Google’s Helpful Content Update: What it Means for SEO

Sarah McInerney

Head of Content

Sarah has almost three decades of experience in crafting compelling, engaging content specifically designed to boost sales and enhance brand loyalty. She’s also an expert in developing unique tone of voice that helps brands connect with their audiences. Her marketing and client service background has given Sarah a natural understanding of how to write content that makes readers take action. Whether it’s signing up to a mailing list, making an enquiry or donation or clicking the buy button, Sarah knows precisely how to convert with words. Pen down, Sarah is a proud member of the Essex Wildlife Trust and spends most of her free time enjoying inspiring walks through her local woodland and nature reserves, admiring everything that flaps, flutters and flowers.

Helpful Content Update

Google’s Helpful Content Update started rolling out in late August and is focused on removing content that the search engine doesn’t believe is written ‘by people, for people’.

What exactly does ‘by people, for people’ mean? Basically it means fresh, original content that’s written for a specific audience. As opposed to content that’s auto-generated by Artificial Intelligence (AI) that has no other purpose than ticking the search algorithm.

You know the stuff. When you read it, you get that ‘same old, same old’ feeling like you’ve read it all before. And that’s probably because you have. For example, you might be searching for information about a new phone, and you find articles that simply list reviews from other sites, without providing anything unique, or a different stance.

What content is the update targeting?

The Helpful Content Update is targeting low quality, unoriginal content that’s written with the sole purpose of playing the system and getting to the top of the search engines.

Google wants to deliver content to its users that helps and informs them, and it is eager to reward websites that publish such content.

Whilst no specific niche is being targeted by the update, Google says it’s going to improve results for people searching in particular within the shopping, tech, arts and entertainment and online education areas.

It’s all about providing users with fresh, authentic information. Maybe a new take on something. Information that helps a specific need or audience. A personal view, thought-leading material. Content that includes real life examples, statistics or case studies that couldn’t have come from elsewhere.

How to deal with the Helpful Content Update?

Google has helpfully set out some useful guidance as to how to approach the Helpful Content update.

Mainly, it’s geared towards creating content that satisfies a need, whilst also factoring in SEO best practice so that users enjoy added value. Just because you’re writing with a people-first approach, doesn’t mean you’ll undermine SEO best practice. On the contrary, user-friendly tends to mean SEO-friendly in Google’s world, so what you do for people, you do for Google.

Google has listed some questions to ask yourself when considering whether the content you’ve written is people first. Here they are:

  • Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or website that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
  • Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge, for example, expertise that comes from actually having used a product or service, or visiting a place?
  • Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
  • After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
  • Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
  • Are you keeping in mind Google guidance for core updates and product reviews?
Helpful content update

After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?

And here’s Google’s guidance on how to avoid writing content that’s written primarily for search engines. Ask yourself…

  • Is your content written first and foremost for search engines rather than for humans?
  • Are you producing lots of content on an array of topics hoping some of it will do well in the search results?
  • Are you using automated programmes to produce content?
  • Does your content mostly summarise what others have to say on a topic rather than adding your own opinions?
  • Do you write about topics just because they’re trending, rather than writing specifically for your audience?
  • Does your content leave readers wanting more?
  • Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard Google has preferences? They don’t, for the record.
  • Are you writing about a niche topic without actually having any expertise on it, simply in the hope of attracting search traffic?
  • Does your content promise to answer a question that, in reality, has no answer? For example, suggesting there’s a new series of a particular TV show coming when in fact nothing has been confirmed?

How will the Helpful Content Update work?

The Helpful Content Update has introduced a new site-wide signal that Google will consider amongst many other signals when it comes to ranking web pages. Their systems automatically identify content that appears to have little value, minor added value or is generally unhelpful to search engine users.

Sites identified as having relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall will be less likely to perform well in search if there are other sites elsewhere that Google deems better to display to its users.

For this reason, removing any content that could be deemed unhelpful in line with the above guidance could help your helpful content rank better. The time it takes for this to happen once that content is removed could be a number of months.

This delay is because websites identified by this update may find the ranking signal applied over a few months. Google’s classifier for the update is running on an ongoing basis, allowing newly launched sites to be monitored as well as existing ones. If Google determines that the unhelpful content has not returned after a while, then the classification will no longer apply.

The whole unhelpful content classifier process is completely automated using machine learning. There are no manual or spam actions involved. It’s simply a new ranking signal, one of many that Google uses to evaluate content for search ranking.

The signal is also weighted, which means that sites with a large volume of unhelpful content may notice a stronger effect.

Is your SEO following best practice and aligned with all the latest Google updates?

Google is releasing updates all the time. Some, like the Helpful Content Update, are more far reaching than others. This is why it’s vital to keep up to date with all the latest updates and algorithm changes, otherwise your SEO results could suffer and you could fall behind your competitors in the search results.

At Figment, we make a point of staying on top of Google’s latest updates, so that we can ensure our clients’ businesses have the best chance of being found online and staying on track with their business growth plans.

Get in touch with our organic SEO agency if you want to find out more.  We only wear white hats in this office. please do get in touch.

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