Google announced on August 18th 2022, that they are going to be adding something called the Helpful Content Update into their algorithm. It started rolling out on August 25th 2022. In this blog we'll discuss what this update actually means and what you need to do right now as it's rolling out. Because it's still in the rollout process. We’ll cover some things to be looking out for and some ways that you can set yourselves up for long term success when it comes to SEO.
The Helpful Content Update is going to be a site-wide signal and the goal is to target websites that have a large amount or relatively high amount of unsatisfying or unhelpful content. This could be content that was written for the sole purpose of ranking and attracting search engines rather than serving the end user.
First off it's a site-wide update and right currently it's only targeting English languages, so it's not going to impact other languages for now. But Google does expect to do that down the road now. They're targeting any content and not just unhelpful content, but on sites that they determine that have a large amount of unhelpful content. You may have some pieces that are good, and some a large amount of content that's not helpful or good, you can still be triggered within this update.
They're using machine learning, ML classifiers to determine how helpful the content is. This is a tool that will scrape and look at your content. It will match it with what they know and all of the other ranking factors and determine whether or not your content meets the intent of the end user.
What do you do if you're impacted?According to Google, removing your unhelpful content could help in the ranking of your other content. So one thing to note on this is that they're taking your site in a complete picture. They're looking at your entire website. So when we say site-wide we mean your whole website, not just individual pieces of content. Having unhelpful content in other parts may affect your helpful content and its performance as well. If Google sees that your site as a whole is not helpful, that it's being used specifically for manipulation of search rankings, it will be impacted. You really have to think holistically about your processes, about your site and about how you're building out your content. And is this actually going to meet the end needs of your users.
This is a new signal by Google and it is one of the signals that Google uses to evaluate and rank content. This is just another signal within Google’s algorithm. So, is this update similar to Panda? If you've been an SEO for some time, you might know about the Panda update which was in 2011. Barry Schwartz from SC Roundtable says
“Does this sound like Panda to you? It does to me, but Google told me that this update is in addition to Panda, which is already baked into the core algorithm for many many years. So Panda is still running but this update is a new one that might feel a like Panda when it launched, but it is different”
This is a content specific update, so what should you do? This is from Google themselves, they say you should be able to answer yes to all of the questions in the image below, to make sure that your content is focused on people first.
This is something that we approach a lot. You have two audiences, with the search engine we talk about semantic SEO, you have machines and you have people, you have to meet the needs of both. However, you have to meet the needs of the people first and then you need to make it machine readable. So that the machines understand your content. This is more important than ever now when they are using machine learning in order to determine what your content is about and whether it meets the needs of the end user. So you need to identify if your content is useful to your audience. If your content came directly from you, does the content demonstrate first-hand experience or depth of knowledge, does your site have a primary purpose or focus. After reading your content does a user feel like they met the needs of what they were looking for. Understand whether a user will read your content and leave feeling like they've had a good experience on your website.
The second thing you have to do is avoid creating content for search engines first. They've been saying this for years, yet a lot of people still create content for search engines first. And there are a lot of reasons for that, because most of that content has performed well and still does perform well and it probably will even after this update. But Google is continually working on ways to snuff that out. So you have to think about what's the primary purpose of the content you are producing. Like content on lots of different topics hoping that something is going to work for you. Are you using automation to produce content? AI writers are growing in popularity. AI writers are extremely helpful, they can help you scale, but if you're relying on them to do all of the work without adding that human influence it's probably a bad idea.
Some question you can ask yourself before creating content are:
If you have positive answers to these questions, you are probably in a good place. If not, it’s time to fix your content. You can do that primarily by creating user friendly content focusing on search intent and being the first and last stop to a users search query. So follow best practices and guidelines but also generate results that will help you grow.