February SEO Google Update News
Written by Aaron Rain February 28th 2023
I understand how frustrating it can be to experience sudden drops in your website's traffic from Google.
Unfortunately, this is a common issue that many site owners have been facing since the beginning of 2023.
With Google's constantly evolving algorithms, it's vital to keep up with the latest SEO trends and updates to ensure that your site stays visible in search results.
In this article, I will cover the latest Google updates in February. I will go over the recent changes to the helpful content system, new guidance on using AI-generated content, and the upcoming release of Google Bard, an AI chat-based dialogue that could have a significant impact on search traffic.
I will discuss how the recent changes have already affected my clientele, insights that I have seen on how to adapt to these changes, and how to improve your website's search rankings moving forward in 2023.
A Huge Number of Sites are losing Search Traffic
Many sites are reporting major losses in search traffic from google since the start of 2023. While After investigating these recent changes, I can tell you that there are a lot of sites experiencing drops. So, if your traffic has dropped off, this section will discuss what you can do to get it back.
To me, it looks like Google's helpful content system is adapting to the recent changes online - think ChatGPT and changes in featured snippets.
If you have noticed traffic drops, these are the top things I can recommend:
- Look for keywords that you used to rank well for: Conduct keyword research to identify the keywords that you used to rank well for in search engines. If you have seen a drop in traffic, it could be due to changes in the way that users are searching for your content. Use keyword research tools to identify new keyword opportunities that may help you rank higher and attract more traffic.
- Look at sites that Google elevated: Look at your competitors and other sites that Google has elevated in the search rankings. This will give you an idea of what type of content is currently performing well and what strategies you could use to improve your own content.
- Compare against Google's guidance on creating helpful content: Review Google's guidelines on creating helpful content, and compare your content against those guidelines. Look for areas where you can improve your content to better meet the needs of your target audience.
- Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has come to your page looking for information: Think about the user experience of your website. Is your content easy to navigate and find? Is it easy to read and understand? Are you providing the information that your target audience is looking for? Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their needs.
- Lean into the changes happening in the industry: The digital landscape is constantly changing, and it's important to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and strategies. Instead of fighting against changes like Bard and ChatGPT, look for ways to embrace them and adapt your strategies accordingly. This could involve exploring new content formats or channels, or experimenting with new marketing tactics.
Overall, it's important to approach traffic drops with a proactive mindset. Use data and insights to identify opportunities for improvement, and be willing to adapt your strategies as needed to stay ahead of the curve.
Why Sites Are Losing Featured Snippets
I have been noticing this for the past few weeks. I believe this issue is related to what I mentioned about the helpful content update.
It appears Google is altering its index to ensure that only the most helpful content is shown in featured snippets.
One thing I have seen with my clients is that when we make improvements to the pages that lost their Featured Snippets, they regain them. So, if your site has lost the snippets, make sure you freshen up the content to ensure it is the most relevant and helpful for that search query.
Google Gives Advice for Using AI to Generate Content
Google recently shared some guidance on using AI for content creation. According to them, you can use whatever you want to create content, including AI, as long as the end product is of good quality and demonstrates expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T).
Just keep in mind that Google doesn't recommend listing AI as the author of your content.
BARD is coming soon
If you keep up with SEO news, you have likely heard about Google’s plans to implement their competitor to ChatGPT.
Bard is a new AI chat-based dialogue feature that Google is adding to its search results, potentially in March 2023.
Bard will introduce a new way for people to search by interacting in a way that is similar to ChatGPT. While we don't know much about it yet, early screenshots show Bard answering questions with detailed answers, and it may list sources below the answer.
The downside for website owners is that if users find value in Bard, this means that many websites providing users with an answer to a question will likely see losses in search traffic.
That said, we don't know just yet whether Bard will show for all queries or just some. Google has revealed very little about what the future will hold when Bard is released, but I will keep you updated as Google releases more information on Bard.
Here is a summary of what I know about Bard:
- Google’s February announcement said that it would be “more widely available to the public in the coming weeks.
- Bard is not the same as Bing's introduction of ChatGPT in search. It uses a different language model and has access to different information. But, it's still important for us to pay attention to how Bing introduces AI chat.
- Bing has already opened up their AI chat to public testing, resulting in some interesting conversations being posted on social media. Some are helpful, while others sound deranged.
- Google is currently testing Bard with its employees for two hours a day. This could make Bard very accurate and safe when it's released. Google will eventually be offering a set of developer tools to help us integrate the power of Bard, though we know little about this yet.
- I believe the SEO opportunities that Bard will provide could be drastic. I will update you with more in the March edition of our SEO updates.
In February, Google Gave Us More Guidance On How To Link
I was initially intrigued when I saw this announcement, thinking that it might be related to link building. However, upon further inspection, it turns out that Google has actually provided us with fresh guidance on important aspects of link building that we should all be paying attention to.
Here are some key takeaways:
- Best practices for anchor text: Google suggests using descriptive, relevant anchor text that accurately describes the content that the link points to. Avoid using generic phrases like "click here" or "read more," as these don't provide any context for users or search engines.
- Encourages linking out to other sites: Google encourages website owners to link out to other high-quality sites when it makes sense to do so. Outbound links can help provide context and additional information to users, and can also signal to search engines that your site is a valuable resource.
- Advice on when to use nofollow, rel=sponsored, etc.: Google provides guidance on when to use rel=nofollow, rel=sponsored, and other link attributes. For example, they suggest using rel=nofollow on user-generated content, paid links, and untrusted content, and using rel=sponsored on paid advertisements. These attributes can help signal to search engines that certain types of links should not be taken into account for ranking purposes.
In the image below you will see Googles February updates for link building:
Massive Turbulence in Algorithm for January and February
This past week, a lot of people have reached out with questions about their declining Google traffic.
In more than 15 years of SEO, I have never had this many people ask for help as I have in the last month. I have been investigating this issue for more clients, and I have many thoughts about what is happening.
It seems that many websites have seen a pattern of traffic loss that began in November, dropped with the Helpful Content Update on December 5th or December 14th, and has continued to decrease since then.
I am seeing this pattern across many different websites.
Below are some screenshots from Ahrefs that tend to show the same trajectory that I have seen in my client's Google Analytics.
What could be causing this? I am still not able to say anything with full confidence, although I have theories as to what it could be.
Whenever I assess pages that are improving or maintaining their ranking and compare them to the pages that have struggled with recent losses, I see the issues.
Most sites that have lost rankings make the searcher work too hard to find the answer they are looking for.
Again, this relates to the helpful content system that Google adjusted in December. The helpful content system is aimed at “better rewarding content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience.”
It's important to realize that when Google asks if your content is primarily written to attract visits from search engines, they're not just referring to low-quality, autogenerated content.
In fact, much of the content we create is geared toward search engines rather than our actual audience.
It's time to shift our focus and put the reader first. The content that will ultimately succeed is the one that provides the answer to the searcher's query quickly and efficiently.
So, it's essential to structure your content in a way that answers the user's question upfront and makes sure it's helpful to them.
The graphic below displays what I’m referring to.
If you've been affected by recent updates, it's worth considering revising your content to ensure that the most helpful information appears at the beginning of your posts.
It's also essential to demonstrate your expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) to show Google that your content is of high quality.
If you're struggling with your traffic, I'm here to help. I've got plenty of resources on my website to help you learn more about SEO and improve your content.
Feel free to reach out to me for advice or for a free 15-minute SEO consultation.
Keep in mind that removing a content system classifier may take a few months, so patience is key.
More Algorithm News - Google Announced Significant Update on January 26, 2023
In January, renowned SEO expert, Barry Shwartz discussed the increased chatted in the search community.
- After great improvement over the month of January got a big bang down since January 24 onwards. Changes again?
- I don’t know what’s going on, but my website has been in free fall for a week now. And it’s the usual picture again, old news articles or meaningless keyword spam ranks in my area on the top places. It’s really no fun anymore …
I recently reviewed a site that had been seeing a steady increase over the past few months and then made a major jump beginning on the 26th of January:
This site improved rankings for almost every query. But not all of these queries represent product review intent - i.e ‘best tools for [x], books on [y], etc.
I am still investigating this change. I believe it will be significant as Google has told us many times in the past that when there is a product reviews update, there will be major changes to the rankings.
Website Hit By Google’s Link Spam Update
In another interesting case, this website I have been tracking saw a significant decrease on December 14, 2022 - the day that Google began rolling out their new link spam update.
I have noticed that the site does have a lot of unnatural links in the profile. So, I wanted to share my thoughts on what goes into Google determining whether a site has spammy or unnatural links.
Here's how I approach checking for spammy or unnatural links on a website:
- First, I use Ahrefs to analyze the domain's link profile. I click on "Anchors" to see the anchor text of the links pointing to the site. This can give me an idea of whether the site has a lot of links with keyword-rich anchor text. While having links with keywords as anchor text is not necessarily bad, if the site has an excessive amount of these links, it could be a red flag.
- For example, if a major news publication links to your site using a keyword as an anchor. There is a high chance a lot of scraper sites will copy the content and link to you as well. This causes an influx of links from spammy-looking sites that are anchored with a keyword. I don’t think this is necessarily a problem. Why? Because if Google's algorithm penalized this type of link, any site that is linked to would be affected.
- Next, I click on some of the sites linking with keyword-rich anchor text to investigate them further. I look for evidence of links that were purposely made to manipulate rankings. If I see a lot of spammy links, I would skip past them since Google usually ignores those. I would instead focus on links that come from articles on sites that only exist to link out. These sites might be PBNs (private blog networks), but they can also look like normal websites that publish a lot of articles.
- After looking at the spammy links, I then search for good links. I believe that having a base of good links can help mitigate the effects of link spam.
- To find good links in Ahrefs, I filter the list by DR (Domain Rank) and click on "Dofollow". I would ignore links from sites like Bing or Pinterest and instead look for links from relevant and authoritative sites in the industry.
- Finally, based on my analysis, I draw some conclusions about the link profile of the site. If I see an excessive amount of spammy links and few good links, I conclude that the site has likely been impacted by Google's link spam update in December.
- In that case, I would recommend disavowing the spammy links to remove them from Google's calculations. However, disavowing alone may not improve rankings unless the site can also earn more good, natural links.
By following this process, I get a better understanding of the link profile of the site and identify any potential issues that could be impacting its rankings.
When I did this for my client, I scoured through hundreds of links on Ahrefs and only found 2 links that I considered to be natural, helpful mentions. both of which were obtained years ago.
So, what can we conclude from this?
Here are my thoughts about the issue:
- I think this site has been significantly impacted by the link spam update
- I assumed Google would have just ignored these links but it seems they have not.
- Other sites that I have analyzed with the same amount of spam links haven't been impacted as much. Why? I think it is potentially because of the lack of good-quality links. When these are missing, Google is less likely to forgive spam.
- What can they do? Well, I think it is unlikely they will recover unless they can get good natural links. I think that is possible but it will take work and it is an entirely different process to the common model that says “Create similar content to everyone else and then build links to it to get it to rank.”
- I suggested that they should probably disavow these links. When there is obvious evidence of a site being impacted by a Google Link spam update, it makes sense to disavow it.
Final Thoughts on January and February Google Algorithm Update
I will be continuing to investigate the effects that these algorithm changes have had. I will also be diving deeper into the changes that will happen in search rankings when Bard is announced.
For more information on the latest search news, stay tuned for the March Google Update.
If your site has been hit by a recent algorithm and your traffic is dropping, book a free consultation with me and I can work with you to develop a plan moving forward.