Why SEO Isn’t and Never Was Just for Bots



Why SEO Isn’t and Never Was Just for Botsd-tags
24 October 2023
With Google’s algorithms changing their tune every now and then, striving to climb the ranks of search results feels like solving a never-ending riddle. But, if you take a closer look, you’ll find that SEO isn’t about playing games with Google. It’s about creating an online experience that truly pleases users. Join me as we go through the major Google algorithm updates, and you’ll see that “gaming” this tech giant simply boils down to serving the users better.



Table of contents

Just a month ago, I was consulting with a Client who was in the process of creating a new B2B website, specializing in visual designs. They were treating this project seriously, seeking consultations from SEO experts, developers, and UX designers.

During our discussions about the pros and cons of certain design elements – specifically, adding an automatic video slider to the above-the-fold section, which I strongly advised against – the Client said, “Mr. Wojciech, I understand the importance of a fast-performing website, but I also want it to be user-centric.”

At that moment I felt a bit confused and started thinking to myself: “But SEO is all about making things easier and more convenient for the users…”

You might try your best to adapt your website to the latest SEO guidelines and keep your fingers crossed that this will help you rank higher in SERPs. However, if you miss the core purpose of SEO, then, I’m afraid, your efforts may become futile.

So, What’s the Main Purpose of SEO?

Simply put, to make the search experience for users convenient and pleasurable, but that’s not all. Google also wants online business owners, like you, to receive a decent amount of valuable web traffic, made up of the customers who are searching for the services and products that you offer. And to make this happen, Google keeps releasing new algorithms, at the same time modifying the existing ones. That’s one thing.

The other is that Google has its own ideas and its own criteria based on the data it collects (and we all know that Google has lots of data), for determining what makes a website valuable to users.

Read that again.

…make a website valuable to users.

Yet, making a website valuable to users isn’t a matter of Google’s preferences or just a gut feeling; it’s a conclusion firmly grounded in the extensive data collection that Google, let’s face it, gathers and possesses.

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You see, attempting to outwit Google isn’t really the key to high rankings. Instead, your goal should be to ensure that your website is a welcoming and helpful place for users. That the users can effortlessly find on your website what they’re looking for. That they enjoy exploring and interacting with your website.

Here comes the good news.

Google shares the same goals with you. It wants its users to be satisfied with the search results. It wants its users to find exactly what they are after.

That’s why Google introduced Rich Snippets, for example. Among SERP features, there is Direct Answer, which is often disfavored by website owners. I know, being featured in this Rich Snipped might seem like a hit to your website traffic (or CBS’s website when you look below) because users don’t need to click through to find what they want.

example of rich snippets in google search results

But, here’s where our plot takes a fascinating twist. From a user’s perspective, this is a clear win. Think about it – for simple queries like “who won the super bowl 2023,” who wants to wade through a lengthy blog post filled with a million keywords and rehashed information? We’d all rather have a quick and concise answer right there on the search results page, right?

example of direct answer in google search results

So, Google’s move to provide Direct Answers might seem like a curveball to SEO Specialists and website owners, but it’s a home run for users. It’s a classic example of how Google’s changes aren’t about making it hard for us but about giving users the best possible experience.

This is just the beginning. Stay with me, and I’ll show you more examples of how Google is trying to make things better for people. You’ll see that SEO isn’t just about search engines. It’s like a team effort where website owners, SEO Specialists, and regular Google users all work together to make the internet better, one search at a time.

SEO Triangle: Google, Users, and You

There are 3 key players in this game. One corner belongs to Google, the other to the user, and the third to the website owner, which is you.

seo triangle: google, user and website owner

Now, consider this: The user wants something from the website owner, be it a purchase or information. The website owner wants to sell or promote something to the user. They strike a kind of “deal” with each other.

What you may not realize yet is that both the user and the website owner have another “deal” going on, and it’s with Google.

Think About It GIF by Identity - Find & Share on GIPHY

source: giphy

The user wants a smooth, hassle-free search experience, and the website owner wants that user to land on their website. Google’s business relies on dominating the search market, but to maintain that dominance, it needs both users (by providing them with a great search experience) and website owners (by indexing content that users seek).

📌 This basically means that if Google fails to deliver convenient searching for users and doesn’t push up websites that meet users’ needs, their business model crumbles, and people will look elsewhere.

What’s the conclusion?

If Google can’t deliver a user-friendly search experience and doesn’t boost websites that live up to users’ expectations, its business model goes south, and people will start looking for alternatives.

What I’ve been trying to help you realize during those couple of minutes is that Google’s actions, meaning algorithm updates, are aimed at benefiting people. So should our SEO efforts.

To make even more sense of what I’m trying to help you realize, let’s talk about the major algorithm updates and how they’ve impacted the search experience.

The Digital Domino Effect: How Google’s Algorithm Updates Impact Page Experience in Search Results

Over the years, we’ve seen a dozen minor and major changes that were made to Google’s algorithms. Interestingly, each one of them is always trying to make the internet better for its users.

First, let’s take a look at the list below to get a sense of the scale. I’ll be listing several notable Google algorithm updates that have been rolled out so far:

  • Panda (2011) – Focused on content quality and penalized low-quality, duplicate, or thin content.
  • Penguin (2012) – Targeted link spam and manipulative linkbuilding practices.
  • Hummingbird (2013) – Improved semantic search and understanding of user intent.
  • Pigeon (2014) – Enhanced local search results, impacting local businesses.
  • Mobile-Friendly Update (2015) – Prioritized mobile-friendly websites in mobile search results.
  • RankBrain (2015) – Introduced machine learning to improve search results and understand user queries better.
  • Possum (2016) – Influenced local search rankings and increased the importance of physical location.
  • Fred (2017) – Targeted low-quality, ad-heavy, and affiliate-focused content.
  • Medic (2018) – Affected websites in the health and wellness industry, emphasizing expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T).
  • BERT (2019) – Improved natural language understanding, helping Google understand context and nuances in search queries.
  • Featured Snippet Deduplication (2020) – Eliminated duplication of webpages in featured snippets and regular Page 1 organic listings.
  • Product Reviews Update (2021) – Rewarded in-depth product reviews over thin content.
  • Page Experience Update (2021) – Focused on improving user experience, with a gradual rollout.
  • Spam Update (2021) – Targeted spam in search results, with a second update to follow.
  • Product Review Update (2021) – Improved product review content in search results.
  • Page Experience Update (2022) – Enhanced page experience factors in desktop search.
  • Helpful Content Update (2022) – Focused on human-written content by prioritizing Expertise (E-E-A-T).
  • Link Spam Update (2022) – Combated unnatural links with the use of “SpamBrain.”
  • Product Reviews Update (2023) – Advanced evaluation factors to reward reviews showing expertise and trustworthiness.
  • Reviews Update (2023) – Revised critical parts of Google’s help document for reviews.
  • Spam Update (2023) – Focused on reducing spam content across multiple languages.

Add to this list regular Core Updates, and updates of updates.

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You’d probably agree with me that all of this entails a significant amount of work in pinpointing issues, finding solutions, and incorporating these adjustments into the existing algorithms. Google’s goal here is to continually enhance the search experience for users while keeping their edge over other search engines.

However, I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to be a Google advocate. I’m also aware that Google’s updates can sometimes penalize high-quality websites while rewarding spammy ones, mainly due to the vast scale of the web and the presence of various black-hat techniques. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that – in my opinion – Google has made considerable progress over the years in managing these issues.

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Coming back to the main point, naturally, we could talk about each and every update listed above, as they usually aim to make things easier for people. However, to keep things short, let’s focus on a few key examples that really show what these changes are all about. I’m sure these examples will give you a better understanding of how Google’s updates are like the heartbeat of the internet, affecting both users and website owners.

Mobile-Friendly Update

Release date: April 2015

To illustrate Google’s long-term plans to make its users’ searching experience better, let’s take a trip back to 2015. That was the beginning of Google’s efforts to encourage website owners to prioritize mobile optimization.

Since then, Google has been steadily but subtly nudging online business owners to ensure their websites look great and work smoothly on mobile devices. Actually, if we backtrack and look at what people related to Google said back in 2015, it becomes clear that they saw the growing importance of mobile search.

importnace of mobile seo back in 2015

If you think back to that year, you’d likely remember that mobile devices weren’t as popular for internet use as desktop computers. However, the trend was shifting, and data showed that users were increasingly interested in browsing websites on their mobile devices. So, the move towards mobile optimization was necessary to keep up with this changing user behavior.

graph showing the rise of mobile devices vs desktop devicesSource: statcounter

Naturally, this preferred device shift didn’t happen overnight because neither users suddenly abandoned desktops in favor of mobile devices, nor could Google introduce this change instantaneously.

That’s why the shift toward mobile-first indexing was spanning for several years.

During this period, new SEO recommendations and optimization tips were successively emerging and coming into play. One of them said that web content should be adapted from desktops to be effortlessly viewable and readable on mobile devices. The same principle applied to sections with internal linking.

📌 Let me say that again: Google wasn’t forcing online business owners to adapt their websites to smaller screens. This tech giant simply tried to advise the website owners to respond to new user preferences.

Surprisingly, despite mobile-first being a standard for almost 10 years, there are still some websites that – simply put – not only look bad when displayed on smaller screens but also are completely impossible to interact with.

This happens because the typical website development process usually begins with the desktop version. UX designers, developers, copywriters, and even clients frequently rely on software and tools that are more convenient and user-friendly on computers. As a result, the desktop version of a website is usually prioritized, while the mobile version may feel like a secondary consideration.

Take, for instance, the half-page cookie banner shown below:

example of a bad mobile experience because of the desktop first designSource: Bulgari

or a menu icon placed in the top left corner (most users are right-handed). You would probably agree with me that both examples fall under the really bad user experience category. Sadly, you can still find websites that are tough to use on mobile devices due to:

  • tiny text and buttons
  • unresponsive design
  • excessive scrolling
  • non-mobile friendly forms
  • incompatible features (eg. hover menus that don’t work on touch screens)

All of these issues lead to a higher bounce rate. And when users leave quickly, it damages your website’s reputation and ranking in search results.

📌 REMEMBER: Focusing on mobile optimization isn’t just a successful strategy for website owners, resulting in higher Google rankings; it’s also a win for the vast majority of users since nowadays most web traffic comes from smartphones. Therefore, make sure your website is displayed correctly on mobile devices and responds well to tapping, scrolling, and pinching as this simply benefits everyone.

Page Experience Update

Release dates: August 2021, January 2022, February 2022, May 2023

This update is all about making sure web pages load quickly and are ready to react to user interaction. We’ve all visited sites that seemed to take forever to fully load. You definitely wouldn’t want your potential customers to click away just because your website is a bit too slow, would you? This is why Google provides tools for you to check if your website isn’t causing frustration for your visitors which makes them leave your website.

Going Tracy Morgan GIF by Team Coco - Find & Share on GIPHY

source: giphy

Interestingly, loading speed and the overall website performance are multifaceted aspects, making them pretty hard to evaluate with just one metric. To handle this complexity, Google introduced the concept of Core Web Vitals that help assess the user-friendliness of a website. In short, websites with better Core Web Vitals scores – meaning those working faster, responsive quickly, and visually stable – generally rank higher.

Barely surprising? Well, then look here:

conversion rate is the highest when page load speed is the lowestSource: Portent

This graph is a result of research done by Portent. They wanted to measure how exactly loading speed impacts your revenue, provided you’re an e-commerce owner. After analyzing data from 20 websites and over 27,000 landing pages, they concluded that a website that takes no more than 1 second to load fully has a three times higher conversion rate than a website that requires 5 seconds to be displayed correctly on a screen.

 Again, when Google rates website speed and its responsiveness, it’s not just a whim that doesn’t have any serious purpose behind it. The tech giant does that to make sure its users and online store owners get what they want: the former gets fast-loading websites, and the latter gets a higher conversion rate, thus making everyone happy.

📌 So my advice to you is to run a Core Web Vitals audit to verify if your website gets the high-quality points given to fast-loading pages.

SIDE NOTE: Take a moment to check out Google Search Central’s official documentation on page experience in search results. It’s not lengthy, so you can quickly grasp a better understanding of Google’s core ranking systems and how they impact internet users.

Product Review Update

Release dates: April 2021, December 2021, March 2022, July 2022, September 2022, February 2023

The shift toward promoting reviews in SEO is, in part, a result of the evolution of Internet marketing. I’m pretty positive that over time, you must have seen a growing number of reviews, rankings, and comparisons that weren’t necessarily based on user-generated content. Instead, they were created by marketing teams as a form of advertising and promotion of a particular brand.

However, internet users have a strong preference for authentic feedback from real product and service users, and rightfully so. They value genuine experiences more than marketing messages, as it helps them make well-informed decisions. That’s why Google Search’s reviews system came into play. This is also why Google algorithm updates focusing on rewarding the importance of pages containing honest, trustworthy reviews supported by real-world experiences have become a top priority.

Interestingly, Review System updates have become even more important now, when the amount of AI-generated content released to the internet is on the rise. While AI, like ChatGPT, undoubtedly excels in various tasks, it often struggles with many human-world-related things.

For example, it isn’t good at understanding the subtle nuances of cultural context and real-world experiences. Just take a look at one of my conversations with ChatGPT:

phylosophical conversation with chat gpt

Here’s the main point: Google’s April 2023 update to its Review System is a big deal because it’s not just about product reviews anymore. It’s all about showing real, everyday experiences across your whole website. Google knows that people simply trust web content written by actual humans with real experience more than texts made of words mixed by artificial intelligence. Or the ones written by a less skilled copywriter who simply isn’t good at their job.

📌 What does it mean to you, an online business owner? It’s super important to get real reviews from people who’ve actually used a product you’re selling. This is what Google and its users want.

SIDE NOTE: If you’re not sure how to prove to Google that your web content is created by someone who really knows their stuff, meaning they have the experience, you can check out Google’s guidelines here:

Experience: Consider the extent to which the content creator has the necessary first-hand or life experience for the topic. Many types of pages are trustworthy and achieve their purpose well when created by people with a wealth of personal experience. For example, which would you trust: a product review from someone who has personally used the product or a “review” by someone who has not?

Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

Helpful Content Update

Release dates: August 2022, December 2022, September 2023

The Helpful Content Update is Google’s way of rewarding websites that provide useful information to users. To be more precise, these algorithm changes are all about making sure that users get to see only valuable, original content when they search for something.

In short, the Helpful Content Update works like a system that assesses websites for content that doesn’t offer much value and, as a result, doesn’t truly benefit Google users. This kind of content is less likely to rank well in search results.

📌 Here’s my take on Helpful Content updates: In this subtle way, Google is nudging website owners to make their web content informative, valuable, and conscience – all for the sake of users’ convenience, naturally.

There’s more to it, to be honest, so let me tell you how we, at Delante, help our Clients adapt to the Helpful Content updates.

If you happen to read our case studies, you’ll notice that one of the most common recommendations we give our Clients is to publish more informative content on their homepages. Why does it matter?

Many website owners think that their brand is well-known, so they don’t need to explain what their company does. Everybody knows that, right?

Surprisingly, this is rarely the case.

Even if the majority of potential prospects don’t actually read it in detail and only skim through it, having the right amount of information on the homepage about the company, its offerings, values, benefits, and experience simply helps build brand credibility.

comment on linkedinSource: Lily Ray’s LinkedIn profile

It’s not just Lily Ray and Delante who hold these views. Regular users also expect to see more informative content on homepages. Just take a look at the B2B Web Usability Report from Huff/KoMarketing in 2015:

report on elements on websites that anooy buyersSource: B2B Web Usability Report

Half of the survey participants expressed their irritation when they couldn’t easily figure out what a particular brand does while visiting a website.

Conclusion? When people search for a business that offers dog grooming, the website should explicitly state, “Yes, we do offer dog grooming,” but in a more creative way, of course.

📌 Here is my recommendation to you: Add an H1 header with the most important keyword to the Above The Fold section of your homepage. This way your visitors will get a clear idea about the type of service/product they can find on the website.

Actually, while talking about copy for the homepage, there’s another thing that falls into the category of bad user experience – or rather extremely unhelpful content category that you should be aware of.

It’s pretty common that the main headline on a homepage is just a mix of fancy words that actually don’t convey any real meaning. I’m talking about messages like: “advanced solutions for business,” “we can help your company grow,” or “fuel your growth with our proven solutions.”

Even though it may sound impressive, this kind of communication fails to convey any meaningful message. If your visitors aren’t familiar with your brand and can’t figure out what it does within seconds of landing on your website, such claims are, to put it honestly, entirely pointless.

Season 2 Nbc GIF by The Office - Find & Share on GIPHY

Source: giphy

📌 Here is my recommendation to you: Use simple language.

Easier said than done? Not necessarily. One important rule in copywriting is to use words and phrases that create clear pictures in your mind. Let me show you a few examples.

Which one is easier to visualize in your head:

  • “Solutions for business” or “Fuel your growth with our marketing automation system”
  • “Educational opportunities” or “The only platform you need to learn a foreign language easily”
  • “Efficient transportation solutions” or “Enjoy hassle-free commutes with our eco-friendly electric scooters”

Just take a look at the examples above once again. Which one would you be more likely to buy: the product or service with unclear language, or the one that says exactly what it does/is?

So would – and do(!) – your target audience.

With that being said, algorithm updates like Helpful Content aren’t meant to make your (online business owner) life difficult – they’re designed to make life easier for users.

Let me say that again: Google takes the search experience seriously, and therefore it makes changes to its algorithms to ensure that people get credible information. This tech giant wants to avoid showing users inaccurate or fake content because that would drive people away from using Google.

High-quality content from authoritative authors who have expertise, provide unique insights, and demonstrate credibility is what Google aims to rank.

📌 Here’s a suggestion for you: Ensure that the content on your website serves a clear purpose, whether it’s informing, entertaining, or motivating action. Avoid adding uninspiring or redundant text. Instead, focus on presenting unique insights relevant to your niche or industry, demonstrating credibility, and showing your expertise. This approach will not only benefit your website’s visitors but also improve your ranking in search results.

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Is Playing Games with Google Algorithms Actually Worth It?

From time to time, you may come up with someone talking about discovering an amazing workaround for Google’s algorithm changes. Until recently, you could inform Google about “making” an update to an old article by just changing the date, eg. from 2019 to 2023. In most cases that sufficed to watch the page climb the ranks. However, Google’s official documents now make it clear that this is a dishonest tactic they don’t approve of.

So, the real question is, should you even bother trying to game Google algorithm updates?

Pondering Which One GIF by Moncho - Find & Share on GIPHY

source: giphy

📌 Here’s my take on it: If you want to run a reputable business for longer than just a few months, the answer is clear: “No, you shouldn’t.”

While making use of these “clever” tricks might give your website a quick traffic boost, Google will catch on eventually, trust me.

There is a reason Google disapproves of black hat SEO. Not only does it contribute to a bad user experience, but it also increases the likelihood of Google users switching to a different search engine that gives them the content they truly want. For that simple reason, Google punishes website owners relying on shady tactics by pushing them down the search engine results pages.

It’s just not worth the risk, is it?

Let’s Wrap Things Up: 3 Key Takeaways

Remember, we all play on the same team with Google. Our mutual goal is to reach and serve the internet users who genuinely seek our products/services. We also want to make the prospects’ time spent on our website truly enjoyable. To help us with that, Google continuously does market research and comes up with solutions that benefit both the users and website owners. This means that by following Google’s guidelines, you can set your online business up for success.

I assume that you’ve just absorbed a lot of information, and it might be hard to remember everything. To make it easier for you to recall the most important bits, let me summarize this article with three key takeaways:

Takeaway #1: Prioritize User Experience
Google’s algorithm updates are ultimately aimed at enhancing the user experience. To succeed in SEO, focus on creating valuable web content and optimizing your website so that it genuinely serves and engages your audience.

 Takeaway #2: Authenticity Matters
Users trust content written by real people with actual experiences more than AI-generated text. That being said, do your best to publish authentic, valuable information on your website.

Takeaway #3: Long-Term Perspective

While some may attempt to exploit loopholes in Google’s algorithms for short-term gains, this strategy won’t get you far. Building a reputable online presence that genuinely serves users should be the primary focus if you aim for long-term success.

📌 So, to sum it all up, to watch your business thrive, try to do SEO that answers your target audience’s needs, instead of hacking Google’s algorithms.

If you aren’t sure where to start, know that at Delante, we’re eager to assist you in brainstorming ways to make your website user-friendly and your content valuable. Get in touch with us wherever you decide you’d use our expertise in search engine optimization.

Wojciech Urban SEO R&D Specialist
Wojciech Urban

SEO R&D Specialist

R&D specialist in SEO and web analytics. He feels most comfortable in the area of technical SEO, and his main task is to ensure that websites are optimized for search engines and achieve high rankings in search results.

Wojciech Urban SEO R&D Specialist
Wojciech Urban

SEO R&D Specialist

R&D specialist in SEO and web analytics. He feels most comfortable in the area of technical SEO, and his main task is to ensure that websites are optimized for search engines and achieve high rankings in search results.

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What’s the main purpose of SEO?

SEO’s main purpose is to improve the search experience for users and bring valuable web traffic to online businesses. Google achieves this by using its algorithms and data to determine what makes a website valuable to users.

Is it worth trying to trick Google's algorithms?

Attempting to manipulate Google’s algorithm updates isn’t a wise approach. While it might temporarily boost your website’s traffic, Google will eventually catch on. Moreover, these tactics not only lead to a bad user experience but also increase the chances of users switching to a different search engine. Consequently, Google penalizes website owners who rely on dishonest tactics by pushing them down the search results.

What’s the purpose of Google algorithm updates?

The main purpose of Google algorithm updates is to make searching the internet better for everyone. Google wants to ensure that when people looking for something, they find helpful and relevant results quickly. These updates are like fine-tuning a machine to give users the best possible experience and connect them with the information or products they’re looking for. It’s all about improving the quality of search results and making the internet more user-friendly.

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