The Helpful Content Update was rolled out by Google in August 2022, and is rumoured to be one of the biggest shake ups in the SEO landscape in the last decade.
So, what is this new update all about? How might it impact your website and your ongoing marketing? And how can you take advantage of this new change? Read on to find out:
- What is the Helpful Content Update?
- How does Google decide if my content is helpful?
- How to do a content audit for the Helpful Content Update
- How to make the Helpful Content Update part of your SEO strategy
Google's Helpful Content Update is probably the biggest change to the algorithm since the Panda update in 2011, and it targets the same issue - black hat SEO.
Black hat SEO is where people try to improve their website's ranking or visibility in Google using bad faith tactics. For example, the Panda update targeted people who were buying lots of low value, spammy links.
In this case, Google is targeting bad content. In particular, the sort of content that doesn't actually help users find the information they need.
Essentially, Google is changing the way it evaluates content, using machine learning to decipher whether content is actually "helpful" for a user.
This analysis will be a new site-wide signal that's included as part of Google's overall ranking process. That means that it's not considered to be a manual or spam action, so there won't be any alerts in Google Search Console.
That means that you'll need to keep an eye on your rankings yourself, as that's going to be your first (and only) warning sign that Google has a problem with your content.
The update currently only analyses English language searches, but Google plans to roll it out for other languages in the future.
Google started rolling out the update on 25th August 2022, and it should take around 2 weeks to fully roll out across English language searches.
Once the update has fully been rolled out, there's likely to be some volatility for several months as the new classifier becomes smarter, and learns how to better identify useful or unhelpful content.
This update is going to affect everyone! As it's a sitewide update, the content on every page of every website will be factored in.
That means that if your main website content is super relevant and useful, but your news section has a lot of irrelevant content that's just to attract clicks, then your site may still suffer.
It even applies to user-generated content, so you may need to take a firmer hand when it comes to moderation and sub-editing if your website includes a lot of user generated content.
Everyone knows that content is essential to a great SEO campaign - and to marketing in general.
But some unscrupulous marketers try to game the system by churning out low quality articles. That includes incomprehensible keyword-stuffed articles written by AI, content nicked from several other articles and stuffed into a new one, or clickbait that pretends to answer a question that can't be answered.
In fact, there's been a big rise in people including the word "reddit" in their Google search, because they know that on Reddit, they'll get an answer that's been written by an actual human.
So Google is taking action to put people-first content back at the top of the search results.
The main aim of this update is to make sure that content that people actually find useful is rewarded, and content that's just created for search engines is not.
For example, a common black-hat SEO strategy is to pretend to answer a question that actually can't be answered - such as the release date of a film that hasn't announced a release date yet.
Other common issues are content that doesn't really fit with your website, content that just summarises other articles without a unique viewpoint, and poorly written or automated content.
So, if you're writing unique, relevant content that is designed for your target market, chances are you'll be fine!
The great news about this update is that if you're already focusing on relevant, useful content (because that's best SEO practice anyway!), then if anything this update will help you.
That's because it's not aimed at you, it's aimed at the people who AREN'T using website copywriting best practices to create good, relevant content.
But if you're concerned, you'll need a thorough content audit, which can be broken down into 4 easy steps.
Step 1 - Planning your audit
Because this update applies to your entire website, a thorough content audit could take quite some time! So your first step is to prioritise pages that are most likely to be an issue.
Chances are your problem areas will come from your news, blog or article area - but of course this could still be a significant collection of pages.
So the best way to tackle it, is to do an audit of your article categories and tags. Look back at your content marketing calendar. Pick out the ones that are the least relevant to your actual business or website. The articles in these categories are likely to be the biggest issue for you.
Step 2 - Look at your user personas
You should already have some user personas for your target audience. If not, we recommend that you create some!
These user personas will be really helpful for the next stage of your audit, because you'll be judging the usefulness of your content against the things your target audience would be interested in.
Step 3 - Analyse your content
Now you've got a workable list of priority pages and your user personas to hand, you'll need to look through each page to see if it's something that would be relevant and useful to your users.
Helpfully, Google has provided a list of things to look out for, which includes:
- Would people within your target audience find this content useful?
- Does the content show first-hand expertise or a depth of knowledge?
- Does your content suitably answer any questions it poses?
- Would someone reading the content feel they've had a satisfying experience?
Ideally you want "yes" to be the answer to all the above! If so, chances are these pages will be fine. But there are also some red flags to look out for too, including:
- Was the content mostly created using AI?
- Is it mainly summarising other articles?
- Was the subject for the article chosen because it was trending, rather than for relevance?
- Are you trying to write to a specific word count for Google's benefit?
- Do you promise to answer a question that actually has no answer?
If you've answered "yes" to some of these questions, it's a warning sign that the page needs some attention.
Step 4 - How to update your content
Now that you've got a list of problem pages, it's important to know what to do with them.
There are 4 different approaches you can use here:
Sometimes all it takes is a good edit to get something back on the right track. This is a good option if your page is mostly fine, but there are a couple of problem areas.
A full rewrite might be the best choice if your content is a little off-target, but can be reworked into something that's fully relevant to your audience.
If your content isn't really "helpful", but does need to stay on your website - for example if it's referenced on other pages - then it could be a good idea to consider No Indexing it. That means that it won't be crawled by Google (and thus won't interfere with your rankings), but you won't lose the content entirely.
Removing the content is the most drastic option, but if it's truly not relevant to your audience, it might be the best move.
Ideally, creating good, high quality content was ALREADY part of your SEO plans! But with this new update, it's more important than ever.
When we're writing content, we try to keep to 4 key principles, which we call the Ruru Technique. Ruru stands for:
- Real - only real writers, writing for real people
- Unique - original content from the outset, not something scraped together from bits of other articles
- Relevant - focusing on things that your target audience cares about
- Useful - content that gives a new take, answers a question, or goes in-depth on a subject
Using the Ruru Technique you can make sure that every scrap of content on your website, from your articles to your product pages, is something that Google is going to rate and rank.
Need some help with the Helpful Content Update?
If your website has been hit by the new update and you need some help identifying what's causing the problem, or what action you need to take, then Edge of the Web are here to help!
Our SEO team can help you navigate the new changes, and come up with a strategy for your future digital marketing efforts. So get in touch with us today!