On August 25th, Google officially started rolling out the August 2022 Helpful Content Update. According to google, it will likely take up to 2 weeks for a full rollout of the update.
This substantial update to the way Google’s algorithm evaluates and ranks content on your websites, will likely have a sizable impact on how your content is currently ranking.
In previous updates, only certain content types tended to get targeted with changes, but this update will have a wider impact across your whole site. The focus of the update is to be punitive towards sites that display a pattern of shallow, less helpful content.
So what can you or your team do to prepare for these changes?
What is helpful content, anyway?
For a long time, Google has focused on what they call people-first content, in other words writing website content for humans and not search engines.
Helpful content is essentially the same as people-first content, but with an emphasis on providing value. Google sees this as a fundamental building block that will improve the future and quality of the web as a whole. The more helpful a website is, the more happy the users are who visit, and in turn means those users are more likely to return to that website again later.
The helpful content update does not mean your previous SEO (Search Engine Optimization) efforts have been in vain, as Google explains here:
“Our advice about having a people-first approach does not invalidate following SEO best practices, such as those covered in Google’s own SEO guide. 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.”
This makes sense for Google because it wants searchers to be happy with the results they get. For example, assume someone searches Google for a chocolate cake recipe. If that person clicks on a website that talks about chocolate cake but contains no actual recipe then they will probably be frustrated and leave the page. Google considers this sort of page content to be less helpful or relevant to a search query for chocolate cake recipes.
How Will The Update Work?
The helpful content update will push websites and businesses to reevaluate their content strategies as a whole. Once rolled out, the update will introduce a new site-wide signal that will be considered amongst other existing signals to determine how Google decides to rank your site.
This brings to mind the metaphor of the carrot and the stick when considering how Google is approaching this change. The emphasis of this site-wide signal is focused less on rewarding helpful content, but rather on punishment of websites that display a pattern of writing unhelpful content. Google is using machine learning to detect unhelpful content and to flag offending pages for it.
In practice, this means that if your site contains a large amount of unhelpful or low value content, Google can decide to stop showing your site in as many search results. The assumption here is that there is more helpful content for them to show. According to Search Engine Journal, this could more greatly impact industries that are known to produce low value content, like tech related industries or arts and entertainment.
How do you know if you are writing people-first content?
One way to check your content is to ask some clarifying questions about your writing. Google has provided a list of questions that you can answer to help you check if your content is for humans or robots. Some of these clarifying questions are:
- 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?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, take note because your site might be at risk being flagged for unhelpful content. This is your chance to change course and invest in a people-first approach. This is not an exact science and it may take time for a business to distinguish between helpful and unhelpful content in their space.
Rome was not built in a day and neither is your authentic marketing plan. Be patient and roll with the punches. At the end of the day, what subjects are you an authority on? Write to people and tell them what you know best.
What should you do in response?
Remove your unhelpful content
If your website is flagged with unhelpful content signals, it could take you a few months to recover. The best course of action is to remove old content from the site that contains little value to your audience. Google uses a machine learning algorithm process and will constantly evaluate new and current site content. If Google detects that unhelpful content is no longer present on the site over a period of time then eventually they should remove the unhelpful content search signal from your website. To again quote Google:
“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.”
Write better content for humans
Unique New York, unique New York, you know you need unique New York. This is a common tongue twister, but also an easy way to remember that your content should stand out. Websites that embrace being innovative, that tell unique stories, or that help people solve problems will simply do better in the long haul.
Well you might be asking, how do you know what to write? This is where you show that you understand your audience. They are your key to writing your best content.
There are several helpful tools that can help you find out what searchers are looking for, here are a couple of our favorites:
This is a great brainstorming tool that allows you to tap into a database of current questions that are asked by real users across the web. Just type in a keyword, aim for one to two words for best results, and the tool will give you back a variety of insightful queries that you can answer with your own brand’s content.
This a stellar keyword research tool that can show you variations and other searches related to a seed keyword. A seed keyword is usually a shorter root keyword such as “cookies” which can lead to longer related variants like “crumbl cookies”, “girl scout cookies”, or “thumbprint cookies” as an example.
Using tools like these, interviewing customers, or learning about different subjects can all lead to better content and more helpful content. Follow the breadcrumbs and your business will never run out of topics to write about. The key is to be intentional and write to your audience and not the search engine in the background.
Have a quality SEO plan in place
As stated earlier by Google, this helpful content update does not replace the need to consider SEO in your marketing plan. A solid SEO strategy can take you a long way towards your goal of performing well on search. Now more than ever is very important to:
- Optimize your content with appropriate links, titles, and descriptions
- Use tools like Google Analytics to measure and track engagement on your site
- Do keyword research
- Plan out content for your business to write about
- Redirect old pages
- Manage the technical health of your site
Helpful Content Update Summary
The August Helpful Content update is about Google establishing stricter guidelines for content quality. Sites that repeatedly write content purely for search engines will no longer rank as high in search results. This puts greater emphasis on writing content that is genuine and human focused. Using tools like Answer The Public and Semrush to research your audience will be helpful towards reshaping your content strategy in light of these changes. Writing more helpful content and maintaining a solid foundation of SEO for your site will help your business growth on Google moving forward.
Shameless plug: If you need help or direction in any of these areas, feel free to reach out to us, we are more than happy to assist your team!