Kersa Haughey is director of marketing + business development for INK Communications Co.
As you dig into annual planning for the year ahead, you’ll want to carve out some extra time to refresh your SEO strategy and the marketing communications activities that feed into and stem from it.
The culprit behind this growing need is, predictably, Google. Over the past few months, the company has released a series of updates closely tied to the emergence of generative AI. The updates aim to elevate high-quality content, including the Search Generative Experience (SGE), the Perspectives Filter, the Helpful Content Update and the October 2023 Core Update.
These advancements are improving Google Search’s user experience, placing SGE at the top of the page to respond to queries and adjusting the results section to deliver more in-depth insights from individual experts and thought leaders. In other words, Google is significantly changing how people access information and discover brand content, setting the stage for a more nuanced, people-first SEO strategy in 2024.
These changes don’t mean you need to do a total overhaul of your SEO strategy, but rather a reprioritizing of tactics. Based on Google’s recent moves, domain authority and quality content are emerging as the likely cornerstones around which to base your program’s strategy.
Domain Authority reimagined
Domain Authority measures how well a website domain will rank in search engine results pages. It isn’t a new concept, but the path to achieving it has some new twists.
While backlinks were once a major factor impacting ranking, Google confirmed last month that they are dropping in importance. This partly stemmed from the manipulation of search results through paid backlinks. However, it’s more so tied to advances in technology — such as machine learning, natural language processing and generative AI — along with increasing engagement between brands and individuals across social and forum channels, driving Google to now consider many other ranking signals.
Even the inventor of Domain Authority, Moz, recognizes that the elements influencing ranking are becoming increasingly complex and intrinsically tied to a company’s broader marketing communications program. In response, Moz recently developed Brand Authority, a new score that measures a domain’s total brand strength. Whereas Domain Authority measures your ability to rank on search engines, Brand Authority measures your influence across marketing channels.
Achieving both modern Domain Authority and Brand Authority is deeply intertwined with creating high-quality content. Great content helps boost your site’s Domain Authority by offering valuable insights people want to share and discuss. Having a high Domain Authority tells people and search engines that your site is a go-to place for reliable information, helping your content get the spotlight it deserves.
Quality content defined
For some time, Google has said that quality content is the No. 1 signal for ranking, crawling and indexing. But as low-quality, AI-generated content saturated the internet this year, Google’s emphasis on accurately identifying and prioritizing high-quality content has significantly escalated.
What falls under Google’s definition of quality can get a bit fuzzy. The company tends to be cagey about sharing the exact factors it uses to judge content, but a few key posts on Google Search Central give strong indications of what matters most.
The first is the E-E-A-T Framework. Google’s original framework for evaluating the quality of content on its website was E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. At the end of last year, Google added a new “E,” Experience, which considers whether content was produced by someone who has real experience with the topic they are writing about.
E-E-A-T serves as the basis for the next helpful resource, Google’s Content Self-Assessment, which features a long list of questions you can use to evaluate the quality of your content. Based on the questions included, here’s a breakdown of the key factors Google is using to judge quality:
- Originality – Provides unique insights, reporting, research or analysis.
- Comprehensiveness – Demonstrates in-depth understanding of the topic and first-hand knowledge.
- Accuracy + Trust – Is factually correct, has clear sourcing and is well-produced without spelling or stylistic issues.
- User Experience – Offers a good page experience beyond just text, including images, video, layout, presentation and page speed.
- Transparency – Discloses authorship.
- User-Centric – Prioritizes delivering genuine value to readers over search engine manipulation.
Steps to take now
There is a clear synergy between domain authority and quality content. As you strengthen one, you inherently strengthen the other, creating a nice cycle for increasing visibility and credibility. Here’s how you can align your marketing communications strategies to feed into both:
- Increase thought leadership – Your organization’s thought leaders are more important to the success of your program than ever before. Their insights and commentary are your key to creating the kind of authentic and experience-based content that Google is looking for. Centering your content around your subject-matter experts’ voices also increases your chances of ranking in Google’s Perspectives filter.
- Quickly address emerging topics: Google wants the most up-to-date information. If you can quickly respond to growing narratives, it will give you an edge in rankings, especially over larger, slower-moving competitors.
- Clean up your website – Keeping old blogs on your website could be hurting you, but there’s an easy solution. Purging outdated and low-quality content can improve Google’s overall perception of a site and positively influence how it crawls and indexes remaining pages.
- Treat your content like investments – Shift your focus from mass content production to crafting fewer, higher-quality pieces. Treat each piece of content as a long-term investment, continually updating and redistributing them in new ways to remain relevant and drive ongoing value. A great way to update existing pieces in line with Google’s changes is to inject perspectives from your thought leaders.
- Deepen your audience understanding – Ensure you have a comprehensive and current understanding of your audience’s needs and search intent. This will help you create content that effectively aligns with their queries and provides real value.
- Expand your channels – Broaden your brand and thought leaders’ presence across various digital channels, especially social platforms and discussion forums. Engagement on these platforms can signal content quality to Google, and publishing on platforms with higher brand authority can boost your visibility.
- Explore partnerships + collaborations – Engage with relevant experts and influencers outside your company to diversify your content, reach new audiences, and amplify your brand’s credibility and trustworthiness.
People-first SEO is the way forward
Because of the deluge AI-generated content, the value of unique, insightful, and helpful content written by industry experts is skyrocketing, especially in the eyes of Google. This is a notable shift that’s here to stay, and its swift impact on SEO underscores the importance of staying updated with algorithm tweaks, understanding what makes for authentic expertise and user-centric content, and exploring how your program should respond.
As we step into 2024, try taking a people-first approach to your SEO, using domain authority and content quality as your north stars. Focus on building your digital presence around what genuinely makes your brand stand out, the distinct insights of your thought leaders, and how you can bring those pieces together in a way that meets the current needs of your stakeholders. This approach not only aligns with Google’s latest preferences but will help you build more meaningful and enduring connections with your audience in the year ahead.