In August 2022, Google asked digital marketers to focus on creating original content that is helpful to people instead of content solely focused on search engine optimization (SEO). The helpful content update stated that Google intends to reward content and websites where visitors feel they had a satisfying experience.
Have you noticed changes in search visibility or traffic in Google Analytics or your Search Console? The update officially finished rolling out in early September 2022, and it seems that unless your website categories included lyrics pages or ringtones, the update's impact was limited. However, Google confirmed, "Over the coming months, we will also continue refining how the classifier detects unhelpful content and launch further efforts to better reward people-first content."
Despite the seemingly low impact of the first helpful content update roll-out, digital marketers and content creators need to take the information provided by Google seriously. What more do we need to know?
How The Update Works
Google has many signals for ranking web pages and content. The helpful content update is a new site-wide signal where Google's algorithm automatically identifies low-value or unhelpful content by using a machine-learning model. Because the signal is weighted, some sites may experience a bigger impact than others. Interestingly, user-generated content (like reviews and user comments) on sites will also be evaluated and measured with this update. The helpful content update currently impacts only global English searches but will eventually include other languages as well.
But what happens if you have people-first content that's classified as unhelpful? How does that influence your rankings? According to Google, you can still rank well if other signals identify your people-first content as relevant to the search query and thus helpful. In this instance, removing unhelpful content as soon as possible is the best option to give your quality content the best opportunity to rank.
Is SEO Still Important?
"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)."
This is one of the questions Google asked (and answered!) in the August 18th helpful content update, specifically in the section on avoiding search engine-first content.
Ultimately, Google wants content creators to create satisfying content that brings value to searchers while also utilizing SEO best practices. Google also urges digital marketers to avoid keyword stuffing, as the result is often unhelpful content that results in unsatisfactory searches.
So what is Google asking for? They want content creators to review their content and see if it is written to please the search engine first rather than giving the audience the quality information they want.
In their annual State of SEO report, Search Engine Journal (SEJ) received feedback from over 3,600 SEO professionals, and the results show that audience research takes up only 20.2% of their time. Shouldn't SEO professionals be spending more time getting to know their audiences so they can write better content for people instead of for search engines?
The Focus Is Now People-First Content
Over a decade ago, Google urged publishers to focus on delivering a quality user experience rather than worrying about signals and ranking algorithms. Some publishers listened—have you reaped the rewards for following this advice in the last decade?
If you are focused on creating clickbait-y content that tricks people into clicking but doesn't deliver results, then you're part of the problem that this helpful content update is trying to solve. So, what should you be doing to change the experience? Start by confirming the following:
- My site has a main focus.
- I have an audience that finds my content valuable when they come directly to my site or business.
- My content demonstrates actual expertise and personal experience.
- When the audience reads my content, they will learn enough about the topic to do what they intended or have an answer to the question they asked.
- Consumers have a satisfying experience on my website.
If you say "no" to any of the above, then you have work to do.
How To Optimize Content According to The Update
Google wants content to demonstrate EAT: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. And while EAT isn't a ranking factor per se, more weight is given to content aligning with strong EAT, especially for "Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)" websites that have a meaningful impact on the well-being of society, and people's health, financial stability, and safety.
But how do you optimize content according to the update? By self-assessing for three categories: content and quality, expertise, presentation, and production. What are some of the questions Google asks about these categories?
Content and quality. Is the information something you would recommend to a friend or expect to see in a magazine or book? Does the content illustrate the subject comprehensively?
Expertise. Does the content have clear sourcing, and is it written by an expert or person that knows the topic well? Is the information trustworthy?
Presentation and production. Does the content have spelling errors or a lot of advertisements? Does the content display well on mobile devices?
Keep Your Content Applicable
Relevance is one of the key factors that Google's search algorithms use to determine ranking results. The other factors are meaning, quality, usability, and context.
Google states that the most basic ranking signal that indicates if the content is applicable is when content contains the same keywords as the search query, whether in the body or headings. Besides using the correct keywords, content must be relevant and useful to be as helpful as Google requires.
Content Science Review states that content relevance is "all about your audience's perception of your content's pertinence to topics, issues, needs or interests." Through insights gained based on content feedback from more than 100,000 users, they suggest four ways to improve content's usefulness and relevance:
- Create detailed content geared toward specific needs
- Assure users of your content's completeness
- Allow your audience the opportunity to compare their options
- Ensure your content is timely
Besides keeping your content applicable, Google reiterates the value of following all its guidelines.
WSI is a global digital marketing company that loves winning. We have been named an Outstanding Website Developer a record six times by the Web Marketing Association (WMA) and have won more than 145 WMA Web Awards since 2007!
WSI does not believe in cookie-cutter digital marketing strategies, so our approach is as unique as every business we serve. Want to learn how WSI can help you tackle Google's helpful content update (or any other algorithm update)? Then you need to contact WSI today.