Trust Issues: What Was Behind the September 27th and October 2018 Algorithm Updates?

Whether you’re managing your own website or someone else’s, the last thing you want is to see your SERP ranking suddenly drop. As SEOs, we work hard for our Google rankings! We expect that with great content, great backlinks, and careful keyword research, we’ll get the rankings we deserve. And normally it’s true.

But if one there’s one thing that every SEO knows, it’s that, aside from Google’s own engineers, no one knows how their search algorithm works.

Which is why, every time Google updates their algorithm, the internet goes a bit nuts for a while. Some people’s rankings suddenly soar. Others plummet. And everyone’s asking themselves: what the heck happened?!

The September 27th and October follow-up updates were no different. People panicked. Tweets were retweeted. Replies were written. Articles were posted. Comment threads exploded.

Here at the LinkNow Media office though, everything was calm. Why you ask?

We understand the Google algorithm.

Really and truthfully. We understand how it works. We understand what it’s trying to do. And we know how to optimize our sites to protect them from the fluctuations that occur every time there’s an algorithm update.

So, what was the secret behind Google’s October algorithm update?

It was all about evaluating trust.

Read on to learn how building and maintaining a trustworthy online presence can protect you and your clients from being collateral damage in the next big update!

The Basics: Why Does Google Update Its Algorithm?

Google updates its algorithm on a daily basis. In fact, they’ve claimed that there are on average three updates every day. In order to understand why they do it, you need to understand what the goal of a search engine is.

Google’s search engine is designed to connect users with the information, services, and products that they want. If the search engine can perform this task, then more people will use that search
engine. And more users mean more money.

In the early days of the internet, people realized that it was possible to hack the search engine algorithm. This would allow their content to appear as a relevant result when the original query had nothing to do with it.

Keyword stuffing is a great example of this kind of technique. SEOs used to pack their content full of keywords so that at times you had to filter through the keywords to find the information you wanted. Back then, the algorithm matched content that was keyword-rich with search queries for that keyword.

Google’s engineers figured this out early on. They realized that the search results were not relevant to their user’s search queries. They began tweaking the algorithm so that the quality of the content played a larger role than the number of keywords included in it.

Over the years, they’ve worked hard to improve their search algorithm so that SEOs now produce their content, their backlinks, and their websites with the ideal customer in mind, rather than the search engine. The result of this is that Google is, now more than ever, capable of providing users with the search results that are relevant to their query.

Any SEO strategy that doesn’t understand this is bound to fail.

E-A-T and the Algorithm

The thing is that a lot of SEOs still base their marketing strategies on the way they think the algorithm works. And, as we said at the beginning: no one, aside from Google’s engineers, knows how the algorithm works. Not the least because it literally changes every day.

Google hasn’t left us in the dark though. Back in November 2015, they made their Search Quality Raters Guideline public for the first time. Rather than outlining the way the algorithm works, the 160-page guideline was written to help Google’s own Search Quality Raters team fill in where the algorithm failed. Yes, even Google still needs humans to keep its machines on track!

Updated again in 2018, the Guideline gives us an understanding of why Google considers some pages more relevant to users than others. In other words, it tells us why some pages rank better on the search results page.

When the algorithm (or the Search Quality Rater team) looks at a webpage, it evaluates the E-A-T or Expertise-Authority-Trust that is displayed in the content. E-A-T can be broken down as follows:

  • Expertise: Was the content written by someone with expertise in the subject? Is the content truthful? Does the content present expert advice?
  • Authority: Is there proof on the page that the author has the certifications or authority necessary to provide this information or the services they are offering?
  • Trust: Can a reader trust the information on the page? Is the page itself trustworthy? Does it appear to be spammy or shady?

These factors determine how Google evaluates the quality of a webpage. They are especially important for YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) pages.

YMYL pages are pages that offer information or advertise services for businesses that have the potential to cause serious physical or financial harm to people. Financial services, medical services, and legal services are good examples of YMYL pages.

By following simple common sense, it’s not hard to see why E-A-T would be considered important for YMYL pages. So, if your page could be considered a YMYL page, make sure you’re providing high-quality information that’s backed up by real-life credentials—or else, watch your ranking plummet.

Because Google uses E-A-T to evaluate the quality of a wide range of web pages, it’s very important to keep it in mind when you produce content. Create content that reflects your business. Create content that users want. Create content that users can trust.


The August 1st Medic Update

In August of this year, Google made major modifications to its algorithm. At first, there was panic. Rankings on many major websites plummeted.

After about a week, people began to realize that the main target of the update were sites offering medical information, products, and services. Because of this, Barry Schwartz even nicknamed it the Medic Update.

In her write-up of the update, Marie Haynes argued that the update was an attempt to align medical websites with the E-A-T guidelines:

  • The August 1, 2018 Google update was a massive one. I believe that it was primarily about Google’s ability to determine E-A-T for a website. I also think that the T in E-A-T became even more important as Google is working harder to determine which websites are the most trustworthy to show searchers.

Amid all the drama and speculations, the Medic Update made it clear that trust was quickly becoming one of Google’s leading ranking criteria.

When you start to think about what makes a website trustworthy, it’s easy to see why this would be the case. Content can be considered trustworthy if:

  1. The information it provides can be verified by a general scientific or professional consensus.
  2. It doesn’t try to hide a sales pitch in information.
  3. It is well-written and purposeful.
  4. It employs good grammar and spelling.
  5. The website doesn’t spam the reader with distracting advertisements.
  6. It doesn’t make false claims about the benefits of a product or service
  7. It provides proof that the content was written by an authority in the subject.
  8. It expresses an expert opinion in the given subject matter.

Google’s goal is to provide its users with search results that are relevant to their query. So, it’s no surprise that building trustworthy content that is straightforward and honest will improve your ranking on the SERP.

Trust was a Major Factor in the September 27th and October Updates

Unlike the Medic Update, Google’s recent algorithm tweaks didn’t seem to have a direct target. It affected a wide number of sites in a way that seemed irrational and erratic.

It’s worth taking a look at Search Engine Roundtable’s October algorithm update round-up. Reading through the analyses of ranking fluctuations, you’ll notice that there was no consensus about what happened and what was happening. Everyone had a different idea. And everyone seemed to think everyone else was wrong.

One of the more reasonable explanations was that the recent update was aimed at evaluating backlink quality. Backlinks are one of the most important ways that Google determines the quality of a webpage. But it’s not just about how many backlinks you have, it’s also about where they come from. Do they come from respected websites? Or do they come from the shady nether regions of the internet’s dark side?

In her article on the update, Marie Haynes suggested that Google may now be evaluating links on the basis of their trustworthiness. This theory would extend E-A-T to more than just content. It would extend it to backlinks too.

The point, however, is that it’s not just content and backlinks that can be evaluated by trust. It’s every aspect of your online presence.

If, for example, you have some bad reviews, this could affect the way Google ranks your website. Or if you have a low BBB rating, this could affect your ranking. Or, if your content contradicts a scientific consensus, this could affect your rating too.

When you begin to look at it in this way, the trustworthiness of your website can be determined by a network of factors. Together, these factors help Google determine whether your page can be trusted to provide the content that searchers are looking for.

If Google is taking account of your entire online presence to evaluate your web pages, it’s time to start taking trust seriously.

Here at LinkNow Media, we’ve spent years establishing the trustworthiness of our clients. Through content, backlinks, reputation management, blogs, local marketing, and well-designed websites, we ensure that every component of their online presence is accounted for. This allows us to dance through even the most disruptive algorithm updates—without skipping a beat!

How to Establish Trust and Improve Your Google Ranking

Since establishing trust is the best way to secure your Google ranking during the next update, we’ve put together a short list of ways to do it.

Reputation Management

One of the best ways to establish the trustworthiness of your web pages is to make sure that your reviews reflect the quality of service you provide. When your clients are happy with your services, ask them to leave a positive review. And when you get the review, make sure to respond to it.

The same goes for negative reviews. Always respond with care and try to find ways to improve a client’s negative experience. Engaging with your business reviews is a great way to prove that you care about your client’s satisfaction.

This is especially important on high-authority review sites like BBB. A negative BBB rating may show Google that your site is lower quality than the competition.

Create Content With a Clear Focus and Purpose

Make sure that you know who your ideal reader is. Are you offering information or are you trying to convert? Hiding a sales pitch in informational content may cause Google to consider your site misleading and therefore untrustworthy.

Your content should be written with a clear focus so that when a searcher lands on your page, you are offering them the information or service that they are looking for. Make use of keywords and headers to optimize your content for user intent. As we always say, content is king!

Creating high-quality content is the best way to tell Google that you’re a high-quality search result.

Accurate Information

As mentioned above, Google puts a lot of weight on the trustworthiness of the information in your content. If your content includes information that is false, outdated, or inconsistent with scientific consensus, your pages are likely to be considered untrustworthy. Don’t exaggerate the benefits of a product or service. Tell it like it is. Be honest.

Spelling and Grammar

This may seem obvious, but poor sentences and bad spelling are likely to make your site look sketchy. Check it once, twice, or even three times before you publish it online!

Discrete and Tasteful Advertising

There’s nothing wrong with advertising on your site. But if a user is bombarded with pop-up ads or continually distracted from your content by embedded ads, you’re likely to look untrustworthy.

Show Your Expertise and Authority

The best way to prove you’re an authority on a subject is to show your credentials. If you have articles on your site, include the author’s name and bio at the bottom. If you have certifications include them as badges. If you’ve won awards in your field, display them for your readers to see.

Got Questions About Trust? Ask us!

We’ve spent years developing marketing strategies aimed at establishing trust. So, if you have anything you’d like to know, ask us in the comments.

If you’d like help building your E-A-T profile, we can help. Just give us a call or send us an email to speak with one of our SEO experts!

Aubrey Grant

Author: Aubrey Grant

About Aubrey Grant

Aubrey is a copy writer and Head of Content at LinkNow Media. An expert content marketer, he is obsessed with developing strategic solutions that emphasize elegance and simplicity. Although generally mild mannered, he has been known to fly into rages at the sight of a semicolon.