Google was busy again in August and has released a major update that showcases its cutting-edge AI (artificial intelligence) technology by using it to combat low-quality content. This followed a few days that were less impressive for Google when outages and technical glitches hit search results. This included a day when ranking changed for many search terms due to a software bug.
August 2nd – Surprise end to July 2022 Product Reviews update
With rank tracking tools like Rank Ranger’s Rank Risk Index showing volatility in search results from August 3rd, commentators such as Barry Schwartz and Marie Haynes incorrectly assumed that we were seeing a late reaction to the Product Reviews update released on July 27th. However, as we revealed in our review of Google News in July, the update had stopped rolling out the day before, on August 2nd.
The period covered by the Product Reviews update was significantly calm and changes from August 3rd to August 7thare now assumed to be caused by another, unconfirmed update. Big changes seen on August 9th and August 10thwere due to a software bug and are discussed below.
It is remarkable that Barry Schwartz missed the news, but this was because Google did not communicate about the end of the July 2022 Product Reviews update on any social media channel. The only notification given was in the Google Search ranking updates page.
Last month we reported that the French and Spanish pages of Google’s page did not contain any information about the July Product Reviews update. We can now confirm that this has been corrected.
August 25th – Helpful Content update
Google announced that this update was coming in the blog post “What creators should know about Google’s helpful content update” published on August 18th. It was then officially launched when Google updated the Google Search ranking updates page on August 25th.
The update is very significant in that it uses artificial intelligence to analyze whether a page was created for people or search engines. It is generally felt that this update has shown that Google’s AI can detect machine-generated content. It is a case of Google’s AI spotting the work other AIs.
In the article, Google says that if you answer “Yes” to the following questions then you are probably using a people-first approach and do not need to worry about this update:
- Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
- Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?
- Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
- After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
- Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
- Are you keeping in mind our guidance for core updates and for product reviews?
On the other hand, Google says that if you answer “yes” to these questions then you are probably not putting people first:
- Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
- Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
- Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
- Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?
- Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?
- Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
- Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (No, we don’t).
- Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic?
- Does your content promise to answer a question that actually has no answer, such as suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn’t confirmed?
Like the recent Product Reviews updates, this update only applies to English-language search results. It is expected that other languages will follow. The evaluation of page quality has also allowed Google to create a site-wide ranking signal. This means that sites that have a lot of low-quality content may lose ranking positions even for pages that are not considered to be poor quality.
In an article also released on August 18th (“More content by people, for people in Search”), Danny Sullivan draws parallels between the Product Reviews update and the Helpful Content update, saying that they are both part of a larger effort by Google to improve the quality of search results.
A week after launching we are seeing a low level of fluctuations in SERPs, suggesting that the Helpful Content update has had very little impact on search results so far. The update is still rolling out, so we will draw our conclusions in our September round-up of Google News.
Fire at Google data center in Iowa and outages
On Monday, August 8th Google reported that it had suffered an electrical incident at its Council Bluffs datacenter in Iowa – one of 14 datacenters Google has in the United States. An electrical explosion injured 3 electricians working on a substation.
Shortly after this announcement, but 10 hours after the incident in Council Bluffs, Google Search and Google Maps suffered an outage and were off-line temporarily for hundreds of thousands of users.
Google Search came back on-line, but as it did there were increasing reports of big changes in ranking. Search engine tracking tools like Rank Ranger above or SEMRush Sensor below showed that changes on August 9th were massive. An equal amount of volatility the next day (August 10th) as results came back to normal. It was a day where Google was practically broken.
If you have SEOPress Insights installed on your WordPress site, then you may have seen rank changes like this.
Google said that the two incidents: the fire in Iowa and the outages were not related. The latter being due to a software update problem.
Google Images: Search by image using Google Lens in desktop search
As of August 10th, all desktop users worldwide should now see the search by image option in Google Images. This option uses Google Lens to allow users to search using an image rather than words.
From Google Images, you can click on the camera icon in the search bar.
This will invite you to drag an image into the window, load it from the computer or paste a URL.
After clicking on Search, Google will return the image loaded in the left-hand panel and the search results on the right. In this example, Google has successfully identified the Super Bock Arena in Porto from a snapshot of the building.
The results are shown in the form of images, clicking on the image snippets shown after the “Visual matches” title will take users directly to the web page containing the similar image.
Clicking on the Search button or on the images shown on the top right-hand part of the results will send users to the classic Google search results as if the user had typed “Super Bock Arena” as a search query.
Google Images: Image previews
Also introduced around August 10th, Google added new preview features for images in search results. With this new feature, you can preview larger versions of thumbnail images directly in search results without being sent to the Google Images search results page.
You can compare these screen shots with the ones we provided in the article An Introduction to Image SEO published in June 2022.
These changes should see more traffic generated through image search and it is an important reminder to optimize your images for SEO in WordPress.