#334 – March Core Update Analysis with Lily Ray

🗒️ Overview

  • The visibility changes of pure content sites and how your business model may affect your visibility
  • Reddit and Quora monopolizing search results and how long it may last
  • Signals outside of the“traditional” that Google is giving a lot of importance to these days

As we come to the end of the March 2024 Core update, many things have changed in the Google landscape, and it’s time to start looking at where we landed.

And to help navigate these changes, we wanted to bring a guest that’s out in the trenches every day – Lily Ray.

If you don’t know her from her work in a large SEO agency in New York, then you definitely know her as a prominent and very opinionated character in the industry – she shares a ton of interesting insights about SEO on social media, including a lot of original research.

In this episode, Lily and Gael dive straight in and cover all of the hottest topics in search right now, and take a look at specific examples – that often break the rules.

A special thanks to our sponsor for this episode – Ahrefs, the all-in-one SEO tool set for everything you need to rank high and get traffic.

Interpreting Visibility

SEO tools like Ahrefs, Semrush, and Sistrix for are limited in showing the full impact of Google updates on website visibility.

These tools mostly track your organic rankings, but organic rankings are now one of many things displayed in the SERPs, with things like new featured snippet styles telling more traffic than ever.

It’s actually quite common to rank the same but lose traffic during these updates, and these changes are not reflected, so GSC often tells a very different story to what you see using one of these tools. Remember not to rely fully on these tools for checking visibility.

The Reddit and Quora Monopoly

Notable update winers have been Reddit and Quora, with Reddit in particular seeing a dramatic increase – almost 25% more organic traffic in the last month, and 7x higher than it was last year.

And that’s despite the spam fest that’s now happening where many top-ranking threads and top answers are filled with affiliate links and are completely gamed.

We’re probably at the peak of the Hollywood phase of Google and Reddit, but let’s see what happens when most threads lose authenticity and users don’t appreciate it anymore.

HCU Guidelines vs Real-World Observations

While Google’s documentation on HCU has recently been changed to highlight the fact that it’s mostly a page-level system now, there is no evidence of that in the current iteration of Google with no strong recovery stories at all.

It’s doubtful whether the recoveries seen from HCU have been particular effective or long-term. The HCU very much feels like the early days of Panda or Penguin, where you were locked in with no way to get out for about a year.

Google says that you can recover in a few weeks, but there is no observation of that in the real world, so people are even more defiant against any guidance from Google. Only the people who actually work in the daily Google trenches can really tell you what’s really going on.

Changes in Content Performance Across Sites

The same content may get different results on different websites.

Some site owners with multiple sites have seen these go up and down in the same industry, despite similar levels of authority, similar content pipeline, similar EEAT display, etc.

This unpredictability is what makes these updates very difficult to analyse and understand.

Business Models and Rankings

While your business model is probably not a direct ranking factor, Lily has observed that many sites that that have a business model other than publishing attached to them tend to maintain their ranking better than pure content size.

A prime example of this WPBeginner. After losing almost two thirds of their traffic in the recent years – despite being a DR 90 site – they have just pivoted to offer WordPress-related services as opposed to just being a blog.

Some of that change is almost definitely motivated by the idea of being reclassified by Google.

Traffic Diversification

Traffic diversification is now mandatory and will probably help your SEO in a long run as Google sees real people enjoying visiting your site outside of search.

So your solution to better SEO may be to focus a bit less on SEO and more on other channels like YouTube, socials, email marketing, etc.

Large vs. Small Site Traffic Trends

Smaller sites are not the only ones losing traffic.

Large sites have also been losing traffic for a while as well, which is why they tend to use review keywords to make up for the lost revenue.


All right, in today’s episode, I have Lily Ray. I’m really happy to have you, Lily.  I know you’re a very opinionated person in this industry,  and I like people with strong opinions because I like debating about stuff.  So thanks for joining, and let’s get started.  

Sounds great. Thanks for having me.  

No worries. So today we’re going to talk, obviously, about everything that’s happening with Google right now. Recent update, but I want to reverse back to the last HCU that came out as well, like in September last year, because I think a lot of things are connected and started happening around  there, around with the three other core updates.

But I want to talk to you as a user  of Google to start with, because I think when Google released this update, they basically promised 40 % less than helpful content. And we’re almost done with the rollout at this point. They said around a month, a month is in two days at this point. Unless something incredible happens, I think what we’re seeing here is mostly what we’re going to get. As a user, do you feel like there’s 40% less unhelpful content in Google right now?

I personally find it…  Like, generally speaking, I find it harder to find what I’m looking for on Google lately. I’ll just say that much. I think a lot of the times it feels like the results are blown out with certain sites. I think we will talk a lot about Reddit and Quora and stuff like this.  And that’s especially now, given that…  I mean, it’s always weird searching for things being  a professional SEO, but knowing that things like Reddit and Quora are spammed so easily, I just don’t click on them as much. So when they’re so prolific in the search results, it makes it harder to actually find what I’m looking for. I personally find that it’s more generic pages that tend to rank. So Google tends to assign more keywords to a given page.  They rank for more keywords and more  long-tail content that was sometimes created to game Google tends to be less present now, but now you just tend to have a big site with a generic page and your answer may be in the middle of it. It’s a bit tedious to find the answer personally. 

How about the update in general? If you had to do three main takeaways from what you’ve seen so far in a current rollout, what would you tell people? What have you seen? 

One thing that’s important to talk about that I don’t even talk about that much when I post, because generally when I’m  sharing visibility, I’m usually it from Sistrix. I also use Ahrefs and Semrush, but  most of the time when I’m looking at website visibility, I’m using Sistrix.  What Sistrix is not showing,  and this is by design, and what a lot of these tools are not  necessarily showing is how different the search results are in general. We’re just counting visibility of organic results.  But what we’re not looking at is necessarily SGE. We’re not looking at how ads are  different, not looking at product cards, all these different things. Everything’s changing in the search results. In order to find an organic result, you have to dig at this point.  You have to scroll down and go over SGE and go over ads and stuff like that. That’s also an important aspect of something to consider with this update. But as far as what’s changing, I guess I’m…  Maybe I sound naive. I’m sure a lot of people think I’m naive, but I wasn’t expecting Reddit and Quora  to continue to grow at the same rate that they were.  

Fair enough. They dug a bit at the beginning and then they came back up. So you were like, Oh, finally, it’s coming down a bit.  And it’s-

Well, actually, no.  I’m especially surprised for Quora. There’s literally hate videos on TikTok of people saying how much they hate the UX of Quora and how much they feed you more questions than give you the answer.  Reddit, the original Reddit without all  the gaming that’s going on with the SEO right now, fair enough, it’s a cool forum. 

Yeah, I used to love Reddit back in the day.  Not so much anymore. 

Yeah, because it’s being given visibility. 

I will talk a little bit about that later, but I I feel Google is just offloading spam fighting to Reddit, basically.  

Yeah, it’s like I agree. 

It’s one thing that you’ve mentioned that’s quite interesting is the SERP features. We rank for a lot of like these queries, for example, and I know a lot of travel bloggers have suffered from that as well. Where Google literally takes all your list items and shows them with drop-downs  on top of the surfs and pushes your organic results massively. So I open GSC, it’s like my impressions are the same, my ranking is not down, etc.  Yet these pages may drop like 20, 30 and traffic on some queries following both HCU last year and this update. And I feel like they’re pushing a lot.  I feel like it’s just taking different forms. It’s not just a chat, basically.  It’s just like when they demonstrated their new AI models,  they were showing that it builds UX as well and it takes information and does it.  I was like, Oh, this is for search. Like they’re actually making this so  that search becomes like an ever morphing thing.  And I agree. I think that’s that’s something that you may not see in rank trackers or  in visibility tools, but actually, sites do lose visibility from that.  

Yeah, absolutely. I want to share a little story of a site  owner that actually is winning from this update that I’ve talked to.  I can’t reveal his site. He asked me not to.  Basically, he’s in one vertical where he has one of his sites, two of his sites actually, that really jumped up in the current update.  But he has many other sites in the same niche.  It’s the same content pipeline, it’s the same writers, it’s the same EEAT,  it’s the same content production, the production house.  Yet,  some sites are diving with these updates while others are going up massively.  This site is essentially producing the same content and having completely  different results, essentially the definition of insanity by Einstein.  How would you explain that right now?  

Well, impossible to give a good answer without  really digging into the data, but I don’t know that I necessarily I don’t really agree that there’s ever such a thing as two sites that have  the same EEAT, two sites that are doing the exact same content. By definition, every page is different.  The link profile is probably slightly different. The link profile is different, yeah.  There’s all these elements that could be different.  Maybe the category that one’s publishing it is slightly different than the other one.  Maybe there’s a big player. It’s never truly apples to apple. So that’s one thing. But yeah, I think there’s proving to be a lot of categories that are extremely volatile right now.  I think that going back to the HCU conversation, it feels like…  I don’t know. I keep seeing patterns of certain categories of keywords or classes of  keywords that seem to be hit harder than others. So maybe one of them is more in that area  where there’s a lot more volatility than the other.  I don’t know. It’s hard to say. 

Yeah, on this case, I’ve actually observed these domains and I’ve seen him start moving the content from the sites that got essentially killed by HCU to the size that are now winning and the content is ranking just fine, basically. It’s I feel like a lot of this is not just  the helpfulness of the content, but rather the domain is posted on at this point. I mean, HCU originally was a site-wide classifier, so it makes sense. However, in the recent core, they’ve updated the documentation.  As they integrated in the core algorithm, they said it’s mostly a page-level thing, but if you have a lot of unhelpful content, your domain may be affected. Yeah. How do you feel about that?  

They changed the wording. I think it’s interesting. They say we are mostly evaluating it  on the page level, but we still have some site-wide signals that we look at.  It’s like they’re saying both things are true.  I don’t really know what’s going on, but I feel like, yeah, the site-wide  classifier, that’s language that they’re not really using anymore.  They did change the whole definition  of how they analyse and identify unhelpful content, and it’s much more vague now.  It sounds like they’re baking it into the core algorithm.  They use a variety of signals to assess helpfulness.  It used to be more easy to explain how the helpful content system worked,  but they actually dismantled that with this update.  To your point, I wonder if this whole  notion of a domain classifier was a thing that just existed temporarily,  and now we’re having Google analyse things in different ways.  I don’t exactly know, but it does feel…  I mean, the last six months have been  a really interesting moment because I’m seeing more and more,  and I’m sure you’re seeing this, too, where it’s very much a binary thing.  People that were affected by the helpful content update are playing by,  I don’t even want to say their own set because that’s  not how Google describes it, but there’s a certain situation happening  with those sites that’s not happening with sites that weren’t hit.  So now whenever I share anything, I always have to be very specific.  Right now, I’m speaking to the HCU people.  Right now, I’m not speaking to the HCU  people because truly, they’re in very different situations. 

Yeah, I get Penguin vibes. When Penguin came out, there was no disavow tool.  It was all about links. Very often, if you had bad links pointing to your site, it was very hard to remove them because because these sites were unmonitored, basically. For a year, it was technically impossible to recover for Penguin, basically. Nobody recovered. I get a very similar vibe. It’s not the same thing. It feels more like It feels more similar to Panda the way it actually works,  but the vibe of the industry feels very much like how Penguin work, where there was no way for people to escape once they got caught.  Do you think we see any proper recovery this year?  Because I don’t think we have any real good one documented at this point.  

Yeah, no, I think that’s pretty commonly understood now. Those of us who spend day in and day out  24/7 looking for examples and haven’t found any. Everyone’s always like, Oh, it’s because you’re only looking at your own sites.  I’m like, That’s not how I work.  I’m looking at a lot of sites,  not necessarily only just the sites that I’m working on.  It’s funny you bring up Penguin because I’ve mentioned this before on other  podcasts and things, but that was how I got started in the SEO industry.  I know a couple of years before that, but I really started ramping up my SEO  skills and success and case studies and everything with buying links,  and it was working really, really, really well until it didn’t.  And that day was to this day, the most traumatising day of my whole career.  It was awful. It was completely awful.  I felt like everybody that was trusting me and I was doing such a good job suddenly  lost faith in what I was doing for good reason.  And that’s why I am the way that I am today.  And that’s not the only update where that’s happened.  It’s like, I don’t want to do that ever again. 

I get it. I mean, it’s like we had an agency  at the time, I think 40% of our clients got affected.  But it’s like back in the day, it was so easy to game Google with paid links. It was almost impossible to rank White Hat.  It’s like, literally, it didn’t make financial sense and it  wasn’t even working very well to do the right thing.  

I remember Distil was trying very hard doing some digital PR, etc.  It was massively overpriced  for the results they were getting compared to other agencies, let’s be honest.  I didn’t even think I was breaking the rules.  I was so new at SEO.  I was like, I thought this is just what you because it worked.  I didn’t even know.  We did the same, and that’s when we switched it out.  We had PTSD from that time a little bit.  Yeah, but I get it,  especially when you do see something for other people’s businesses.  It’s heartbreaking to see them work on it, not realise what has been done and lose  income they relied on to pay salaries, to do all of that, et cetera.  That’s very much the vibe that’s happening to some publishers right now with HCU as  well, a little bit, except They’re not even sure they did anything wrong.  That’s what’s tricky.  If I had done more research when I was a young new SEO and I knew that this was  against Google’s guidelines and I had the prior experience  to know what happened with the Florida update and the Panda update and things  like this, I probably would have played my cards differently.  But I didn’t and I had to learn the hard  way and I moved into the agency world and I swore to never do that again.  That’s why I’ve been so risk averse for so many years because there have been other  examples where, whether it’s people on my or whether it’s  the client or someone’s pushing things a little bit too far,  and it’s not exactly something that goes against Google guidelines,  but it’s a thing where it’s like, I think that this might get us in trouble.  It always gets you in trouble. It always fails eventually.  I have an employee that did that. AI sites scale to a million visits per month.  I was like, I don’t know if he’s going to ask me. He’s like, Probably you shouldn’t quit your job right now.  Well, it’s good he didn’t because it didn’t go as well during this update.  

But I saw on Twitter that you said that your team reviewed a bunch of examples of sites  that people have said that they were unfairly hit by HCU. I wanted to ask what you learned during the exercise. What did you take away from that? 

First of all, we’ve been looking at this, and I’ve been looking at this for months.  When the HCU in September hit, I was actually in Prague and I was planning to take two days off, and I didn’t.  I ended up working pretty much both those  two days to try to figure out what was going on because I was so interested.  I looked at dozens and dozens of sites, and I just I honestly, I saw a lot of the patterns really  quickly, and I was like, Oh, wow, this is a lot of sites.  There’s a lot of sites that are doing this  same thing SEO-wise, and this is why it’s turned out to be such  a big update, because it’s true, there were thousands of affected sites by this.  But What’s tricky right now, and I always want to be really sensitive to…  I know that you said it before, a lot of people had no idea  that what they were doing was in the grey area of Google’s guidelines,  or it’s something that could eventually work against their sites.  I think most people were probably in that situation. But I also think right now, and I don’t mean to be  mean to anybody or insensitive, but it’s very easy to say, Yeah,  Google sucks, and they’re unfair, and my site’s awesome, and how dare they? There are some sites who should feel that way. That’s fine. But mostly, this is what happens in SEO. You have to adapt.  Sometimes we have to learn the hard way  that, Oh, jeez, that doesn’t work anymore, or Google’s onto us or Google changed  directions, Google pivoted, Google got too much feedback from its  users that doesn’t like this type of thing.  So this is what SEO is. It’s dynamic.  You know, it’s never the same thing. Every year is completely different.  What worked last year doesn’t work this year.  This is just a really excruciating moment where a lot of the things  that worked last year don’t work this year anymore.

In terms of the sites you looked at, what were the five main things that people were not necessarily doing right, basically?  

Well, most of these sites,  first of all, they follow these SEO-driven exploits or opportunities very closely.  They find something that works and then they multiply it a thousand times. When is the release date of XYZ show? Okay, that worked once,  got you a lot of traffic, got you a lot of discover traffic.  Then let’s do one per week for every single possible show, and then  maybe you don’t exactly say when the release date is.  That’s a really extreme example, but what’s on Netflix next week?  What are the top 10 places to go in New York City?  All these things, they’re just pattern-driven.  And then they find a really SEO-optimized  way to write the headline, SEO-optimized way to structure the content.  They have FAQs, all the things that Danny Sullivan mentioned in his tweet a couple of weeks ago.  And those things in and of themselves are not bad.  A lot of times, those are actually great for user experience.  But when Google sees thousands  of thousands of sites using the exact same pattern, using the exact same keyword  research tools, and maybe Google’s users, Google was able to identify because let’s  remember, they have a million times more data than all of us.  They were able to identify that maybe  their users are really sick of this type of experience on Google.  And the news is talking about SEOs have ruined the internet.  That’s mainstream news now.  Google is pivoting to protect the interests of its searchers.  Now, do I think they’re getting it right all the time?  No.  But it’s pretty clear what they’re trying to do.  I feel like the punishing was rewarded yesterday.  That’s helpful for a lot of people.  It’s like the way to get visibility yesterday was to do that.  And you could argue that making templates for content is also a way to essentially ensure standardisation of quality as well in terms of research processes.  If you do it properly, I’m not talking about low quality sites,  but if you’re like a travel blog, but you have a checklist of what to check  in every place to make sure you cover it properly, etc.  Then essentially your content is going to tend to look that way.  And it’s more of a way to improve  the process than a way to try to exploit the user.  And if these patterns are essentially  punishing the publishers in the end, you could argue that they’re promoting  essentially more chaotic content, potentially because seeing the same thing  boils the end user, even though it’s better put together, I guess.  But it’s like McDonald’s becomes McDonald’s because they do the burger the same way every time.  It doesn’t mean that people got bored of it.  Yeah.  But I think everyone loves to hate on Reddit and Quora.  I get it. I’m equally frustrated,  especially by Quora, in terms of as a user, it’s quite frustrating. But let’s think about the fact,  let’s think about these two things happening at the same time.  Number one, we have the HCU, where to your point, a lot of travel bloggers, a lot of this type of thing, they’re losing visibility.  On the other hand, we have Google exponentially increasing  the visibility of Reddit and Cora, and not just them.  There’s a handful of user-generated sites, user-generated content.  If you think about those two things together, Google is elevating the most  authentic human experience, real experience-oriented content.  And yeah, it’s not a great user  experience, and of course, it’s contaminated by spammers at this point.  But that’s ultimately what those sites are for.  Those sites are for, to your point,  let’s offload it to Reddit and Cora to have real human  beings talking about their experience travelling to Nigeria or whatever.  But when you have a thousand travel bloggers who are essentially writing  the exact same cookie cutter, like things to know, things to bring.  These are the five affiliate likes  to click on this and this, and it’s all the exact same.  It seems like Google is moving away from that.  And yeah, of course, we have to think about the fact that SG  is coming, which essentially does exactly what. Just summarise That’s what everybody said about the place.  But I’m seeing now examples of travel  bloggers, and I’m not just using travel as an example.  This is true for a variety of different  niches, where the people who are writing  the content have been doing it for a long time.  And when you read it, it’s over flowing with first-hand experience, especially with travel. I was just reading one. This is a woman travel blogger whose site wasn’t hit by these updates.  It’s like she’s only writing about the places that she’s truly been and spent  a lot of time and has a lot to say about them. And the entire blog is first-hand It’s a different experience.  It says the word I thousands of times. You know what I mean?  Yeah.  I mean, we recommend people to do that actually in our guidelines.  It’s like just… 

But the thing is, there are also people  who share first-hand experience who just got slammed by the updates. It’s like It just feels inconsistent. The way you express this, I was thinking,  are they punishing more category than a single site? You know what I mean?  

I think there’s certain categories  that are flagged more because they’re so accessible.  Believe me, I travel all the time.  I literally had the thought, I was like, Maybe I’ll start a travel blog.  Because it’s not hard to do, especially with this new digital nomad.  People can work remotely.  It’s relatively low barrier to entry  to say, I want to start a travel blog and monetize it, make money while it travel.  That’s one. I would say gaming is one.  I would say VPNs and tech product reviews is one.  There’s certain ones where you can just be  at home and you can review products to start a blog.  So it’s like, those are easier to enter into, I would say, generally speaking.  So there’s probably more people that got affected.  Vpn is pretty hot. But you know what I mean?  There’s some that are just like,  I’m going to start a blog and this is what I’m going to write about.  And it’s like, okay, anybody can write about that stuff.  But I think, yes, to your point, there are, especially small travel  bloggers who maybe their sites are like 400 pages and they got hit because  their sites look a lot like the bigger travel sites that got hit.  And this is machine learning, and Google got a lot of things from.  

It’s correlation, basically, right?  

That’s why I was asking a couple of weeks ago.  I was like, Is tech stack potentially bad for websites?  It’s like, you go to the spam communities,  they all recommend the same theme, they all recommend the same hosting.  How hard would it be for Google to just  pick up on that stuff and be like, You know what? It doesn’t mean your site is going to penalise if you’re using one of these  things, but you’re much more likely to be hit for sharing the same tech stack. Is it a good idea to differentiate your tech stack at this point?  Well, again, Google would say it’s not for Google, right?  So it’s like the tech stack and the things that they’re using are not inherently bad.  Like whatever WordPress template you chose, whatever ad network you chose.  It’s correlation, yes.  I think the bigger problem there is stop getting your marketing advice  from the exact same place and doing the same thing that everybody else is doing.  That’s probably the better advice.  I don’t think you should go in there and try to trick Google with a new tech stack.  But maybe think about what’s the best tech stack for my users?  

I agree. 

It’s just like if you find a good site that’s been unfairly hit, the idea of moving away from a common tech stack from low-quality sites, I don’t think it’s a horrible idea if you’ve tried everything else, basically.  It’s not the first thing I would  recommend, but if I don’t find anything inherently flawed with the website,  it’s probably something I would tell people, You know what?  Let’s gamble on that.  Let’s see what happens when we change the theme, we move to a more premium  hosting that is used by larger companies and things like that.  Like, let’s move it to AWS and so on. Whatever.  Like, just de-associate yourself with all of that. 

One thing that makes it quite  complicated for me to trust Google’s world is Danny Sullivan saying that you can recover from HCU in just a couple of weeks.  And it’s been reported by multiple people, several people backtracked, etc.  But in the end, it didn’t say two weeks, We said a couple of weeks. What do you think is going wrong here? 

On one side, I think Danny is a good guy, but it makes it complicated to say,  Listen to this guy if you want to actually do better, because  it doesn’t reflect reality of what we see in the field, basically.  Yeah, I think it’s a really  tricky time in SEO because to your point and to everybody’s point  right now, it’s very hard for us to believe anything they’re saying if we  don’t have examples of it working the way that they say it’s going to work.  So one thing I think that’s important  to remember that nobody wants to talk about is that maybe, just maybe,  not a single one of the affected sites has changed enough,  has has fixed itself enough to have the classifier removed or to be  in a point where Google says this is a helpful website. I’m sorry.  I’m just explaining if what Google is saying is true, and yeah,  maybe they’re lying to us and gaslighting us, all these things everyone’s saying.  But if what they’re saying is true,  maybe just maybe the sites are not better as good as they need to be.  And yes, you can point to all kinds  of different examples of websites that weren’t hit, but these websites were hit.  And this is an unprecedented moment.  Like you said, with Panda, with Penguin.  It takes a really long time to build trust after that.  I’m not saying it’s right. I’m not saying it’s fair.  I’m saying in the history of SEO, we’ve had this happen before.  I’ve said it in numerous talks that I’ve  given over the years, this stuff takes such a really long time.  For whatever reason,  the industry decided that six months is Google’s cut off for the HCU.  We all just unanimously decided that that’s when it shows.  

Danny said a couple of weeks, though. He did say that.  

But then again, maybe…  I mean, there was Someone that was responding to me yesterday.  He’s like, Oh, I moved all my content to a new domain and it’s working fine.  I’m like, Let’s see.  Let’s see if it’s success.  Yeah, maybe there’s loopholes or whatever, but yeah.  Yeah, okay. I feel like he has a tough job right now.  The role of defiance towards Google. I like the guy, but I’m not always a fan  of the communication of Google, personally at this point. It’s not an easy job. 

I agree. Do you think business model is a ranking factor at this point? You tweeted about the idea of potentially adding a shopping cart to websites. Obviously,  this should be a lot more fleshed out, and I’m sure there’s a lot around that, etc.  But do you feel it  matters if you’re an agency, a SaaS versus a content site at this point?

I don’t know about ranking factor.  I would say that I’m seeing,  especially with this update, even just things that I was digging  into this morning, there seems to be a pattern emerging.  Pure content websites, small niche publishers  seem to be having a harder time maintaining visibility  compared to sites that have some type of product plus a blog.  Now, when I say stuff like this, I’m really not…  When people respond by saying, Oh, I’m going to add an e-commerce  section to my website, then I’m going to recover from the HCU.  It’s like, that’s why Google got  frustrated when I posted this, because it’s like, no,  everyone needs to stop thinking about these things as a bandaid.  They need to think about why did the website that has the product.  And generally speaking, these are products that exist before the blog.  The product is first, the blog is second.  The blog is a way to capture more  disability, more people searching, more upper funnel searches,  that type of thing to drive people back to your I  think that the nature of a website that has some type of core offering,  whether it’s e-commerce, whether it’s SaaS, whether it’s an app,  whether it’s community, whatever, that they do some type of SEO,  driving awareness, producing content on top of that as  a layer on top of that, yes, I think those sites are holding up better  now than sites that are just the informational component, for sure.  My feeling around that is it’s the search behaviour around the brand that changes  when you sell something and people actually consider buying it.  They search for reviews, they search for return policies,  they go check the name plus trust pilot or whatever.  I think that’s probably what drives the visibility of the sites,  which means that if you just put a bogus ecom on the site, but there’s no demand  for the product and no behaviour from users that follows that, potentially,  that’s not going to solve the problem, basically.  It’s more than just adding e-commerce.  When I posted about this, and it,  of course, got lost in translation like everything on Twitter.  Again, it’s not a bandaid, but there are examples,  and I have literally clients that come to mind of this.  They’re publisher websites.  That’s what they’ve always been.  They make money from ads and affiliate links.  That’s what they’ve always been for years.  However, people like the publisher so much,  and you could think of this as a recipe site as well.  People like the publisher site so much, or they like the brand,  or the person associated with that brand, or maybe a couple of the writers that work  for that brand because they have a TikTok following, they have an Instagram  following, they have people that really like with their content.  Now, they’ve become a household name,  and they can sell merch, or they can sell recipe books, cookbooks.  These are all signals, and it’s not an SEO hack.  This is building a brand. This is building a product.  The Pioneer Woman.  She’s been on all the cooking shows. She’s a branch.  She’s a household brand.  I haven’t checked that site, but I have a feeling they have e-commerce.  So these are signals that show that you’re more than just a content site.  And yeah, last year,  you could just be a content site and make lots of money just from that.  It seems like the rules of the game have  changed the way that they always do with SEO.  I’m not saying go add some stupid e-commerce section to your site.  But if you’re a brand, to your point, there should be other signals that people  like your brand and people search for your brand, and maybe people want to buy  the mug with your brand name on it or whatever it is.  But also, the way I see it now is we don’t just do SEO, we do ads, etc.  I see ads are pretty cheap.  I see It’s quite easy to make profitable on Facebook, for example, right now.  For a lot of people, it’s not very hard to launch a product and at least be break  even running ads on Facebook, selling a decent product and generating  real demand from real people who want to buy the product.  And that generates…  The buy product of that is that generates  branded search traffic and people looking for the product, etc.  Because they get exposed to the ad, they’re considering buying.  And eventually that should generate  signals that, I’m not saying you’re going to recover tomorrow.  That’s not what I’m Just saying  you’re going in the right direction in the eyes of Google if you’re doing that.  

I tend to tell people that the way they solve the SEO problem is to stop thinking about SEO a little bit and do something else. Because you  can get out of this with putting more keywords in your content, basically.  That’s the goal. 

I talk about this a lot, too, because  I think a better way, and we work with our clients on these type  of approaches, but a better way to think about it, and this is hard to do when  you’re a publisher website who needs to pay the bills and needs to pay your  staff and you need to make a certain amount of revenue per month.  But I think, and I’ve been saying this for a long time, a better way to think  about SEO and producing content is to write about what you know and what  you’re excited about, what you want to say.  Before you do any keyword research, before you do any editorial planning,  it should be like, what are the pain points that my customers have?  What do I know about? What do I want to write about?  Me, for example, I write a lot about SEO, as you can tell.  It actually frustrates my company because I’m so random.  I need to write about this thing because  this thing happened last night, and I have all these things to say about it.  And that wasn’t planned. That wasn’t on the editorial calendar.  That was because I have something to say, because something happened.  So if you can write from a place of like,  I went to Greece and I had the best time and I can’t wait  to share the 10 things that I experienced when I was in Greece.  It’s not like, Oh, we need to write 15 things about Greece this month.  You write about the thing that happened, the thing you know.  It’s just a different way of thinking about it.  I mean, that’s how I planned this podcast. I was like, You know what?  I planned this literally two days ago,  p-D-M-ing you because I thought it was the right time, basically.  The thing is for many companies, it’s hard to work that way.  They need planning, they need all of that.  I’m sure you work with big clients,  and I’m sure a clients are not really receptive to that idea.  Yeah. But you have to think about…  Let’s say it’s a lawyer, for example.  This is true.  When we work with personal injury attorneys or whatever type of lawyer it  is, you might say, Okay, yeah, of course, we have a certain editorial calendar.  We have certain evergreen content that we  want to be producing that we need to build on the blog, certain informational  resources that make sense for this law firm to have on their blog.  But we also have this incredible attorney that works there.  I’m just using a random example, by the way.  But this attorney, maybe something changed in the state of Georgia that the attorney  wants to talk about, or maybe they won a case yesterday that’s  really relevant for their audience to know about.  That’s when you take the excited content creator person and you get them on video,  you get them on audio, you make it into a blog, you  get to Google discover, you get into all these places that Google  is seeing like, Oh, they’re actually like, they say something new,  they say something original, they’re breaking news, they have an opinion.  I think it’s important to remember that it’s  not just about checking boxes and doing keyword research and making sure you’re  writing the same thing literally everybody else has written.  That’s how keyword research tools work.  It’s about saying  something new and original that people on your staff actually have opinions about.  

It also means people need to be a bit more involved in the industry, usually,  because quite often people who do that are managers.  They don’t really care about the topic, etc.  It’s complicated to do that. One thing I wanted to talk to you about is EEAT.  I mean, you’ve been one of the first  to really push that for a lot of people together with Mary Heynes. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a big believer at the beginning.  It’s like I was like…  And my main problem with it was like, how does Google actually measure that?  Like, what is the practicality of measuring EEAT for a search engine  that has to run in a cost-efficient way as well? It can’t just be private investigating your life all around the Internet, etc. It’s funny because when EEAT started becoming important,  people just started putting all these verified like, badges, etc. And all these editor guidelines, all of that.  You see plenty of sites that have been  dumped by the updates that still have these things at this point.  So it doesn’t seem to have worked.  But how do you explain that to someone, to a skeptic? How does Google measure that EEAT in practise? 

It’s almost as if it’s a constantly evolving  notion that spammers, like all things in SEO,  are trying to trick Google into showing that they have it when they don’t.  So Google has to continue to innovate on what that even means to have EEAT.  Maybe now we’re actually seeing the purest form of EEAT being manifested  in the search results, which is, you know what?  None of you guys get to compete because  only the ones that have authority for decades are the ones that get to rank.  Maybe that is EEAT. You know what I mean?  

How about Reddit then? If you’re an anonymous user.

They have EEAT.  They have completely EEAT. I mean, yeah, there’s people on their- 

But  do the users that make their content have it? 

This is a new challenge that Reddit’s being…  But if you ask, I mean, ask ChatGPT, of course, ask anything, ask Wikipedia.  Reddit has been known for, what, 20 years?  Like 15, 20 years as the place to go  for real human interaction and the place that has rigorous moderation.  I understand that might be falling apart lately, but that’s what it’s known for.  In a sense, it is the authoritative place for user-generated content.  

Okay, but then that means it’s really much  more about the domain that is about the content itself, right?  Which means like- 

The domain, its reputation, the brand’s reputation.  

So how do you explain, for example,  the explain story, the House Fresh case, right?  House Fresh is a pretty good review site.  I’ve actually spent time reading their reviews about air purifiers and stuff.  I’ve gone through the archive to make sure  it’s not looking good, but not actually not that great.  It’s great.  They are gone right now, outranked by Architectural Digest that doesn’t test any of the products.  They rank number one for best air purifier.  They just have stock photos. How does that work in an EEAT world?  Or is that really just EEAT equals domain authority? 

It could be that it’s gone in that direction lately.  Listen, I don’t love,  I think most of us in the SEO space, most of us in general,  don’t love what’s going on with these high authority sites being able to rank for all  kinds of review It’s important to remember that before  the HCU, there was another new ranking system that Google introduced  and that people don’t really like to talk about for some reason.  It’s the reviews update.  It was product reviews, and then it got changed to reviews,  which people are not talking about enough because this was in 2022  when Google decided it wasn’t just product reviews, it’s any type of review,  which actually really means travel, going to places, reviewing places.  This is what I’m seeing the most clear  change with this update is people that were affected  by the reviews update are now starting to see some comebacks with this update.  But yeah, I think whatever signals Google has been using  for authoritativeness, which maybe it’s domain authority,  that’s not actually a Google metric, that’s a MaaS metric.  But whatever people are using, whatever Whatever Google’s using to say,  These are the sites that we trust their content.  Users like these brands.  Users like to come back to these sites.  Maybe Google has all these signals that we  don’t know about that shows that their users love Forbes and US news.  Maybe. And Architectural Digest.  And guess what?  The question is, do they like Santa Cruz, Sentino?  Do they like Santa Cruz, Sentino full of diet pill articles, et cetera?  Yeah.  I think, first of all, we’re in the middle of this update.  I don’t know what Google is going to do on May 5th.  That’s a very weird moment for them. 

That was my next question, actually.  

Yeah, I think it’s very strange that they got the two-month warning.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen Google give a warning before.  I don’t necessarily believe that they’re going to come, like ripping all these big,  highest- 

Are they going to index them like they did for all these sites?  

No.  A lot of these sites make the relationships very hard to know about.  Some sites are very clear, this is third-party content that was  contributed by a third party, and we don’t work with them, whatever.  Other sites just integrate third parties into their content. 

How is Google supposed to know? What do you think is going to happen on May fifth? Are they just going to give up all these  keywords and remove their content, or they’re just going to integrate it as  first-party content and be compliant with the rules?  

It would be suicide for a lot of these sites to say, You know what?  We’re not going to do that anymore.  This is how most of these big sites are making money now.  That’s why, to your point, all these sites are entering into the market.  I presented about this two or three years ago.  It wasn’t just review sites,  as we all know, that we’re getting into product reviews.  At one point, it was the dictionary sites were getting into product reviews as well.  So everyone needs to monetize.  Everyone has less and less organic  traffic, and they need to find ways to make money.  And this is something that seems to be working for them.  I think that this is…  I agree with the general SEO community right now that it’s gone way too far,  and I think Google needs to do something about it, but I don’t envy them in terms  of trying to figure out how to dismantle all of that.  Yeah, because then they open up the door  to spam if you can rank low authority sites, basically.  That’s the challenge now.  And spam is easier than ever with AI these days.  But one thing I will say,  and people are going to rip my head off for this,  I do I do spend a lot of time looking at the big sites that are doing these  product reviews that tend to rank positions 1-5 for literally everything.  It’s not the worst content in the world.  I understand  maybe they’re not doing the most rigorous product reviews, but Most of them will do  some version of like, Hey, we’ve reached out to 15 different experts on this.  We have original quotes from the experts.  We’ve talked to this doctor, we’ve talked to this dentist, we’ve talked to whatever.  They make it really easy for the user to use.  They do have a lot of signals within the content that like, You know what?  I feel like I’m reading a valuable piece of content.  Now, this is not to say that the smaller sites aren’t doing the same thing,  but everyone loves to hate on the big sites, but they don’t love to look at why  they’re ranking so well in the first place and why maybe the majority of Google  searches I just actually really like that content.  

Actually, one of my theories is that mobile  experience is way better on bigger sites than it is on smaller sites. Small sites tend to be built on desktop  and have low consideration for mobile experience and accessibility.  I think for example, so like, font sizes are still in pixels, not in REM, etc. Let’s just talk, if we go technical, and we’re like, Google wants everyone to be able to use this content, even people who have impairments and things like that, and special browser settings so that they  can actually read and call the blindness and all these things.  And it’s like, I’m wondering if that’s one of the things.  

That’s one of the things I work on,  what the projects we work on, for example, right now.  I’m like, okay, I want to be the same level of like  world-class experience that these guys have in terms of web dev  because a lot of small sites tend to look okay on desktop but look pretty bad  on mobile, especially when you look at the ad layouts, when they use Mediavine, etc.  I mean, Raptive now.  The density might be okay on desktop,  but on mobile, it’s just becomes insanity quite often.  But the problem,  I think where the community is enraged is that okay content on big size for reviews  is what gets the small size destroyed, basically.  It’s really It’s like they get that, they don’t get penalised as  much, and they get two months to deal with their…  I get it.  The parallel SEO, etc.  It’s a bad look for Google.  The thing I was thinking about, so I’m looking at,  House Fresh I mentioned, but travel living, for example,  pretty good travel site that got heavily impacted.  Retrododo is like, I don’t love RetroDodo’s content, personally.  I feel it’s a little bit wordy sometimes, but it’s authentic.  It’s like, by creating these case studies,  is Google not drying up the pool of creators that are actually trying?  And are they not going to create an environment where it’s just going to be  large size half-trying and make a mediocre site changing in the end?  

I don’t know the answers to that.  It seems like the direction that it’s going in right now,  but what everybody needs to remember is that if for whatever reason…  Right now, you hear a lot of the SEOs  complaining about these results, complaining about the situation.  What we’re not hearing, because we’re not doing surveys of the general population,  is how much people like this and how much they prefer to see this.  I don’t know the answers to that,  but I do know Google had its highest stock price ever yesterday.  I do know that…  I mean, it’s true that Google has actually  lost a tiny bit of market share, which is unprecedented in the last few years.  In the last, I think, year, they lost 2% and Bing gained 2%, which is interesting.  That’s actually a really big deal in the SEO space.  

They had to give away GPT-4 for that.  

It’s a big.  Yeah.  Does this environment, does it make it much harder for the smaller players?  Yeah, the way things are going, yeah.  But what we don’t know is, let’s say at Google I/O, they announced,  We’re going to build a whole new tab within the organic search results that’s  just small bloggers or just recipe bloggers, or we’re going to do this.  We don’t know how they’re going to innovate.  We don’t know what programmes they have in store.  We also don’t know, for example, and this is something that we don’t have  access to this information, is what’s happening on Google Discover.  I have access to Google Discover for a lot of sites, and I will tell you, a lot of the sites that are crashing and burning with SEO are getting millions  of clicks, sometimes daily from Google Discover.  So there might be other things happening.  Maybe they’ll throw a bone to these smaller publishers over time.  I don’t know.  But the way things currently stand in SEO, I think what you’re describing is true.  Yes.  Yeah, it’s definitely not the easiest time for a lot of people.  I get the Panda-Penguin vibes right now.  

We were talking about Danny Sullivan earlier.  Let’s imagine tomorrow you’re promoted as  Google Search Leads, and he quits, he’s tired of it, and you are promoted.  What do you tell people about creating  helpful content that Google isn’t telling right now to people?  

That assumes that Danny is… I don’t know.  I can’t imagine that it’s an easy job,  and I can’t imagine that he’s able to just speak freely about whatever he wants.  It’s Google. They’re being investigated by the DOJ,  so I think their communications are probably very carefully controlled.  It’s not like me being there would make it a different situation where suddenly we  could start telling the truth or something.  It’s like he’s saying what he’s able to say. 

He was pretty open before when he was a search engine then, actually.  He was pretty critical. 

Yeah, I think a lot of people don’t  remember that Danny was an SEO once or as a journalist once.  No, I mean, this is why I like being an impartial person, because I feel like I  can speak more freely, and I try to just share what I’m seeing,  what I think, what I believe, including what it seems  like Google’s up to, which I don’t think that people at Google would be  able to say a lot of the things that I say or anywhere close to it.  But okay, to answer your question, yeah.  I  think that what happened with the helpful content update was pretty brutal  and pretty clear and doesn’t look great in light of what’s happening with SGE  and SGE showing a lot of answers that seem like aggregated versions  of what was taken away with a lot of the HCU sites.  But I think this is, like I said before,  it’s really important to adapt and to diversify your traffic sources.  We work with a lot of big publisher websites, and generally publishers in  organic search, visibility, and traffic are declining.  That’s been something that’s been  happening across the board for a lot of big publishers.  This is why they’re all getting into the product review space.  But there’s other ways to get traffic.  This is why our agency and me,  we’ve diverted so much of our energy and resources into Google Discover.  We have a lot of clients that are getting  60, 70, 80% of the traffic from Discover from Google compared to Search.  It’s like you have to keep innovating  sitting there and digging your heels in and saying, But I’m so great.  I deserve all this. You have to do something different.  Also, YouTube is number one right now  on my biggest winners of the March core update.  I didn’t expect we’re going to be on YouTube.  I didn’t expect when I talked on YouTube,  it was going to have as many visitors as it did.  There’s other ways to get traffic that aren’t all organic search.  I do think it’s important to try to find those opportunities as well.  That’s why I was trying…  I was tweeting that people are looking for new traffic sources, but quite often,  they first need to adapt their business model.  Because if you’re just some guy who’s making money from Mediavine or something  like that, the problem is you need lots of visits to your website for that.  And it’s like, if you do YouTube, you can’t do that. Whereas if you do sell something, you do solve both your business,  the business problem, you become a real business in the eyes of Google.  And then these platforms become now viable for you because  you can build that relationship on the platform and you just need to go  for the kill, for the conversion at the end.  You don’t need that much traffic, actually.  And I think that’s how a lot of small  publishers probably need to pivot, actually.  

I have a funny one for you. When Google says, Distribute business cards to promote your site in search, what do you think they mean? 

I think they don’t literally mean distribute business cards, funny enough.  I think it ties into everything that we’ve  talked about so far, which is, what do business cards do?  They increase impressions, branded impressions. Let’s think about it that way.  How can you get more people to search for you?  Not non-branded top 10 things to do in Greece, but Lily Ray’s Travel blog,  Greece Travel I don’t write travel blogs, but you know what I mean?  It’s like, how can you get more people to like, You know what?  I really like with that person’s content,  so I’m going to look for that blog because I do think that’s a signal to Google.  So the business card comment is more about  increasing brand awareness and brand visibility, I think.  

Okay. All right. One last question. SGE is starting to roll out to normal users, even if you haven’t opted in. What do you think the impact is going to be on the industry and search in general?  How we use search as well?  

Yeah.  It’s hard to say because we’re still in this beta.  I mean, a lot of us, myself included, are in this beta version of SGE that seems  like it still to this day goes off the rails.  Whenever I spend, last night I was on my couch, you  might have seen, I tweeted some stuff because I was like…  Sometimes I like to just troll SGE because it doesn’t have feelings.  It’s not a human, so it’s okay.  But I’m like, there’s these certain  trigger words where I’m talking about race, talking about ethnicity,  talking about dictators, talking about these things.  And it’s true that it shows fewer results that it did in the beginning.  In the beginning, it was really easy for SGE to just  completely go off the rails and say terrible stuff.  Now, it’s funny because what it does is it sits there and thinks for a second,  and then it goes, an AI answer is not available for this search.  Then you can change the query, and then an AI answer is available for the search.  It’s like, I’m not even an expert  in hacking into AI, but I can only imagine if and when they roll this thing out,  there’s going to be a lot of people who are legitimately trying to troll SG  and getting a lot of horrible things out of it.  Now, they’re going to be liable for what  it says because now they’re a publisher, basically.  That’s the thing.  Google has even said, No, you’re in the beta version, and this  is going to be a different version that the public is seeing.  I would love to see whatever version they’re seeing.  And they also said, by the way,  the only place you can read about this is a very short article where he apparently  spoke to Google and they said, We’re doing a small limited  experiment with the public, but we’re only going to show SGE  in situations where we’re very confident about the answers.  You Yeah, I think they have to do a very  small test to see how people actually like it.  But I just feel like with AI, it always goes wrong eventually.  

How do you think it’s going to impact the way people use search?  Do you think that’s going to significantly reduce the traffic again to websites?  Or is it more like a super featured snippet? 

If SGE rolls out with the worst case scenario that SEOs like to think, Oh,  this is going to steal a lot of traffic, then yeah, of course,  it’s going to cut into traffic, same way that every other Serp feature  and featured snippets and everything is cut into traffic for years.  What we don’t know is  what the backlash will be and how much Google searchers in general will like it.  I know SEOs are biassed, but most of us that really have been  obsessed with SGE for a while, you go to SEO conferences.  I was just at one, and we’re all talking  about SGE, and everyone’s like, It’s not that great.  It hasn’t really given me an exceptional answer.  Maybe people don’t need exceptional answers.  They just need basic answers.  But I think I anticipate,  and we already saw this with some to Barry’s article where  the college students were like, How do I turn this thing off?  They’re like, I’m going to get in trouble.  I don’t want this.  So maybe if 20% of Google searchers hate  it, that’s enough for them to be like, We need to dial this back.  It’s not working. Who knows?  We don’t know. Yeah, let’s see. 

What does search look like in five years?  

Again, these are a lot of unanswered questions.  I’ve been talking about this for years.  People like following people.  Influencer marketing is becoming a bigger and bigger thing in its various forms.  So YouTube, TikTok, Instagram influencers, all this stuff.  So I think the connection between what  shows up on Google and personal branding will continue to go in a direction where  it’s like people like getting content from certain people and brands that they trust.  But yeah, I think obviously, informational content,  a lot. Instead of the calculators and stuff like this that have maybe had their glory  moment in SEO over the last 10 years, it’s probably not going to last much longer.  Flights and hotels and travel, these are all big question marks.  Google is trying to get into it, but I don’t know.  It’s a question of whether people’s nature is to want websites  or whether people are satisfied with Google answers for a lot of this stuff.  Yeah, my dream is actually that Google  puts a follow in the browser and a like button.  So you can actually socialise search. That’d be amazing.  They’re getting there. They have a follow on Discover, right?  It’s crossing into search, too.  I mean, now it’s like you could follow  brands, you could follow entities, you can follow topics, and the notes,  and you have all these social features that’s becoming a lot more like a social. 

Does it alter your search results, though, or is it just augmenting them?  

Well, first of all,  it carries into Google Discover, so you can see things that you’re following.  But yes, you can follow certain topics in search, and theoretically,  it’ll say at the top of your personalised browser, your search experience, Hey,  you’ve been following this topic, so here’s the latest news.  Okay, cool.  Well, I guess we don’t have that in Europe.  That’s like, I usually need to go through  a VPN and do a bunch of stuff to actually have access to a.  It’s always fun.  

Anyway, Lily, I know you have to go. So thanks for joining.  Hope you had some fun.  

It was fun, as always. Feisty, I don’t know if it’s controversial  topics, but I mean, hopefully it was helpful.  

I mean, the point is to be able to talk. Google doesn’t talk enough about these things. It’s like someone needs to, right?