On August 25, 2020, Google’s “Helpful Content” update began rolling out. The process will take up to two weeks.
For years, Google employees have stated the search engine rewards websites that provide useful content that answers a searcher’s query with higher rankings. Yet, the Helpful Content update is a significant algorithm change that, like the Panda and Penguin updates, is expected to affect many websites for better or worse.
On the Search Central Blog, Chris Nelson from the Search Quality Team says the update is “part of a broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.”
The update aims to reward content which delivers a satisfying user experience. Content that doesn’t meet expectations will drop in the SERPs. So, content that puts the reader first will show high up in the rankings, while low-quality articles created with search engines in mind will disappear from the top results.
Here are our top ten tips based on Google’s guidelines on creating content that will likely rank higher after the latest update.
1. Put People First
Your website could drop if you’ve been posting content to please algorithms instead of people. But, if the main goal of your articles is to help your audience, you could get a pleasant surprise and see your content rise to the top of the results.
While Google is a business existing to make money, when it comes to organic search results, the company’s primary goal is to show users a page that is most relevant to their search query.
If you search for “bathroom curtains”, you don’t want results about living room curtains.
Although the update aims to reward content designed for humans to read and not bots or algorithms, this does not mean that SEO is a thing of the past. You will still need to optimise your pages using the best SEO practices. However, you should do this after creating helpful content.
In 2011, many online businesses saw their income disappear overnight when Google rolled out “Panda”. Like this latest update, Panda aimed to decrease rankings for sites using black-hat SEO methods. This included keyword stuffing, creating many pages with thin, similar content, and sites of general low quality. Content farms like eHow and EzineArticles were hit particularly hard, as these sites contained vast quantities of low-quality content. Content farms would aggregate posts from
other sites and exist solely to appear high in the SERPs. They had positive SEO signals but were of little use to a reader.
The people-first helpful content update is another attempt at what Google has tried to do for years – rank content that is helpful depending on the search query.
2. Show Your Expertise
You don’t need a master’s degree to write helpful content. Still, demonstrating personal experience that comes from actually using a product or service or visiting a place in person will help your case.
You could write an article on “Top Things to Do In Rome”, but if you have never visited Rome, you will have to research and rehash information already out there. Yet, if you have unique photographs or videos you took on a visit to Rome, and your article includes an unusual place you discovered off the beaten track, you are offering your visitors fresh, helpful content.
Writing about something you haven’t personally experienced is unlikely to be helpful.
Google recommends asking yourself the following question: Are you mostly summarising what others have said without adding much value?
3. Don’t Combine Many Topics On One Site
Keep your existing or intended audience in mind when deciding what to write. If your website is aimed at dog lovers, and you see an amazing toy for cats selling incredibly well on Amazon, you might be tempted to write about it to generate affiliate income.
However, a large section of your audience may not have a cat, as the site primarily targets dog lovers.
So, stick to your main topic, and don’t get side tracked with trending products.
4. Offer the Same Advice As You Would In Person
When writing a post, think if the person were standing in front of you, and considering you an expert in your niche, asked you the same query they would type into a search engine.
Would you try to answer them as concisely and with the most relevant information possible, or would you go off on a wordy tangent and recommend they buy several items they don’t need to achieve their query?
When creating helpful content, consider what you would say in person.
5. Fully Answer a Query
Your page or post should fully answer a query. If the visitor reads your article but then must return to Google to repeat the search, your content has not been useful.
Ensure your piece answers any queries a user may have related to the topic.
6. Stick to Google’s Product Review Guideline
Stick to Google’s official guidelines as much as possible when writing product reviews.
The most recent product review update to the algorithm rolled out in July 2022, following previous rollouts in March 2022, April, and December 2021. These updates only affected product or service reviews, not other forms of content.
Google wants to show in-depth, informative product reviews rather than thin content. As such, the product review update is not a penalty but a benchmark where reviews showing expertise and experience with the product supersede lower-quality content.
You can find Google’s best practice product review guidelines here. In short, the guidelines tell you to “focus on the quality and originality of your reviews, not the length”.
7. Don’t Add Fluff To Meet a Word Count
Longer form content seems to rank better in Google than short articles, but the company insists they do not care about word count., and a searcher won’t care about it either, or your SEO. She just wants her question answered.
Most of us don’t have time to waste reading a lengthy article when a few short paragraphs could answer a query, so as long as the visitor enjoys the article and learns what he wants to know, there is no reason to stress too much if your article is not two thousand words.
8. Don’t Mislead
This will be a welcome algorithm change for many users. We have all been victims of clickbait headlines, but you should avoid creating clickbait content at all costs after this update. Deceptive content written to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link is misleading and wastes the visitor’s time.
If your headline tells your reader they can solve an acne problem in seven days, and the article does not live up to its promise, that’s clickbait. The user will leave unsatisfied, which Google wants to avoid.
9. Understand Your Audience
Good writers know what understanding an audience means, which is a fundamental aspect of copywriting. Still, even if you are not an expert writer, you can produce great content if you understand where your reader is on his journey. For example, if you are trying to sell a course on decoupage, and a user types in “What is Decoupage”, they are probably not at the point of buying a course. They just want a clear description of what the craft involves.
So, know the intent behind a search and offer the solution.
10. Check for Errors
This might sound like elementary advice, but users are less likely to find the content helpful if it contains grammatical errors and typos. Before you post an article or page, check it is error-free. You can do this in Word, Google Docs, or subscribe to Grammarly.
It’s not just types and punctuation you need to check – if you are writing an article with dates, for example, check you haven’t made a mistake and entered the wrong number. If your readers notice errors, they will most likely click away, sending a signal to Google that the page is not helpful.
What to Do if Your Site Is Affected
If Google decides your site exists primarily for search engines, you will not see a manual action listed in the Google Search Console. There will be Google will not notify you that your content is low-quality. However, you can expect to see a significant decline in your rankings and search traffic over the next few months.
Google says affected sites that improve the usefulness of their content can recover their rankings, as the part of the algorithm that categorises sites for this update will run continuously.
Use the Feedback Form
If you feel Google’s recent helpful content update unfairly impacted your site, try using this form to send them feedback. While we doubt you will get a reaction, there is little harm in trying.
Now is the time to review your website and assess if your content is people-first. Aim for quality over quantity. It is essential to realise that if Google sees enough thin content written primarily for search engines on your site, the update will impact any useful content as well, as the punishment is sitewide. Go back through your old content, and if you find posts or pages that are not helpful, rewrite or delete them, or you could see every page on your site disappearing from the search results.
Contact us if you need help with your marketing and developing a people-first content strategy. We are here to help.