How Google’s helpful content update will affect your website rankings – and what to do about it

By: Richard Michie

Google’s helpful content update validates what we’ve been saying for years. Make your content helpful.

It’s not rocket science. In fact, it should be obvious to anybody reading this, that your website content needs to help your users, to inform them about your business, your products/services, and guide them to convert. Only now, google will be judging just how helpful your content really is.

What is Google’s helpful content update?

Google’s helpful content update targets “content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines rather than to help or inform people.”

The point of the update is to ensure that Google is showing search users high-quality, helpful content that answers their queries, rather than content created to rank well in searches. This content does not serve the user, and risks leaving them confused as to why they’ve landed on a site that is seemingly unrelated, or not specific, to their search.

Google’s new algorithm aims to penalise websites creating this kind of low-quality, “content for search engines”, while promoting more helpful websites with content created for humans.

This can’t be a bad thing at all in our view.

Content is a Mindset. Get On Board!

“No one reads web pages” is something we hear all the time. And it’s true from a certain point of view. No one does read your web pages if:

  1. There’s nothing to read (your content is too thin)
  2. The reader who has landed on your website is not your target customer. (Your content is poorly optimised and targeting the wrong users).

Google's helpful content update

Write for your customer, not search engines

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) exists to help your customers find your content in Google Searches. Optimising your content for search, and targeting your audience, is step one.

Step two is ensuring that your content retains your users on site, where they can buy or interact in the way your business wants them to.

If you’ve provided only a very small amount of information, how do you expect a customer to know, like, and trust your business?

Businesses find it hard to write content, for a whole number of reasons. Maybe this is due to having thousands of products on an e-commerce site, seeing themselves as a commodity, a long-held ill conceived notion that “less content = better”, or perhaps they simply don’t feel confident writing.

Whatever it is that’s holding you back, without optimised website copy that converts, you are going to struggle to be found in search engines,and will experience conversion issues in paid promotional campaigns too.

Google is giving you loads of information

Google algorithm updates are usually shrouded in mystery, with years of experience, and rigorous personal testing the only ways to decipher them.

But on the Helpful Content Update, Google is giving loads of help (funnily enough). Here’s their checklist around building human-first content.

Take a look and see how your website content stacks up against these questions. If you’re answering no, or I’m not sure, then it’s time to review your site.

  • 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?

And when it comes to avoiding search-engine first content, Google laid out these questions:

  • 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 summarising 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?

We’ve created a Google Sheet you can use to check how compliant your website is to Google’s Helpful Content update

Start fixing your website now

Google is rolling out the helpful content update from the end of August 2022, though it is likely to take a few weeks to be fully effective.

If your site has any number of the issues mentioned above, then your rankings will be affected, and Google suggests that it could take a while for penalised websites to recover their Google ranking.

Your site will need to prove, over time, that it no longer publishes content created with the sole intention of ranking in search engine results pages, and instead create content that is truly valuable to your visitors.

According to 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.”

How we can help you with the Google helpful content update?

Tech and marketing journalists covering the helpful content update have made links to specific sectors that will be hit most by this update, listing industries as varied as Online Educational Materials to Arts.

In reality however, the update affects any website that doesn’t have helpful, detailed, strategically driven, well crafted, optimised content that converts.

Highly visual, copy-shy websites will certainly be hit the hardest, along with websites selling a large range of products, all featuring similar descriptions, with changes only to the size, colour, tech specs etc.

As an SEO agency, with plenty of experience in the twists and turns Google makes, we’ve recently worked on an e-commerce site which had this exact issue, lots of similar high-value products, with very little copy or description that set each product apart, or optimised them for search.

To fix the situation, we made architectural changes, carried out in-depth keyword research, and mapped the most relevant high-value terms and search metrics to associated website pages, before writing optimised copy for each of the products.

It’s been a long process, but the business is seeing the benefit of switching from thin copy to more informative, detailed, and helpful copy. Delivered just in time for Google Helpful Content update.

Like Google, we feel that customers want to know information about your products/services, your business’s story, values, team members, point of view etc. These are all the things that make your business great, stand out, and give customers a reason to buy from, or work with you, and not your competitors.

If you need help with the new content changes, fill in the form below and we’ll be in touch.

Interested in speaking to The Optimists?

Right from the beginning of our time working with The Marketing Optimist, they’ve taken the time and effort to get to understand Sharp Consultancy as a business and not just a client. We’ve seen a huge increase in the effectiveness of our social media strategy, particularly on Linkedin and we’re delighted with the impact it’s had on the business.

Jamie Caulfield

Regional Director, Sharp Consultancy

It was a pleasure to work with The Marketing Optimist on this project. It felt like a true collaborative effort on the day and they made the interviewee's feel at ease whilst talking about their journey on our RISE programme. The final video was professional and engaging, we have received great feedback around the quality and creativity of the case study. Including the video in our presentation made it come to life, with real humans sharing their stories, so thank you to the Marketing Optimist!

Hannah Prole

Impact Manager, Better Connect Limited

Case Studies

MultiplyNYorks

Marketing for Local Government

Moresby Hall Hotel

Hotel Rebranding

Sharp Consultancy

B2B Social Media for recruitment

The Edit LDN

Managing advanced eCommerce SEO

Better Connect

Digital PR and video production for events

Tango Networks

Marketing support for a global telecoms business

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