Google search results get niche-specific

Businesses all over the world are trying their best to get to the top of Google’s search results. A higher ranking means that your website will get more views which in turn leads to more products or services being sold. However, understanding how Google’s algorithms work can be a time consuming process and not everyone is an SEO expert.  

To better understand how Google is making its search results more niche-specific, TechRadar Pro sat down with the Director of Searchmetrics’ Digital Strategies Group Björn Beth who filled us in on how these changes could spell the end for generic SEO and content tactics.

Can you tell us in a nutshell what Searchmetrics found about that new Google Algo Update (Medic)?

Our analysis of Google’s latest “core algorithm update” (also known as the Medic update) indicated that Expertise, Authority & Trust (EAT) are more important than ever, especially when it comes to content creation. In other words, content created by real experts, from websites that people can trust and which have authority in their specific niche is seeing the most benefits.

The data shows that this update mainly impacted websites in the financial and health sectors. These are industry niches in which Google takes the quality of each site very seriously, since poor information could have a significant impact on a searcher’s life. Hence the search engine calls these sites "Your Money or Your Life" websites in its Quality Rater Guidelines (guidelines used by thousands of people that Google employs to rate the quality of sites that appear in search results).

This update may be no surprise to companies in those industries (except for the losers), since Google specifically calls out health content for overall page quality rating for expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness. It suggests medical advice should be written by people with medical expertise or accreditation for example.

In a nutshell then, Google has improved the quality and/or relevance of the search results for queries so that pages that better meet the search intent for a keyword have improved their rankings and performance in searches. Google’s Danny Sullivan in a tweet provided advice which is similar to what the search engine has been saying for a long time: To make up any losses in rankings, websites should build great content.

How does that affect different types of websites (e.g. publishers with multiple niches, retailers that sell across multiple verticals, small niche websites etc)

Overall it means that generic SEO and content tactics are either dead or dying! You as an online marketer or publisher now have to look much more closely at the specific niche, topic or user intent you are targeting, rather than following generalised SEO or content creation rules. There is no "one fits all" approach anymore. Today there are different ranking factors you need to pay attention to depending on the specific industries and niches you operate in. This is also something that’s highlighted very clearly in our ranking factors studies.

Your report niche ranking factors report mentions a lot of onpage/ondomain signals. What about offpage/offdomain like backlinks etc. Are they still important?  Can you say more about them?

Backlinks are still an important factor, especially when it comes to building authority in a specific field or topic. But as with our earlier advice, it is now more important to pay attention to where your backlinks come from (ie they need to be from trustworthy, authoritative and relevant sources). This goes hand in hand with everything else Google tries to focus on – delivering relevant search results which satisfy user intent. Focusing on building good, professional high quality content that satisfies specific search queries (whether that content is text, infographics, videos etc.) will help to attract links automatically. 

Should website owners therefore start to explore other traffic sources?

It is always important to try different traffic sources. You would be amazed how the quality and interaction with your website and content can vary. Targeting different traffic sources will tend to mean you attract visitors from different user groups, with different needs and expectations.

Here is my advice. Take one piece of content, look at your target audiences and the goal you set yourself. Don’t just publish the content on your blog or your website. Play with different elements or parts of that content (eg Video, Twitter cards) and create different little snacks for different channels (snackable content) that you can test on various platforms (Social Media, email Newsletter, Video).  In this way, you can create a whole content campaign out of one single piece of content allowing you to analyse how visitors from different sources behave and fit into the buying cycle for instance.

By the same token it’s also important to play with and test content for new technologies and devices. The future of search will be very different, incorporating voice, visual search and virtual reality which are all on the rise.

In your research, have you seen any particular differences when it comes to mobile vs desktop vs AMP?

Marketers sometimes get carried away when thinking about mobile users vs. desktop users. Remember we are normally talking about the same users, just in different situations! 

It’s important to consider the situations your visitors find themselves in and think why they are searching for one thing on a mobile device and another on desktop. This all ties back to user intent and offering content that meets the needs of a user at the right moment in the right way. 

For example, searchers on a mobile device are more likely to be searching for something nearby. While on larger desktop screens, they are more comfortable consuming more content elements and more detail. People expect a richer experience and might be readier (and expect) to digest content in greater depth than when viewing short snippets on the move using their mobiles.

This means that it continues to be important to create content for both mobile and desktop users, and to provide an optimised experience for each.

Speed is also likely to be more important on mobile devices - hence the importance of AMP (accelerated mobile pages). AMP started as a way of improving the page download speed of publisher sites so mobile users can read news articles on the move via their smartphones. Now our data and analyses suggests that the benefits of AMP are being sought by websites in other sectors, especially ecommerce, where fast loading pages are an important part of the customer experience.    

Google seems to be changing the goalposts every time. What impact do you think it will have on the way content is produced online?

Yes, it’s true that Google is evolving all the time. However, in my opinion, this is very positive. Google wants to deliver the most relevant search result, to every search query and it’s constantly chasing this goal. So, we as marketers are forced to build better websites and create better and more relevant content. The days when you could buy light-weight ‘vanilla’ content from text brokers are so over. This is a big positive for the entire internet.

Generally speaking, we see a trend towards optimising the user experience. Paradoxically though, doesn't it harm the user journey if they are all treated the same (content wise that is).

Well created, trustworthy and well-structured content impacts the user experience, so if you concentrate on content, you also concentrate on user experience. As well as technical factors such as page speed, Google will assess the overall user experience by tracking user signals, Bounce-Rates, Time on Site, the number of pages visited etc.

For example by helping a client from the health industry optimise one piece of content by including more facts and improving the structure, we saw the Bounce Rate drop from 45% to 18% while Time on Site went up from 1 min to 2.9 minutes (because we made the content more interesting and relevant).  These are also KPIs Google looks at when it comes to user experience.

But the importance of user experience does not mean that pages or content will become similar. Google recognises that what constitutes a good user experience varies according to niche or the search query.  

For example too many images can sometimes make pages load slower which generally has a negative impact on the user experience and search performance. However, in our latest Google ranking factors study, we see that Google accepts that queries for an ecommerce niche such as ‘furniture’ are best satisfied by giving searchers the opportunity to view a large selection of relevant images, even if this could result in slower page-load times. In fact the top ten results for furniture-related searches averaged nearly 28 images per page − the highest of all the niches we analysed. By contrast, searches for finance-related topics had the fewest on-page images because text is more important here.

Björn Beth, Director of the Digital Strategies Group EMEA, at Searchmetrics

Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.