On August 18th, 2022 Google notified the world of the upcoming 'Helpful Content Update' that is going to be rolled out over the course of two weeks. This is the single largest update to Google's algorithm since 2011 when they rolled out the Panda update.
In summary, the stated purpose of the update is to weed out those who optimize their SEO targeting bots (robots that search websites) rather than targeting actual people. You may have seen this for yourself when searching for something on Google, your results may come back choppy or nonsensical, or repetitive. Google's goal is to have the site's SEO content actually target an audience who is truly searching for specific content in search results.
However, the update also includes specific changes for pregnancy centers and abortion providers.
Google sent a letter to congress about centers and abortion keywords affected by the update. We'll explain more below but we encourage you to read the full letter and official statement as well.
3 Key Areas Impacted by the Update
1. The update has the largest impact on Local Search and Google Maps for several short-tail abortion keywords.
From the letter, “We continue to update our Local Search services for local health-related queries, including those related to abortion services, to improve the accuracy and relevance. When someone in the US searches for health care providers that provide abortions — for example, using the query “abortion clinics near me” — the Local Search results box will display facilities that have been verified to provide abortions. People will be able to broaden their search to show other relevant listings (including from organizations that do not provide abortions). Local Search results for such queries will also be clearly labeled as to whether the facility provides abortions.” For those of you familiar with the Google ads disclaimer, this is the same type of disclaimer that will now so up in Maps.
You can still be seen, yes, but it changes how and when you will be seen. Centers have been removed from being automatically seen in searches for "abortion", "abortion clinic" and "abortion pill" keywords in Maps/Local Search. As of right now, centers should still retain their abortion-related rankings in Search.
Please note, ads nearly always appear first. Ranking/SEO starts the first spot after paid ads.
If you are in a state where abortion is illegal, Local Search will show no searches found and women will have the option to expand their search. If you have an optimized Google profile and posts that contain the abortion keywords she's searching for, your pregnancy center can still show up here. Regardless of location, women can expand their search, however, an abortion-minded woman will most likely not expand her search.
2. *Not all keywords are affected.*
As we mentioned, the rollout takes a couple of weeks and it may take even longer to see how much is impacted by the "helpful content" update. As of right now, it appears the keywords that are impacted are short-tail keywords like "abortion clinic" (and variations thereof) "abortion pill", and "abortion near me" in Local Search (Google Maps). Our centers are still showing up with the same ranking for "abortion information" and many other abortion-related keywords as well as searches about pregnancy and the services they provide. I put this in asterisks because this is an update in progress. We will continue to update you if things change again.
This does not mean you should throw in the towel with Google and SEO. It just means you have to get even more creative.
Women often search long-tail keywords and questions into Google. This is how we create post content and blogs. Asking and answering questions is a strategy we've implemented for years and it's some of the best kind of content you can have on your site and your Google Business posts.
3. The disclaimer in Google ads has been moved.
You can still place Google ads and utilize the Google grant.* The "helpful content" update pertains to SEO. If you run Google ads (or wish to start), you will still be able to right now. The disclaimer, "Does not provide abortions" which has been required since 2019, will still be placed on ads for abortion keywords. A few weeks ago, Google moved these disclosures from the bottom to the top of the ad. If you run ads, you may have seen a small impact on your conversions.
Note: The Google grant limits your bid to $2 for abortion keywords, but it works great to supplement for pregnancy and service-related campaigns.
Despite the challenges with Google, our goal is still to help you reach women facing pregnancy decisions, save lives, and build a culture of life in your community. Looking for some tangible action items? Check out Changes to Google's Local Search & What You Can Do.
If you have questions about the update, your ranking, or marketing strategies, please don't hesitate to reach out. We also partner with some incredible pro-life organizations and marketing companies to help her find you.