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What is Google’s Helpful Content Update?

As the name implies, the goal of Google’s Helpful Content Update is to ensure that the content users find in search results is providing value to the intended audience. 

Since the beginning, Google has emphasized the importance of focusing on the user. This update is a continuation of that mission – just like every Google update before.

According to the Search Central blog

“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.”

It’s a familiar phrase in the SEO world: We need to write for users and search engines. It appears Google is applying more weight to the first part of that equation. Most SEOs will likely hear of this update and claim they have nothing to worry about. And as long as you’re investing time into creating valuable content that resonates with your target audience, you probably will be fine. But what if you’re not? 

How to Write for People and Not Search Engines

Google provided about a dozen questions that creators should be asking themselves to determine whether they’ll run afoul with the looming update – which is expected to roll out the week of August 22, 2022 through the beginning of September (two weeks total). 

Here are some of the questions with our interpretation: 

  • Google: 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?
  • Interpretation: Do you even know who you’re trying to reach? Maybe it’s time you develop some personas. 
  • Google: 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)?
  • Interpretation: You should be hiring subject matter experts to write the content or review the content before it’s published. And in case you missed the E-A-T update, you should also be attributing your content to a credible author. 
  • Google: Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
  • Interpretation: Develop topic clusters! Keep working the strategy to establish topical authority on the topics and subtopics that matter most to your business. 
  • Google: After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
  • Interpretation: Ensure you’re answering the question and all questions related to the topic. Keyword research tools can help you identify the questions. Most of the time, you’ll need an expert to provide the answers. And be cautious with AI writing tools. In our experience, they give you a good start but usually add more fluff than substance. Fluff is not the stuff. 
  • Google: Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
  • Interpretation: Once again, stick to your topic cluster strategy. 
  • Google: Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
  • Interpretation: The operative words here are “extensive” and “many topics.” Some automation is necessary for large websites, especially e-commerce sites. A good SEO knows how to add value to the content formula – not just keywords. And be careful of AI writing tools. All content should go through an SME review. 
  • Google: Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?
  • Interpretation: Stand for something. 
  • Google: Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
  • Interpretation: Does your content not suck?
  • Google: 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).
  • Interpretation: The content should be as long as it needs to be. Period. There are plenty of studies and tools that suggest an optimal word count. It also doesn’t help that freelancers get paid by the word, therefore always ask for a word count. Remember that Google values user experience. We cannot say that a specific length of copy consistently provides a better user experience. 
  • Google: Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic?
  • Interpretation: Establish authority through the implementation of topic clusters and author attribution. Even if you fall outside of the YMYL (your money your life) industries, it helps to have an expert tied to the content. This can also come in the form of a “reviewed by” or “approved by” feature. 

How to Know if You’ve Been Hit

If you’ve been negatively impacted by the Helpful Content Update, you’ll see a drop in rankings, impressions, clicks, and website traffic for pages on your website. The algorithm evaluates each page individually, but it’s possible that your entire website is, well, unhelpful. We recommend keeping an eye on those metrics before, during and after the rollout of the Helpful Content Update. If you need another set of eyes, let us know. 

We aren’t surprised by the update. Not at all. It’s completely in line with what Google has been preaching since the beginning. Want to get ahead of this thing (or recover, depending on when you reading this). We recommend the following: 

  1. Understand your audience – develop personas! 
  2. Develop topic clusters to build topical authority for the subjects that matter most to your business goals. 
  3. Hire a subject matter expert to either write or review your content. 
  4. Monitor the performance of your content: 
  • Google Search Console for page-specific performance, including impressions, clicks and keyword positions. 
  • Semrush or Ahrefs for another source of page-specific keyword rankings. 
  • Google Analytics for behavior metrics and traffic metrics. Does your page have a low average session duration and a high bounce rate? Has your page seen a significant drop in organic sessions? These are signs that users don’t find your content helpful 

If you need help monitoring the performance of your content or implementing any of the recommendations included in this post, let us know. Search Nurture provides SEO for B2B, SaaS, CPG and eCommerce brands. Fill out a contact form to set up a meeting with one of our SEO experts. We can talk about the Helpful Content Update and anything else that’s on your mind. 

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