What does Google’s helpful content update mean for you?

Google’s helpful content update is currently in the process of being rolled out. We take a look at what it includes and how it might impact you and your clients.

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The Google algorithm is constantly evolving with regular updates being rolled out to help improve the way the search engine works and in turn improve the experience for the end users. Originally, these updates only happened a handful of times throughout the year, however, now the search giant is constantly tweaking its algorithm with small updates taking place daily. On the whole, these updates will often go unnoticed, but every once in a while a larger update takes place that shakes things up a bit, and that is exactly what’s happening with Google’s helpful content update.

On August 25, Google announced the launch of the “helpful content update”, with a full roll out of the update expected to take up to two weeks. So, what’s so special about this new update and what could it mean for you and your clients?

What is Google’s helpful content update?

In short, this update does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s focused on ensuring users see unique, helpful content that has been written for people, not search engines. Search results will aim to reward the content that helps to satisfy and meet visitors’ expectations. In theory, content should always be produced with the end user in mind, adopting a people-first approach. However, the reality is it can be easy to produce solely ‘SEO-focused’ content that’s main aim is to help boost a site’s rankings. While SEO best practice will of course still be an important consideration when producing content, it should no longer be the main consideration following the launch of this update.

To help ensure the content you are producing is on the right track, Google has released a list of questions that should be considered when producing content:

  • Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site 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 having actually 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 our guidance for core updates and for product reviews?

By answering yes to all of the above questions you can feel comfortable in the fact that your content is adopting a people-first approach. 

Creating content for people, not search engines

While the main focus behind this update is to think of the person reading the content, not the search engine displaying it, that doesn’t mean the traditional SEO best practices are now invalid. Google’s SEO Starter Guide should be the go to introduction to all things SEO, if you want your site to rank in Google, taking advice from Google directly is the best place to start. 

With the roll out of the latest update, it’s important to find the balance between content that works well from an SEO perspective and content that is people-first. At the end of the day, you can write the most helpful piece of content that gives loads of useful advice, but if it isn’t appropriately optimised it’s far less likely to rank in the SERPs, and vice versa.  

Again, Google has released a list of questions you should consider when producing content to avoid a search engine-first approach:

  • Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
  • Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
  • Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
  • Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?
  • Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?
  • Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
  • Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (No, we don’t).
  • Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic?
  • Does your content promise to answer a question that actually has no answer, such as suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn’t confirmed?

Of course, it’s likely to be impossible to ensure your content doesn’t do any of the above. For example, this blog post is based around a trending topic and summarises the information Google has shared, however, the main intent is to provide helpful content that answers searchers’ questions. 

How will the update impact you?

With the initial roll out beginning last week, and the completion expected to take a couple of weeks it may be a while until we see the true impacts of this update. Ultimately, the update should have very little impact on a content/SEO strategy. Gone are the days of the old black hat SEO strategies, and in theory, all content should have a reason for being produced, even before this update. 

That being said, now is a better time than any to carry out a review of the content on your site, or client’s sites, to ensure everything is in line with the update. If there is any content that was produced purely for the sake of SEO, this should be either removed or reworked to ensure it is helpful and focused on the user. There is no set time frame for how long it will take for your site to see the benefits of removing outdated content, Google mentions it could take a few months for the new ‘helpful’ signal to be applied to a site and the classifier is constantly running to monitor existing and new sites regularly. 

Of course, rankings are all relative. In theory, an ‘unhelpful’ piece of content will see its rankings drop, however, only if the competing content is deemed to be helpful. Additionally, this update will impact sites as a whole, as opposed to just individual pieces of content. If a site has a lot of unhelpful content its rankings across the board will be impacted. Furthermore, the more unhelpful content a site has the stronger the effects of the update will be felt. 

Personally, I have always tried to ensure the content both on our site and our clients’ sites is helpful, and would like to think this is something all digital marketers aim for. Of course, you want it to rank well, however, if you aren’t actually helping the user they are less likely to convert into a customer. Finding a balance between SEO focused content and advice led content has always been a challenge when producing content. That being said, of course, everyone has produced content in the past that has been aimed to mop up some niche keywords, and this is still a viable tactic, however, now when writing the content be sure that it ticks those helpful boxes. 

For more information on Google’s helpful content update and everything you need to know, check out the full guidelines from Google.

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