The “Why” Behind Google’s Major Updates and How Content Marketers Can Align with Google’s Real Intent

I’ve been in online marketing since before Google existed. I wish I could say that was to my advantage. 

The reality is I watched all the major updates and listened to people say the sky was falling, and I panicked more than I should have. That old “fight, flight, or flee” instinct kicked in and I fled from what looked like the big Google monster.

But recently I decided to take stock of what actually happened to see if I could piece together a more useful and less combative approach to Google.

Why? All these years later, I’m still writing content and posting it online for the purpose of getting people to take action. I’m not likely to change careers at this point, so why not make friends with the tools available to us? Seems reasonable.

A Quick History of the Major Google Updates Through the Eyes of a Vivid Imagination (A Totally Plausible Retelling that I Wish People Talked About More Often)

I maintain Google’s major updates were the result of a company trying to respond to user behavior. 

Which users? Two kinds. 

First, people searching for stuff online. 

Second, people trying to sell stuff online.

The people searching said, “Hey, these results aren’t what I expected. I’m having a hard time finding what I need.”

Google’s response? 

The Panda update, which said, “Hey marketers, please create better content so we can offer better results to the searchers. K. Thanks. Good talk. Btw, we’ve also invented a term for putting too many keywords in an article. We’re calling it keyword stuffing. We appreciate that you told us what was in the article by using keywords but our computers are smarter now so we don’t need quite that level of neanderthal keywording anymore. Again. Thanks.”

Next, searchers said, “Cool content but I don’t know which content is more reliable. Everybody says their thing is the best. How do I decide?”

Google’s response? 

The Penguin update, which said, “Hey marketers, thanks for making better content but for every search there are an obscene number of articles and websites that could be a good fit. From the outside, they all look equally qualified. We know if we asked you directly, you’d all say your thing is the best fit. So, we’re going to have a linking system. If you get links from websites outside of yours, you’ll get credit for that. If you get links from bigger, older, more reputable sites, you’ll get even more credit for that. Why? We believe that crowdsourcing is a good way to tell what the highest quality material is. Please don’t take it personally but we need a more fair way to give good results to the searchers. As always, thanks.”

And more recently, searchers said, “I’m spending a lot of time on my phone. I search in tiny scraps of time. I have fat thumbs. I’m just going to use voice search. Can you help me get answers to my questions?”

Google’s response? 

The Hummingbird update, which said, “Our algorithm is getting more sophisticated. We can tell which words are synonyms for other words. We’ll know if you’re a real expert on a topic because you’ll accidentally drop in synonyms and industry jargon that pretenders won’t know about. Please write shorter, but not too short. If you write too short, we can’t properly use our handy dandy natural language processing system. Again, stop keyword stuffing. Just create high quality content. Continue sharing your content to get backlinks because we still believe in the power of others recommending your stuff as a way to determine quality. High five. Have a great day.”

So What is Google’s Real Intent?

Google isn’t the enemy. It’s more like a harried but dedicated librarian trying to shelve every article, website, and piece of content in a way that makes sense and is usable for searchers… their real intended audience.

And if Google is that sure––and committed––to their ideas about who they serve, why wouldn’t we marketers align with that? Rhetorical question aside, Google has streamlined SEO (search engine optimization) to the point that it’s almost done for you. In return, it asks for a few simple things.

  1. Write good content.
  2. Share with your network.
  3. Be relevant to your reader.
  4. Have an excellent reputation.
  5. Make sure your reader has a good experience.

Simple? Yes. Easy? No. I’ll be sharing tips for how to implement these governing principles into your content in future articles. 

For now, remember that principles are more important than tactics. You can grab these simple principles and fly with them.

Of course, tactics give us those lovely comfort measures called, “checklists.” I love a good checklist as much as the next person, so we’ll get to that soon.

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