Google Helpful Content Update: Why User-First Content Is King
Update December 2022: Google’s initial helpful content update in August was introduced to just English language searches. On December 5, 2022, Google rolled out an additional helpful content update. The December 2022 update rolls out the helpful content ranking system globally to all languages and should be completed within two weeks.
These helpful content algorithm updates aim to reward higher organic rankings to content that provides a satisfying user experience, specifically and notably for humans.
Solving Unsatisfying Experiences
There is a universe of unsatisfying experiences out there that can be prevented. For example, there were thousands of Spanish rock fans who went to see KISS in Lisbon on October 11, 1983, and the band performed without make-up.
It can be equally unsatisfying to search a band’s new tour dates, click on a website that promises those answers and then doesn’t.
How are you expected to “Shout It Out Loud” and get the party started with these types of results?
What is the Helpful Content Update?
The helpful content update provides helpful content to searchers by prioritizing high-quality, user-first content, rather than low-quality content that is written solely to earn organic search traffic. This will produce more diverse results and drive down the amount of unhelpful content in search results. The update will operate as a sitewide signal that can affect a website’s organic rankings.
Here are some basics about the helpful content update:
- Official Name: Google Helpful Content Update
- Launch Date: Began the week of August 22
- Length of Rollout: About two weeks
- Targets: Identifies content that was created with the sole purpose of ranking well in search over content that actually helps people.
- Impacted Products: Just English, standard Google Search for now. Google may include Discovery and other features in the future.
- Penalty: Sites with overly-optimized content are expected to be impacted the most.
- Scope: The update looks at content quality throughout an entire site, not just individual pages.
- Core Update: This is not a core update. The last core update was the May 2022 Core Update.
- Language: English-language content globally is impacted. Other languages may be added in the future.
When Did Google Launch the Helpful Content Update?
Google’s helpful content update began launching on August 25, 2022. Full rollout will occur over two weeks by September 8, 2022. Expect performance impacts from the algorithm update within the next few months. Google’s Search Ranking Updates is the primary resource to track algorithm changes like helpful content updates.
The Impact of the Latest Google Algorithm Update
The name helpful content update provides a literal description of what types of content will be impacted. Performance is expected to remain stable or improve if the content is helpful. If the content is unhelpful, expect to see declines in performance.
SEOs have churned out over-optimized search content for years. Thousands of articles that are stuffed with keywords and phrases, hoping to attract some of the more than 3 billion people who use Google every month. This creates search results that aim to please the mechanics behind the algorithm and not necessarily actual people who read words.
Categories Expected To Be Impacted by the Helpful Content Update
The impact of overly-optimized content is homogenous results that describe the same things repeatedly. Some business categories have more of these types of results than others.
Google said that based on its testing, the helpful content update would have a greater impact on these segments:
- Online Educational Materials
- Arts & Entertainment
- Tech-related Content
When asked further about “Online Educational Materials,” Danny Sullivan, Google’s Search Liaison, said on Twitter: “Generally tutorial, things meant to teach something, not really formal courses. But again, it’s not focused on any particular area. That’s just one example where we see notable improvement, but there are others, and any query about anything might benefit.”
What Does This Mean For You and Your Organization?
The focus of Google’s helpful content update is to reward websites that provide helpful content for people written by people. So, if Google has identified that searchers are not happy with the quality of search results, give them what they want!
Create People-First Content
Google included with the helpful content announcement insights into what they determine to be the characteristics of helpful content:
- Have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you.
- Your content clearly demonstrates first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge.
- Your site has a primary purpose or focus.
- After reading your content, users will leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal.
- Users reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience.
- The website follows Google’s guidance for core updates and for product reviews.
Signs You’re Creating Search-First Content
Google also shared insights on what “search-first” content looks like. If these statements describe your SEO strategy, your website may be impacted by the helpful content update. It boils down to large amounts of unhelpful content.
- Producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results.
- Using extensive automation to produce content on many topics.
- Mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value.
- Writing about things simply because they seem to trend and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience.
- Your content leaves readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources.
- Writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count. (They don’t, btw.)
- Deciding to enter a niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead, mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic.
- Your content promises to answer a question that has no answer, such as suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn’t confirmed.
Determining if Your Content May Be Impacted
While Google’s statements above regarding quality content are instructive, they aren’t empirical. Tracking metrics over time is the ideal way to determine if the helpful content update impacts your website performance.
Google said the helpful content update system is automated, regularly evaluating and assigning scores to new or updated pages. The effect of this update can take several months to be reflected in search results.
Metrics to Determine Google Algorithm Impact
Primary metrics to track for shifts and changes over time include:
- Keyword position ranking in Search Console
- Clicks in Search Console
- Click through rate in Search Console
- Impressions in Search Console
- Organic traffic volume in Google Analytics
- Landing page traffic volume in Google Analytics
Because the helpful content update is sitewide, focusing on metrics for the whole site will give an overview of performance changes. However, since Google has not announced the ability to determine which individual pages are being considered unhelpful, looking at page-level performance could be instructive for where to begin a recovery.
Improve or Remove If You’re Impacted
Google hasn’t publicly disclosed exactly what percentage of helpful versus unhelpful pages is required for their classifier to flag a site as low-quality.
An affected site will need to prove that its content is compelling, useful, and relevant over time. This update’s classifier runs continuously, monitoring newly-launched sites and existing sites. As it determines that the unhelpful content has not returned over the long term, the “unhelpful” classification will no longer apply.
Improve the Content
With this update, low-quality content on some parts of the website can affect the whole site’s rankings. It can be helpful to remove low-quality pages, merge or improve individual shallow pages into more valuable content, and move low-quality pages to a different domain.
Having a strategic and data-informed approach to content development is an ideal place to start. Keeping audience personas in mind and understanding the task they want to accomplish while adding a dash of style with optimized images will go a long way to providing a helpful and satisfying user experience.
Remove the Content
If performance has dropped off for a number of pages, and it doesn’t meet the criteria for people-focused content, remove it. There’s little use for a page that doesn’t help people accomplish their tasks and degrades overall site performance.