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With its helpful content update, Google wants to reward websites that offer “helpful” content. Google finished the update rollout on September 9, 2022, and (as of now) it appears to be one of the “quieter” updates, with most websites with good content doing well and not seeing any fluctuations.
However, Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, highlights that the search engine’s useful content ranking signal will continue to develop and evolve. “Directionally, it’s what SEOs and creators should pay attention to. We’ll continue to tune it, refine it. It matters, which is why we’ve spent so much time talking about it.”
Essentially, this update forces businesses to return to Google’s guidelines for creating compelling content. Here’s all you need to know.
Google’s helpful content update: All the need-to-knows
“Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?”
Keyword stuffing – that used to sound like “Repeat the primary keyword X times and the secondary and tertiary ones Y times (each)” – has now taken a different form. Thanks to the latest SEO research tools, you can now export a list of a hundred terms you “must“ use in your content for “complete” coverage of your target topic. And where does this list come from? It’s drawn straight from your target term’s first ten search results.
This can easily be ”over-optimization.”
Unless a writer ties everything together in a “human-friendly” way (so it’s both relevant and engaging), such a piece of content can fail to connect, even if it looks like an excellent resource to search engines. With the latest update, Google wants you to produce “people-first” content.
“Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?”
Any business website – B2B, B2C, or D2C – can only have so many topics to cover. You don’t have to create content about everything.
In other words, only cover topics on your website that are relevant to your audience. And a topic is only fit for your website when it’s something your target audience wants to hear about. And that, too, from you, because you’re the authority on the topic.
More help on this comes from Google’s guidelines for creating people-first content: Does your site have a primary purpose or focus? Answer this, and then put all your content bandwidth in this one key focus area (or areas). But remember, covering too many topics can also dilute your topical authority.
“Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?”
Google has always recommended against using programmatically produced – or “auto-generated” – content. In fact, Google calls AI-generated content “SPAM.”
But the reason why“AI” writers – that can give you a 500-word article in under 2 minutes – are becoming increasingly popular is because Google can’t really tell if a bot is being used to generate a piece of content. In most cases (unless plagiarism checkers flag something), no one can. That being said, if Google’s web spam team discovers such content, they are authorized to take action.
Search Advocate John Mueller explains that even with the AI writer tools getting better, auto-generated content still counts as SPAM: “And for us, if you’re using machine learning tools to generate your content, it’s essentially the same as if you’re just shuffling words around, or looking up synonyms, or doing the translation tricks that people used to do. Those kind of things. My suspicion is maybe the quality of content is a little bit better than the really old school tools, but for us it’s still automatically generated content, and that means for us it’s still against the Webmaster Guidelines.”
If you’ve played around with such tools, you’d have to be lucky to get a readable article with one. Yes, you might get a good intro, conclusion, or a section or two – sometimes even a decent “zero” draft – but it doesn’t come close to original content.
Google’s helpful content update warns against using rampant automation for content production.
“Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?”
This ties directly to the depth of your content. If a resource is seen to rehash what’s already ranking, it won’t likely perform well after this update.
To rank well, you must add original insights, fresher angles, and actionable advice that align with the search intent.
Simply remixing content is no better practice than gray hat content spinning.
“Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?”
Imagine if every business or service provider you deal with started producing series after series of content on the receding pandemic, fast-growing inflation, the metaverse, Web 3.0, or the impending recession. Not that great, right?
Google doesn’t want you to capitalize on “trending” topics unless they tie to what you do and offer value to your users.
In the early days of remote work, many B2B businesses wrote tons of posts about how cool it was. This might make them feel good about how they work, but it doesn’t necessarily offer value to a business’s existing users. You get the picture.
“Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?”
To satisfy a user’s query, you need to understand it first. When you factor in search intent and create content in line with it, your readers won’t need to refer to other resources or go the pogo-sticking route.
To understand search intent, Google the keyword you want to target. If Google is ranking how-tos, people want to learn (perhaps in a step-by-step process of) how to do something. If roundups or listicles show up, searchers potentially need quick tips. Likewise, if Wikipedia-style resources seem to rank, the query is probably only informational.
Unless you understand the search intent behind a keyword, you can’t really create content that answers it. Which means, users won’t have a satisfying “content experience” if they do land up on it.
“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 ties back to the above guideline, actually. If you understand the nature of the query you’re trying to rank for, you’ll naturally hit the right length for your content.
“Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic?”
A lot of businesses like to explore topics that their potential audiences care about.
Take sustainability, for example. Many businesses prefer working with eco-friendly businesses. Promoting sustainability as a corporate value – on the homepage and all – is great. But writing about sustainability on your blog so you can get search traffic may not be a great idea.
Why? Because you aren’t really a sustainability subject-matter expert. Sure, you might get some traffic, generate media coverage, or get good backlinks. But, unless you use what’s sometimes called “tangential” content with care, it may hurt your SEO potential in the long term.
“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?”
Okay… so this one happened to some of us… and Google’s right – it feels bad when you hit a news story only to NOT find the promised answer. For example, all Pixelbook lovers routinely look for their Chrome OS laptop’s next release. Is a new Pixelbook on the horizon? Maybe, it is. Perhaps it’s not. No one knows, but everyone’s writing about it.
Wrapping it up…
As most people from the SEO community seem to be arguing, most of the guidelines this update imposes have always been there.
Yet, not all can say that all the content living on their website is indeed helpful. This is an excellent chance to either refresh content (so it becomes “helpful”) or just remove it altogether. What are your thoughts here? And has your site been impacted?
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