Google's new Helpful Content update targets content written for search engines

Posted by Edith MacLeod on 23 Aug, 2022
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The update rewards people-first content. Here’s what Google says about helpful content, how the update works, and what to do if your site is hit.

Helpful Content update.

Image source: Freepik

**Update: Google released the Helpful Content update on 25 Aug.

Google will launch an update this week, which it is calling the Helpful Content update. The search ranking algorithm will target low quality, unoriginal content which is aimed at gaming the system and ranking well in search engines, rather helping and informing inform people. It will reward helpful, original content, written “by people for people”.

Separately, Google will in the near future launch another product reviews update, which is part of its broader effort to improve Search and reduce low quality content.

In this blog post, we’ll look at what Google says about the update, how it defines helpful content, and what to do if your site is impacted.

In a separate blog post, Wordtracker’s Owen Powis analyses what's behind the update and how significant it is likely to be.

Google’s Danny Sullivan announced the upcoming update in a blog post on 18 August:

“We know people don’t find content helpful if it seems like it was designed to attract clicks rather than inform readers. So starting next week for English users globally, we’re rolling out a series of improvements to Search to make it easier for people to find helpful content made by, and for, people.”

The update aims to reward content where visitors feel like they’ve had a satisfying experience, and found what they wanted. Content which doesn’t live up to expectations, and doesn’t provide useful, actionable information will perform less well.

Content areas most affected

No specific niche is being targeted, but based on testing, Google says the update will improve results particularly in the following sectors:

  • Online education
  • Arts and entertainment,
  • Shopping
  • Tech-related content

Danny Sullivan tweet.

Source: Twitter

Danny Sullivan gave the example of someone searching for information about a new movie and finding an article that just provided reviews from other sites without adding anything new or unique. This is the kind of unhelpful content being targeted. The update aims to surface more results with unique, authentic information, providing more helpful and informative content for people.

How to approach this update

Google has provided guidance about how creators should approach Helpful Content and ensure they will be successful with this new update.

Creators should focus first on creating satisfying content, while also employing SEO best practices to bring searchers additional value.  The people-first approach does not invalidate following SEO best practices.

“SEO is a helpful activity when it's applied to people-first content. However, content created primarily for search engine traffic is strongly correlated with content that searchers find unsatisfying.”

 Focus on content for people

Google has provided a list of questions to ask yourself about people-first content. Answering yes to these means you’re probably on the right track.

  • Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
  • Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?
  • Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
  • After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they've learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
  • Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they've had a satisfying experience?
  • Are you keeping in mind our guidance for core updates and for product reviews?

Avoid creating search engine-first content

There’s a similar list relating to content created primarily to rank in search engines. Here, answering yes to any or all of the following questions means you’re probably on the wrong track and should reevaluate your content creation strategy.

  • Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
  • Are you producing lots of 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 seem 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? (No, we don't).
  • 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?

The update is a new, site-wide signal

The update introduces a new site-wide ranking signal, which Google will take into account among many others when ranking content.

Site-wide means it can impact an entire site rather than individual pages or sections of your site. If your site is identified as having a large amount of unhelpful content, then the entire site - including any helpful content - can be impacted.

“Our systems automatically identify content that seems to have little value, low-added value or is otherwise not particularly helpful to those doing searches.

Any content — not just unhelpful content — on sites determined to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall is less likely to perform well in Search, assuming there is other content elsewhere from the web that's better to display. For this reason, removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content.”

Panda and Penguin, two big updates of the past, were also site-level algorithms.

Your site may take months to recover if hit

Google says sites which are classified as having unhelpful content may find this signal applied to them over some months. However, the classifier for the update runs continuously so removing unhelpful content will help your site recover.

“Sites identified by this update may find the signal applied to them over a period of months. Our classifier for this update runs continuously, allowing it to monitor newly-launched sites and existing ones. As it determines that the unhelpful content has not returned in the long-term, the classification will no longer apply.”

The classifier process is automated, using a machine learning model. It is not a manual action or a spam action.

It's a new signal among many used to rank content. This means some people-first content on a site classed as having unhelpful content could still rank well, if other signals identify it as helpful and relevant.

The signal is weighted, so Google says sites with lots of unhelpful content may notice a stronger effect.

Google plans to expand the update to other languages over time and will continue refining how the classifier detects unhelpful content. It will also launch further efforts, as yet unspecified, to better reward people-first content.

Google will update its page on search ranking updates when the update is released, and also when it has completed. It's likely to take a couple of weeks to roll out, so keep an eye on your rankings over this time, while the rollout proceeds and results get moved around.

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