Why Information Gain & Helpful Content Update Favors Google, Not B2B Marketers

Here’s how B2B marketers should approach content marketing amidst Google’s information gain patent and helpful content update.

Victor Eduoh

August 31, 2022

Victor Eduoh

August 31, 2022

Information Gain & Helpful Content Update

Let’s go back 14 years to 2008. 

That year –just one decade after it launched– Google Search had overtaken Yahoo!, Microsoft, etc., to dominate the organic search engine market. In short, the tech giant commanded over 90% of the US-based search market by 2008. 

It is even more dominant today. 

Unfortunately, over the last few years, that dominance is slowly becoming meaningless in a more crucial area: Getting marketers to trust its results. Vincent Granville’s 2017 article for Data Science Central titled “The Slow Decline of Google Search” captured it best. 

Vincent wrote:

Vincent Granville

B2B marketers are losing trust in the quality of traffic they get from Google. As a result, and to reach decision-makers, they’re channeling their content marketing efforts elsewhere – social networks, newsletters, niche communities, etc. 

In April 2020, Google stepped up to counter this trend. 

Enter its ‘Information Gain’ patent.

Who Does Information Gain Serve? 

information gain

As shown above, Information Gain is a document scoring technique for all content indexed on Google’s database. 

Per the patent’s official filing:

information gain google

In other words, it seeks to reward content having new insight (i.e., a higher information gain score) with higher rankings. They further followed this up with their recent ‘Helpful Content Update.” 

But ask yourself: Why’s Google moving to reward content with new insight over ‘skyscraper’ ones more optimized for its search engine?

The answer is simple.

They want to retain B2B content marketers’ reliance on them for generating traffic. Their fears are in plain sight. If people’s confidence in finding content with new and helpful information on Google drops, they’ll look elsewhere.  

Marketers would, as most are already doing, adjust their organic and paid (emphasis on paid) content marketing efforts to reach people in the places they trust. Ultimately, this affects Google’s search ad business – its cash cow. 

The company doesn’t want that. 

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Does ‘Information Gain’ Benefit B2B Content Marketing? 

Short answer: Not really!

Information Gain doesn’t necessarily benefit high-quality B2B SaaS content marketing aimed at reaching and influencing decision-makers. Here’s why I think so. 

The promise of rewarding B2B content marketers with higher rankings if they produce content with new insight is appealing. As theorized by Ryan Law, Animalz’s VP of Content, it gives new domains an organic ranking hope against large brands.

According to Ryan, that’s possible because it could lead to more personalized SERPs for those targeted by niche startups: 

personalized serps

But this hope doesn’t address core issues. 

  1. Say you rank highest for a target ICP. Will they click through to your site amidst Google SERP’s growing knowledge graph? 
  2. Worse, what are the chances of your target audience even using Google to research and find your content with ‘new’ insight? 

1. The rise of zero-click searches

Information Gain postulates that content with ‘new’ insight may outrank others. But the real question is: Will you beat Google’s domineering featured snippets, knowledge graphs, and People Also Ask (PAA) cards to get a click?

The data (and trend) says no or not likely!

As of 2020, a whopping 65% of Google searches (desktop and mobile devices) ended without a click to a website. These zero-click numbers were even higher for mobile devices alone at 77.22%:

no-click Google searches

Kevin Indig, Shopify’s former SEO Director, observed how Google’s knowledge graphs and People Also Ask (PAA) cards drive this trend. 

Kevin’s study showed PAA cards growing across the board:

Google People Also Ask

Here’s the implication of this. 

Even if you create content with ‘new’ information, earn higher Information Gain scores, and rank highest, you may not get clicks. 

Instead, the odds are higher that it benefits Google more. 

Kevin shared why: 

Kevin Indig

Let’s demonstrate this. 

Say you’re Pocus, the SaaS brand behind the Product-Led Sales movement. You coined this new term, so you’d also expect to earn organic clicks for related queries, right? 

Not really: 

product-led sales query

As seen above, first, Google pulls information from Pocus’ content to succinctly address the query, “what is product led sales?” 

But it doesn’t end there. 

They also pull content from other sites to address related queries via their PAA cards, which effectively prevents searchers from visiting the sites that suffered (and invested) to create the content.

That’s the first core issue Information Gain doesn’t address.

Now, consider a 2nd hurdle. 

2. How are people finding content with ‘new’ insight?

In the Information Gain’s patent statement, Google makes a blanket (and self-serving) promise in the form of:

“Create content with ‘new’ insight. When people perform an organic search, through our Information Gain scoring system, we’ll show your content to users most likely to find that ‘new’ info useful.” 

Sounds good on paper. 

But ask yourself: Are decision-makers at B2B organizations using Google (or other search engines) to research and find content with ‘new’ info?

I don’t, and I’ll argue not being an exception.  

Hardly do people use search engines to find ‘new’ insight not already promoted by someone else or a brand. In other words, before something interests you enough to type it into a search engine, chances are high that it’s almost mainstream. 

So if you have ‘new’ insight to share through content –and you always should –optimizing for higher Information Gain scores (with hopes of winning a higher ranking jackpot) isn’t viable. 

Your target audiences, especially decision-makers at B2B SaaS companies, aren’t on Google looking for content with ‘new’ insight. They’re most likely scrolling social network feeds, following influencers, hanging out in niche communities, enjoying content shared by newsletters they’ve signed up to, etc.

The 6th paragraph of this piece drives home this point.

If you recall, I shared Vincent Granville’s observation on why proactive webmasters are looking beyond Google to generate relevant traffic:  

Vincent Granville

Dark Social: Where Content with ‘New’ Insight Wins

Here’s how I got the idea for this piece you’re reading. 

I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, enjoying content from those I follow. In other words, people I’ve given permission to appear on my feed.

Then, I came across this post by Ryan Law:

Ryan’s LinkedIn post about his then newly-published article exposed me to Information Gain for the first time. 

I didn’t find it via Google Search. I would never have because I can’t imagine spending time on search engines looking for content with ‘new’ insight. 

Like, where will I even start? 

But let’s assume I used Google to first research this idea. I probably wouldn’t have found (or clicked) Ryan’s article. Two reasons for that. 

The query, “information gain Google” gets zero (0) searches monthly. Safe to say, no one’s researching that. Second, Ryan’s blog was below the fold at 5th on the SERPs, meaning only a few people will scroll down, let alone, click on it: 

google information gain downside

Data by Backlinko supports this: 

SERP position CTR
Even if you ranked No.1, just below 28% of searchers will click your content.

Back to my story. 

When I first saw Ryan’s post on LinkedIn, I didn’t click through to read his article. I even forgot about it until the next day when I received Animalz’s newsletter, which I’m also subscribed to:

Although the blog’s excerpt shared in the newsletter made sense, I still didn’t click through to read it. Again, I registered the idea in my head, as I was busy with other things. After some days, something (I can’t remember what) jolted the piece into my memory. 

This time, I went straight to the Animalz website, read the blog post, loved it, and got the idea for the one you’re reading now. 

Through a combination of Google Analytics, Google Search Console, etc., Ryan (and Animalz) can track this article’s organic clicks. They’ll also see the search terms responsible for those clicks. 

But you know what they won’t see? 

My journey from seeing Ryan’s LinkedIn post, registering it in my subconscious, seeing it again via their newsletter, taking more interest in it, and going directly to read it on their website. 

That’s dark social. 

And that’s where you should promote (and optimize, if possible) your content with ‘new’ insight. Not just for higher Information Gain scores. More importantly, not just to rank ‘highest’ on SERPs.

We take this very seriously here at VEC.studio. 

First, our Product-Led Storytelling execution checklist ensures every piece has ‘new’ insight or brings something refreshing to an existing topic. See the top two items each piece must pass highlighted below:

vec.studio content quality
[Download our full QA checklist for free]

We don’t also wait for content to rank. 

Distribution and amplification (through strategically infused excerpts) is a core part of our SaaS content marketing process: 

vec.studio content amplification
[Learn VEC.studio’s process]
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Embrace the Idea. Not the Incentive 

Information Gain and the Helpful Content Update are wonderful developments every B2B content marketing team should embrace. Particle’s current Content Marketing Manager, Ex MarketMuse, Camden Gasper, explained why. 

He wrote:  

Camden Gasper

On the one hand, I learned so much and agree with Camden, Ryan Law, and others who have written on the implications of this patent: Ensure every piece your team creates has some ‘new’ insight or something refreshing to an existing topic. 

I love it. 

But here’s where they lost me. 

Suggesting one embraces this idea with the hopes of ranking highest or driving more organic search traffic. 

My stand is that Google, like any capitalist business, didn’t file this patent to benefit you. It did so to retain searchers’ trust –what its search business depends on– in its search engine. They need us –content marketers– to create to make that possible. 

So Information Gain is a classic give (higher ranking promise) and take (their content to achieve our goals) play by Google. 

Don’t fall for it. 

It almost never plays out as portrayed. ‘New’ insights-driven content and higher rankings are not synonymous. But even if they were, it’s no guarantee of anything if your target audiences won’t look for your content on search engines.

So embrace the idea, not the incentive. 

Here at VEC, we fully embrace the idea of ensuring every B2B content we craft has ‘new’ insight. It’s probably why when people discover us, they subscribe for more (and share with others): 

VEC.studio newsletter

We also take extra steps to repurpose and amplify every piece we craft on dark social channels, forums, and communities: 

content amplification
[Amplify your content because people are still eager for quality content – they’re just not searching on Google]

You should do the same. 

Doing so can unlock a network effect to achieve your business goals with content, without waiting to ‘rank’ on Google: 

content network effect

Founder, Lead Strategist @VEC. Thinker, reader, words-crafter, and husband to Omosede. Besides crafting product-led stories, I love scouting and grooming rare marketing talents.

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