Unraveling Content Decay: Understanding the Real SEO Challenge

Unraveling Content Decay: Understanding the Real SEO Challenge

Delve into Google's insights with John Mueller and Lizzi Sassman as they shed light on Content Decay, a significant SEO issue often misunderstood in the realm of content management.

Googlers Never Heard Of Content Decay

Google’s Lizzi Sassman and John Mueller were asked about Content Decay and they admitted they were confused because they had never heard of it before. It turns out that Content Decay is simply a new name for an old problem, trying to make it seem like something new.

Google tech writer Lizzi Sassman started off a recent episode of the Google Search Off The Record podcast by discussing a topic that was submitted by a listener - Content Decay. She mentioned that she had never heard of Content Decay before.

Someone suggested discussing content decay on the Search Off the Record podcast through a feedback form. I wasn't familiar with the term, so I decided to do some research before discussing it further. Google's John Mueller responded:

It's a relief that someone understands the term. When I first heard it, it seemed familiar but I didn't know what it meant. I had to guess the meaning based on the name.

Lizzi mentioned that Content Decay sounds like it's describing something negative about the content.

It might sound a little negative, like something is not right with the content. Maybe it's deteriorating or has been affected over time.

Not only people at Google are unfamiliar with the term Content Decay, but even seasoned SEO experts with over 25 years of experience, like myself, had never come across it. I asked several experienced SEO professionals, and none of them were familiar with the term Content Decay.

Many people, like Lizzi, may mistakenly believe that Content Decay is a term that signifies a problem with the content. However, as Lizzi and John Mueller discovered, Content Decay is not actually related to the content itself. It is simply a term that has been given to describe a natural process that has been occurring for centuries.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of Content Decay, there is no need to feel left out. This term is just a new way of referring to an age-old phenomenon that has been around long before the Internet and even before the written word was invented.

Understanding Content Decay

Content Decay is often referred to as a gradual decline in search traffic. However, this decrease in traffic is merely a sign of a larger issue - dwindling user interest. It is common for interest in a topic, product, service, or any entity to naturally decrease over time, which can impact organic search trends, even for evergreen topics. The term "Content Decay" may not accurately capture the essence of the SEO challenge at hand. It is advisable to avoid labeling it as such.

Why Do Users Lose Interest?

Losing interest is a common occurrence that has been around for longer than the Internet. Trends in fashion, music, and various topics tend to fade away over time, both in the physical world and online.

After the iPhone was introduced, search queries for digital cameras dropped significantly as people found they no longer needed a separate camera device. This is a classic example of dwindling interest.

The issue of decreasing traffic might not be related to the content itself, but rather to search trends. If declining search trends indicate a drop in user interest, the key is to understand why interest in a particular topic is changing.

Typical reasons for declining user interest:

Perceptions of the topic changed


A technological disruption

The way words are used has changed

Popularity of the topic has waned

There are many reasons for a drop in traffic. When diagnosing a decrease in traffic, it is important to consider all possibilities with an open mind. Sometimes, the issue may not be with the content or SEO, but rather with user interest, trends, or other factors unrelated to the content itself.

Inept SEO catch-all phrases are a problem because they lack specificity. This causes the meaning of the catch-all phrase to change over time, often describing things beyond its original intention.

There are various reasons why website traffic may decrease, either gradually or suddenly.

The decay is happening to user interest in a topic (declining user interest is a better description).

Traffic slows down because Google introduces a new navigational feature (like people also ask.

Google's new rich result, such as video results, shopping results, and featured snippets, can cause a slowdown in traffic. This is because these new features attract users' attention and may divert traffic away from regular search results.

Another reason for a decrease in search traffic could be personalized search. This feature causes websites to rank less frequently and only for specific individuals or locations. As a result, the overall traffic to the site may decline gradually.

The drop in search traffic is because relevance changed (Algorithm Relevance Change)

A drop in organic search traffic is due to improved competition (Competition)

Catchall Phrases Are Ineffective

Content Decay is just one of the many labels in SEO used to describe issues or tactics as if they are new. However, these labels are often unhelpful and confusing because they fail to accurately depict the actual problem.

Use the actual name of the problem

It is beneficial to identify the actual cause of the problem instead of using vague terms like Content Decay. For example, instead of using fake names, it is best to refer to the issue as declining user interest.

Check out the Google SEO Office Hours podcast

Make sure to listen to the Google SEO Office Hours podcast for valuable insights and tips.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Blueastro

Editor's P/S:

The concept of "Content Decay" has sparked confusion within the SEO community, with Google's Lizzi Sassman and John Mueller expressing unfamiliarity with the term. However, it's merely a rebranding of a long-standing issue, namely, declining user interest. This phenomenon occurs naturally over time, leading to a gradual decline in search traffic for topics, products, or services. It's essential to recognize the root cause behind user interest waning, such as changing perceptions, seasonality, or technological disruptions.

SEO practitioners should refrain from using catchall phrases like "Content Decay" that fail to pinpoint the actual problem. Instead, it's crucial to identify the specific reasons for traffic loss, whether it's due to declining user interest, algorithmic changes, increased competition, or other factors. By understanding the underlying causes, SEOs can develop effective strategies to address these challenges and maintain or improve website visibility.