#TWIMshow - This Week in Marketing

Episode 205 contains the Digital Marketing News and Updates from the week of Mar 25-29, 2024.

1. Google's Guidance On Helpful Content Update - Google's Search Liaison recently addressed concerns about the Helpful Content Update (HCU), providing clear guidance for content creators facing ranking changes. Announced on March 25, 2024, this advice aims to dispel misconceptions and offer recovery strategies. Unlike earlier perceptions of the HCU affecting entire domains, Google now evaluates content on a page-by-page basis, focusing on the helpfulness of each page independently. This means that having some unhelpful content doesn't penalize an entire site, allowing helpful pages to be recognized individually.

The clarification that the HCU is not a single signal but part of Google's complex ranking system highlights the need for creators to focus on producing genuinely helpful content. The emphasis is on the quality and relevance of content, rather than on trying to manipulate rankings through a single algorithmic factor.

For those noticing ranking drops, Google suggests a thoughtful review of the content in question, urging creators to focus on its relevance and usefulness to users. Such decreases in visibility might indicate Google's preference for more pertinent content options, not necessarily a penalty against the site.

Google has also introduced a new FAQ page to help publishers understand how to align their content with HCU principles, especially for content that has lost traffic following the update. By adhering to these guidelines and prioritizing user experience, website owners and SEO experts can better navigate the post-HCU search landscape.

2. Rethinking BackLink Importance in SEO - John Mueller of Google indicated in a Reddit discussion that solely focusing on increasing backlink counts might not be the most effective strategy for marketers anymore. This change is part of Google's consistent effort over the past six months to update its stance on the role of links in SEO, suggesting a more comprehensive change in the valuation of links.

The discussion was initiated by questions regarding the variation in backlink counts reported by different SEO tools, like Ahrefs and Google Search Console. Mueller pointed out that due to the varied methodologies of web crawling and indexing across these tools, discrepancies in link counts are natural. He stressed that concentrating on the sheer number of backlinks might divert marketers from improving their website's quality or relevance.

Mueller further encouraged marketers to focus on other website aspects that could more significantly affect SEO success. He mentioned that search engines are now using more advanced methods, like sitemaps, for content discovery and evaluation, reducing dependency on backlinks for website ranking.

This conversation is in line with recent adjustments in Google's guidelines and statements from Google representatives such as Gary Illyes, indicating a reduced emphasis on backlinks as a ranking factor. The removal of the term "important" from Google's description of links as a ranking signal confirms this trend.

For business owners and digital marketers, this shift highlights the need for a more holistic SEO approach that extends beyond backlink building. Concentrating on content quality, user experience, and technical SEO elements, while keeping abreast of Google's algorithm updates, is crucial for maintaining a competitive edge in the digital arena.

3. Core Web Vitals: A Ranking Factor That Requires Balanced Attention - On March 29, 2024, in episode 71 of Google's "Search Off The Record" podcast shed light on the complex role of Core Web Vitals (CWV) in SEO, making it clear that excelling in CWV scores alone does not ensure higher search visibility. This episode, featuring insights from Google engineers including Rick Viscomi, a web performance lead, and Lizzi Sassman, a senior technical writer, emphasized the importance of focusing on real-world user experiences over merely achieving high CWV scores.

The conversation revealed a common misunderstanding among developers and marketers who prioritize CWV scores without considering actual user satisfaction. An eye-opening example shared was Google’s own page experience documentation, which scored only 45 out of 100, illustrating that achieving top CWV scores is not crucial for success.

John Mueller, explained that while CWV metrics do influence Google's ranking algorithms, slight improvements in these metrics may not significantly impact search rankings. He advised against focusing too much on CWV at the expense of other SEO priorities, as CWV is only one aspect of a comprehensive ranking system.

The podcast also advocated for a holistic approach to web performance, suggesting improvements in CWV should be part of a broader strategy to enhance the overall user experience. This includes focusing on content quality and website design, aiming for a balanced effort that enhances user satisfaction and engagement.

This discussion serves as a reminder that Core Web Vitals, while important, should not detract from other essential aspects of SEO like content relevance and user engagement. A well-rounded approach that prioritizes a superior user experience overall is crucial for long-term success in search engine rankings.

4. Quality Over Quantity: Google's Stance on Content and Indexing - Again from episode 71 of the "Search Off The Record" podcast episode with Google's Gary Illyes, Lizzi Sassman, and guest Dave Smart, a key SEO principle was highlighted: the significant impact of content quality on Google's crawling and indexing frequency. The discussion emphasized a shift towards prioritizing content quality over quantity, a stance Google has consistently maintained. This approach contradicts the belief that merely increasing content production will lead to better rankings or more rapid indexing.

John Mueller from Google further clarified this point on LinkedIn, addressing a misconception among website owners that boosting content volume could signal a site's quality to Google, thus improving crawl rates. Mueller likened this to the futile effort of making children prefer kale over ice cream by increasing kale consumption, humorously illustrating that quality cannot be replaced with quantity.

Google and Bing's spokespeople have consistently stated that the frequency of content publication is not a ranking signal. This clarifies that producing more content does not automatically enhance a site's search visibility or ranking. Bing's Fabrice Canel supported this by advising a "less is more" strategy, suggesting that focusing on creating high-quality content is a more efficient use of crawl budgets and can result in higher quality traffic from search engines. Moreover, publishing repetitive content could negatively impact a site's crawl allocation, underlining the need for original and valuable content.

For business owners in the digital marketing field, this underscores a critical message: investing in content quality, rather than quantity, is more likely to improve SEO performance. As user experience and content value become increasingly important, tailoring digital strategies to meet these expectations is key for sustained success in search engine rankings.

5. Google's Plea to SEOs: Focus on Your Visitors, Not Just on Rankings - On March 21, 2024, Google's Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, reached out to the SEO community with a significant request: to focus on producing content that truly serves and benefits site visitors, rather than solely on tactics aimed at enhancing search rankings. This appeal was made during discussions on X (formerly Twitter), underlining concerns about SEO practices not meeting the real needs of web audiences.

Sullivan voiced his frustration with some SEOs who modify their sites mainly to impress Google, leading to cluttered pages that don't necessarily benefit the visitor. He criticized the addition of superfluous table-of-contents sections, updates that don't enrich content, and irrelevant FAQs as examples of efforts that don't align with user interests.

Google's stance is clear: the value of a website and its content should be based on how well it serves visitors, not on its ability to manipulate Google's algorithms for higher rankings. Sullivan noted that supposed SEO enhancements, like unsubstantiated expert reviews or minor content tweaks to imply freshness, may not actually improve site performance.

This message comes at a time when many are trying to decipher Google's intricate ranking algorithms. Sullivan's advice redirects focus to the core principle of offering an excellent user experience as the key to search success.

John Mueller of Google supported this view, stating that SEO improvements should not be the end goal. Real, helpful content, validated by genuine expertise, is what should be aimed for, not just HTML tags claiming expertise.

In essence, Google is reminding the SEO community that the main aim should be to address the needs and interests of site visitors. By moving away from strategies focused on "showing Google things" and towards creating valuable, user-focused content, websites can naturally meet Google's ranking criteria and provide a better experience for their audience.

6. Importance of 'About Us' and 'Contact' Pages According to Google - John Mueller from Google addressed the role of 'About Us' and 'Contact' pages in SEO on March 26, 2024, clarifying a common misconception among SEO professionals and website owners. Contrary to the popular belief that these pages are critical for SEO, Mueller stated that Google's search algorithms do not mandate their inclusion. This insight challenges the widespread assumption that such pages are indispensable for ranking well in search results.

The question arose from someone trying to convince their company of the necessity of these pages, believing them to be essential for Google's assessment. However, Mueller clarified that, according to Google's search developer documentation, there is no specific requirement for 'About Us' and 'Contact' pages. This clarification directly contradicts the notion of their indispensability for SEO success.

While Google's Quality Raters Guidelines emphasize the need for clarity on who is behind a website, which can be aided by these pages, Mueller indicated that their direct impact on search rankings may not be as significant as previously assumed. 'About Us' and 'Contact' pages can help establish trust by providing information about the site's owners or authors, relevant to the E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) criteria. Yet, their contribution to SEO, in the way many assumed, is nuanced.

Despite Google not requiring these pages for SEO, their value in enhancing user experience and trust should not be overlooked. They play a crucial role in building credibility, encouraging repeat visits, and potentially affecting conversions by allowing visitors to learn more about the company and how to contact it. This fosters a deeper connection with the audience.

In summary, while 'About Us' and 'Contact' pages may not be explicitly required by Google for SEO purposes, their presence is beneficial for user engagement and trust. Businesses should consider including these pages to promote transparency and trustworthiness, ultimately contributing to a positive and informative user experience. This approach aligns with SEO best practices and can indirectly improve a site's search performance.

7. Should Your Business Have a Website and Blog? - Danny Sullivan from Google's Search Liaison emphasizes the importance of small service businesses having a website, considering it essential for all businesses to maintain at least a basic online presence. This need stems from the evolving consumer expectation to find businesses online, making a website crucial for showcasing services, sharing contact details, and establishing credibility.

On the topic of starting a blog, Sullivan advises that it should depend on the business's ability to deliver content that is valuable and relevant to its audience. A blog should not exist just for the sake of it but should provide insightful information that benefits both existing and potential customers. It is a powerful tool for engagement, thought leadership, and improving search engine visibility but requires consistent production of quality content and strategic planning to meet audience needs.

In essence, having a website is considered mandatory for businesses in 2024. However, whether to start a blog should be carefully considered, based on the capacity to create engaging and useful content for the audience. This strategy helps align digital efforts with business goals and strengthens the online brand presence.

8. YouTube's Advice to Creators: Think Twice Before Deleting Videos - YouTube's product lead for homepage and recommendation, Todd Beaupré, has advised creators to think twice before removing videos from their channels, a sentiment echoed by YouTube's creator liaison, Rene Ritchie. They highlight how video deletion can negatively impact a channel's growth and viewer engagement by breaking the established connection with the audience, crucial for the channel's development.

Beaupré suggests that rather than deleting videos, creators should consider keeping them public or simply unlisting them. This approach allows the video to remain accessible without appearing directly on the channel, preserving the benefits derived from the algorithm without affecting visibility negatively.

YouTube's algorithm plays a key role in determining which videos appear on users' homepages by analyzing viewer engagement and satisfaction. Removing content can disrupt this process, making the channel appear less reliable or engaging, which may result in fewer recommendations and slower growth.

YouTube advises creators to manage their content conservatively, maintaining accessibility to videos through public viewing or unlisting to support algorithmic advantages. This strategy aims to help creators update their content thoughtfully, ensuring ongoing channel development without sacrificing growth.

9. Google's New Definition of "Top Ads": Understand the Impact - Google announced on March 27, 2024, an update to the definition of "top ads" in search results, as shared by Google Ads Liaison Ginny Marvin on X (formerly Twitter). This clarification, while not affecting performance metrics calculation, is crucial for advertisers looking to refine their search ad campaigns.

The revised definition challenges the previous understanding, which limited "top ads" to positions above organic search results. Now, ads positioned directly below the top organic results are also considered top ads, providing advertisers with a more comprehensive view of possible ad placements.

Google distinguishes between "top" and "absolute top" placements through several prominence metrics, including Search top impression rate, Search absolute top impression rate, Search top impression share, and Search absolute top impression share. These metrics offer insights into ad placement relative to organic results, rather than the order of ads among themselves.

For advertisers, understanding these metrics is key to developing effective bid strategies and optimizing for visibility, whether aiming for broad visibility among top ads or targeting the first position above all search results. This detailed information helps identify areas for campaign improvement, like overcoming lost impression share due to budget limits or ad rank issues.

In essence, Google's update to the definition of top ads offers advertisers a nuanced perspective on ad placement strategies, emphasizing the need to stay informed on Google's advertising updates for optimal campaign performance.

10. Google's Advanced AI Efforts Block 5.5 Billion Bad Ads - Google's 2023 Ad Safety Report highlights their use of generative AI and machine learning to enhance ad safety, resulting in the blocking of 5.5 billion ads and the restriction of 6.9 billion ads in sensitive areas like financial services, healthcare, and alcohol. This effort reflects Google's dedication to creating a secure advertising environment by combating ad fraud, scams, and content that could harm user trust.

The introduction of the generative AI tool, Gemini, and machine learning models has been crucial in detecting policy violations, with these technologies being used in over 90% of publisher page enforcement actions. This showcases Google's reliance on AI to uphold advertising standards.

Google's commitment extends to protecting election integrity and fighting misinformation, enforcing strict policies on political advertising to maintain transparency and trustworthiness. These include identity verification for advertisers, transparency requirements, and restrictions on targeting capabilities.

While Google's stringent ad safety measures aim to preserve the digital ad ecosystem's integrity, they may pose challenges for business owners and digital marketers, especially newcomers who may encounter limitations while Google evaluates their track record.

11. Instagram Enhances Discovery with Updated Hashtag Search - On March 25, 2024, Instagram launched a major update to its hashtag search functionality. This update integrates a wider range of search results, including profiles, when users tap on a hashtag, making it easier to explore different aspects of Instagram beyond just the top posts. Previously, selecting a hashtag would show users a feed of top posts linked to that tag. Now, the update provides a more inclusive discovery experience by including relevant accounts in search results, thus improving engagement and visibility for profiles related to the search but not necessarily tagged in every post.

Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram, highlighted that this update seeks to simplify and consolidate the search and hashtag experiences, making it more straightforward for users to find content and accounts that match their interests. This enhancement reaffirms Instagram's dedication to improving discoverability and user engagement, offering a richer and more relevant browsing experience.

What is #TWIMshow - This Week in Marketing?

This Week in Marketing is a weekly roundup of all the notable latest developments that you need to know to stay on top of your Digital Marketing game.