What to Expect with Google’s Helpful Content Update

In the battle against low-quality content, Google has announced the launch of its Helpful Content Update, which is set to prioritise human-focussed content and penalise content written specifically to rank well in SERPs. It’s a sitewide update which means every page has the potential to be affected, spelling trouble for AI-spun content and creators who only value where they stand on Google, instead of how their content will be received by actual human users. So, what do creators need to know about this new update, and how will it impact strategies moving forwards?

Helpful Content - The Brains
September 2, 2022
10 mins to read
Helpful Content - The Brains
To begin with, only English searches will be affected by the new update, but over time, more searches will likely be affected, too. The update is one of many Google has rolled out recently in an attempt to crack down on unhelpful, SEO-specific content that undermines the needs and wants of users, but unlike a lot of other algorithm updates, this one is sitewide, so it’s natural that marketers may be quaking in their boots a bit.

What is the Google Helpful Content Update?

As the name suggests, the Google Helpful Content Update is focused all around ‘helpful’ content. Essentially, Google has twigged that lots of sites spin content that is written purely to obtain rankings. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, and it doesn’t really provide anything to the user, either. Content like this not only takes valuable space away from genuine creators who have a user’s best interests at the heart of their content, but it also means that users have a negative experience because their questions go unanswered and they find no use in what is ranking. This reflects badly on creators, but on Google, too, because it’s the one placing weight behind unhelpful content. Well, up until now.

When announcing the update, Google said: “The helpful content update aims to better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn’t meet a visitor’s expectations won’t perform as well.

“Any content — not just unhelpful content — on sites determined to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall is less likely to perform well in Search, assuming there is other content elsewhere from the web that’s better to display.”

So, writing to please Google no longer pleases Google; people-focussed content is king.

Helpful Content - The Brains

How does the update impact creators?

Creating organic content that ranks well needs to have a certain amount of SEO-driven intent behind it. If you input no keywords, you won’t rank for said keywords, and that means the chance of relevant users coming across your content is unlikely. So, keywords need to be implemented and SEO best practices still need to be followed, but you can no longer write specifically for SEO purposes. Basically, Google doesn’t want you to write for bots, it wants you to remember why you do what you do: to help users find what they’re looking for. 

“There’s so much more to ‘quality content’ than varying sentence structures, a consistent tone and a nod to SEO. Content needs to really work at speaking to and helping its audience to be deemed valuable – and surely that’s only a positive thing! 

“As creators, we need to keep in mind what the actual purpose of our content is, rather than using it solely as another potential revenue driver. And, as businesses, we need to provide support and guidance to our clients and customers that they will see real value in. In this way, being a great content creator and being able to maintain great client relationships are two skills that go hand-in-hand.”

  • Hannah Else, The Brains Content Production Manager

The core things this update seeks to tackle are:

  1. Clickbait titles that are irrelevant and misleading
  2. A hyperfocus on word counts that causes a need to cull either waffling or superfluous content
  3. Duplicated content with a different keyword

None of these things add value and can hamper the experience the user has. They also block the way for genuine creators who want to help users from securing the top spot in SERPs that they genuinely deserve. If you always write meaningful content with the intent of it being useful for your users, you have nothing to worry about. If, on the other hand, you are guilty of producing low-quality content with no real style or substance to it beyond SEO keywords, you may find you lose a number of your previously-held rankings when the new update is rolled out fully.

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Preparing for the update and producing useful content

Like any algorithm change, you need to be prepared for what might happen. The Helpful Content Update is automated using machine learning and works based on a signal. Any content that is deemed to be unhelpful, and sites that produce mass amounts of unhelpful content, will be on the receiving end of a negative signal that is sent to the search engine algorithm, resulting in a drop in rankings. This means your content needs to be sharp and helpful as soon as it’s produced; otherwise, the bots will wage war on what you’re bringing to the table. 

Luckily, figuring out how to produce helpful content is not exactly rocket science. 

Avoid clickbait 

As mentioned earlier, clickbait articles will likely bear the brunt of the new algorithm change, so make sure you avoid this at all costs. This means sticking to the title and giving readers what they can reasonably expect. Don’t shove the important bits to the bottom whilst stuffing the majority of the article with irrelevant information no one asked for. Transparency is key. No fluff, no stuffing, no titles that don’t match the content. 

Natural word counts 

As we touched on before, a lot of creators make content to fit a predetermined word count. This results in content either being watered down and not being as comprehensive and informative as it could be, or a lot of filler words and fluff being added in to bulk out the piece. Under the new changes, this will be frowned upon. If someone is engaged in what you’re writing, they’ll read to the end. Make sure you cover all relevant points so the user isn’t left with questions, and if you don’t have that much to say, keep it short, sharp, and concise. 

Self-reflective questions 

In the notice of the algorithm change, Google set out a number of self-reflective questions it urges content creators to ask when considering if their content is high-value. Some of those questions include: 

  • Is the information in the article trustworthy – would you trust it?
  • Are there any spelling, grammar, or factual faults in the content?
  • Is the article similar, duplicated, or overlapping with other content, except with a different keyword?
  • Would you recommend the article to a friend?
  • Are there lots of ads that distract or disturb the content on the page?
  • Is the article insightful beyond the obvious?

None of these mean disregarding SEO entirely; it goes without saying that content that is 50 words long won’t rank, and content that lacks keywords or backlinks also won’t gain much traction from the Google Gods. Keep SEO in mind, but don’t let it dominate how you approach creating content.

What to do if you have unhelpful content

Most sites will likely find they have some content that is flagged as unhelpful. Google recommends removing unhelpful content to preserve your rankings, but if you feel like the content is valuable, try and rework it in line with the new update.

Final thoughts

There is nothing about this update that should concern high-quality content creators. If you produce a lot of great content that is reliable, factually and grammatically correct, written to help people and not boost rankings, and that is authentic in its creation, you don’t need to worry. Continue doing what you’re doing and you should find that you get rewarded for your efforts. 

If you need help crafting high quality, SEO-savvy content that is helpful to users and rewarded by Google, we can help. Chat with one of our SEO specialists todayto find out more.

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