How to do SEO in 2024: Building blocks for the future
2023 was quite a year for SEO and the talk of its future. With ChatGPT kicking up a storm at the tail end of 2022 and Google subsequently being nudged to announce AI integration in search in May, there’s been no shortage of speculation.
There’s no doubt that AI will usher in some degree of change for SEO tactics in the long term. Yet despite all the noise, opinions and uncertainty around this, there are still some strong truths in terms of how SEO has evolved and what businesses should be focusing on in 2024.
This was underpinned in a recent tweet series by Danny Sullivan over at Google SearchLiaison, which we think is worth diving into.
The relationship between Google and the SEO industry
Over the years, it’s been safe to say that Google has really come further into the fray in terms of its public-facing relationship with the SEO industry, as well as some influential individuals and companies within it. This stands alongside what is, for the most part, a very open and welcoming industry when it comes to advice and knowledge sharing. Google has been open in offering advice to businesses on SEO best practices with its series of guidelines and announcements of algorithm updates, and how to adapt to these.
Aside from this, you have engaged representatives from Google focusing on the SEO industry, like John Mueller and Gary Illyes, who actively participate and receive feedback online. Another proponent of SEO knowledge sharing is the Google SearchLiaison account, run by Google’s Danny Sullivan (active on X/Twitter, Threads, Mastodon and Bluesky). Danny, the co-founder of popular search marketing publication Search Engine Land, joined Google’s search division in 2017 and has used the account to help people understand how Google works.
While some remain sceptical about following SEO guidelines set by Google, there are some clear patterns from Google’s messaging in terms of where search is heading in 2024 and beyond, and what is being witnessed in the field. It’s apparent that as search evolves, there are reduced opportunities for shortcuts to SEO success, and listening to what Google says does have its merit.
We’ve touched on a few of these mantras before — the concept of search intent, entity SEO, web accessibility and others. Looking at Sullivan’s recent tweet series on the Google SearchLiaison, there are plenty of useful nuggets of information that businesses can consider for their SEO strategies in 2024.
Breaking down the tweet series in detail
The tweet series, published on 16 November 2023, has a lot to digest. For your benefit, we’re going to break this down into sections and how they relate to various areas of modern-day SEO.
The importance of helpful content
Danny’s tweet thread began by making the statement that Google’s “results aren’t perfect” and they “do make mistakes”. This was followed up by a familiar phrase that has been heard around the SEO industry over the last couple of years: helpful content. The tweet went on to say that “what we can do is keep working to show the most helpful content we can”. This was followed up by a link to Google Search Central’s documentation that details the Helpful Content System.
We’ve touched on this before, with its September 2023 update causing quite a ripple in the industry and many publishers expressing concerns at what was deemed quite a brutal impact for some. However, Google has stated they have no intention of rolling this update back, and publishers and businesses should continue to create content that is genuinely helpful for the user. Sullivan then argues that Google’s direction in this regard has been following a similar tune for over a decade, with the below screenshot comparing details of the Helpful Content System alongside advice published in 2011:
Image: Google SearchLiaison Twitter
E-EAT also plays a big role
Sullivan then chimes in with some statements on Google having a “broad goal” of advising people “to think if they produce content that makes you want to trust it (not Google, you – or a reader)”. There are then some clear allusions to the concept of E-EAT (Experience, Expertise, Authority, Trust) where Sullivan details leaving signals that might lead readers to trust content, such as information about the author and their background.
E-EAT is another set of guidelines that have been talked about a lot in the past couple of years. They’re a clear set of metrics that Google will use to evaluate whether a business has the right credentials to rank well in certain places. Alongside author bios, brands can send additional signals of trust, such as featuring a detailed about page, source referencing, and evidence of expertise.
This sits alongside helpful content in its importance and is a clear signal that Google is moving towards quality, authority and usefulness of content in its search algorithm.
The importance of the relationship between SEO, UX and CRO
A lot of what can be gleaned from Sullivan’s messaging over this tweet series references a phrase that has been in place in Google’s messaging for over 20 years: “make pages for users, not for search engines”.
Alongside optimising your content for user intent and not just straightforward keywords, this is where the relationship between SEO, UX and CRO becomes so important moving forward. Is your content really answering the query and intent behind the searcher’s key phrase? Is content structured in a way that is accessible, easily digestible, and with a good user experience? Are there methods to allow users to easily navigate across sections of the content and your website, and is there a logical website structure with clear CTAs?
Google is clearly getting better at considering user experience-based metrics in search ranking algorithms. Even if you have a strong piece of flagship content that has brought in a good amount of organic traffic over time, this could be jeopardised if there is a poor site design or user experience around this.
Taking into account the emergence of generative AI in search results and its looming rollout over the next year or so, user-centric areas are going to play a vital role in future SEO success.
Unhelpful content and content “cycles”
Looping back to the notion of helpful content, Sullivan then brought up a talk that the former head of Google’s web spam team Matt Cutts gave way back in 2013. This bled into the concept that Google evolved to deal with rises in unhelpful or spammy content. Think 2011’s Panda update that dealt heavy blows to low-quality content, as well as 2003’s Florida update. Both of these updates still matter hugely and are clear signs of Google’s trajectory in content assessment.
A subsequent screenshot in this part of Sullivan’s thread from the 2013 talk shows an article on “How to Pour Milk”. This carries clear parallels with some of the spammy, AI-generated content we sometimes see today:
Image: Google SearchLiaison Twitter
Interpreting Google’s advice moving forward
There are some voices out there that continue to ignore Google’s messaging on SEO. As Sullivan said, search results aren’t perfect, and there are plenty of examples where Google has got it wrong and has seemingly contravened its own guidelines.
Despite Google being more engaged with the SEO community (something Sullivan also mentioned in his thread that they need to work harder on), it’s not as straightforward as simply following Google’s advice as gospel.
Chiefly, it certainly isn’t in Google’s interest to give explicit advice on what to do to get to the top of the search results. This would not only compromise its product but would see it leveraged to a potentially spammy degree across the web.
This aside, however, Sullivan makes another observation that “if someone is telling you ‘this is what Google says to do’, are they making it clear it’s what we have said or is it their interpretation?”
This is where nuance plays a major factor. Anyone could readily read all of the search guideline information published by Google or indeed other influencers within the industry and assume they know exactly what to do. The truth is that situations will differ for each business and will be dependent on their industry, competitors and what areas work for them. Publication of continual helpful content won’t help if a brand has a website that is ridden with technical SEO and indexability issues. Despite Google’s thorough documentation of the benefits of structured data markup, this won’t be relevant for all businesses.
This doesn’t mean “take everything Google says with a pinch of salt”, but rather rely on the expertise of a seasoned SEO professional to interpret these guidelines in a way that works best for your business and its customers.
If you’re chasing the algorithm, you’re doing it wrong
To wrap up, it’s important to touch on something else mentioned in Sullivan’s thread. This is the idea of avoiding voices that say they “chase the algorithm” instead of “what people like”. This can be interpreted in a few ways.
Firstly, the idea of “chasing the algorithm” may conjure up images of a certain wing in the SEO industry that is constantly having to recover and realign its priorities each time a Google update hits. This could be due to lost traffic and keyword rankings, for example. Google algorithm updates are a fact of SEO life, and they are quite frequent occurrences. If you’re in a position where you’re constantly fretting over what might happen each time an update rolls around, then you may need to reassess what you’re doing.
Secondly, if you are simply “chasing the algorithm”, this shows a lack of understanding in the aforementioned nuance when it comes to your SEO strategy. Understanding Google’s technical updates is important, as these can detail shifts in approach and new search features that might be important to your business. However, make sure you’re keeping the user at the forefront of your strategy regardless.
What will SEO look like in 2024 and beyond?
There are some potentially seismic shifts on the way, particularly with the advent of generative AI in search results. There have been plenty of hypotheses from leading voices in the industry as to what this might mean for certain businesses in certain industries. Yet the real cut-through truth of what the impact will be is still largely unclear.
What we can learn from Sullivan’s tweets, and Google’s positioning over the years, is that brands who continue to improve their helpful content offerings, user experience and E-EAT signals will continue to thrive.
About the author
Michael Carden-Edwards is SEO Strategy Lead at Reddico. A seasoned SEO and digital marketing expert with 13+ years of experience, Michael has directed SEO strategies for major brands like British Airways and O2 as well as conducting countless public and internal SEO training sessions. Based in Sevilla, he joined Reddico in 2021, enjoying the flexible working and unique culture from a sunnier climate.
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