Google’s Helpful Content Update
As an unrivaled leader within the search engine realm, Google is consistently evolving its algorithm to serve the needs of its users and identify content that is most relevant to any given search. While prior algorithm updates have addressed concerns such as content farming and poor backlinking techniques, users have continued to express frustration with what is perceived as “low-quality content” and search results that feel inauthentic and lacking substance. In an effort to increase the efficiency and value of their search tool, Google has unveiled an algorithmic transformation that industry insiders are calling “one of the most significant changes in over a decade.”
What is this helpful content update?
Google’s “helpful content update” is the latest algorithm update designed to give users more relevant search results based on material written with the intent to inform or educate. The goal of the update is to uplift content that has been created to assist users and downgrade content that has been produced with the sole intent of ranking highly in search. With the help of a newly employed machine learning algorithm, Google hopes to identify material that will provide genuine assistance to users and reduce the amount of content written to serve search engine optimization efforts rather than humans.
Unlike previous Google algorithm evolutions that have evaluated content page-by-page, the helpful content update will impact the performance of search results sitewide. This means that sites with a large volume of content will likely feel the greatest impact based on the algorithm’s assessment of the content’s value and its relevance to users. Although it can be expected that Google engineers will continue to adjust and improve the algorithm, a sitewide impact means that marketers should be prepared to evaluate their site’s current cache of content and closely analyze its value to users.
What type of content will be impacted?
While the helpful content update is not designed to target any specific genre or variety of website, Google has revealed that sites carrying online education materials, arts & entertainment, shopping, and tech-related content will be the most impacted by the algorithm change.
Rationale for this decision suggests that this type of content has historically catered more to SEO than human readers and will therefore benefit from the additional analysis that the algorithm provides. Although Google has confirmed that this update reviews a variety of factors for determining the ranking of a page, specific details outlining the criteria have not yet been shared to the public. It is important to note that Google has stated that the upcoming update will not invalidate previously established SEO best practices and that the goal of the change is to prioritize well-written and informative material.
How to determine the “helpfulness” of content
How to determine the “helpfulness” of content
Marketers and site owners should prepare for upcoming changes by addressing the effectiveness and “helpful” factors of existing material. In addition to following already established content creation best practices, content owners are encouraged to ask the following questions to avoid partaking in a “search engine first” approach.
- Is the content primarily crafted to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
- Are you producing 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 are 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? (Google does not).
- 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?
When is the update taking place?
As of September 9, 2022, Google reports that the rollout of the helpful content update has been completed.
While the update has officially launched, it should be noted that the immediate impact on site traffic, if any, may not be visible for several weeks. Marketers are advised to closely monitor traffic and analyze results on a site-to-site basis to fully contextualize the impact of the helpful content update.
What this means for marketers
Considering the significant impact that the latest update will have on Google’s interpretation of relevant content, marketers should be prepared to address how their site’s search traffic may be impacted, what changes are necessary in terms of their content creation process, and how to address the reservoir of content that is currently active on their sites. Content audits and optimization roadmaps should be considered high-priority tasks in the coming weeks and months and will be critical tools in preventing a potential loss in user search traffic.
Collective Measures also recommends connecting with internal stakeholders to identify time-critical content needs and prepare for additional site traffic analysis in the coming weeks that will be necessary to determine the full impact of the helpful content update.