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What does Google’s Helpful Content Update mean to you?

Google’s algorithm is constantly evolving with regular updates to help improve the functioning of the search engine and thus improve the experience of end users. Originally, these updates only happened a few times a year, but now the search giant is constantly tweaking its algorithm with small daily updates. Overall, these updates often go unnoticed, but every now and then a bigger update takes place that shakes things up a bit, and that’s exactly what happens with content update useful from Google.

On August 25, Google announced the launch of the “helpful content update, with a full rollout 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 customers?

What is Google’s Useful Content Update?

In short, this update does exactly what it says on the tin, it aims to ensure that users see unique and useful content that was written for people, not search engines. Search results will aim to reward content that helps satisfy and meet visitor expectations. In theory, content should always be produced with the end user in mind, taking a people-centric approach. However, the reality is that it can be easy to produce only “SEO-focused” content whose main purpose is to help improve a site’s rankings. While SEO best practices will of course remain an important consideration when producing content, they should no longer be the primary consideration after the launch of this update.

To make sure the content you produce is on the right track, Google has released a list of questions to consider when producing content:

  • Do you have an existing or anticipated audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if it came directly to you?
  • Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and in-depth knowledge (e.g. expertise that comes from actually using a product or service, or visiting a location)?
  • Does your site have a goal or a primary objective?
  • After reading your content, will someone walk away feeling like they learned enough about a topic to help them achieve their goal?
  • Will someone reading your content leave with the impression of having had a satisfying experience?
  • Take note of our advice for basic updates and for product reviews?

By answering yes to all of the questions above, you can feel comfortable that your content takes a people-centric approach.

Create content for people, not search engines

While the primary focus of this update is to think about the person reading the content, not the search engine displaying it, that doesn’t mean traditional SEO best practices are no longer valid. from google SEO Getting Started Guide should be the first introduction to all things SEO, if you want your site to rank in Google, taking direct advice from Google is the best place to start.

With the latest update rolling out, it’s important to strike the balance between content that works well from an SEO perspective and people-focused content. Ultimately, you can write the most useful content that gives lots of helpful tips, but if it’s not optimized appropriately, it’s much less likely to rank in the SERPs, and vice versa.

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

  • Is the content primarily aimed at attracting searchers from search engines, rather than designed for humans?
  • Do you produce a lot of content on different topics in hopes that some of them might perform well in search results?
  • Do you use extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
  • Do you mostly summarize what others have to say without adding much value?
  • Do you write about things just because they seem trendy and not because you would write otherwise for your current audience?
  • Does your content make readers feel like they need to search again for 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 a niche area with no real expertise, but mainly because you thought you were getting search traffic?
  • Does your content promise to answer a question that doesn’t have an answer, like suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when it’s unconfirmed?

Of course, it’s probably impossible to ensure that your content doesn’t do any of the above. For example, this blog post is based on a trending topic and summarizes information shared by Google, however, the main intention is to provide helpful content that answers people’s questions.

How will the update affect you?

With the initial rollout starting last week and completion expected to take a few weeks, it may be a while before we see the true impacts of this update. In the end, the update should have very little impact on a content/SEO strategy. Gone are the days of old black hat SEO strategies, and in theory, all content should have a purpose even before this update.

That being said, now is the best time to perform a content review of your site or your clients’ sites, to make sure everything is up-to-date. If any content was produced solely for SEO purposes, it should be removed or reworked to ensure it is useful and user-focused. There is no set time frame for how long it will take your site to see the benefits of removing outdated content, Google mentions that it could take a few months for the new “useful” signal to be applied to a site and classifier is constantly running to regularly monitor existing and new sites.

Of course, rankings are all relative. In theory, “unnecessary” content will see its ranking drop, however, only if the competing content is deemed useful. Additionally, this update will impact sites as a whole, not individual pieces of content. If a site contains a lot of unnecessary content, its overall ranking will be affected. Moreover, the more useless the content of a site, the more the effects of the update will be felt.

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

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