How To Avoid Google Penalties & Algorithm Updates According to SEO Expert Lily Ray
Today’s guest on the Niche Pursuits podcast is Lily Ray. Lily is an SEO expert, Google algorithm update specialist, and senior director for Amsive Digital.
Today, she chats with Jared about Google updates in general and, of course, the latest helpful content update. And, she provides tips and advice on keeping your website clear from the penalties that will negatively impact your organic performance.
With so many different updates that can potentially affect your rankings, it’s great to get insight and advice from someone who is a true expert in the field.
The conversation goes deep on many aspects of updates, including the broad core updates, the product review updates, and understanding where the algorithm is and where it’s heading in the future.
Lily shares her thoughts on EAT (Expert, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) and what she believes Google is focusing on when it comes to ticking these boxes. For example, Lily talks about what is needed to become a trustworthy site in the eyes of Google.
In addition, she talks about indexation, content creation, deleting unwanted pages, link building, and how to think smarter when building your websites.
What the new helpful content update is, and the purpose of itHow the helpful content update is impacting websitesHow to analyze your content when it drops in the SERPsWhy big sites with lousy user experience outrank smaller sitesHer views on Google’s questions to ask ourselvesIs the target (and penalties) of the update page specific or site-wide?How can affiliate marketers approach the updates?The specific criteria for what Google is looking for with niche websitesHow to validate that you’re an expert in your niche fieldRanking on all mediumsIs Linkbuilding still worth doing?SEO tools on technical issues and are they that importantTechnical problems that will affect your rankingsInternal linking importanceMeeting Google’s intentConversion rate and UX testingPlus much more
Finally, the interview concludes with Jared asking Lily about keyword Cannibalization and what she thinks about it concerning Google updates and rankings.
With the recent updates becoming more frequent, this is a very timely interview with one of the sharpest minds in SEO. The amount of advice and tips that Lily provides is super helpful, so as always, take notes and enjoy this great episode.
Links & Resources
watch the interview:
read the transcription:
Jared: Welcome back to the niche pursuits podcast. My name is Jared Bowman. Today. We are joined by Lily Ray Lilly. Welcome. Hi, thanks for having me. Yeah, good to have you here. I’m excited for today’s episode. It’s an honor to have you on, we are talking about updates from Google. I know that that’s a, a bit of a specialty of, of yours, and certainly we just got done with a helpful content update as it were before we kind of get to the the meat and potatoes here.
Why don’t I turn it over to you and give us some, some backstory and tell us a little bit more about who you.
Lily: Sure sounds great. So my name’s Lily Ray, and I’ve been doing SEO for, I think over 12 years now, I currently serve as the senior SEO director and head of organic research at an agency called AMS of digital.
So kind of help oversee the SEO team and also double as like our. SEO researcher, so to speak. So I do a lot of research about what Google’s up to, you know, big algorithm updates and kind of like new trends and developments in the SEO space. So
Jared: yeah, I know from following along with what you’re doing, you’re certainly one of the kind of go-to experts when it comes to these updates and they’re they’re, they come thicker and faster.
It feels like in the last couple of years. Let’s I mean, let’s kick off today by talking about. The helpful content update. I, I think we can start there. And, you know, at time of recording, this had had basically just come to a conclusion, but no matter when you are, are listening to the episode here, it’s gonna have a bearing on what you’re doing.
Maybe again, most users are gonna be pretty familiar with Google updates, but let’s set the stage for what the Google helpful content update.
Lily: Yes. So the helpful content update was kind of a, a new type of update in the sense that it’s set out a new criteria for what Google’s looking for in terms of content quality.
It’s definitely consistent with what Google’s laid out with, you know, previous core updates and the product review updates, and even dating back to like Panda when Google laid out a lot of quality guidelines for what they’re looking for, but this is a new update in the sense that it. Created a new classifier, which is the word that Google’s using that can basically determine if a site as a whole is producing unhelpful content.
And if Google determines that the site is largely producing unhelpful content, then the whole entire site. Can be affected by this classifier in a negative way. So you can actually see the rankings of all of your content potentially go down if, if you, the site meets that criteria. So it’s been rolling out over the last couple of weeks, as you mentioned, it just kind of, they just finished the initial rollout, but from what we understand, they might continue to use this classifier and it can be used in different ways with future Google updates.
Jared: So one of the things I read about, and that has, has been a bit of a news story about, about the helpful content update. From what I understand, this is ongoing or it’s, it’s embedded now into the algorithm. Whereas core updates that we know about that Google announces as well, that happen a couple times a year.
Core updates are kind of singular events that reset the algorithms, but the helpful content update seems that it’s gonna be embedded permanently or constantly tweaked in the algorithm. Is that the right way to think about it?
Lily: Yeah, I believe so. It’s something that continues to run over time and they said they’re using machine learning, which I believe indicates that what we’re seeing with this, this initial rollout can change and evolve over time as the algorithms become smarter at identifying unhelpful content.
So what I think is interesting is the update started out. A little bit less impactful than I think a lot of us were anticipating, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that, you know, we won’t see bigger impacts in the future, but what, what makes it tricky is we don’t exactly know if a site declines in the future, if it’s specifically because of this new classifier.
Jared: Classic, of course it’s getting harder and harder to understand the, the mechanisms you mentioned it. So, you know, obviously there was a big buzz about this update. It started off pretty slow. Sounds like maybe though, as we reached the tail end, you know, did, did you start to see much more of an impact with the sites and maybe tell us a little bit about what you were seeing towards the tail end when the impact might have gone up.
Lily: Yeah, definitely. I think the update lasted about two weeks as Google said it would. And in the beginning it was kind of bizarre because there definitely wasn’t movement. Like I, I had a variety of different clients and sites that I was keeping an eye on because I was expecting to see that they were impacted.
In fact, they still haven’t been impacted. So I was a little bit surprised by that because these are sites that we’re working, working with and helping to make the content more helpful, but they have, they do have a history of what I kind of believe is unhelpful. So I didn’t see those sites get impacted.
And then I looked at all the other traditional places that I look when I’m doing this research, didn’t really see anybody get impacted. And it wasn’t until I wanna say September 1st. So that was about halfway through the rollout that there were definitely some sites that started to fit the pattern of what we usually see with core updates or big Google updates.
So, you know, as of a couple of days ago, when the update rolled out or finished rolling. There’s definitely a variety of different sites that clearly saw the impact around that timeframe.
Jared: Google gave a lot of documentation about what to look at when you’re evaluating. If a site would be considered helpful or not.
There was a lot of questions you can ask yourself, actually, which you know, sometimes in the past you would look maybe to the quality rate guidelines for guidance on what a good site is. And, and now we kind of have this set of questions. You ask yourself. Did you see the impacts following those questions and maybe dive a little bit more into like, what I guess what I’m getting at is like, what is helpful in brass tax in reality, mm-hmm, according to this update versus maybe some of the things that we read about or see about, and I will include a link in the show notes, by the way, to those questions that Google published.
So people can kinda look at them maybe while they’re, while they’re listening to your.
Lily: Yeah. What was interesting about Google’s questions is that it’s kind of subjective, right? so a lot of them are like, you know, I felt the same way yeah. Like a lot of it’s like, you know, are you primarily focused on writing content for search engines when you write the content that you write?
And it’s kind of like, Well, a lot of us are, you know, like even the best sites on the internet, like you could argue that the New York times also writes content for search engines, but it doesn’t mean that it’s unhelpful. Right? So it’s like, there’s kind of this spectrum of like, we didn’t really know what types of sites we’re gonna get hit by this.
And so a lot of it’s, you know, focused on. Is the site primarily focused on like SEO tactics, but not actually answering the question or maybe it’s using like click baby headlines that don’t provide a lot of value in the content or maybe the site is too general in nature. You know, it talks about too many different topics, but it’s not truly an expert in one specific area or like sites that, you know, are using like too much automation or too much AI or whatever.
Google didn’t actually use the word AI. But I think a lot of the SEO community interpreted it that way, but it’s a lot of, you know, again, it’s a lot of what they’ve been saying over the years. They. Content that’s focused on real expertise, real authenticity content that, that doesn’t say the same thing as every other site on the internet.
And, you know, in terms of who was affected, I was actually surprised by how few sites were affected, because I was expecting this to hit a lot more sites than it did, because if you read those guidelines and you’re kind of like taking it, like pretty literally it’s like, there is a. Of content on the internet that I thought should have been affected by this.
So it’s great that maybe, you know, more web masters, aren’t like didn’t lose their business overnight, but it’s we’ll see what happens in the future as if the classifier gets stronger.
Jared: I, I don’t wanna over like over generalize, but a lot of what helpful content update seemed documentation wise, it just kind of seemed.
A rewrite of the best practices that in many ways, either Google or algorithms have shown us in the past couple of years. And I think that that’s a bit confusing to understand, because now as a, maybe a, like you said, a webmaster or an SEO, you have. And certainly for like this audience, a lot of people are affiliate focused and, or just publishing content with the intent of making money from ad revenue.
So you have these two, these two things, but definitely a lot of affiliates. So you have the general core updates that happen several times a year. Now you have helpful content update. Subsequently rolled into the algorithm. And then you also have these product review updates that come seemingly four, six times a year.
Like how does someone approach that as a, maybe as an affiliate marketer? How do you, how do you approach getting your mind around all that’s going on and trying to understand it from a root level of, of how you’re working.
Lily: Yeah, I think the good news. Well, the bad news is that if you want to take shortcuts and you want to look for a quick fix or some solution, that’s like, oh, I.
No work and just set up this whole automated process and made thousands of dollars. Like, it’s it , it does probably not gonna work like that much longer. Like people have gotten away with a lot of that type of stuff over the years. And I think this update is the latest iteration of Google saying, like we’re getting smarter at identifying when people are doing these, like.
Again, like shortcuts to try to cheat the algorithms without providing real value. So, you know, the bad news is it’s probably gonna get harder to, to just like throw up a site and expect it to make a lot of money really quickly. But the good news is that it Google’s pretty clear about what it’s looking for.
All these guidelines are essentially the same, like we said before. So. If you do wanna make a niche site or an affiliate site or whatever, it’s still possible to do that, but there’s very specific criteria about what they’re looking for. So something that I’ve been really focused on this year in the past couple of years is Google’s notion of E a T expertise, authority and trust.
And they’ve been talking a lot about E a T. And I think that one common factor among all of these updates is the Google’s use of the word expertise. If you read any of Google’s documentation over the last few years, including the helpful content update, they talk a lot about expertise. So if you wanna make a site and you wanna a site that makes money, you just have to convey that you’re actually an expert.
So it’s hard to, to like fake. You have to actually do the work, actually do the testing and actually demonstrate to Google that you are a true expert in your field. But if you’re doing that, you can probably.
Jared: Oh, that’s a perfect transition. Cause I, I, I didn’t wanna spend the whole time talking about the helpful content update.
I wanted to talk about, get your insights on some of these, you know, how to make your website, how to make your brand somewhat Bulletproof to updates, whether it’s the core update or the helpful content update, and you kind of let into it as affiliate marketers, certainly, or even just content creators in general.
It feels like the E a T effects are heavier and stronger, and we’ll call it Y M Y L niches, which is niches that pertain to your money, your life. So health and finance and, and these types of areas. And then you have a, a lot of affiliate marketers that are making websites about things that, you know, we’ll say we’ll leave out the people that are making websites about things they aren’t experts in.
But let’s say that there’s a hobbyist, who’s an expert. Let’s say that there’s a gardener. Who’s an expert. These are things that are a lot harder. I’ll say, prove that you’re an expert in right. I’m using air quotes for those listening on the podcast. How does somebody who’s not in a Y M Y L space where you have a doctorate degree or you have an MD or something like that.
How do you kind of validate your expertise?
Lily: yeah. What I think is interesting, and this is just a theory of mine based on my research, but I know a lot of us that are looking very closely at this type of thing are seeing the same things, which is that it’s not just about putting, you know, I’m an expert with this many years in the field, or I have this in this degree, like.
Of course you should do that, especially if it’s your money, your life content, but if it’s about gardening or if it’s about Pokemon cards or whatever it is that you’re writing about, I believe Google is algorithmically able to understand. People that are writing about this stuff, because they actually know the information as opposed to people who are just researching what everybody else has already said and saying the exact same thing.
I do think a lot of the sites that are getting hit by this, this helpful content update are just saying the same thing that everybody else did, or like automating what everybody else already said, who, the people that are succeeding in many cases are actual experts. I actually just did a variety of presentations about this, but there’s a lot of different sites where the gardener or the small business owner or whatever is involved in the content production process.
And they’re writing from the first person and they’re writing without referencing anybody else. They’re just explaining what they see in their work. And a lot of people are linking to them because they’re the original source of information. As much as you can provide, like, you know, of course you don’t wanna provide medical advice.
That’s not based in evidence because you’re a doctor, but like if you’re a gardener and there’s something that you notice all the time when you’re gardening, like put that information, put your perspective, your opinion in the article, because Google’s specifically looking for information that they haven’t found on other sites.
Jared: How important is some of the, maybe we’ll call it intangible factors in establishing this. Do you see any connection to maybe a content creator? Also having a video side, a video component, a YouTube account to help establish their expertise or custom imagery or unique data generation? You know, that’s, that’s a, that’s a, you talked about links.
We talked about in the affiliate community is one great way to generate links, to try to figure out a way. Put together a set of data that people will link to that’s that’s unique and that’s new. Like how important are some of these intangibles? I don’t even know if that’s the right word, but I’m just calling it that things outside of just creating the content.
How important are, are they in terms of what you’re seeing with rankings and in terms of what you’re seeing with expertise?
Lily: That’s a really great question. I think. It, it’s hard to quantify to your point, but like what’s interesting is the more that you build a persona for the expert. I mean, Google owns a lot of different products, right?
Google owns YouTube. Google has the knowledge graph. Google has Google scholar, Google discover Google news, so many other ones, right? So it’s like, and you can see different tests that they’re doing. So for example, in Google discover, they’re starting to test showing the author. Alongside the article name.
And that’s like, okay, clearly they’re capable of understanding who certain authors are. And they probably, because they’re Google, they can make the connection between that author and that author’s knowledge panel. Or maybe that author being mentioned in, in YouTube or Google scholar like myself, for example, I’ve spent a lot of time working on this.
So if you Google my name, you’re gonna see. A knowledge graph, result my own personal website, all the different social profiles that Google understands about me, you know, YouTube information like Google scholar information, like it knows that I’m an entity. And I’ve seen with some of these experts that I’ve been researching is that the same content that they write.
If they have a video version on YouTube and an article version on Google search, both will rank. And it’s like the same expert listed twice. So it’s like whether or not Google. Perfectly understand that that’s the same person, which I think they can, it’s still two opportunities to rank an organic search.
Jared: Right. And we’re seeing a lot of those other factors ranking. Yeah. You’re right.
Lily: Yeah. Be in all the
Jared: places for sure. Yep. Okay. Well, for all those affiliate marketers listening, who don’t wanna get in front of a camera, bad news for you, but if you’re an affiliate marketer, doesn’t mind embracing maybe a second medium to deliver your content.
That’s I suppose encourag. Yeah, it’s true. Let’s talk about another common affiliate marketer challenge, which is that most don’t have storefronts and without a storefront or without a place of business, per se, it’s tough to put trustworthy type information on your website, like an address, an embedded map, a physical location, usually a contact on an affiliate website is often just an email address or a contact form.
And that does fit for an affiliate marketer. Cause you. You’re not really selling a product, you’re just providing information, but then it can also lead to potentially what we’ve heard are trust issues in Google’s eyes, because you’re kind of a, perhaps a flighty brand or not someone that they can pinpoint down.
Talk about maybe that maybe some in, well, first off, does it have any impact and then any insights for affiliate marketers who kind of live in that type of a world?
Lily: Hm. Yeah, that’s a really great point. You know, we certainly talk about this problem on the local SEO side of things. So like my, you know, I work at an agency.
We have a lot of clients that are very focused on Google business profile or Google maps. That’s a really big problem. If you don’t have an address, it’s very, very hard to rank. You can be what’s called like a service area business, but it’s very hard to rank compared to somebody that has like a brick and mortar location.
So in that side of things, we absolutely have that problem, but I haven’t really thought as much about it being a trust issue on the organic. Aside from maps, but that does make a lot of sense because the way that, you know, E a T works is that Google’s looking for patterns or signals among trusted companies.
Right? Mm-hmm so like, if they notice that all the best. Companies in whatever area, whatever field are, are always showing their address. And then this other player comes in and they’re not showing theirs. We don’t exactly know what Google’s looking for in terms of which signals, but that could be a red flag to them that like, why is this not a business that people can visit in person?
So I don’t know what the workaround for that is other than just like trying to convey as much trust and information about the business as you can, in other ways.
Jared: Yeah. In other ways too. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, again, these are just like reading the tea leaves type of stuff. In terms of what affiliate marketers tend to chat about.
I’m definitely not saying any of it’s indicative or not indicative, but these are questions I hear constantly from this vantage point. Let’s talk about. Links as they relate to algorithms and as they relate to updates, we, we know that, you know, links to have a, have a role in the way that Google views content.
And it’s, it certainly has a, a hand in their scoring system at the same time. You know, building links is something that has widely been discussed over the years and dating all the way back to penguin, penguin updates and, and their approach to links. Well, certainly just one of them, but where are links nowadays in the algorithm?
And then maybe I’ll dovetail that into a couple follow up questions for. Yeah.
Lily: I mean, obviously still important for better, for worse for me, it’s like the biggest pet peeve of the SEO space is the fact that links still matter so much, but that’s a different conversation. I think that, you know, it’s one of these things that absolutely Google still looks at it.
It’s, it’s becoming harder and harder to manipulate. There’s plenty of sites and companies out there that are very focused on buying links. Trying to spam the algorithms with links. I think that over time Google’s getting more and more sophisticated at identifying those patterns. So like, you know, for example, my agency, the team that I work on, we don’t play in that space at all.
Like, we can’t take those types of risks for our clients. And a lot of the times we get clients that come to us because they were kind of buying links that they thought were good links. And then they got a manual action and it’s very hard to recover unless you know, how to properly recover. So it’s like for the types of brands that we work on, like, we can’t take that risk.
You know, that being said, There’s ways to build links that. Compliant with Google’s guidelines and good for the brand. So we try to focus on those. They’re much harder initiatives. They’re much more resource intensive that takes a lot more work. So like doing a lot of research about, you know, just gathering a lot of data and statistics about something related to your client’s niche and then doing some type of PR to try to get the word out there and then getting a lot of links that way.
Is for sure the most impactful way of doing this. You’re gonna get the best quality links, but again, that’s PR it takes a lot of work that’s PR
Jared: yep. That’s PR. Yeah. And that does generate links, but you’re right. That’s more PR. Yeah, exactly. Let’s say that someone, and I’m curious about your thoughts on it.
Like you have bad links maybe because you were building links that were not the best for a while. You ended up having a site where somebody previously had, or, you know, you worked with a team that you thought was building links for you in a, in a positive way. And you determined they’re not the word in the street is that Google doesn’t really worry about bad links anymore.
They just ignore them. But there is still the disavow file and there is still that process. You know, what are your thoughts on whether you should sit down and try to tell Google about the links that they shouldn’t pay attention to? I E submitting a disavow file or does it not really matter that much anymore?
Lily: Yeah. There’s so many different opinions on this topic. it’s a huge story. Sorry. I kind of
Jared: threw into
Lily: horns nest there. No, no, no, no. I, you know, I’m a SEO director. I have to answer these types of questions all the time. So what I believe is that. If you have a history of going against Google’s link guidelines, which basically means paying for links in one form or another.
And you’ve done that extensively again, like the clients that come to us that are like, we’ve worked with these three different companies for the past two years who have built us 20 links per month. Those links are all against Google’s guidelines. They’re all paid links or whatever they are. That’s not good, especially if that’s like a really big proportion of your link profile.
So in those cases, I would probably work with my team to disavow those links. I know that not every SEO believes that that’s effective, but from my perspective, it’s like, why not? Do that, because what we don’t want happening is getting a manual action. Those are very hard to recover from. That being said, I would only do it in those cases where you you’re actively buying links or collecting a lot of links that violate Google’s guidelines.
There’s a whole other world of spammy links and every site has spammy links. If you look at ATFs for pretty much any domain, you’re gonna see all kinds of like blog spot and like, you know, different stuff. It’s just like the internet ecosystem of like, who knows why there’s
Jared: magic success. It means your site is getting crawled and
Lily: Yes, exactly. I wouldn’t be too worried about those. You know, we have a lot of clients that are like, oh, I’m being negatively attacked. It’s like, well, I think Google’s very good at, at ignoring those links. So it has to be a pattern where they see that you’ve actively taken part in. Links to violate their guidelines.
I would this about those.
Jared: Yeah. Okay. That makes a lot. Yeah. And for people who are listening, like there’s just, it’s alarming if you’re new, but it’s kind of, you know, it just ends up being annoying when you’ve been doing it a while. There’s just a bunch of chaff in terms of. Aggregator sites in terms of image sites that are gonna scrape your images and stuff.
So don’t worry about those, but if you have a, maybe a long history of, and there’s gonna be a decent chunk of links that you’ve kind of really got about the wrong way, that would be the time to look at the disk. Yeah, let me transition into some more of the technical sides of a website and their impact on the rankings.
And let me just maybe set the stage by saying, Hey when we talk about the technical side, we’ll be referring to all the things that show up in a site audit. Maybe that you would run on HFS on screaming, frog, all the technical components that go into making your site tick. Where does all that lay in now with an update?
And again, we’re talking about updates. More broadly now, sorry to borrow the term broad. Cause I know that Google loves to say broad core update, but when we’re talking about updates, now we’re talking about whether it’s helpful content, core updates, product review updates, like just in general, how concerned does someone need to be about getting all the tech details perfectly lined up versus, eh, not as big of a factor as some of the other things we’ve already been talking
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think the SEO tools. A lot of the times make it sound like technical issues are more important than they are. I also think a lot of people who are maybe newer at SEO below some of these technical findings out of proportion, mm-hmm, like having a certain number of 4 0 4 pages on your site is probably not a big deal.
You know, if it’s something that you’re like linking to thousands of times internally, and there’s other people linking to that 4 0 4 page, like, of course that’s a problem. It’s really important to understand prioritization of technical problems. It’s also under important to understand how severe they are.
So like, If Google is unable to crawl your content, because it’s set up in a way that is not crawlable for, you know, search engines, cuz they can’t like render the link or something like that. That’s a huge technical problem. If you have no index tags in your most important product pages, that’s a.
Problem. You know what I mean? So it’s like, it’s understanding the, the severity of the problem, but a lot of the, one of the issues is a lot of these SEO tools. Don’t do that for you. You have to kind of understand the fundamentals. So generally speaking, I think like, you know, it’s very much case by case, but as far as the updates and everything go if there’s a lot of trouble that Google has crawling the site, you know, indexing the site properly, maybe like.
It’s blowing through its crawl budget really quickly, because the way you set up the site, it’s like really important pages are not easily accessible via internal links or something like. That can affect your site during a core update. For sure. I believe that Google’s had this notion of like site wide quality issues long before the helpful content update.
So if there’s a pattern of Google, like struggling to, to crawl and index your content that can work against you during these big updates.
Jared: Let’s talk about sitewide stuff versus page by page, as it relates to algorithms. I’m glad you brought it up. I have it on my notes, but it’s got a little bit more buried down, so let’s, let’s dive into it.
The helpful content. Update is kind of supposed to be one of the first updates in a while that I can remember that is sitewide versus technically speaking, the algorithm looks at your website on a page by page basis. Am I saying that correctly and maybe unpack that a little bit more so people can kinda understand why that’s important.
Lily: That is another big controversial question in the SEO space.
Jared: I don’t, I’m not intending to throw into all these. I really
Lily: am not. No, no, it’s fine. I’m pretty confident in my, my own belief system with, with SEO these days, my opinion is there have, there has absolutely been this notion of sitewide. Quality issues, domain wide quality issues for a very long time.
If you look at performance during core updates over the last few years, for sure there’s many different examples where a site is either negatively or positively impacted across the whole site. And yes, of course, certain pages will be hit harder than others, but you can see. This whole site has been devalued algorithmically because of the core update.
And this was very true during like the Panda update during the, the medic update in 2018, where there’s a pattern of this site producing not great medical content, for example. So the whole site’s gone. Like if you look at the visibility of the site, it’s like gone overnight. Yeah. But of course, you know, it’s important to, to triage and to see which queries were impacted more than others.
Did the landscape change for a certain type of intent? So like one thing that I see a lot during core updates is like Google used to show this certain type of page for this query, but now it’s decided that it wants to show like dictionary pages or something. That’s a completely different intent. So you wanna look for that, but again, it’s controversial that I definitely think that Google’s been looking across the domain for a long.
Jared: You have a hundred times, a thousand times more visibility than I do, but that’s been my belief too. awesome. How do you how do you, how do you deal with in a change of intent? Let’s say for example, cause this happened this happened for me at one point where I lost a lot of featured snippets in an update.
And I’m gonna leave aside, like I know there was a whole featured snippet debate. Let’s not touch that one with this, cover this question, but I lost a lot of featured snippets, but it turns out. That instead of, I didn’t lose them to a competitor. I didn’t drop from number one out of the featured snippet spot to somebody else.
The featured snippet just went away and that’s something that can happen where Google will change. What type of display or what type of results they’re displaying in the search. There’s also the time where. You dropped from number one, outta the service for the ranking. And it’s because instead of ranking a product page, Google now wants to rank an informational page.
Like these are different types of situations where you didn’t really lose your number one spot to a competitor. You didn’t drop from one to five in an update, and somebody else went to number one, but you kind of lost your ranking and thus your visibility in your traffic because of the way Google changed the intent.
Do you just kind of move on and pack your bags and say what was nice? Why I had it? Or are there things. You, you kind of should do to, to, to try to regain those spots.
Lily: Yeah. It’s a great question. It, it depends on the nature of your site. So for sites that make money off ad revenue and, and page views, essentially, you probably wanna find a way to continue to rank.
So if it’s like, Publishing new types of content to meet Google’s intent a little bit better. You might wanna look at that, assuming that it’s on brand and assuming that you can create high quality content and everything like that. But for a lot of the sites that we work with, when this happens, you, you have to ask yourself, are we obsessing too much over traffic?
That doesn’t matter for us? Or, you know, did this have any impact on conversions? Because just because we lost a handful of. Ingredient definition pages. Mm-hmm like, were those pages ever converting in the first place or was it just like a brand play where it’s like, hopefully people are seeing us out there.
We have a lot of ingredient definitions, but like no one’s ever converting from those pages. So like it’s, it’s kneejerk reaction for a lot of sites that lose visibility during a core update to say like, oh, Google, doesn’t like our contents, like. Yeah, but the conversions are the same. So your business is fine.
You know, like the business is like unaffected. So it’s really just about like the, the quality or the kind of like the business impact of, of losing visibility during a core
Jared: update. That’s a, that’s a great point that everyone should hear. Like, you know, make sure you understand what your KPIs are, even as they relate to SEO and don’t get too caught up in some of the stuff.
Hurts as someone who practices SEO, but doesn’t really hurt the business at all. yeah, exactly. Let me go back to what we were talking about with, which is kind of page level versus sitewide and, and less opinion more just in practice. Like, what are your tips when an update rolls out and you’re impacted one way or the other we’ll say negatively because that’s certainly where people really wanna roll up their sleeves and, and dive in more like.
You, you have this impact this core update or a helpful content or a product review update. You have an update that has hit your site. You’ve dropped. Call it 25%. I’m just making a number up. You got a lot of pages. You got a lot of data between search console analytics. Maybe an href or a SIM rush, or one of these PLA where, where would you start?
Where would you recommend someone to kind of start drilling in? So you’re not overwhelmed, but you can get some practical tips on where to go from there.
Lily: Yeah. I think it’s really important to look at patterns because again, I’m of the camp that I think that these things tend to be sitewide I. And more often than not, when I’m analyzing a site that has been negatively impacted, or my team is looking at one, there’s some type of quality pattern that can be found across many different pages.
So you have to be able to analyze data at scale. So that generally involves doing a full crawl of the website, you know, Collecting all the pages collecting all the performance of the pages and you know, using something like the search console API. So you can get like a bigger view of all the effective pages and not be like cut off by search search console’s limits of exporting within the interface.
You wanna get everything right? You wanna look at all the things at scale, and I love this stuff because you can often see like, like here’s a good example. Many of the sites that I see that are impacted by core updates have. A lot of low quality pages. So they might be something like doorway pages, where they try to have a page for each specific city or neighborhood or county or whatever in the country.
And they don’t actually have locations in all those places like that. To me, is an obvious pattern that I’ve seen time and time again, precise set get impacted. And you might say like, oh, but it’s true. We help people in those neighborhoods. And Google’s like, This is literally the definition of doorway pages.
If you read Google’s guidelines, they say to not do that, and you’re doing that. And maybe you got away with it for a long time, but we’re seeing your site is trying to take these shortcuts. So it’s really about again, collecting all the data and then looking to see if there’s something that you’ve been doing that falls into the gray area of what Google says not to do.
Jared: It’s really hard to analyze your own content and evaluate if it’s helpful, especially for people whose sites have dropped. And they’re the ones who wrote the content . Yeah, exactly. You know, businesses at large, maybe you’re talking to a CEO or a CMO and they’re like, well, who wrote this content and why?
Okay. We gotta change what we. That’s a bit different when you’re the one who wrote the content, you’ve written a hundred, 150, 200 articles you’re doing well, and then your content, or then you, you get hit in an update and drop 25%. What are, do you have any strategies or tips for someone to get outta their own head and try to evaluate content that they’ve written and that they actually believe is helpful?
Like let’s assume that they don’t think that they’ve taken shortcuts and they still lost in an update. Pretty.
Lily: Yeah, this is where it starts to get complicated and, and time consuming and resource intensive. But you have to do some version of user testing. You know, you have to think about, even if it’s just like bringing in a external company, whether it’s an SEO company or maybe a content company or something to like take a look at the content, see if they actually consider it helpful.
It’s really important to get another person’s perspective, because like you said, if you’re. If you believe it’s helpful, but you’re the only person looking at it. That’s very subjective. So I think, and then there’s things you can do too. Like, you know, UX, like conversion rate optimization, like testing on the page.
So even collecting user feedback, like you can have surveys at the end of the content you can say, did you find this content helpful? Or just any type of like feedback from the user is another option. But there’s a really great article by Glen Gabe. A good friend of mine in the SEO space, all about user testing and the importance of getting like third party reviews of your content.
So I would check out that article.
Jared: I, well, let’s see if we I’ll see if I can get that from you and include that in the show notes as well. Sure. Yeah, that’s always tough. So that’s hard to, to really. Evaluate content that, that you’ve written, unless you can get some other metrics. So that’s, those are some great thoughts.
Let’s talk about this concept of deleting content. I will say that if you again, were were We’re a part of the craze of people that leaned in to Google pre announcing the helpful content update. Certainly you might have known someone who went about deleting a bunch of content off of a site of theirs that was deemed below quality by them.
And if not, you read about it. Like a lot of people. When they heard that the helpful content update was coming out. When about deleting a lot of content that was low quality. Now I’ll, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll save that because what I wanna do is use it as an analogy or as a, maybe a, a launching pad for, for us to talk about that.
If you look at your site and you think that some of the content isn’t very helpful, what’s the best approach approach one, just knock it off, delete it, but then perhaps you’re deleting content that helped round out your authority on the topic. Or do you try to update it and make every page on your site more helpful?
Like when you are evaluating content and you’re looking at deleting. Do you think the algorithms kind of have to say about that? From a broad picture and what should site owners look at?
Lily: Great question. And this was all kind of like exhilarating for me because our team and I have been focused on.
Removing content as one of our main SEO strategies for many of our clients for a long time. So it was kind of like when the helpful content update was announced and everybody started believing their content. It’s like, finally, like people aren’t taking this seriously, cause we’ve seen we’ve helped a lot of sites recover from core updates.
And a lot of the time what we were doing is eliminating. Unhelpful content. And there’s a, there’s a variety of different ways to do it. And it’s also to your point, importantness not just do it haphazardly where you’re deleting a bunch of stuff that might be helping you. So I think the important thing is to collect a lot of metrics about these different pages.
Yeah. Good. One. Yeah, but like, you know, collect metrics about how it’s doing on Google. I would say there’s other things you should look at too. So like if something’s not indexed, that’s the first place to go if Google’s crawling it, but not indexing it, that could be a sign of a quality issue. So maybe those should go first, cuz that’s just time that Google’s wasting, not indexing your content.
So maybe start there. But also, yeah, like if you touch on any topics that are very controversial, like fringe content, like I’ve, I’ve had a client where I noticed that they had a lot of like nine 11 conspiracy content that was like, and it’s not getting traffic. Mm-hmm , to me, that’s a good sign that like Google very specifically in the quality guidelines says they don’t want that type of content on sites.
So start there, if there’s anything that’s a red flag for Google, you should also eliminate that.
Jared: The, it sounds like you’ve seen a lot of success though, with deleting content. So maybe could you give us a little, like what can site owners expect when they delete content? And again, I’m gonna take it back to it’s one thing to say, buy or inherit a website, or come into a website.
And your role on the website is to evaluate content and you say this stuff needs to be deleted, but it’s a whole nother. Topic when someone has slaved over that content and it’s not going anywhere, it hasn’t gotten indexed, it’s not ranking. And they’re like, I wrote that. I think it’s important. I thought it was good.
Like what can come from really doing a prune of your content in your site so that you’re just serving, you know, kind of serving the best pages or at least the pages that Google likes.
Lily: Yeah, I would just be really careful about how you execute this strategy. So don’t do anything haphazardly again, like don’t just delete a bunch of stuff.
What my team and I work on, that’s been really effective is like sites that have, so a lot of these sites have been producing content for a really long time where they talk about the same thing over and over. Like maybe they don’t have a good process in place for seeing that they wrote basically the same article six different times, and maybe it was six different authors that like wrote the same thing.
And now the site’s just having. Thousands of pages that are effectively the same thing. And they’re kind of competing for the same keywords, or maybe like both pages are ranking on page three because they kind of say the same thing, but they’re like neither one of them can rank on page one. So collecting all those metrics and then saying, you know what?
We kind of said the same thing on both of these pages. This page is performing a little bit better. This page has the better content, but this other page has some content that we didn’t talk about on the first page. So let’s move that content to this other page, implement a redirect and then only have one.
So that’s a hard, that’s hard work, right? Yeah. Like that takes a lot of subjective. Like I’m gonna dig through this content and see what’s, what’s helpful and what’s not. But by doing that over the course of time, you’re, you’re getting rid of the number of pages that Google has to crawl through and theoretically creating more helpful pages, maybe longer pages.
So again, it’s, it’s a very time consuming process, but we’ve absolutely seen that work very well for our clients.
Jared: I have two more questions that I wanna hit you with before we kind of bring it. Bring it back. sure. Cannibalization, keyword, cannibalization writing content where there’s some overlap.
Maybe you have two pages on your site that are competing or ranking for the same keyword. Again, you’ll, you’ll really get different opinions here. You’ll get people who are very. Big on making sure that each page is only targeting one keyword. And if you have cannibalization issues to definitely deal with them through internal linking through redirecting all this stuff, and you also have a camp that talks about it, not being a big deal.
And it’s just something that is, is inherent as your site grows. What are you seeing in terms of updates? I’m, I’m sure that that that you have an opinion on it one way or the other, given some of the things you’ve already said so far. .
Lily: Yeah, like if you ask me a year or two ago, I would say it’s definitely a problem.
It’s something you should look at. And generally speaking, we see really great impacts when we consolidate, you know, cannibalizing content onto one page. However, Google created this like indented search result thing in the last year or so where it’s a lot of the times they’ll see page a and then page B right under it.
When. Basically the exact same thing. They don’t always indent your content. So I wouldn’t rely on that as your SEO strategy, but if you are in a situation where Google’s showing two pages or three pages for one keyword don’t change anything. Cause that’s like, you’re getting more results that way, but I wouldn’t set out my SEO strategy trying to do that.
I see that sites that get indented more often than not are like very authoritative sites or maybe they’re sites that are very, very close match for the query. So like if you type like a medical symptom, you might see that the Mayo clinic gets three different indented results, but like not every site is gonna get that.
So I still like maintain the same philosophy that you should probably have one great page per keyword or topic that you’re targeting. But again, if you’re seeing the indebted results, probably just keep it that way, but also. Try to make sure that the intent is different as much as possible from page to page.
So maybe you have two pages that talk about the same thing, but they, they serve two different intents, right?
Jared: Yeah. Two different types of even types of query base, basically. Mm-hmm so just wanna to, I, I hear this all the time, so I wanna throw the question towards you and, you know, I, I think.
Basically this question probably kind of answers itself based on the last 45 minutes we’ve spent. But it’s a question. So let me kind of ask it to you and get your opinion. And it’s pretty constant for people in this space, affiliate marketers or content creators that are up against big competitors. And you, when I say big, I mean like really maybe well known.
Sites that that have a, a stronger brand name and you go to their site and their site the, the big site is slow as molasses in terms of speed, really poor user experience ads and, you know, stuff going on all over the place. And yet update after update, they don’t get negatively impacted and you know, How does how, how does that happen and why does that happen?
Why do we see so many sites have such poor user experiences, but still continue to grow in the in the visibility and in the rankings?
Lily: Yeah. This gets down to the importance of some ranking factors over other ones, and it’s also query dependent as well. So if you type again, heart attack. And, you know, WebMD is the first example that comes to mind.
I think a lot of people have concerns about how many ads they have or whatever. And it’s like, well, they have so many ads. Why can’t I not have that many ads? Guess what WebMD has been collecting? SEO history and value and authoritativeness and everything like that. And links for years and years, and years and years, right?
Like they’ve, they’ve been doing this, they have a big brand name. They’re very well known. They have all these really important signals that are hard to fake that have made them an authority in the help space. So can they have ads? Can they have these things that get other sites in trouble sometimes?
Yeah, because that’s not the most important ranking factor that Google’s looking at when somebody’s Googling a severe medical symptom. It depends on the query itself. It depends on the competitive landscape, but yes, if you have a big brand, that’s, that’s earned a lot of SEO credibility over the years. You can probably get away with a little bit more of that type of stuff, but, you know, and other things like the page experience signal is a lightweight signal compared to E a T like if you’re an authority in finance, Again, you can probably have a not great page experience because Google knows the content is that much more trustworthy?
So it depends on what the competitive landscape looks like, who you’re up against, and you can’t compare yourself to these giant authorities in the space. If you’re like a small blogger, I would focus as much on content quality as possible for, you know, smaller niche sites that are starting out because the best way that you can compete with these big players is by providing a unique perspective that they might not have on their.
Jared: That’s great. That’s great. I want to close by asking you a really broad question, a really big question. And you know, every day you kind of see this or hear this, or, or, or you feel it yourself, right? one, one of the three, but the landscape of updates and the landscape of the algorithm is changing. I don’t know.
It feels faster than ever. Certainly. There were these really big update. You know, 10 years ago or so with pen penguin and Panda, I always tend to blend the two of them into one PUA update, but no, no. Like we had these big updates and then ever since, you know, 20 17, 20 18, 20 19, these updates have started to roll out more frequently and it, it’s not uncommon for a site to go up to go down.
To go up a couple updates in a row and then to go down a couple updates in a row, like it can be really disheartening. It can be emotionally draining and it can feel at different times when you’re on the wrong side of an update that, you know, is this really all worth it? Is it worth, is it too risky to to, to build websites, to try to make this a part of, of your business plan?
What are your thoughts on that and what, how would, how do you recommend again, kind of, as we wrap all this up, someone approaches the ever-changing landscape of updates from a really, really high level. And even as much mentally as it is in practice.
Lily: Yeah, it’s tough. Especially when you haven’t started things the right way.
If you’ve created a pattern of trying to cheat the algorithm or trying to exploit, you know, Google’s ability to understand good content or whatever it is, buying links, all these things, it’s very hard to recover and you might see during updates that you go up and down. So if you start the right way, Like again, if you focus on expertise, that’s my, my big tagline.
This year, you should be in good hands. Like I have an example of a site that I worked on seven or eight years ago. It’s a small business where. We created expert content with the business owner seven years ago. And haven’t literally done nothing since then. Nothing. The site’s exactly the same. It’s still live, but like no changes have been made.
No new content has been published and those pages continue to rank in the featured snippets because they’re still expert content. He’s not that business owner is not negatively impacted by core updates. That just goes up and up. So, you know, do things right from the, from the. And you should be in good hands if you’re trying to like listen to too many people’s SEO advice and get carried away with things that you think are gonna like make you a quick buck.
And like , you’re not thinking about the long term. Yeah. It’s gonna be challenging cuz Google’s getting smarter and smarter. So I would just say like read Google’s quality guidelines very carefully and try to make sure you’re abiding by all of them and you should be okay.
Jared: Well Lily, this was absolutely wonderful.
I mean, we use the helpful content update as an excuse to, to get on a call here and do an interview, but really it was just a deep dive in all the, well, not all, but so many of the facets that kind of go into these updates and not only how somebody can future proof, but also how somebody can actively look at these updates and apply for, apply changes to them.
So, man, thank you so much for coming on and sharing all your knowledge of. Yeah.
Lily: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. It was a lot of
Jared: fun. Where can people follow along with with what you’re doing? Where would you direct them if they want to to continue to follow along with your work?
Lily: Yeah, Twitter’s the best place.
So I’m really right. NYC. That’s where I share thoughts pretty much every day. And then on LinkedIn as well, I, I tend to be a little bit more comprehensive with the things that I share. So that’s a good place as
Jared: well. All right. Well, Lily, thanks so much for coming on board. Really appreciate it. And all.
Lily: You too. Thanks so much.