This is an excerpt from SEJ’s SEO Trends 2024 ebook, our annual roundup of expert opinions on what you can expect over the course of the next 12 months.
One of the most impactful developments last year was in the meaning of the word “helpful” from Google’s point of view.
Google employees were previously coy about whether and how the algorithms consider site-wide signals. This year’s helpful content updates were explicit: Google’s algorithms generate site-wide signals considered in ranking. It bases these signals on the helpfulness of your site.
Google’s documentation says:
“Any content—not just unhelpful content—on sites determined to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall is less likely to perform well in Search, assuming there is other content elsewhere from the web that’s better to display.
For this reason, removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content.”
Google has struggled to find a way to communicate a precise meaning of helpful content but has answered questions about the helpful content system, and more guidance may be coming.
In the meantime, remember that “helpful” depends on many different circumstances, so intent is becoming a critical part of keyword research.
As you’ll hear, it also seems that the scope of “helpful” goes beyond the immediate impact and quality of the words on a page.
Assessing the unique value of your site as a whole and how authoritatively you speak to broad topics may be necessary to succeed as helpful content continues to expand.
If I had to summarize this article’s insights in three sentences, they would be:
- Google evaluates the value and helpfulness of your entire site, so make sure your website has clear and unique value.
- Engage with generative AI and understand how it works before you try to fight it.
- “Expertise” will be a key differentiating factor – insights and original data attributed to authors with names.
Your Whole Site Must Be Helpful
Adam Riemer, President, Adam Riemer Marketing, LLC
The helpful content update is more than your content; you must ensure your entire site is helpful to the user, not just each piece of content you publish.
That is something many marketers are getting wrong as we move into 2024.
Unlike past systems and algorithms, helpful content looks at your site as a whole. One great piece of helpful content might not cut it. Are all of your other pages helpful and user-friendly?
Or, do you have many legacy pages with poor experience and thin content: giant hero images, irrelevant shopping lists, and broken links?
Instead of taking the word “content” literally, think about making your entire site helpful. This should benefit all channels, not just SEO.
Prove Your Alternate Site Versions Have Unique Value
Dan Taylor, Partner & Head of Technical SEO, SALT.agency
I believe Google’s focus on “helpful quality content” will begin to extend further and impact websites with alternate versions.
International websites with the same value proposition across multiple alternate site versions (e.g., English language for the U.S., Canada, and the UK, but only changing currency and regional spelling differences) will see hreflang and canonical tags ignored.
Many international website structures have been set up to reflect offline business hierarchies or to “channel leads” to the correct SDR teams.
The internet and hreflang don’t always neatly reflect the offline business, and the synergy achieved is frequently clunky and challenging to manage.
Provide value propositions to give Google a reason to invest resources into the alternate versions of your site.
Improve the unique value offered by each. You may also need to discuss how you structure the international alternates of the website and how lead handling is performed so the right teams get suitable leads.
Effective Content Comes From Actual People Demonstrating Real Insight
Mordy Oberstein, Head of SEO Brand, Wix
We often need to pay more attention to the impact of broader content trends on SEO.
Our gospel is the algorithm, which sometimes means we don’t consider what’s outside of it.
However, we well should. In hindsight, it’s not an accident that Google added an extra “E” for experience to E-E-A-T. It didn’t pull it out of a hat; it saw the broader content trends where folks are looking to actual people for content versus static brands.
Google’s machine learning properties, such as RankBrain, make it possible for Google to look at its quite large dataset to observe content consumption trends and act on them.
One trend I would get ahead of that aligns with Google’s focus on expertise and experience is what I’m coining “situational content.”
Situational content attempts to predict the various outcomes of any advice or the like offered within the content to present the next logical steps. If, for example, a piece of content provides advice about how to get a baby to sleep through the night, it would then offer the next steps if that advice didn’t work.
This is “situational” – if X doesn’t work, you might want to try Y.
Situational content creates a compelling form of content I see more frequently. It does a few things for the reader:
- It addresses them and their needs directly.
- It’s more conversational than standard content (an emerging content trend itself).
- To predict various outcomes and situations, you have to actually know what you’re talking about.
That latter point directly addresses E-E-A-T. You can only predict and address secondary situations with expertise and experience.
Most of all, situational content indicates to the user that a real person, not a large language model (LLM), wrote it.
It’s the kind of content that simply can’t be created by AI for various reasons.
Not the least of which is the ability to offer detailed advice, all while keeping the tone that situational-based content intrinsically lends itself towards – conversational, authoritative, and expert.
Because of all this, I would be on the lookout for Google rewarding “situational content” to a far greater degree as time passes.
Generative AI Sets The Bar Your Content Must Beat
Patrick Stox, Product Advisor & Technical SEO, Ahrefs
Don’t fake experience. Add genuine value yourself or ask others for input.
The bar for content creation will be even higher.
For years, just rewriting content was likely enough to rank a page, and many SEO professionals and writers did just that.
But with generative AI making it easier than ever to create content, you will have to do more than you’ve been doing.
Find ways to add additional value.
I like to think of content the same way I would a product and take an iterative approach.
I can add a specific section, expand on a section with more details, add a key point, summarize something better, tell a personal story, or add additional insights from my own knowledge.
For a product comparison page, I might add pricing, reviews, pros and cons, personal experiences with each product, unique photos, or breakdowns by different categories.
You also need to inject your experience and expertise.
Your ability to add new knowledge to a topic will become more important as it becomes easier to create generic content.
If you don’t have that knowledge, find and interview someone who does. Ask them to review the content and check for any mistakes or add their insights and stories.
Generative AI Will Be An Essential SEO Skill, But Not A Replacement For Expertise
Shelley Walsh, SEO Content Strategist, Search Engine Journal
The areas to watch in early 2024 are generative AI and Search Generative Experience (SGE).
Instead of focusing on what SGE could take away (clicks), we need to focus on what Google is trying to achieve and remember they need content and clicks as much as we do.
Right now, Google is experimenting with the SGE search engine results page (SERP) panel, like a featured snippet on steroids. And like featured snippets, as SEO professionals, we can adapt and work with how the information is displayed in the SERP.
We survived featured snippets and can evolve to work with generative AI and not against it.
Firstly, understand that SGE is not an entirely AI-generated information panel. SGE collects the best results in the SERP and then uses AI to create a combined summary of those results.
For SEO, it is more important than ever to be in those top results so that you will be included in SGE. It also means being the source of data and information and providing unique and valuable concepts and content.
This is the challenge in a post-generative AI world.
Google is still experimenting with how SGE will integrate into the SERP.
SGE’s function and appearance will likely keep changing as Google finds the right balance between intent and clicks. It’s important to remember that Google doesn’t want to destroy its own business model!
The clues to show us the way are already there. Consider the helpful content update. Google is driving towards content demonstrating first-hand experience – an author must show exceptional knowledge, expertise, and authority. I’m sure that sounds familiar. (E-E-A-T, anyone?)
The demand for thought leaders and skilled experts is increasing – your ability to demonstrate thorough research and provide unique data is essential for good content.
How Generative AI Tools Will Impact Content Production
Getting the best out of tools like ChatGPT and Gemini (formerly Bard) requires sophisticated prompting. Out of the box, generative AI is not user-friendly for a novice.
It’s like trying to make a cup of tea with a firehose. It’s too intelligent right now for us to handle and grasp.
To get the best results from an AI tool, train it to be self-aware of its mistakes and knowledge gaps. Use a two-way dialogue feedback loop – layer and chain prompts by feeding the results back into the AI to continue refining.
AI is a fantastic assistant. Use it to support your day-to-day productivity.
The creative possibilities of ChatGPT are exponential, and we are still far from fully harnessing the potential.
For example, creating infographics, sorting data into tables, summarizing thoughts, creating transcripts, finding inconsistencies in reports, scanning vast tracts of data, and so on.
AI perfectly complements your knowledge and creativity, so treat it as such. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking AI can do the role of SEO for you.
Expertise and experience are still needed to operate the machine to get the best results.
The essential skill to develop in SEO is integrating generative AI across your workflow’s layers for maximum efficiency. AI development is not unlike the early days of computers in industry.
At first, people tried to use it like a typewriter until they pushed the edges to realize the capacity, such as spreadsheets and graphical representations.
AI is the same process of development, so keep pushing the boundaries.
Don’t forget that AI cannot replace ideas and creativity. As humans, driving the machine is where we can still add value.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal