The Google search business is constantly evolving and this year was no exception. Quite the opposite, it was one of the most interesting years I’d ever seen.
2022 also closes out my first year working with Freestar publishers on SEO and other traffic growth strategies, which made it double-interesting. In certain cases, by the time I’d met with a publisher for consultation, it was too little too late. While large organic search penalties incurred, Google’s quality standards simultaneously tightened, making the recovery process harder than ever.
We met with publishers to discuss current SEO best practices, content strategies like updating evergreens and targeting seasonal trends, UX enhancements, taxonomy refreshes, structured markup, and more — all for the end goal of a better experience for the user.
Here are the SEO topics I talked most about in 2022.
Big Changes in 2022
Page Experience Algorithm Applied to Desktop
From 2015-2021, it was all-things-mobile. Mobile site versions, responsive design, mobile friendly, mobile first, hamburger navs, readability, all eyes on mobile. Google even launched a brand new search algorithm system in 2021, called Page Experience, but at the time it only applied to you guessed it — mobile!
So now, same algo runs on both and the 5 main metics it checks are the three speed related metrics in core web vitals (LCP, FID, CLS), disruptive interstitials and HTTPS.
The Helpful Content Update
Google favoring useful and usable content in the search results has always been the case, but introducing this as a signal within the algorithm seems next-level. The additional weight now applied to (per Google) “original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results”.
Here are #truths I’ve seen play out this year related to this update:
#1 Site that have a mix of content types and formats all related to their core niche have weathered the storm better than those who had only one. Sites that offered product roundups plus news articles plus informational posts + how-to videos, for example, were better off than a site solely publishing product roundups.
#2 Sites without a clear niche or solid expertise have struggled to compete. I’ve had some very real conversations with publishers on why their once successful strategy of paying their nephew’s college friend to post regurgitated news coverage is no longer working. Google’s Gary Illyes said 60% of the internet is duplicate. There’s a strong need for originality in research, analysis and ideas.
Product Review Updates
By far this area of content took the most drastic hit in 2022. Watching partners take 80% drops in organic search traffic for product reviews was painful, but the overused strategy of copying/pasting descriptions and images with no additional POV or insight had become painful too.
With three algorithm updates dedicated to product reviews (and the sites they appear on) in 2022, it’s easy to see it was an area of focus for Google. Creating content reviews will only work for publishers in 2023 if they bring something new to the table in an easy-to-process format.
This Google post on product review guidelines was my number one shared link in 2022.
There were 2 Google updates this year related to better spam detection and penalty. Here are their official policies on spam. If you’re doing any of the following things, you may see a decline in organic search traffic:
- Buying links, selling links
- Using bot traffic to send artificial queries to Google
- Not using rel=sponsored or rel=nofollow tags in sponsored posts
- Not disclosing affiliate links to users or thin affiliate content strategies
- Improper redirects that take users to unexpected content
Another major shift was the announcement of deprecating Google Analytics Universal in lieu of the incomparable GA4. Most of the publishers I worked with this year had GA4 implemented and collecting data but had not switched to actually using it.
In more than one case, this switch to GA4 has publishers looking into non-Google analytic platforms. Monetization isn’t tied to traffic analytics, even in GA UA. Analytics reporting is used for editorial insight, content trends and to inform directionally about audience. There are many platforms doing this.
You can find more on all of these changes in Google Search Essentials.
Smaller (But Still Important) Changes
There were 2 core search algorithm updates in 2022, the first in May and another in September. Core updates are always sort-of-big, but they aren’t new. There is also never much information about them given. I’ve come to think of them as a sort of refresh or re-scan of the index, designed for Google to recalculate, add new signals and factors, adjust their weight within the search algorithm and reassess results. It’s also at the time of a core update that they would factor in a site’s prior recovery efforts.
Just as AI content tools were getting hot, Google released additional algorithm tech to better identify AI-scraped content. Not sad to see this go, and would recommend all serious publishers stay away from this content strategy. I will stress though, AI-scraped and AI-generated content is different than using artificial intelligence to gain insight on what people search for, or for brief building purposes. Many parts of AI can help content creates maximize the usefulness of their articles.
Continuous Scroll on Desktop
Just this month, continuous scroll scroll hit desktop search results. Historically, there has been give or take 10 first page organic search results on the page, and just under that a set of pagination to take a user to the next set of 10 results.
And as you know, getting the user to take action of a click is no small feat, leading to the strong assumption that nothing past the first page matters. I have two predictions of my own that I believe this change will bring.
* Click-through-rate optimization for search results will become a focus since users on desktop don’t mind scrolling through more images and descriptions as long as they don’t have to actually click to the second page of search results.
* Sites that have brand recognition but aren’t on the first pages of the search results will see an increase in desktop organic search traffic. This may then cause an increase in actual ranking, but main point is the gain in organic search traffic from desktop.
My theory is that by expanding to infinite scroll results, the user views more rankings, eventually having to choose one of the hundred delicious and similar brownie recipes they’ve just seen, and so by default falls back on a brand they know and trust like Martha Stewart or AllRecipes.
Recommended Publisher Priorities
Here are 4 tips to increase your organic search performance in the coming year.
- Publish original information based on your own reporting and research.
- Content can’t just include the obvious, reworded from one site to the next. Make sure to go beyond that to offer more insightful information.
- Include clear evidence of experience and credentials across the site.
- Know the top ranked sites for your target topics and offer the user more value than they do. Google the terms you care about and look at the quality and experience the sites ranked #1-3 offer the user, and then find ways to offer even more value.
As we head into 2023, publishers must continue down the path of creating the best possible content in their niche and the best on-site experience for their user.