Google releases updates several times a year. Each update is designed to improve Google’s search algorithm to help users find content faster. But very occasionally, Google releases an update specifically designed to undo the effects of SEO – or, to be more specific, black hat SEO.
This latest revamp is called the Helpful Content Update. It is meant to encourage webmasters to move away from search-focused content and focus more on the user.
For years, copywriters fixated on driving traffic to their website have written content to rank on search engines rather deliver useful or informative content to visitors. This has led to an era of duplicate, low-quality blogs and articles.
Google is now on a mission to purge the Internet, and its search results, of this content to make their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) more relevant.
What is helpful content?
Helpful content, or what Google terms “people-first” content, is anything designed to meet the expectations of visitors. It is at odds with “search-first” content, which is written for the sole purposes of ranking on search engines.
Google classes content as “helpful” if it meets the following criteria:
- It is relevant to your website or business.
- It matches your audience, their interests and expectations.
- It demonstrates first-hand experience or in-depth knowledge of a particular subject.
Likewise, Google will penalise your content if it is:
- Primarily geared towards search engines
- Highly automated
- Irrelevant to your niche or audience
- Written because a topic is trending
If you’re still unsure about what constitutes helpful content, put yourself in the place of another business or service provider. We like to use the example of a florist.
Let’s say we have a client who runs a floristry business. They are looking to attract more customers to their website so they start writing about as many plant-related topics as possible. This strategy seems reasonable at first. After all, florists know a thing or two about flowers. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right approach.
First of all, not all plant-related subjects are relevant to a florist’s expertise or audience. Readers won’t visit a floristry website to learn about gardening or growing plants. Second, writing about broad topics dilutes your brand’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authority and Trust). You are much more likely to create content that ranks well by focusing on the things you know and exploring subjects germane to your business, brand and followers.
What to do if the update affects your website
Google’s Helpful Content Update works by crawling your site and categorising all of your content into two groups: helpful and unhelpful. Sites with significantly high levels of unhelpful content will be labelled as such and then any content – not just the low-value content – will perform worse in organic search.
Because the update uses a site-wide signal, it is important that websites affected by the new classifier take immediate action to remove or update any unhelpful content. Websites affected by the update should also keep in mind that as Google’s classification process is automated, it could take several months for their site to return to pre-update performance levels.
To identify the content that’s causing you issues, use the criteria we outlined above to evaluate your copy and blogs. Ask yourself if your content genuinely answers the questions you cover and if those queries are relevant to your audience. Using Google Analytics, look for pages with high bounce rates or very low on-page time. Be mindful that these metrics don’t always indicate low value. Well-structured content can direct users to the right information quickly.
What does good content look like?
Above all, good content is unique and answers a specific question or need. Proper online content should also be well sourced, clear and concise, and grammatically correct. Use the following points to craft your content.
If you’re not sure about a date, statistic or fact, double check it to make sure your content is accurate and up to date. Getting things wrong will not only make your content less valuable but affect how trustworthy your brand looks to potential customers.
Don’t forget about published content. If you cite a study or cover a subject that’s constantly evolving, make sure your content evolves too.
Evaluate how users interact with your content. Are searchers finding the answers they need, or are they exiting the page and looking elsewhere? If your content doesn’t explore a topic in enough depth, go deeper, covering all the points they need and anticipating their next search.
On-page and technical SEO
Don’t forget about user experience. Size images properly so pages load quickly, make sure all of your on-page elements are responsive, and use descriptive headings and alt-tags to help users navigate each page.
What does the future hold?
Google's Helpful Content Update launched on August 25th. It will take about two weeks to fully roll out. Donal Langan, Head of SEO at Bell Digital Marketing, had this to say:
"While it isn't ground breaking that Google’s latest algorithm update is encouraging original, relevant, quality online content, the early reports suggest it has not had a big impact on website ranking as yet. However, Danny Sullivan from Google has suggested that this is a continuing effort that will continue to be refined and become a bigger factor."
"At the moment, it makes sense to review your site content and improve it, because it is likely that future algorithm updates will have a greater impact in this area. Quality, Originality, and Relevance to your audience is never a bad tactic."