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November 7, 2022

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

Google’s Helpful Content Update came with a lot of fanfare and now that roll-out is complete, let’s take a look at what this latest algorithm change means for SEO.

In recent times, Google has really stepped up its efforts to improve the quality of its search results.  Its stated aim is to deliver the most relevant, most useful and helpful content in response to a user’s search query and this new update is further demonstration of its resolve to achieve this.

A brief summary of Google’s Helpful Content Update

Google’s Helpful Content Update targets low quality content and any content that is deemed not to be written ‘by people, for people’ will be removed.  The goal is to prevent websites that are populated with poor, unoriginal content from getting to the top of the rankings.

But what does ‘by people, for people’ actually mean?

It means what it says.  Google will reward websites that have fresh, original, authentic, reader-friendly content which brings a new perspective to a topic and which helps and informs users.  And websites which feature the same old stuff that’s been regurgitated time after time on the net and whose content doesn’t offer any new angles on a topic, thought-provoking views or unique takes on information or trends will find themselves slipping swiftly down the rankings.

How should website owners or content creators handle the Helpful Content Update?

Well, anyone who’s been involved in the world of SEO knows that content has to be written primarily for humans, with a secondary (but necessary) focus on the search engine bots.  

That means if you’ve been following SEO best practice, you can simply keep doing what you’ve been doing.  That’s because taking a people-first approach to writing content aligns with Google’s philosophy and your content will therefore automatically be SEO-friendly.

High quality, original content that’s well-written, easy-to-read, relevant to the topic, engaging and helpful to the reader wins every time, but this new update makes it ‘official’.  Inferior, unoriginal content which is often auto-generated, stuffed with keywords and produced for the sole purpose of a high ranking in the search engines will be removed.  

You may find my post on Why You Need to Blog for SEO helpful here. 

How will Google’s Helpful Content Update actually work?

This update is a far-reaching new ranking signal and will operate alongside all of Google’s other signals for ranking web pages.  It will be weighted which means that websites that have larger amounts of unhelpful content will see a more noticeable effect.

In Google’s words, their systems will ‘automatically identify content that seems to have little value, low-added value or is otherwise not particularly helpful to those doing searches.’  

Both existing and new sites will be monitored simultaneously.

Assuming Google finds other content on a particular topic that it deems is more useful and relevant to users than the ones it has identified as having relatively high amounts of unhelpful content, it will promote the good content and demote the unhelpful sites.

What should website owners do with regards to this new update?

Consider your own website.  What’s its purpose?  Is the content on your site solely focused on your existing and potential customers?  Or is it full of content that’s badly written and often even nonsensical, with spelling and grammatical errors everywhere.  Have keywords been over-used?  That type of content used to be good enough to get you a high ranking, but not today.

My advice is that website owners should audit their sites and remove any unhelpful content.  Be ruthless and don’t be tempted to repost that content.  Rather focus your efforts on writing original, high-quality content on topics that are relevant to your area of expertise and which meet the reader’s expectations.

Removing any unhelpful content could also help your other content rank better.

If your site has been identified by this update and you remove content, you may find that it takes a couple of months for things to improve.  

Google will also continually review and refine how its classifier detects unhelpful content.   

Guidance from Google on the Helpful Content Update

If you head to the Google website, you’ll find guidelines on how to approach the update.

Some of the questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • Would your existing customers or an intended audience find your content helpful if they approached you directly?
  • Does your content demonstrate personal experience or expertise in terms of the topic?
  • Does your website have a primary focus?
  • Will your content leave the user feeling like their mission has been accomplished?  In other words, after reading your content, will the user feel they’ve gained sufficient knowledge or insights to help them achieve their goal?   
  • Will they have a satisfying experience reading your content?

How to avoid content that is written primarily for search engines

People-first content and content that is optimised for the search engines aren’t mutually exclusive.  Just the opposite. A good website will have customer-centric content that is properly optimised for the search engines.  

Successful SEO depends on quality content that is created specifically for a site’s intended users.  If you follow SEO best-practice, you’ll find that quality content is the number one driver of search engine rankings.. 

Google has offered up some points to consider when it comes to your website content.  Your answers will reveal whether your content is likely to be removed by the new algorithm update or whether it has genuinely been written ‘by people, for people’.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Is my website content geared towards humans or search engines?
  • Am I taking a shotgun approach by publishing loads of content on all different topics in the hope that some of it will strike gold with the search engines, or is my web content aligned to my industry and my brand offering?
  • Is any of my content produced using Artificial Intelligence (AI)?  
  • Do I add my personal opinion or perspective to my content, or is it mostly a summary of what others have said?
  • Are my articles written specifically for my audience, or do I tend to look for trending topics and then write on those?
  • Do I actually have experience in the niche topics I’m writing about?
  • Do I make any false promises in my content?
  • Do my readers feel satisfied after reading my content?
  • Do I stick to a specific word count for articles because that’s what Google wants?  (By the way, Google doesn’t have a preferred word count!)

Some final thoughts on Google’s Helpful Content Update and SEO

Google is always looking for ways to reward people-first content and is constantly releasing updates to improve its service to customers.  

So, if you prioritise your customer when it comes to creating web content and take a people-first approach, you’ll always be in Google’s good books.   

In my decades of experience as a digital marketer and SEO specialist, my advice to all my clients who want to get found online is to spend time, effort and often resources on creating awesome content that connects to your customers.  And if you want to learn how to boost your online visibility and get your website to the top of Google’s rankings, take a look at The SEO School.

It’s the most comprehensive SEO Course to help Google – and your customers – find your business online, quickly and easily.  Best of all, you implement your strategy as you progress through the modules so everything you do has a material benefit to your business.  

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