Google’s new helpful content algorithm update has rolled out, and the initial response was a tad underwhelming. However, Google also announced this update isn’t done and will continue to be tuned and refined. While this update may seem quiet so far, it shouldn’t be ignored. In this article, we’re going to lay out what this helpful content algorithm means and how it can impact our rankings, traffic, and revenue.
How Google’s Helpful Content Algorithm Works
Google’s Helpful Content Update (HCU) is an algorithm ranking signal. It determines how closely a given site page follows Google’s core search guidelines. It targets such things as providing substantial descriptions, clear source attributions, and original research within the content. Google aims to help searchers find “high-quality” content. More specifically, it’s driven to weed through any content that’s more about ranking well in the search engines rather than providing users with helpful information.
This is all part of a larger effort to focus on people-first content, bringing value and balance to the search results. Google even added a suggestion earlier in the year to include both pros and cons of product or service descriptions to better help users make informed decisions. It represents the evolving end-game of not only providing useful content but content that helps balance expectations.
Use the People-First Approach
Google’s algorithms can now distinguish intent within the content, and how well it relates to a search query. In other words, algorithms can design search results centered around the customer’s journey. People are now searching the same on Amazon as they would on Google. They ask Alexa for a nearby service just as they would conduct the same search from a smartphone.
This helpful content update aims to better reward content that meets the user’s expectations first. The “people-first” concept is focused on the end-user by hitting their specific touch points. Content is now part of a standard SEO marketing strategy, and these considerations are also appearing in Google Analytics 4 and Google Search Console.
People turn to Google for a variety of reasons, and they also rely on Google to provide information that is factual and sound. Google exists to provide answers, and they understand the potential risk of inaccuracies. Misinformation can have a substantial impact across the board, and the cost bad content creates is far too high.
How to Create Helpful Content
How can you ensure you’re creating content that will be successful with this new update? Google provided a guideline to help creators better align their content to meet user expectations. In addition, they provided a list of questions to ask yourself. If you’re able to answer yes to the following, then you’re on the right track:
- Do you have an existing or intended 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 a depth of knowledge?
- Does your site have a primary focus or purpose?
- After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help them 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 product reviews?
In the end, creators will need to make sure that their content not only provides meaningful value but on subject matter that directly relates to their expertise.
Avoid Search-Engine First Content
Content that’s written to rank in the search engines will be heavily targeted with the new helpful content algorithm update. People get frustrated when they arrive at a web page that ranked well because they were designed to rank well as SEO content. Google will not downgrade those types of websites while promoting more helpful websites that are designed to help humans. While this update isn’t specific to any given niche, Google did specify the types of content that may be impacted the most:
- Online educational materials
- Arts and Entertainment
These types of content will be targeted more because content written in those areas has historically been written more for search engines than humans. The people-first approach, coupled with the right SEO best practices, will bring the perfect balance of content that search engines are looking for.
So how do you avoid the search-engine first approach? As Google states, answering yes to any of these questions should be a warning sign that you need to reevaluate how your content is coming across:
- 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 to trend 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?
Any content – not just unhelpful content – on sites that Google determines to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content will be less likely to perform well in Search. For this reason, removing any of this type of content could help the rankings of your other content.
While Google’s helpful content algorithm update is trickling out, further supporting enhancements are on the way. That being said, now is the time to scan through your web pages to ensure your content meets this new criterion. Google hinted that it could take several months to recover if a site gets targeted. Any site publishing content for the sole reason of ranking well will need to prove itself worthy again through a validation period. This means a waiting period the site will need to go through to show Google’s algorithms they are providing helpful content.
Our advice? Read Google’s advice and make the necessary changes. If you need any help with your website or to see how SEO can benefit your business, reach out to our team for a free digital consultation.