Core Algorithm Recovery Tactics: Content Consolidation (Part 1)

core-algorithm-recovery-tactics:-content-consolidation-(part-1)

What is Content Consolidation: The Consolidation ProcessHow Consolidation Impacts SEOKeeping Track of Your Content Consolidation EffortsContent Consolidation and Algorithm RecoveryHow to Start Your Content Consolidation

Written by Cullen Smith and Paul VanHevel.

If your website traffic has taken a hit from core algorithm updates — your site can recover. But it will take patience and long-term SEO strategies.

Our team has been providing clients with actionable tactics to successfully recover from core algorithm updates and now we’re sharing what we know in our new series aptly titled Google Algorithm Update Recovery Tactics.

In this series, we break down the most integral parts of a successful algorithm recovery into actionable tactics that work for businesses — and bottom lines.

This article kicks off our series by introducing a recovery tactic we have found effective for our clients: content consolidation. We’re here to answer: What is content consolidation? Why is it important to SEO? What role does it play in algorithm recovery? And more.

Answering these crucial questions is just the beginning of improving content quality, and overall content experience sustainably and successfully over time.

Please note, algorithmic recovery is a long-term pursuit for businesses, website owners, and content creators that may have been negatively impacted by core algorithm updates. Unfortunately, with core updates, there are no “smoking-gun” solutions, said best by Glenn Gabe in How to Recover from Core Algorithm Updates.

“You will only see recovery if you significantly improve the site over the long-term. If you haven’t done enough to improve the site overall, you might have to wait several updates to see an increase as you keep improving the site. And since core updates are typically separated by 3-4 months, that means you might need to wait a while.”

Glenn Gabe

A Brief History of Online Content

Content consolidation is beginning to increase in importance within a rather long history of content and SEO strategy. Mass content generation had previously been a popular tactic among SEO professionals. Essentially, the goal was to create as much content as possible for as many keywords as possible with little regard to the quality or depth of coverage on the subject.

Google’s Search Quality Guidelines summarizes this old tactic by stating, “Content quality may be diminished by whether or not the content serves the genuine interest of the user or if it’s existing solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines.”

Some SEO professionals craft dedicated content and separate landing pages for several related topics, also known as “chasing long-tail keywords.” So, instead of a single, unified page that connects and groups semantically related ideas, there is an overabundance of “thin” content living on sites all across the internet. Historically, this was a rather successful SEO tactic. However, we have identified this as a common problem among websites negatively affected by core algorithm updates, leading to lower visibility as well as potentially lowered traffic. To help combat these negative effects, content consolidation is a foundational starting point for publisher sites.

Does your site have low quality, duplicate, or “thin” content? Content consolidation is a solution for multiple problem areas within a site. It also ensures that Google and searchers are able to find the highest quality content simply and efficiently.

So, let’s dive further into understanding what content consolidation is and isn’t — and why it’s such a powerful SEO tactic.

What is Content Consolidation: The Consolidation Process

Content consolidation is the process of auditing a website to identify “thin” content, low-quality content, or cannibalization of keyword themes among similar content, and methodically determining the best next step for the under-performing content. After identifying content that’s no longer useful for your SEO strategy, you have several options.

301 Redirects and Content Removal

Select which pages are best to 301-redirect to other URLs, and which are best to act as host pages to receive value from the redirects. Redirects will consist of all the pages that do not hit the mark and are not providing much value as an individual page. But, while individual pages may not be very valuable, when combined with another piece of related content, they have the potential to be quite valuable. This strategy should only be used to consolidate URLs that contain similar or overlapping content. Sometimes, redirects will be the bulk of a site’s content consolidation next steps. And in other instances, you may even remove content outright.

Increase content value by identifying and transferring any themes with “thin” or low-value content pieces. By doing this, you’ll be creating more value within the end destination, as you’re making it more robust and filling in any topic gaps that may have been overlooked when the original content piece was initially crafted. There will be some instances in which the low-value content is already addressed in the host piece. If that is the case, simply implement a blanket 301-redirect and continue on.

Additionally, host pages should only contain content that broadly addresses topics. This allows the host pages to be better, more natural hosts for any niche topics. Each new theme under the topic should be transferred over as discussed in the paragraph above, and a relevant subheader should be appended to the content to provide clarity as to what the section is discussing as well as to ensure that the primary keywords of that content are being directly targeted.

When doing a large consolidation, content can get quite long and become a bit daunting for a reader to get through. Providing a table of contents that has jumplinks to each section is a very handy tool that can help users find exactly what they’re looking for quickly. Along with the table of contents, you can also add in a brief summary at the top of the page to amplify user experience and provide a quick synopsis of the topics and themes being covered in the content piece.

How Consolidation Impacts SEO

Remove or Repurpose Low-Quality, “Thin” Content

Having a significant problem with low-quality content can bog down your site, damage your site’s overall authority, and create less than desirable associations for Google. These site-wide signals could have a negative impact on your site’s ability to rank, and Google may choose to rank your pages lower than others who may be providing more robust content that is helpful and sourced by industry experts.

“The landscape is becoming increasingly competitive. Put E-A-T at the forefront of your SEO strategy.”

Lily Ray

Google’s E-A-T

How can you ensure that you have quality content that Google considers worthy of ranking? Google is continually optimizing its search algorithm — the set of rules Google uses to prioritize results. And it prioritizes results with high-quality content. How? Google has over 10,000 search quality evaluators who measure and assess website quality in live user tests.

These evaluators are looking for E-A-T — expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

Evaluators’ feedback is then benchmarked and used to inform future algorithm updates. Google’s search algorithm is primed to identify signals that correlate with E-A-T — and then prioritize that high-quality content.

E-A-T isn’t new. Originating from Google’s 2014 Search Quality Guidelines, E-A-T has been used throughout various Google documentation. For example, E-A-T is mentioned 135 times in Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines — the criteria and guidebook used to evaluate websites, authors, and content. In 2017, E-A-T was used to combat the rise of questionable news sources and conspiracy sites.

And with Google’s Medic update in August 2018, E-A-T started being used to evaluate health, medical, science, eCommerce, and other sites that Google considers “Your Money, Your Life” (YMYL). The chaotic nature of 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic pushed E-A-T even further and focused primarily on authoritativeness.

E-A-T also isn’t a specific algorithm update, direct ranking factor, or metric with a score. It’s essential — but it’s also contextual. Google’s search quality evaluators identify E-A-T through signals. A signal can be anything that contributes to a good or bad experience on your website — or even at your business.

Why is E-A-T vague? Google is constantly fighting spam in its search results. If it shared exactly how the search algorithm prioritized results, spammers would have an easier time causing chaos — and even more importantly, searchers wouldn’t have access to top-quality results. So, search marketers are left to use speculation, data, and patterns to piece together E-A-T on their own — and there are some common E-A-T signals that search experts can agree on.

To learn more about E-A-T and why it’s important, read Lily Ray’s 2021 MozCon presentation, How the E-A-T Ecosystem has Transformed Organic Search from the Medic Update to Now.

Understanding and making decisions based on E-A-T is incredibly important for content consolidation. When combining lower-value content to create a more robust and valuable page, you should also be putting processes in place to review, edit, and substantiate any claims being made within this already existing content.

Ensure Your Best Page Is Ranking and Not Competing

SEO tactics that are now outdated created many page iterations, topic iterations, and a pretty big problem: keyword cannibalization. Keyword cannibalization occurs when multiple, highly similar URLs compete for rankings for the same keywords throughout your website.

While some might think that keyword cannibalization isn’t actually a concern for your website, our belief is that’s usually not the case. Taking up extra search engine results page (SERP) real estate seems like a good thing, but it’s not as simple as that. When you have multiple pages ranking for a single keyword you have no control over which page ranks higher, that distinction is up to Google.

With Google in charge of this choice, it leaves open the possibility that an older, low-quality, “thin” piece of content actually out-ranks a higher quality page that hosts more intrinsic value.

This example starkly depreciates the likelihood that the higher value page is going to be clicked. This phenomena is caused because as your pages move down the SERP in ranking, the associated CTRs drops exponentially.

Sistrix Click-Through Curve – Positions 1 through 10

Content consolidation helps avoid this potential situation. By consolidating lower-value, undesirable pages into the higher-value page, you are ensuring that, when that query is searched, your ideal page is the one that populates at its highest ranking potential possible. This strategic consolidation accounts for E-A-T and Google’s other high-level content priorities.

Keeping Track of Your Content Consolidation Efforts

With all 301-redirects in place and all relevant content themes transferred to their new ultimate destination, it’s time to monitor the effects these changes have on your site.

Utilize these free tools:

By integrating Google Analytics (GA) and Google Search Console (GSC) into your Google Data Studio (GDS) report, you’ll have enough data to understand the impacts of your content consolidation effort. Within GDS, you’ll be able to pull in all URLs present within each redirect group as well as the URL for the ultimate destination page with the use of a table attribute within GDS and a regex filter which will allow you to pull in all relevant pages.

Additionally, you can also monitor site performance post-content consolidation by using the tool SISTRIX for a holistic understanding of your site’s visibility within the Search Engine Results Page (SERP.) SISTRIX is a great tool when it comes to visualizing the peaks and valleys of your site’s performance over time. But remember, the tool’s visibility index operates within a finite number of keywords, only one million. So, while helpful, this information should be taken with a grain of salt and not be used as a prescriptive measure.

In the next section, you’ll find examples of this tracking as well as how content consolidation has helped one of our clients that had been harshly, negatively impacted by previous core algorithm updates.

Content Consolidation in Action

Amsive Digital partnered with a publisher site in November 2020 to address massive traffic declines stemming from Google’s core updates. Beginning with the August 1, 2018 Medic update, the publisher’s visibility decreased dramatically and continued to trend downward with subsequent core updates.

Due to the publisher’s reliance on ad revenue, decreased traffic also decreased its revenue stream.

Amsive Digital was tasked with reversing this negative trend while ensuring the client surpassed its previous site performance.

The site was riddled with thousands of low-quality, duplicate, highly similar, or overlapping content for many URLs. Offering similar advice across dozens of pages, this content could be consolidated into one URL. Often, this overabundance of redundant content meant Google struggled to identify which URL was the best to rank for a specific query. Many of these URLs provided little to no user value and were over-optimized with previous SEO tactics that no longer worked after Google’s Medic update.

Additionally, much of the content offered dangerous, unsupported medical advice. Given Google’s emphasis on E-A-T and content that aligns with medical and scientific consensus, this was another significant problem.

Furthermore, two types of instances appeared to be cannibalizing one another on page one of the SERP. In thousands of instances, the publisher site ranked twice in Positions 10-20, likely in part because of the competing URLs with overlapping content. These were great candidates for consolidation. We approached it two ways:

  • Blanket redirects: 301 redirects for low-performing or dangerous content into highly relevant sub-category pages or onto external sister-sites, as needed.
  • Consolidation-focused redirects: Migrated content from URLs A, B, C, etc. to URL D to enhance the existing page contents and 301-redirect consolidated pages into a single URL. We provided guidance on what content to add to the consolidated URL for more robust content.

Today, we continue to partner with this client and audit more than 40,000 URLs, and provide actionable recommendations at scale to support long-term algorithm recovery.

Content Consolidation and Algorithm Recovery

Throughout our engagement, we made it clear to our publisher client that it was unlikely we would see a significant improvement in performance until the next core update rolled out. This proved to be true when Google launched its June 2021 Core Update.

The letter “D” in the above chart represents the June 2021 core update.

Performance Data: June 05, 2021 (post algorithm update) – July 13, 2021 vs. previous period:

  • Clicks increased by 3,000,000 clicks or by 35%
  • Impressions increased by 87,000,000 impressions or by 33%

The publisher client also began to see Google Discover traffic populate after the June core algorithm update. Google has stated that core algorithm updates can impact Discover traffic, so we took the publisher site’s new ability to appear in Google Discover (after no activity for months) as a sign of improved sitewide quality.

Addressing the systemic issues affecting the publisher site required fast collaboration and leveraging data for tens of thousands of URLs for informed decisions about what content to remove or consolidate. With one comprehensive campaign, we helped our client begin to revert a harsh negative trend which began with the Medic update.

By leveraging data from various tools, we consolidated, removed, and improved hundreds of URLs each week, a resource-intensive task that was required to reverse negative trends.

Algorithm recovery tactics should consist of a holistic approach to improve content quality: addressing E-A-T, URL consolidation, technical SEO, and website architecture improvements, which all factor into successful algorithm recovery and will be explored in future issues of this series.

Remember this is just Part 1.

How to Start Your Content Consolidation

With the previous information to kick off your content consolidation efforts, you’re ready to start.

First, begin by using the Ahref cannibalization tool to get an understanding of what keywords might be competing within your site and start redirecting and consolidating those pages to ensure that your highest value pages are ranking for their individual keywords.

Next, tackle your low-quality, “thin” content. This group is a bit more amorphic than the previous, but that just allows for multiple avenues of attack! There are many ways of diving into this group and identifying low-value pages. But we recommend these top three kick-off methods:

  • Start by analyzing older, more outdated content and map out where to redirect it for more timely and relevant information, making it higher value information.
  • Utilize Google Analytics session data to parse out which content pieces have driven the least amount of traffic in the last year or two to get a solid understanding of where search value lies within your site structure.
  • Work with the crawling tool Screaming Frog to quickly get content word count at bulk. This method has a few caveats. Keep in mind that the word count will include your headers, sidebars, and footers. So, exclude those when analyzing. Also, word count does not directly equate to poor quality, but it can be an indicator. So, layering in traffic data is important. Lastly, this method requires that your site does not block crawling tools such as Screaming Frog. With these caveats in mind, this method can be a fantastic starting point.

Content consolidation can be quite daunting, and often time-consuming, but it’s one of the most impactful content strategies an SEO can enact on a website.

The information presented above in Part 1 of our series Google Algorithm Update Recovery Tactics will assist your efforts and provide you with the tools necessary to effectively consolidate and clean up your site. To stay tuned for the continuation of our series, follow us on @amsive_digital.

To learn more about the latest in SEO, read our expert SEO team’s newest insights, including Lily Ray‘s Google’s July 2021 Core Update: Winners, Losers & Analysis.

It’s a team effort to achieve algorithmic recovery. Explore our full suite of SEO services to see how we grow brands and bottom lines as a leading digital marketing agency.

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