Content Decay: A Rotten Name For A Real SEO Issue

Last updated on

Lizzi Sassman and John Mueller from Google recently tackled a query regarding Content Decay, expressing their perplexity as they hadn’t come across the term before. It appears there’s a clear explanation for their confusion: Content Decay seems to be merely a fresh label coined to present an age-old issue as something novel.

Googlers Never Heard Of Content Decay

Google tech writer Lizzi Sassman opened a Google Search Off The Record podcast by mentioning that they were discussing Content Decay because it was suggested as a topic by someone. She then admitted that she had never heard of Content Decay before, saying:

“I saw this come up, I think, in your feedback form for topics for Search Off The Record podcast that someone thought that we should talk about content decay, and I did not know what that was, and so I thought I should look into it, and then maybe we could talk about it.”

John Mueller from Google responded, acknowledging the existence of Content Decay:

“Well, it’s good that someone knows what it is. …When I looked at it, it sounded like this was a known term, and I felt inadequate when I realized I had no idea what it actually meant, and I had to interpret what it probably means from the name.”

Following this, Lizzi pointed out the connotation of the term Content Decay, suggesting it implies something negative about the content:

“Like it sounds a little bit negative. A bit negative, yeah. Like, yeah. Like something’s probably wrong with the content. Probably it’s rotting or something has happened to it over time.”

It’s not just Google employees who are unfamiliar with the term Content Decay; even seasoned SEOs with over 25 years of experience, including myself, had never encountered it. Upon reaching out to several experienced SEOs, none were familiar with the term either.

Like Lizzi pointed out, upon hearing the term Content Decay, one might naturally assume it refers to a flaw in the content. However, as Lizzi and John Mueller discovered, Content Decay isn’t actually about the content itself. Instead, it’s simply a label someone assigned to a natural phenomenon that has been occurring for thousands of years.

If you’re feeling left out because you’ve never heard of Content Decay, don’t worry. It’s one of those poorly chosen labels someone came up with to give a fresh name to a problem that predates not only the Internet but the very invention of writing itself.

What Is Content Decay?

When people refer to Content Decay, they’re usually describing a gradual decline in search traffic. However, this decline is merely a symptom rather than a precise definition—it signifies waning user interest in a particular topic, product, service, or any entity. Such diminishing interest is a natural occurrence that can subtly impact organic search patterns, even for evergreen subjects. Calling it “Content Decay” seems inadequate for addressing this genuine SEO challenge. Let’s steer clear of that term.

How Does User Interest Dwindle?

Diminishing interest has been a timeless phenomenon predating the internet, manifesting in various realms such as fashion, music, and cultural topics both online and offline.

A prime illustration of dwindling interest is evident in the sharp decline of search queries for digital cameras following the introduction of the iPhone. With the advent of smartphones, many found no need for a separate camera device, leading to a significant drop in interest.

Similarly, the issue underlying dwindling traffic isn’t necessarily rooted in the content itself but rather in shifting search trends. If declining search trends are driving the decrease in traffic, it likely indicates a wane in user interest. Therefore, the key challenge lies in deciphering why interest in a particular topic is undergoing change.

Common causes for a decrease in user engagement:

  1. Shifts in perceptions towards the subject matter.
  2. Seasonal fluctuations in interest.
  3. Technological advancements leading to disruption.
  4. Evolution in language usage.
  5. Diminishing popularity of the topic over time.

When investigating a decline in traffic, it’s crucial to remain receptive to various potential explanations. Occasionally, the issue may not lie with the content or SEO strategies but rather with shifts in user preferences, trends, or external factors unrelated to the content itself.

There Are Many Reasons For A Drop In Traffic

Inadequate SEO catch-all phrases often fail to pinpoint specific issues, leading to their meanings evolving beyond their original intent. Here are additional reasons for declining traffic, whether gradual or sudden:

  1. Decreased user interest in a topic, better described as “declining user interest.”
  2. Traffic slowdowns due to Google’s introduction of new navigational features, such as “people also ask.”
  3. Traffic reduction following the implementation of new rich results by Google, such as video results, shopping results, or featured snippets.
  4. Personalized search causing a gradual decline in search traffic, as the site ranks less frequently and only for specific individuals or regions.
  5. Changes in relevance leading to a drop in search traffic, termed as “Algorithm Relevance Change.”
  6. Decreased organic search traffic resulting from heightened competition, known as “Competition.”

Catchall Phrases Are Not Useful

Assigning SEO labels like “Content Decay” to issues or strategies is a common practice, often aimed at presenting old problems or methods as new. However, these labels can frequently be ineffective and lead to confusion because they fail to accurately describe the problem at hand.

It’s beneficial to accurately name the root cause of a problem. Instead of employing artificial labels like “Content Decay,” it’s advisable to consciously use the actual name that describes the problem or solution. For instance, rather than using a generic term, such as “Content Decay,” it’s more effective to identify the underlying issue, such as “declining user interest,” and refer to it using that precise terminology.

Original news from SearchEngineJournal