shock-and-awe headlines. But you need to make some sort of emotional connection. Identify the paint point and write a headline that captures how your reader is feeling and how they want to feel.

3. Does the Content Provide Insightful Analysis or Interesting Information That is Beyond Obvious?

The key part of that question is “information that is beyond obvious.” Basically, are you going to do more than the bare minimum of research? Are you going to bring anything new to the table?

It’s highly unlikely you’re the first person to blog on any given topic. So, why should your would-be readers choose to click your content instead of all the others?

Are you offering a more local perspective? More updated statistics? A more easily digestible infographic? 

Ask yourself how you can go “beyond.”

4. Does Content Display Well For Mobile Devices When Viewed on Them?

mobile SEO Toronto

Mobile-first indexing is now the norm for Google. Even if you don’t think your target audience is going to look at your mobile site, Google definitely will.

The reality is that most of your readers are likely going to view your content from their phones on their lunch break or seated on the subway on the way home.

Don’t simply ask yourself how your content looks on a mobile device. Ask how it behaves on a mobile device. Is it easy for your users to click another article or your call-to-action without having to pinch or zoom?

A user viewing your content is great. However, a user clicking deeper into your site is where the big SEO and CRO wins happen.

5. Does the Content Provide Substantial Value When Compared to Other Pages in Search Results?

The key phrase: “When Compared to Other Pages ”

Earlier, we asked why someone would choose to click your content instead of the competition. To truly answer that, you need to be fully aware of what that competition looks like.

Take a look at what you’re trying to rank against. What are they doing better than you? What can you do better?

You may look at the high rankers and say things like: 

  • “Oh, well we don’t have the budget to make an infographic or video that looks like that.”
  • “We don’t have the time to invest in writing 3,000 words, or the money to get someone else to do it.”

And that’s very fair. Nothing is more daunting than trying to outrank someone who clearly has more money and resources than you. However, if they’re out-spending you, you need to out-something them. You can do something better than them. 

Maybe you can offer more locally-focused insights, like How Canada’s Stress Test Will Impact Oshawa Housing. You’re likely working with a company owner with years of experience in the industry. Tap directly into their brain to find unique insights and “substantial value” you can offer the reader.

You can take/ choose better pictures. You can be funnier. You can take more of a storytelling approach to make an emotional connection.

You can outrank more expensive content if you find something that makes you unique from what is already in the SERPs and then go all-in on it. 

The Bottom Line

When Google was explaining what to do after this (or any) Google update, they wrote, “We know those with sites that experience drops will be looking for a fix, and we want to ensure they don’t try to fix the wrong things.”

“Moreover, there might not be anything to fix at all.”

That’s a good way to look at it. There may be nothing “wrong” with your content, per se. You may have simply been vaulted and usurped by content that is doing something better than you.

Use the five questions we posed today to find out what that something is and resolve to do it better.

Rankings and traffic fluctuate. This is the reality of the SEO world. However, the way you respond to being knocked out of the #1 spot is how you learn to hold onto it next time.

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