Is Google Killing Listicles & How to Add IndexNow to Your Website

By Cyrus Shepard
Updated 3 months ago

Originally published as part of the SEO Tips Newsletter. Sign up free.

Today, I’m sharing new research that you’re seeing early as an SEO Tips subscriber.

What does Google mean by Helpful Content?

Nobody seems to know, but new data increasingly suggests that Google doesn’t like overly-optimized titles, especially a very specific type of title: the listicle.

I recently analyzed 1250 titles across Google’s HCU’s losing and winning sites. One pattern clearly stood out: losing sites used numeric and descriptive adjectives far more often in their titles.

For example, the title “10 Best Restaurants in Dallas for the Tastiest Meal” contains three adjectives: 10, Best, and Tastiest.

Consider the examples below, which show the first two words of actual titles from articles that lost the most traffic on both losing and winning sites. Clearly, you see far more listicles in the losing column.


Looking at all 1250 titles, sites that used a lot of adjectives were far more likely to be in the losing category (-0.42 Pearson correlation coefficient, p-value 0.0024, which is significant). In fact, winning sites only used descriptive/numeric adjectives an average of 0.6 times per title, while losing sites used nearly twice as many as this.

Is this a ranking factor? An artifact of machine learning? Random chance?

Nobody can tell you.

Remember, correlation isn’t causation and if your site was hit by a Google update, it’s never one thing. But if your site uses adjectives and listicles like this—and you’ve seen a drop in traffic over the past nine months—it may be worth looking at.

The challenge is that if you rewrite titles, you may see an initial drop in clicks. So what should a site owner do when trying to recover HCU traffic? Or creating new content? While there are no guarantees, some suggestions include:

  1. Try creating more straightforward, less clickbait titles. “10 Best Restaurants” can simply be “The Best Restaurants”
  2. Highlight alternative features in your titles to attract clicks – “Best Restaurants in New York – Menus, Reviews, and What To Eat” or “The Best Restaurants in New York City for First-Timers”
  3. When in doubt, avoid other risk factors associated with HCU declines. A site can get away with a few sins, but it’s difficult to get away with many.

Also, keep in mind that Google now says it can take months to recover from a traffic loss, which makes it particularly challenging for site owners to know what to do.

Beyond titles, our latest research also uncovered additional website features that were associated with increased traffic. Watch for this information to be published soon.

Top SEO Tips This Week

1) How to add IndexNow to your website

Bing and Ahrefs now support IndexNow for faster indexing and better coverage. While Google has yet to join the party, it may be worth paying attention to.

2) This is what Google ACTUALLY wants you to do…

It’s no secret that Matt Diggity is my favorite affiliate marketer. If you haven’t watched his content before, this video is packed with the type of actionable SEO nuggets that made him famous.

3) Does showing introductory content on mobile view improve rankings across all devices?

A lot of product pages hide details on mobile to save space and improve the user experience. But what happens when you expose that content? This very excellent SEO-split test attempts to find out.

4. How to do anything in the Chrome DevTools Network panel

Chrome DevTools is one the most useful SEO tools at your disposal – if you know all the tips and tricks. In this deck, Jonathan Moore shows you all the tips and tricks.

5. Human vs AI Quality Raters for Search Engines

This one is for the serious Google aficionados! Dawn Anderson, the master of Google systems, breaks down in technical terms how search engines may evaluate relevance and how AI may replace human raters like me.

Best of luck with your SEO!


Need SEO That Works?

Zyppy started optimizing websites for Google traffic in 2009, led by me, Cyrus Shepard. From my time at Moz until now, I run dozens of SEO experiments per year, so I'm comfortable with our data. My experience allows me craft successful SEO strategies for startups to Fortune 500 companies, and my mission extends to educating the public on SEO best practices. Learn more about Zyppy SEO. and our best services.

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