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Don't Panic: Be Human and Google Will Follow

By: Daven Mathies

April 5th, 2024

It seems every time Google announces an update to Search, people panic. Social media gets overrun with horror stories of dramatic drops in traffic. SEOs scramble to update their best practices. Marketers brace for changes to their workflows. And with Google calling the March 2024 update “more complex than usual,” people may think there’s even more reason to panic. When clicks equal cash, the worry is understandable — but allow me to draw your attention to one key line in Google’s guide for web creators:

There's nothing new or special that creators need to do for this update as long as they've been making satisfying content meant for people."

This is what I’ve been saying for over a decade: 90% of search engine optimization (SEO) is simply creating content that human beings want to read. And this has always been what Google was aiming for. SEO may have its roots in developing technical tricks to game the system, but that’s never where Google wanted Search to be. Despite its highly advanced and mystical underpinnings, as it evolves, Search will continue to move in a more human direction. Those who have been practicing high-quality content creation since the beginning are already set up for success; those who have continually tried to catch the algorithm off guard by writing for a machine instead of a person may want to consider another path.

Sifting through the nonsense

We’ve all clicked on a search result that took us to an article that was 10 times longer than it needed to be, forcing us to push through a mile of poorly-written preamble and annoying ads before relinquishing the one or two sentences that answered our question. While I can’t say for sure what type of content is on the chopping block, Google claims this latest update is designed to reduce “low quality, unoriginal results.” (So maybe we'll at least get some high quality preambles.)

As always, the search giant is tight-lipped about the details, but one goal is clearly to de-rank automated and (some) AI-generated content to prevent “scaled content abuse.” (It’s interesting that Google is playing both sides in this fight: working to better identify high-quality, human-created content with Search and striving for more human-like AI with Gemini.) To be clear, AI is not off-limits — but many of the ways people have used it to cheaply magnify their presence won’t be as effective. If you’re using AI to make your content stronger, that’s fair game. Strong content, after all, is the entire point.

Google is also implementing new protections against “site reputation abuse” (when a high-quality website hosts low-quality content from a third party) and “expired domain abuse” (when a reputable site is acquired by a new owner and turned into a low-quality content farm). While some of the new rules won’t be enforced until May, many low-quality sites were pushed to the bottom of search results overnight when the update went live last month.

Hopefully, the results of these changes will lead to more clicks for the creators putting in real work and fewer bloated and spammy results showing up in Search. With the March update, Google is again showing that the secret to a good SEO strategy is no secret at all: just make the stuff you yourself would want to click.

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