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  • Writer's pictureChris Green

Did producing "great content" just get harder?

Maybe your content just isn’t that good.

That is going to be a bitter pill to swallow after the most recent update - especially if you have been hit.

You have waited patiently for your hard work to be rewarded, but instead, your rankings have tanked. Worse still, imagine if the sites which now outrank you are considerably worse.

This story could have been told quite a few times in the last 5-10 years. But it feels different this time.

Stirring up a hornet’s nest

It’s been a while since we saw a stir like the most recent HCU (Sept 2023).

Twitter (X) has been feverish with examples of websites that should have been update-proof. To make matters worse, niche site owners and black hat SEOs are still boastfully drawing attention to parasite SEO and other tactics that “shouldn’t” work - but clearly are.

Of course, finding some objective truth is hard.

Even as blog posts arrive (1, 2 & 3 - just for some examples) with analysis of the early data, these anecdotal interrogations don’t tell the full story.

What is sure though is this; there are clear protests that expert-written content is tanking and unhelpful content (be it parasite SEO, GPT copy, or spam on Reddit) is ranking better than ever.

This follows an update thought to reward "helpful" content.

No takebacks, no do-overs

There is no turning back now. Google has confirmed there will not be a rollback. I am not sure they ever have confirmed an algo rollback, but it’s not happening now either.

The complexity of new update rollouts could mean some tweaking and refinement needs doing. But if you have been left bruised in the wake of this HCU, your personal truth isn’t going to be a comforting one.

“Do great content”, is not the best advice if you don’t truly understand what that means. But worse, now you may not believe Google that your “great content” will be rewarded.

Quit catastrophizing already!

Whilst Twitter/LinkedIN commentaries should not be considered as gospel, we have had the usual responses too. Some industry veterans have been quick to point out that:

  • If you relied too heavily on SEO, you were doing it wrong.

  • This kind of thing can/will happen, get over it.

  • You must distrust everything Google says.

These are some uncomfortable, semi-truths that won’t get any more helpful as time goes on, and they won’t end up helping people now.

For every website that drops, someone else rises. On that basis, some must be super-happy following this update.

This is just like another day at the office - albeit a borderline exceptional one.

Why do bad things happen to good websites?

The main damage here comes if people do not believe that doing the “right thing” will be appropriately rewarded.

As someone who wants to be a net positive on the web, this worries me at a profound level.

Spam or poor quality is a waste of people’s time, resources and is a general burden on the world. No hyperbole needed.

So great content has to work.

What could be the explanation for those who have been burned?

  • There have been some significant misunderstandings about what “great content” is.

  • Google just messed up, and in the fullness of time, the scales will be rebalanced.

  • Social media has spotlit a handful of examples and this is business as usual.

  • It’s all FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubt) and you can only trust your own eyes.

Maybe it is all (or some) of the above.

Revisit your toolbox

SEOs can be a real driving force when properly motivated. If Google pushes people in the right direction - a highly problematic statement for various reasons - the web can change for the better.

What if truly “great content” isn’t something the industry has in its toolbox?

  • A "typical" SEO isn’t an editorial master or a copywriting genius.

  • What ranks well today may not be considered "great" in the future as the understanding of user intent deepens/changes.

  • User context is so complex that the nuisances are lost, even on those students of the web like SEOs.

With that in mind, how can you change your approach to better protect yourself from next time?

Doubling down on the user focus, your understanding of them, and what they really need has to be part of the answer. But whether that is blind faith or the obvious right thing to do, is yet to be seen.


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