Lis Anderson is founder and director at PR consultancy AMBITIOUS. An experienced agency MD with 25 years in the communications industry.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a significant overhaul at Google, as the search engine behemoth implements several major changes around search rankings and changes to the way Google defines, ranks and indexes key content markers.
Google has completely overhauled many of its key definers, which now has a lot more real-world impact on PR and marketing. Before I delve into the nitty-gritty, here’s a quick overview of how search works.
Images, text, videos, webpages—everything is crawled by Google to be analyzed and indexed. On average, these “crawls” happen between every four and 30 days. The information gleaned from these crawls forms the basis of Google’s ranking system.
So, what’s changed in search?
The bulk of these changes is centered around what Google quantifies as YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) and EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) content.
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YMYL is a rule set used to index content that could, if misrepresented, directly impact a reader’s happiness, health, safety or financial stability. It is a programmatic safeguard against misinformation creeping up the SERP ranks.
Previously, YMYL content was broken down into seven categories: news and current events; civics, government and law; finance; shopping; health and safety; groups of people; and others.
Google has now completely removed these definitions, reverting to a model that indexes YMYL content by “its potential to cause harm” within a series of new definitions:
• Health or safety: Content that could be harmful to a person’s health (mental, emotional or physical) or safety. This includes online safety.
• Financial security: Content that could negatively impact a person’s ability to financially support themselves and their families.
• Society: Content that could damage trust in public institutions, public interest and/or groups of people, etc.
• Other: Any topic that could hurt someone and/or the welfare or well-being of society.
EAT has also been revamped. It’s a concept that has been baked into Google’s guidelines as a method to determine whether content should rank well. This has long been important for search. Fundamentally, it is based on the principles of the expertise of the creator, and the authority and trustworthiness of content, the creator and the hosted page. But Google’s recent changes to EAT and how it will rank low-quality pages and content are particularly intriguing.
Moving forward, Google is now placing even greater impetus on these three little letters, particularly if it is relevant to YMYL content.
In previous versions of Google’s search guidelines, there was a statement expressing how Google could claim a page as “low quality” because the creator lacked sufficient expertise for the purpose of the page. In this latest update, that statement has been removed and replaced with a three-paragraph expansion of how EAT will define low quality moving forward. In the first of these paragraphs, Google states:
“The required level of E-A-T, the quality of the MC, the amount of helpful MC, and the amount of information about the website and creator(s) of the MC depend on the topic and purpose of the page. For many topics, personal experience, everyday expertise, and some time or effort to assemble the MC may be all that the page needs to be satisfying.”
It further states that low-quality pages can occur on any type of website, including academic websites, nonprofit websites and government websites, and that low-quality pages can be about any topic. It also states, “Shocking or exaggerated titles, or a mildly negative reputation for the website or the content creator is reason to assign a Low rating for any page.”
These changes can potentially cause ripples in content marketing, SEO and PR. SEO practitioners, content marketers and PR professionals now need to be hyper-aware when it comes to content creation and placement. The challenge moving forward is how to work with content marketers and web dev teams to maintain visibility in line with these updates, and the practice of earned and paid media placement begins to throw up some potential gray areas.
A Practical Example
An agency works with a financial service provider, and part of its remit is broken down into three strands:
• A consumer-facing role, to place positive coverage within the mainstream media landscape, pushing the benefits of the service to a wide prospective audience.
• A primary B2B aspect, where the agency places thought leadership within key trade media.
• A secondary B2B strand seeks to build the client’s profile in a range of adjacent media verticals.
The first trade B2B function causes no concern because the content here is deemed as both appropriate and relatively authoritative. But in the B2C and secondary B2B functions, we see some potential issues.
A financial service client strictly falls under the YMYL category. There is a risk that content could be seen as a potential risk to the financial security of the reader. As such, it becomes a prime candidate for a potential low ranking.
In the secondary B2B function, there is also the challenge of how content is used to position said client in new markets when it’s possible that it could be deemed the level of EAT is not sufficient.
What this means for PR is an even more careful and considered approach toward content and placement.
Those who have relied upon sensationalism to gain traction are now set to be punished by these changes. But there’s the chance that agencies and professionals could fall between the cracks.
When creating and placing content, we now must be increasingly aware of who the author is. How does their experience fit the angle and outlet? Is the sentiment appropriate? Is there anything potentially misleading?
Could your headline be classified as shocking or exaggerated?
All these questions now need to be factored into the PR machine.
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Author: Lis Anderson, Forbes Councils Member