How SEO Has Changed Since 2018

by | Jul 1, 2024 | Blog, SEO

“Life is a game in which the rules are constantly changing.” – Quentin Crisp

The same concept can be applied to the constantly changing world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). 

In each year since 2018, Google has rolled out at least ONE significant Algorithm Update that has exponentially changed the face of SEO, i.e., the rules of the game. 

Whether you’re a business owner, e-commerce leader, or private equity firm director, it is critical to continuously monitor and adapt to the evolving guidelines. 

Let’s explore how SEO has transformed since 2018, why these changes matter, and how eAccountable can position your brand for SEO success. 

August 2018: The Dawn of E-A-T with the “Medic” Update

Launched on August 1, 2018, the Google Medic Update jump-started the concept of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) in website content, later expanding to Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) in December 2022. 

This update was specifically targeted at “Your Money or Your Life” content, abbreviated to YMYL. YMYL content is what Google uses to describe keywords that could impact a person’s health, safety, and finances. The Google Medic Update specifically targeted sites that ranked for YMYL keywords and had low E-A-T signals. 

As expected, the update was a wake up call for many news, eCommerce, and public information sites that ranked for medical, legal, and financial keywords. YMYL content has a sizable impact on people’s everyday lives, which is why it is essential that sites like these share credible information. 

For businesses, this meant reassessing content strategies to ensure they reflect high standards of knowledge and reliability—traits that resonate strongly with today’s discerning consumers.

October 2019: BERT and the Evolution of Longer Search Queries

Fast forward to October 2019, and we encountered BERT, which is an abbreviation of  Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers

BERT was groundbreaking, as it helped Google better understand the nuances and context of longer search queries by reducing them down to the most salient points in an effort to better connect users with their search intents. This update was crucial for businesses targeting more specific, conversational queries as part of a long-tail SEO strategy.

For e-commerce and digital businesses, BERT necessitated a shift towards creating content that answers specific questions with precision and depth. The ability to grasp the searcher’s intent and offer the most relevant content became an invaluable skill, underscoring the importance of sophisticated, natural language processing in SEO strategies.

May 2020: Core Web Vitals 

In May 2020, Google introduced Core Web Vitals, a new set of metrics designed to measure the health of a website’s user experience. 

Core Web Vitals introduced three new metrics that became the barometer for a healthy user experience: 

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): Measures the loading speed for your website by measuring the time it takes for the largest content element visible in the viewport to fully load and render on a webpage, serving as an indicator of perceived load speed.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): Measures the interactivity of your website by quantifying how much visible content shifts unexpectedly during the loading process of a webpage, indicating the stability of the user experience.
  • First Input Delay (FID): Measures visual stability for your website by measuring the time from when a user first interacts with a page (like clicking a link or tapping a button) to the time when the browser is actually able to begin processing event handlers in response to that interaction.

The ranking signals introduced in the May 2020 update officially went live in 2021. They highlighted the necessity of fast-loading, stable, and interactive websites built for optimal user experience, reshaping many businesses’ technical SEO priorities. 

April 2021: The First Product Reviews Update

In April 2021, Google rolled out its first Product Reviews Update, which was an attempt at creating a standard for websites that gave product purchasing advice and recommendations to users. 

This update further refined Google’s criteria for content quality by prioritizing and rewarding in-depth and insightful product reviews over superficial content without unique insights. This puts extra pressure on businesses to make a consolidated effort to enhance user’s shopping experiences and decision-making processes when purchasing online. 

May 2022: Noteworthy Broad Core Update

In May 2022, a Broad Core Update was introduced that led to many sites losing traffic and not recovering due to Google significantly prioritizing content evaluation based on Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) practices. If the May 2018 update introduced the concept of E-A-T to many business owners, the May 2022 update made following it mandatory.

Some eCommerce sites were able to recover lost website traffic by analyzing the update’s impact through visibility and volatility metrics and updating content to better fit Google’s E-A-T metrics. 

August 2022: The First Helpful Content Update

In August 2022, only a few months following the Broad Core Update, Google’s first Helpful Content Update was introduced in order to remove “unhelpful” or low-quality content based on a set of criteria laid out by Google

  • Focus on User-First Content: This update prioritized helpful and reliable content that serves users first, discouraging content written purely for enhancing search engine rankings and not for users.
  • Transparency in Content Creation: This helpful content update stresses the importance of transparency around content creation processes, especially with the use of automation and/or AI. Revealing how content is produced, who is behind it, and the rationale for any technological assistance used helps align with Google’s emphasis on expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T). 

An additional update in December 2022 added another “E” to E-A-T: Experience. E-E-A-T, or Double “E-A-T”, was introduced to demonstrate that content was produced with a degree of experience, further prioritizing content that is helpful and reliable to users. 

September – November 2023: Another Helpful Content Update & Broad Core Update

The trio of updates in September, October, and November 2023 marked some of the most volatile impacts on SEO seen over the past five years. 

Starting with the September 2023 Helpful Content Update, Google created an “improved classifier” that more readily targets and cracks down on unhelpful content. Since the update, content that Google deems was written primarily for SEO purposes rather than for people, as well as content that provided a subpar user experience, has hurt the most. The goal of this was to improve the relevancy and quality of search results by better aligning them with user queries.

Next was the October 2023 Spam Update, which aimed to reduce the visible spam in search results, particularly when it came to cloaking, hacked, auto-generated, and scraped spam. 

Finally, the November 2023 Broad Core Update was most likely deployed to help support and reinforce items in the September 2023 HCU and the October 2023 Spam Update. 

As a result of all three of these updates, niche blogs that focused on very specific topics but lacked the same domain authority as larger websites experienced anywhere from 50% – 90% traffic loss. This period underscored the critical need for online businesses to not only focus on niche keywords but also to ensure their websites’ domain authority within their industry on search engine results pages (SERPs). 

Working With An Expert SEO Team

Navigating these continual changes in SEO on your own can be daunting. That’s where we can step in as an expert partner, taking your organic search channel to the next level. 

At eAccountable, we’re no strangers to change. Our experienced team has confidently navigated the past 24 years of changes within the digital marketing industry. Our SEO team specializes in staying ahead of the curve of any new algorithm updates, ensuring your organic search engine presence thrives amid these tumultuous changes. 

Our hands-on approach will ensure your business not only adapts to these changes but also capitalizes on them to outperform competitors and achieve sustainable SEO growth. Whether it’s optimizing your Core Web Vitals or enhancing your site’s E-E-A-T, you can rest assured that your SEO strategy is not just current but future-proofed against upcoming trends and changes.

Interested in learning more? Drop us a line here for a free consultation with our SEO team.