Google isn’t the most communicative of companies when it comes to updates, especially the specifics of what those updates are targeting. Back on May 4th they issued the following guidance:
Later today, we are releasing a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. It is called the May 2020 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before. Please see this blog post for more about that:https://t.co/e5ZQUAlt0G— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) May 4, 2020
The first and most obvious thing is that they missed the opportunity to embrace Star Wars day and give the update a slightly catchier name than ‘’May 2020 Core Update”. Although I can see them not wanting to draw too much of a parallel with an Imperial Empire intent on taking over the Galaxy.
Instead they linked us to the same guidelines which they issued back in 2019 and which they have linked to with pretty much every update since:
These guidelines focus heavily on the quality of content and the guidance they give their quality content raters to assess it. When we look at the type of sites targeted in the update and where the winners and losers are, it certainly ties in with this advice.
Your Money or Your Life sites, more commonly referred to as YMYL sites were once again where the brunt of the impact looks to have happened. This excellent write up by Path Interactive (https://www.pathinteractive.com/blog/seo/550-winners-and-losers-of-googles-may-2020-core-algorithm-update/) analyses 550 sites and categorises where the winners and the losers were. The highest concentration of activity is found in the following categories:
nutrition and recipes
drugs, alcohol, and rehab
science and medical news
banking and finance
music and entertainment
Some of the biggest winners such as additctionsandrecovery.org appear to be corrections from the January update in which many legitimate sites, especially those with a health and medicine focus, got swept up.
Looking at key content for the site through the Waybackmachine shows no difference to key pages, making it more certain it’s a correction to how the algorithm treats these legitimate sites.
So that’s good news for legitimate sites. The question then becomes: how do I make my site legitimate in Google’s eyes? How do I convince Google of my legitimacy?
Just like Obi-Wan telling those Storm Troopers ‘these are not the droids you’re looking for’ (I cannot even begin to express how big of a Star Wars nerd I am) you need to get inside Google’s head. The algorithm might not be ‘weak minded’ but we all know it can still be manipulated.
Google have even added an additional note in their update article to help focus our attention:
“Note (March 2020): Since we originally wrote this post, we have been occasionally asked if E-A-T is a ranking factor. Our automated systems use a mix of many different signals to rank great content. We've tried to make this mix align what human beings would agree is great content as they would assess it according to E-A-T criteria. Given this, assessing your own content in terms of E-A-T criteria may help align it conceptually with the different signals that our automated systems use to rank content.”
So although what human raters use to judge E-A-T isn’t a direct ranking factor, they are algorithmically trying to assess the same values via other criteria, likely those more suited to machines than humans.
E-A-T is all about how to value the content. But before we dive into that, what about the content itself? I always sum this up by remembering some old advice from Google: ‘What does this add to the conversation?’. Meaning what is your content saying that hasn’t already been said.
This is important because Google always wants to include a mix of information in the results to any given query. It’s not just about providing a single answer from the one most authoritative source, but a range of possible answers for the user to pick from. After all we may all want a different answer to the same question. Truth (in search terms) is subjective.
The top result from the NHS tells us at the top of the page:
“Homeopathy is a "treatment" based on the use of highly diluted substances, which practitioners claim can cause the body to heal itself.
A 2010 House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on homeopathy said that homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos (dummy treatments).
The review also said that the principles on which homeopathy is based are "scientifically implausible".
This is also the view of the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies.”
I think it’s a pretty clear rebuttal of homeopathy. So you would expect result number two from Google to say much the same if the science is so clear…
“Homeopathy is a holistic medicine which uses specially prepared, highly diluted substances (given mainly in tablet form) with the aim of triggering the body’s own healing mechanisms.
A homeopath will prescribe medicines according to the patient’s specific set of symptoms, and how they experience them, taking into account their overall level of health.
Homeopathy is based on the principle of “like treats like” – that is, a substance which can cause symptoms when taken in large doses, can be used in small amounts to treat similar symptoms. For example, drinking too much coffee can cause sleeplessness and agitation, so according to this principle, when made into a homeopathic medicine, it could be used to treat people suffering from sleeplessness and agitation.”
OK so we have two different pages of content ranking in the top positions both taking different positions. This is fulfilling Google’s ambition to present the user with a variety of options and information to allow us to make the decision. Google is not, and nor should it be, the arbiter of truth. It presents us with a selection of information and the rest is up to us.
However this does present problems because it means that Google cannot rely on an information's content for its veracity. It does of course use other ranking signals such as how much we share the page or how closely linked it is with other authoritative sources, but they also want to understand whether the actual content is worthwhile.
Time to E-A-T
This is where E-A-T comes into play. If you are not familiar with the concept here’s an outline from my article on how Google E-A-T works:
For a website
The organisation behind it has suitable credentials. Google gives the example of a news website where the organisation has won multiple Pulitzer Prizes. It is of course harder to demonstrate this for some types of sites such as humour sites, but having won industry awards or gained external recognition plays a big role.
For an author
What credentials does the author have on this subject? Google gives the example of a doctor writing a medical article. But for other topics it could be having a degree in the field, relevant experience or working in that sector.
For a website
This is about how both the rater and external sources rate the quality of the content and the wider site. This includes (according to Google) metrics such as ratings on the Better Business Bureau and Yelp as well as wider reviews. It does however warn reviewers to be wary of fake reviews and includes links to articles on the topic:
It’s also expected that the content should be relevant to the wider site. Google gives this example of low quality content:
"The website is not an authoritative source for the topic of the page, e.g. tax information on a cooking website”.
For an author
This is about the number of citations that an author has, the types of sites they appear on and generally how well written their content is.
Google also mentions that high quality content "must be factually accurate for the topic and must be supported by expert consensus where such consensus exists”.
For a website
The website should have validation information, such as an About Us page, and if it’s a transactional site, links to customer service information. Another example might be that transactional pages need to be secure and over https;
“The MC is not trustworthy, e.g. a shopping checkout page that has an insecure connection”
For an author
Trust is measured by what citations they have. Do they appear on other high websites with high levels of E-A-T? How well written is their content?
I highly recommend reading the whole article https://www.wordtracker.com/academy/seo/site-optimization/what-is-google-e-a-t-and-how-does-it-work to gain a further understanding of what E-A-T is and how this is used to judge whether a website's content or the author who wrote it are to be trusted.
Reputation is also singled out in the quality raters guidelines and these are the manual checks outlined to see whether or not a website has a reputation (using IBM.com as an example):
● [ibm -site:ibm.com]: A search for IBM that excludes pages on ibm.com.
● [“ibm.com” -site:ibm.com]: A search for “ibm.com” that excludes pages on ibm.com.
● [ibm reviews -site:ibm.com] A search for reviews of IBM that excludes pages on ibm.com.
● [“ibm.com” reviews -site:ibm.com]: A search for reviews of “ibm.com” that excludes pages on ibm.com.
● For content creators, try searching for their name or alias.
These are the sorts of measures which are easily incorporated algorithmically as well, so it’s worth doing this for your own site and the authors who feature on it. How do you think Google will view your reputation? If you don’t have one, these are easy fixes to build through measures such as guest posting on other sites for authors.
Google have gone so far to say that although E-A-T doesn’t have its own ranking algorithm they use a variety of closely matching signals to what’s in the guidelines - meaning that E-A-T is indeed a ranking factor https://www.wordtracker.com/blog/search-news/google-says-there-is-no-single-e-a-t-internal-score.
Jedi mind tricks
So if you want to be a content Jedi, you need to find a unique angle into your content. Of course you should use Wordtracker to find the most searched for questions or what weird terms people looking for, but you need to find a unique, but factual and trustworthy way of approaching those terms.
Here’s the list of questions from Google to ask yourself when writing content:
Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?
Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
Or in other words… what does it add to the conversation?
Segment for success
If you already have lots of content and your site has been affected by these updates then a good place to start is by segmenting the content you have, not just by page type or site hierarchy, but by content type or catagory. Try creating a spreadsheet with all your key performing pages and then tag each one with the appropriate segments. Then add into this the ranking data for before and after the updates and check if certain segments have been affected more than others.
Doing this will allow you to start drilling down on the problem and you'll learn more by applying the questions outlined above to your content. Make limited changes at a time, measure the impact and keep trying. Often the algorithm can respond to a multitude of changes and it can be hard to pinpoint any one thing. But, keep generating interesting, unique, factual and appealing content and there should be very little for Google not to like about it.