Google’s Webmaster Guidelines: What Can You Learn to Help Future-Proof Your Content for Algorithm Updates

Cover image for article on Google's Webmaster Guidelines update with various gears in the background

Updates intended to improve the engine’s search results are implemented daily, although they’re often small enough to go unnoticed. Several times a year, however, Google makes more significant changes to its search algorithms and systems in its efforts to deliver relevant content in billions of daily searches

Our post on Google’s June algorithm update dives deeper into one of the more recent changes.

These large-scale Google algorithm updates are known as core updates, and while they’re generally seamless to searchers, they can have major consequences for website search rankings. That’s why it’s so important for webmasters and marketers to understand these changes and what they mean for content creation. In fact, deciphering the principles behind these algorithm updates can not only help you course-correct to reverse associated drops in website traffic but may actually enable you to future-proof content in anticipation of upcoming core updates.

Google recently addressed its core updates, discussing how these changes impact website search rankings and providing insight into how the algorithm views content. If you’re looking for ways to improve your search rankings and adapt your website to meet Google’s standards, the key is content, content, content. And, if you’re an SEO content writer, knowing ow to write to satisfy these guidelines is critical.

Here’s what you need to know about Google’s core updates so you can future-proof your content against future algorithm changes.

The Benefits of a Google Algorithm Update

Every Google algorithm update is launched with one primary goal: to better assess the way the search engine evaluates websites in order to deliver relevant content that satisfies search intent to searchers. In practical terms, Google aims to reward quality, relevant content with higher search rankings.

While some webmasters view these changes with trepidation, Nachum Balofsky of 1SEO I.T. Support & Digital Marketing believes the algorithm updates can ultimately make the job of a content strategist easier. Balofsky, the company’s in-house SEO & Content Strategist, explains, “The smarter Google gets at figuring out your intentions, the more we as digital marketers can focus on things like UX and useful content.” Balofsky also postulates that as Google’s algorithms continue to increase in sophistication, web professionals can leverage Google’s understanding of language and topical themes to their advantage.

Quote from Nachum Balofsky about Google search and digital marketing

What that means for you is that as Google reassesses the way its search engine views content, you should reassess the content you’re providing, using the roadmap Google has conveniently laid out.

Reevaluating Website Content with the Google Algorithm in Mind

Periodically reevaluating your website content is always a good practice (freshness is a significant ranking factor), but it’s essential if you want to future-proof your content for Google’s algorithm updates. While Google has made it clear that quality and relevance top its list of what it looks for in a high-ranking website, you need to understand how Google defines quality and how you can apply that to content creation.

As Marcus Miller, head of SEO & Digital Marketing at the UK Agency Bowler Hat, explains, “Google is and pretty much always has been perfectly clear that quality content is that which helps the end-user achieve their goals.” Miller expresses the importance of reading Google’s various webmaster help pages, including its webmaster guidelines to get a real feel for what the search engine is shooting for.

Google search results with featured snippet
As you can see here, Bowler Hat knows that having clear, quality content that helps the end-user can land you at the top of the Google results or even as the Featured Snippet.

In its recent post, Google shared a list of helpful questions to ask during a self-assessment of your content, but conducting a thorough evaluation boils down to several key points.

Embrace originality

Valuable content will likely include original information. While the topic may be familiar, your content shouldn’t be. Even if your page builds on preexisting information or data, it should offer a fresh take, a new perspective, or an insightful analysis of the subject.

Some great ways to create original content include:

  • Presenting existing data that may be buried in a more accessible way
  • Getting quotes and contributions from industry experts
  • Conduct your own primary research through questionnaires and surveys
  • Sharing your own company’s experience by sharing internal data or creating case studies

It’s also important to avoid mass-produced and distributed content, which may be repeated over and over on websites throughout the internet. Stick with high-quality, SEO-rich content that’s been created specifically for your site.

New to content writing? Check out Crash Course: How to Become an SEO Content Writer

Provide substance

Substantial, complete information is a must if you want to obtain a high spot on Google’s search results. Marcus Miller, who has worked in the SEO industry since 1999, says, “Given that Google now understands things rather than just simplistic text-based analysis then we can assume that Google understands what is important in a given area. So, to create high ranking content we have to look at first creating content that is comprehensive and is truly the best answer to a given question.”

Quote from blog post on content for high-rankings on Google

To do this, consider using tools like SEMrush, MarketMuse, or LSIgraph to evaluate what topics are expected to be covered in your content to make it semantically complete. This is one major way that Google evaluates content completeness, so it’s important you get it right. 

Demonstrate expertise

It’s important to establish the authenticity of informational content in a way that makes a visitor confident in trusting it. If your site aims to be the authoritative source for a particular topic, establish that, and when possible, use content written by a topic expert or enthusiast.

Some of the key takeaways from Google’s move to favor E-A-T content include:

  • Adding detailed bios for your contributors that demonstrate their expertise
  • Making sure your about us page shows why your company is an expert in the space
  • Getting backlinks from other authority sites

Building expertise requires a sitewide effort, but it’s important that each individual post pulls its weight. 

Attribute what isn’t yours

It may go without saying, but if information or data is sourced from other sites, printed materials, or area experts, those sources should be clearly attributed. Links to an author’s bio or a website’s About page should always be provided if they’re available.

Presentation matters

Something that’s often overlooked in content creation is the power of presentation, but the reality is that poor presentation can impact how visitors perceive a site’s quality. Typos and grammatical errors can make a website appear unprofessional. You should never post sloppy work. And while ads can bring in necessary revenue to sustain a site, they should not be distracting or interfere with the readability of your main content.

Similarly, you’ll want to invest in a good user interface and making your content visually appealing. That can include creating custom graphics that highlight things from your content, adding infographics, and even adding video. 

All of these factors will influence your user interaction metrics like time on site and bounce rate. Google is believed to be looking at these factors through their RankBrain tool, so it’s important you ensure your performance is good.

Optimize for mobile

With more and more people viewing content on smartphones and tablets, it’s vital to optimize your content for mobile viewing. Since most sites have now been switched to mobile-first indexing, your mobile experience is really how Google evaluates your site’s content.

A few things you’ll want to keep in mind include:

  • Make sure your site is responsive and easy to use on mobile
  • Avoid having paragraphs that are too long to read on mobile
  • Add lists, FAQs, and how-to sections to break up longer content
  • Allow visitors to read the first section, and then expand to read your full content
  • Ensure all images are displayed properly on mobile

ALSO9 Things You Need To Do To Improve Content For Your Blog To Give a Better Mobile Experience

Venturing Beyond Content Assessment

Search results are relative, and while it’s important to assess your content based on its individual merit, it’s also helpful to view your site in relation to others that appear along with it in search results. Determining whether your page provides enough value to match or outweigh similar pages will go a long way toward understanding its place in search rankings.

Several tools exist that let you benchmark your content against the top-ranked pages for your keyword. These include SEMrush’s Content Template and MarketMuse’s creative brief tool. 

Getting a second opinion can also be valuable in your quest to future-proof for Google algorithm updates. A new set of eyes can provide a fresh, unbiased look at content that you may have combed over multiple times.

The E-A-T Perspective

Another way to understand Google’s algorithm and what it evaluates as it attempts to deliver relevant search results is to review Google’s quality rater guidelines. Quality raters are everyday folks who help the company assess how well its algorithm is performing by viewing the websites that result from a search and providing feedback about their quality. Understanding these guidelines can provide valuable insight into Google’s algorithm and how you can put it to use when developing content.

Graphic explaining what E-A-T content is with image of computer screen and looking glass

Google’s raters are trained to use the E-A-T perspective in evaluating websites. 

According to Chris Turner, the Digital Strategy Director for Golden Spiral Marketing, E-A-T — which stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness — has likely become one of Google’s top considerations for page quality.

Turner, who has over 10 years of experience in marketing leadership, advises webmasters to demonstrate these principles either formally — through credentials, for example — or by personal experience. “For starters,” Turner advises, “ensure statements, claims, and declarations are substantiated with verified references, research, or credible first-hand data. Next, pursue and cultivate third-party locations and references to the content that show other industry resources value the content and support the domain authority.”

Marcus Miller adds that it’s important to help Google understand that your page is a good result for a particular search term. He explains, “You have to understand what is important to your potential customers. What questions do they have? Can you create better answers than what is out there? How do you demonstrate to Google that you are an Expert and Authority that they can Trust? How do you help to build signals that this content is useful for those users?”

Our post on creating content with E-A-T in mind offers additional thoughts on future-proofing content using the E-A-T perspective.

Breaking it Down

At the risk of oversimplifying, content is king when it comes to Google’s algorithm updates. While Google offers several tools to help webmasters understand its algorithm updates and how its search defines a quality website, probably the best thing you can do to future-proof your site is to offer high-quality content that’s relevant to your target audience, or, as Marcus Miller says, “In a nutshell: Create the best answer to any given question and then tell the world about it.”

Posted in SEO
Eric Hoppe

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Eric has been working in marketing and product management for over a decade with companies in the software, eCommerce and content creation spaces. He’s particularly drawn to both content marketing and SEO and is excited that the two areas are increasingly converging. While he’s pretty serious about marketing, he does love to drop a great dad joke on occasion.

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