Last week Google announced the rollout of its newest search algorithm update, the “Helpful Content Update.” The update – set to begin this week – targets content that prioritizes ranking well over helping the readers. More specifically, Google confirmed that the update will "help make sure that unoriginal, low-quality content doesn't rank highly in Search.”
Though it takes a slightly different naming approach from more recent updates (I’m looking at you, Panda), this update is the most recent in a decade-long series aimed at improving user search engine experience. If you’ve been paying attention, Google has been sunsetting keyword stuffing and manipulative tactics in favor of authentic and value-driven content for quite some time.
It’s important to remember that Google predicates its business model on people using its engine to find the content they seek. To continue to earn users' trust, they must deliver content they know those same searchers will actually find valuable – thus leading to this continued evolution in favor of user-friendly content written by and for humans.
Critical Components of the Google Helpful Content Update
Aside from the obvious, there are a few essential pieces of information that you should understand about Google’s most recent update:
- The changes are expected to impact sites this week and take two to three weeks to roll out fully.
- This is a sitewide algorithm, so it doesn’t just impact the low-quality individual URLs, but the entire domain of those that do not comply. For example, if an organization published four or five poorly written, non-valuable articles on their blog, all content across the domain would suffer from a ranking perspective.
- While Google typically rolls these updates out globally, “tech-related content” was one of the verticals they specifically mentioned being heavily impacted – likely due to the educational nature in which so much content is rooted.
Tips to Avoid Creating Search-First Content
Like most of Google’s non-core updates, this will likely significantly impact a website’s overall SEO performance and traffic levels. As such, content producers and marketers will have to adapt quickly. Here are a few quick tips to take back to your team today and apply to your content strategy.
- Stop writing for search engines and start writing for your end users
- My colleagues can probably hear me through their screens with how often I say this – but it’s true. This simple standard is the lens through which all content creators and strategists must view their work. While it can be tempting to over-optimize your content to meet traffic needs and broader organizational marketing goals, doing so will simply waste resources and potentially put your site in harm's way.
- This most recent update fortifies what we’ve known for a while about keywords: Relevance and intent far outweigh other metrics like volume and difficulty. I suggest using search data to guide the topical focus before writing, and sprinkling in phrases from your chosen cluster only where natural and appropriate.
- It’s time to apply the Marie Kondo principles to your content
- Ah yes, organization – everyone’s least favorite activity. I imagine the most popular question from marketers will be, “But how does Google know something isn’t helpful?” There are the more obvious methods they likely use, like time on page, bounce rate and general levels of engagement. But then there are the more structural measures that crawlers may take, depending on your philosophy.
- I believe that Google crawls and interprets content that is long, disorganized and void of subheading structure as chaotic and unhelpful to potential readers. I suggest using clear and concise headers to guide users throughout your content and allow them to skim for only the most relevant portions. It’s also helpful to use executive summaries and bullet points to highlight the most salient points you’re attempting to make.
- A couple of fluff pieces may have a much more significant impact on your overall B2B content marketing strategy
- As mentioned, this is a sitewide update, meaning that Google will penalize an entire site if it believes a meaningful percentage of its content isn’t helpful to users. The easiest way to prevent this is to stop writing summarized versions of content you’ve seen published a number of times. While this has been a fairly commonplace practice over the past few years, it's been a traffic-driving tactic rather than a value-focused one – forcing users to continue searching for helpful information on the topic.
- Take this article, for example. If I had just summarized the algorithm update and optimized it for the “Helpful Content Update” keyword, I may have earned some traffic in the short term, but I certainly wouldn’t have told readers anything they likely didn’t already know. This tip-focused section of the article adds a unique and valuable perspective (I hope) for readers, thus likely passing through the helpful content filters.
I hope this information gives you more than enough to work with as you build and execute your own content strategies in the wake of this algorithm update. Google also published some helpful tips on how to create people-first content. Given that this is coming directly from the source, I’d highly encourage you to check it out too!