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What Google's August 2018 Algorithm Update Means for Your SEO Strategy

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It’s no secret that search engines are getting smarter. 

And many companies that have taken a haphazard, keyword-first approach to writing content for SEO are feeling the repercussions.

Today, search engines understand how different topics relate and overlap. Google has openly stated its goal is to surface pages with high expertise, authority and trustworthiness (E-A-T) in a particular area.

As a brand, there’s no skating by these clear and rigid quality indicators.

In August 2018, Google released a broad core algorithm update that reinforced its emphasis on surfacing the most reliable and authoritative pages in search results. And its impact represents a much larger shift in the way search engines crawl and evaluate websites.

So what does it mean for your business?  

Breaking down the August 2018 Google algorithm update  

Known as the Medic Update, Google’s algorithm change was designed to demote sites with suspect E-A-T. The update primarily affected “Your Money Your Life” sites, which include health and medical sites.

Studies on the organic impact to these industries show their average position decreased anywhere from  20 to 72 percent  as a result of Google's update.

This massive dip underscores the steps  Google is making to prioritize high-quality information — and the uninventive approach many sites take today. 

The emphasis on E-A-T also means that Google is cracking down on low-value or spammy sites that continue to slip through the cracks.

Today, you might see low-authority sites rank in search engines. But Google’s update emphasizes that it's evaluating the context of not only that page, but also the entire site. 

This is likely one of many updates to come that is centered around helping Google realize its mission to deliver the most accurate and authoritative results possible. 

To avoid future penalties, you should shift your focus to earning trust today.

Achieving search dominance: Earn E-A-T with Google

To recap, Google has become savvy at evaluating expertise, authority and trust among websites.

Earning trust and authority can’t happen overnight. You have to make a concerted, long-term effort to producing focused content that both search engines and readers love. 

Imagine you own a new ecommerce company that sells dog water bottles and want to earn search engine authority for your product. 

Your website content must be highly relevant to dog water bottles and fully answer all questions around this topic before you set your sights on broader, more competitive topics. (Take "dog breeds," for instance).

Thinking in terms of topics, rather than one-off keywords, helps focus your content strategy around rankings that will move the needle for your business.

Known as the topic cluster strategy, this approach involves organizing your website content into groups or “clusters” of related information. This organization helps Google better understand what your site is about and where your expertise lies — to better surface the right content at the right time.

We began implementing this approach for our clients in 2017, and the results are undeniable.

After Google's August 1 algorithm update, our clients with topic cluster strategies saw a  20 to 60 percent increase in organic traffic in just 30 days. 

Here’s an example of one ecommerce company that allowed Human to take over its content strategy starting in August of 2015.


When we began, the website was about 4 years old and drawing in 500 organic visitors to the blog each month. It already had strong topic authority around its product, sweat proof undershirts.

But we knew there was an opportunity to get in front of people who were searching for sweat-related topics and didn’t know a sweat proof undershirt existed. 

Here’s a look at organic traffic to the client's blog over the past four years: 

  • August 2015: 481
  • August 2016: 7,698
  • August 2017: 45,941
  • August 2018: 192,106

From January 1 to August 31, 2018, the company's organic blog traffic has grown from 60,000 to more than 190,000. 

Google is making  clear shifts  in the way it evaluates site expertise, authority and trustworthiness. As an emerging or existing company, you need to rethink your content strategy if you want to prevail in the new age of expertise. 

Steps to future-proof your content & SEO strategy 

If your goal with content marketing is to drive traffic, you have to strive to establish  trust and authority  in the eyes of end consumers and search engines. And a topic cluster approach can help get you there.

Steps to Take for New Websites 

If you’re starting a new website, producing consistent, authoritative content is the best way to show search engines you're an expert in a narrowly defined field and build trust early on.

Say you started that ecommerce dog water bottle business we talked about earlier. 

In the eyes of search engines looking to surface highly relevant and authoritative answers, you lack any tangible credibility. Search engines need time to evaluate whether people are coming to your site and finding it valuable (i.e., engagement stats like time on page, pages per session and click-through rate.)

Remember that Google’s search algorithm has developed deep contextual learning.

Your site can’t simply mention dog water bottles on the homepage and product page. It has to branch out to answer relevant questions or delve into related topics to provide that rich context. Otherwise, Google will question the value you offer, especially when compared to sites with more contextually relevant information. 

As a new site, investing aggressively in targeted, topic-focused content early on is the most effective approach to earning trust with search engines.

Once you've completely saturated a topic, the hard part is over. You can spend time continually updating, refreshing and improving your content.

But don't forget: Like any relationship, earning trust takes time.

Steps to Take for Established Websites

As an existing or established site, the burden of proof is on you to convince search engines that you're authoritative.

You may have thousands of pages that link every which way and talk about a wide variety of topics. A  disorganized site and far-ranging content topics only confuse search engines. 

As an established site, you have the advantage of link age. However, you may need to organize and focus your website content to help Google out. Here are some steps to get you started:

  • Define your topic focus: Identify the core topics you want to earn trust and authority for.
  • Strive for depth and breadth of information: Once you have a handful of clearly defined topics, work toward building up the authority of an existing or new page that will serve as your pillar page for each topic. Fully answer questions around this topic and use rich, creative language to add contextual relevance. 
  • Create supporting pages: Look for related, longer-tail queries or subtopics that you could address in new  blog posts. If you have existing pages that support your core topic, beef up these pages to fully cover the subtopic.
  • Linking structure: Make sure your supporting pages link to your primary pillar pages.

When writing, don’t forget that each blog post is much more than words. 

Your process should include extensive competitive analysis and thorough keyword research to identify all questions and related phrasing that consumers use.

The writing and organization process is also critical. To help provide search engines with more context around your topic, you must creatively phrase and organize takeaways.

There are plenty of technical elements that also play into your search engine rankings, like page speed, post-click engagement and HTML tags. You can't ignore these.

Rethink your content strategy

Succeeding with topic clusters and SEO starts with a clearly defined goal and strategy. No more writing about every topic that comes to mind. Set your sights on easy wins and gradually move on to more competitive (but relevant) topics. 

Most importantly, never let your content grow stale.

Google rewards sites that renew and refresh their content. You wrote your blog post with a specific  purpose. Continually improve it, and you'll see the best results and return possible. 

Google has made significant efforts to elevate sites with high authority and relevance and demote less credible domains. If your goal is to use content to organically draw in new audiences, you must strive to be the best.

And that’s exactly how the Human team approaches content for our clients (and the secret to our success).

Need help getting your content strategy off the ground? We can help! 

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Topics: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) | Ecommerce Marketing