Google’s Helpful Content Update: Everything You Need to Know
- Define your target audience
- Provide detailed and original content that reflects your expertise
- Provide a positive user experience to visitors
With Google processing billions of pages to help searchers find the information they’re after, Search is undoubtedly a complex science. Therefore, it isn’t surprising to learn that Google Search is updated thousands of times a year to provide internet users with quality results and improve their overall experience on the web.
As the web evolves, updates are vital to ensuring searchers have access to the most relevant publishers, creators, and businesses.
In line with connecting searchers to more relevant information, Google recently rolled out the helpful content update. The update is set to change the way content is assessed. But what exactly does the update mean for you, and how do you recover if your rankings have dropped in response?
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about Google’s helpful content update.
What Is the Google Helpful Content Update?
The Google helpful content update 2022 is designed to deliver information that better serves searchers. It comes in response to growing concerns over the quality and diversity of search results. In a nutshell, the update aims to provide the following:
A better way to search
The helpful content update was rolled out from 25 August 2022 to 9 September 2022 and again on 5 December 2022. If this trend is anything to go by, we can expect more updates as Google ramps up its efforts to detect unhelpful content. Consequently, we can expect this update to play a major part in how Search functions over time.
A way to reward helpful content
The helpful content update seeks to reward original, helpful content that is more likely to leave searchers satisfied with their experience. Low-quality content that doesn’t meet searchers’ expectations will take a hit.
A break away from a search-first approach
Instead of showing searchers content made for search engines, the update aims to show more content written for people by people. Going forward, it will be crucial for content creators to consider search intent and whether their content meets searchers’ needs.
A sitewide signal
The helpful content update isn’t a manual or spam action. Instead, it’s just one of many signals Google evaluates to rank content. As it is a sitewide signal, it applies to an entire website, not just individual pages.
This means websites with large volumes of unhelpful or unsatisfying content risk lower rankings, while websites with relevant information overall are more likely to see better rankings.
Is The Helpful Content Update A Core Update?
For Google to provide the most useful results to internet users, its ranking systems must be updated constantly. In fact, Google’s commitment to continuous improvement has reduced the number of irrelevant results on search pages by over 40% in the last five years.
When Google makes broad improvements to its search algorithms and ranking systems, they’re called core updates. Core updates reflect major improvements to how content is assessed, meaning they often result in noticeable changes. While other updates may not be as broad, they support core updates and improve Search over time.
Google doesn’t always share details about these incremental updates. However, when Google mentions an update, it’s 1) a core update that could potentially produce notable effects and 2) a way to provide site owners with actionable insights.
Although Google gave us a heads-up about the helpful content update and gave us insights to apply, it isn’t a core update. In fact, Google’s latest guidelines refer to the update as a ‘helpful content system’ that generates a signal used by Google’s automated ranking systems to ensure people see original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.
What Is Helpful Content According to Google?
Google’s goal is simple: content for people by people. But what is helpful content? What does it mean for your business and how you serve your audience? Fortunately, Google provides some guidelines on what makes content helpful. Let’s explore some of them below:
1. Narrow your focus
Google implores you to consider whether you have a specific target audience that you are committed to understanding and catering to. You can’t be all things to all audiences; true expertise and the ability to delight a certain audience is a consequence of narrowing your focus. Here are a few ways to do just that:
- Track historical sales data to determine who your most valuable customers are
- Make use of Google analytics cohort analysis to discover what these high-value customers have in common
- Use the insights you’ve gathered to identify a feasible and responsive target audience
2. Cater to your audience
When you have a clear audience in mind, consider if they would find your content relevant and valuable. Reflect on whether you’re leveraging your expertise or simply covering unrelated topics that you think will do well in SERPs.
Google asserts that thoughtfully designed websites that provide helpful, authoritative content are more likely to perform better. So, make it your mission to cater to your audience. You can do this by:
- Explaining who you are and why you’re qualified to address your audience’s search queries
- Addressing your audience’s search intent by providing the right answers to their questions
- Providing detailed content or insights that reflect your expertise
- Continuously seeking feedback from your audience and using it to guide your efforts
3. Optimise for people, not search
While sites still need to adhere to SEO best practices, Google warns against creating content for search engines. This is because content created for search engines is usually full of keyword stuffing and other tactics that put searchers off.
If your strategy involves jumping on the latest trends with little regard for your audience or your unique expertise, you’re taking a search engine-first approach. A people-first approach, however, involves leveraging your expertise to cater to a specific target audience. Doing so ensures searchers don’t leave your site to find better sources.
4. Prioritise original content
Google wants content creators to let go of arbitrary practices like writing to a particular word count or simply replicating what’s already out there. With the rise in automation, the internet giant also wants to ensure that creators aren’t churning out tons of unhelpful AI-generated content.
Rather, Google encourages content creators to explore new perspectives and use unique data to delight their audiences. If you aren’t doing it already:
- Take advantage of your unique expertise to create original content
- Create case studies
- Leverage in-house talent
- Make use of user-generated content
- Explore more creative and engaging ways to deliver your content
5. Avoid clickbait
Google hopes to clamp down on content that generates traffic but doesn’t deliver helpful information. Directing a searcher to an irrelevant page is a prime example of creating an unsatisfying experience. In fact, this is one of the fastest ways to lose credibility with your audience and Google.
So, avoid creating content that makes untrue claims or misleads searchers. Focus on creating content that attracts and delights relevant audiences instead.
How Do I Recover My Helpful Content Update?
If you’ve seen a change in your rankings because of the helpful content update, you might be wondering how to recover. Well, you’ll need to improve your content or remove some of it altogether. However, this won’t be a quick fix, and it can take months for your website to recover.
According to Google, affected sites may find the signal applied to them over a period of months. When Google determines that the unhelpful content hasn’t returned in the long run, it will stop applying the signal.
It’s also worth noting that soon after the helpful content update, Google rolled out a core update. As a result, the change in your rankings could be cumulative. Unfortunately, little is known about the core update, and Google hasn’t given us any guidelines to work with.
However, you’ll still benefit from optimising your content strategy in the meantime. Similarly, even if you haven’t noticed any major changes after the update, it’s still a good idea to comply with the helpful content guidelines. That said, here’s how to make your content more helpful:
Remove unhelpful content
As the helpful content update is a sitewide signal, removing unhelpful content could improve your rankings. Use analytics tools such as Google Analytics to identify low-performing pages. Then, inspect each page for quality and relevance. Essentially, any pages that are not helpful to your audience should be removed. Ask the following questions:
- What is the purpose of the page?
- Is the purpose of the page clear?
- Does the page adhere to Google’s E‑A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trust) guidelines?
- Does the page cater to a specific audience?
- Would that audience deem the page useful?
Improve user experience
Part of being a helpful website is providing a positive user experience to visitors. If your page is poorly designed or if technical aspects such as loading times aren’t up to standard, visitors are likely to leave frustrated. As the helpful content update prioritises user experience, this could cost you valuable conversions and harm your rankings, too.
For a better user experience, be sure to:
- Address your audience’s search queries or pain points right away
- Break up big blocks of text with images
- Incorporate videos into your content to increase engagement
- Increase readability by using bullet points and numbered lists
- Include navigation guides and tables of contents to encourage ease of access
- Follow Google’s E‑A-T guidelines to ensure your content is helpful and credible
- Optimise your site for both mobile and desktop users
Make good content great again
As you’re auditing your website, don’t only focus on underperforming pages; consider top performers that are losing traction. These pages are still generating traffic and could easily be improved to achieve better results. To make these pages great again:
- Analyse top-ranking competing pages and see what you can do better
- Consider whether you have any fresh insights to add based on your experience in the field
- Determine whether there are any content gaps that could be addressed
- Look at whether any images or facts need to be updated for relevance or recency
- Consider whether you could add other elements, such as videos or testimonials, to make them more helpful
Adopt a people-first approach
A people-first approach combines quality content with SEO best practices to provide searchers with more value. While we’re still in the early stages of assessing the helpful content update’s true impact, the fact is that low-quality content progressively affects user engagement and site rankings.
As such, consider the helpful content update yet another reminder from Google to focus on providing quality content. The internet giant has always advised site owners to focus on delivering the best possible experience for users — after all, that’s what its algorithms seek to reward.
The helpful content update is a call for more original and helpful content. And just like Google’s other algorithm updates, the update works to ensure that Search gets better over time.
For your business to truly benefit from the helpful content update, focus on optimising existing content and creating people-first content. Ultimately, this is what will set you apart from competitors and help you meet your long-term business goals