What did we learn in 2022? A look at SEO trends

Performance-io / March 10, 2023

In 2022, we saw a lot of shake up in the SEO industry with changes to Google ranking algorithms and SEO tool updates. In this blog we take a quick look at some of our learnings and relevant SEO trends from 2022.

1. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in SEO content

The SEO community has often dismissed using AI due to its tendency to produce rudimentary and inaccurate content. However, with GPT3 now being adopted and the promise of GPT4, AI content is becoming more sophisticated. As better language models develop, the gap is closing between what users recognise as AI-written and human-written content.

But is this the same for search engines? Google’s ‘helpful content’ update was seen by some insiders as a cull of ranking AI content. As using AI-generated content is against Google’s guidelines, the search engine outwardly insists its unwavering ability to detect such content and penalise pages. There are varying reports on whether the update did impact AI content to the level it should have, and if the more refined AI content was as equally affected.

AI is starting to play a more prominent role in the generation of digital content. As Google tries to keep up with the rise of the machine author, the big question is how will this change Google’s approach to content in 2023?

2. Helpful content updates

Google’s theme of 2022 seemed to be honing in on ‘helpful content’, which is defined as being person-centred and valuable to the user, in contrast to box-ticking content written for search engines.

Two ‘helpful content’ updates were released in 2022. These were slightly panic-inducing for anyone communicating with an audience via a search engine; however, both updates had minimal impacts on healthcare sites and the industry as a whole. (Looks like we can keep our jobs for now!)

Google will certainly continue to update their algorithms in 2023 and to move the goal posts for SEOs in its quest to provide the best, most helpful results for their users. Although we’ve come through these updates unscathed, we’re certain there will be more updates in the future, some of which we may not find as helpful.

3. E-E-A-T update

E-A-T – short for expertise, authority and trust – has become a key part of Google’s ranking algorithms over the past few years. We know that each page must demonstrate its credentials in these three areas in order to be served competitively in search results and that this is particularly important for content that falls under the category of ‘Your Money or Your Life’, such as health-related information.

In 2022, Google added an E for ‘experience’ to this core acronym, resulting in an evolution to E-E-A-T. In addition to the pre-existing criteria, Google’s quality raters now assess to what extent the author/approver has first-hand, practical experience with the topic at hand. For example, a kidney disease patient describing how they are coping with treatment and sharing personal tips for other patients would be seen as having high experience, while professional expertise would be required to write about medical advice on treatment options.

4. The power of SEO

Working across a vast range of big pharma portfolios in 2022, it has become evident once again what a powerful tool SEO is to create audience-focused, high-quality content. All the time and money you spend on creating content for your website will unfortunately go to waste if your desired audience cannot find it. This is where SEO comes in.

SEO is an invaluable marketing channel that not only ensures your content addresses topics that people really care about, but that it also gets it found on Google, bringing you the return of investment (ROI) you’re looking for. Whether you want to connect with healthcare professionals, patients or the general public – SEO should always be the first step to inform your content development. Without it, you can’t expect to drive traffic (i.e., users) to your website.

5. Health literacy

Towards the end of 2022 we looked at health literacy and the use of plain language across the pharma sector. While many pharma websites are aimed at educated and health-literate healthcare professionals, when writing copy for public-facing websites were we considering health literacy? Were we breaking the text up into readable chunks? Were we fully considering the length of our sentences and whether some words might be difficult to understand?

With extra thought about implementing plain language techniques, it’s possible to maximise readability, alongside SEO optimisation – it’s exciting to move into 2023 with this on the agenda.

6. SEO tools

A bad workman blames his tools, but we’re not bad workmen. In 2022, we continually monitored updates to tools such as Google Search Console, Google PageSpeed Insights and ScreamingFrog as well as the introduction of Google Analytics 4.

One of the biggest changes was the removal of the international targeting function in Google Search Console. Previously, this enabled you to choose the region that was most relevant for your site. With this feature gone, webmasters have to rely on other signals like hreflang and country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) to help Google understand which version of their website is the most relevant in each location that they operate in. This meant that errors within the hreflang tags on multilingual and multi-regional sites are now more likely to trigger errors in ranking URLs for international websites. (Hreflang tags allow SEOs to target specific languages and locations for their pages.)

Although Google still maintained its support for hreflang and previous SEO recommendations for such sites, it was still a big alteration to one of our most used tools. Changes or new limitations to SEO tools mean we have to adapt and be resourceful to ensure our insights and strategies are always the best for our clients’ online performance.

To keep ahead of the curve, we’re staying sharp for any changes in 2023!

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