Google has just released an update to their algorithm, which could be one of the most significant updates since Panda back in 2011, with many SEOs predicting that the Helpful Content Update could be a game-changer in the world of search engine optimisation.
What is the Helpful Content Update?
In August 2022 Google announced that they would be rolling out a new update to their algorithm which they named the “Helpful Content Update”. Many experts in SEO have seen begun to speculate that this is Google’s latest attempt to ensure that relevant, accurate content that is written for users (and not search engines) is being rewarded in SERPs (Google’s search results). As stated in Google’s Search Central blog, the goal of this update is to “ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.”
The reasons for this are not exactly clear however there is some speculation that the growth of Tiktok as a search engine for Gen Z may be something to do with it. Tiktok allows users to find the answer to their questions in an efficient manner and has seen a rise in activity around “how to” videos, recipe ideas, and news – in a format that is shorter and more to the point than similar platforms such as YouTube. Although at this stage it’s important to note that misinformation is an ongoing issue on Tiktok and an area that Google is keen to eradicate on their result pages.
Do Users Still Like Google Search Results?
Despite the undeniable rise of Tiktok, Google is still the number 1 search engine in the world. Search is still Google’s primary product and is still so widely used that ‘Google’ has become a dictionary-approved verb. However, over recent years there has been increasing level of dissatisfaction with the user experience in Google’s results, with issues such as answers being buried deep within articles, relentless selling across SERPs, and the dreaded listicles frustrating users as they find an answer to their query – making them click “Next” after every sentence or slide. An article went viral on Reddit earlier this year with the striking headline “Google Search is Dying” and even more established new publishers joined in too with The Atlantic publishing an article with the tag line “Google Search isn’t what it used to be” in which they described their frustration at Google’s move towards keyword intent and not keyword matching (a problem many Google Ads advetisers are already very familiar with).
For example, we’ve all tried to look for a recipe on Google and click through to an overly long blog describing the writer’s holidays to Tuscany and family history and anything else they can think of, we scroll down endlessly (and then some more) to finally get to the content we want….the recipe. This is not the experience on Tiktok where users can find recipe videos ranging from 30 secs to 3 minutes (though often not that long) where the focus is purely on the food and not on the creator. Is the Helpful Content Update Google’s attempt to fix these problems? We hope so.
A People First Update?
According to Google, this is a “people first” that aims to ensure that writers understand that content should be written to satisfy users and meet their needs – and not try to game the algorithm for better organic visibility and ranking. Although Google is continuing to encourage sites to continue to utilise best-practice, established SEO techniques, they have provided some helpful points to help writers determine whether they are actually taking a people-first approach to content. Therefore, content should:
• Be useful and helpful to the intended audience
• Should 1st hand and reputable expertise and knowledge
• Be able to educate readers to the extent that they have achieved their goal
• Give readers a satisfying user experience
For more information visit the excellent Google Search Central blog for the latest on this update and a comprehensive guide to all of Google’s algorithm updates in the past.
Are These Different From Existing Guidelines?
According to Google, any content on websites it has determined to have unhelpful, low-quality, or spammy content is now less likely to perform well in Google Search. This means that even though you might have a lot of high-quality content on your website, some low-value articles could impact the entire site’s organic performance and result in lower rankings (and therefore less organic traffic). At the same time, websites with a lot of low-value content will likely be significantly impacted in terms of orders, even if they have followed established SEO techniques. It seems that this updating is leaning heavily into the old SEO adage and even in 2022 Content is, in fact, still king – it’s just this time it really does need to be the best quality content you can produce.
Therefore, it’s important to evaluate your existing content and remove unhelpful and unsatisfying content that may be on your site as it seems like one bad apple, can indeed spoil the bunch.
What You Can Do About The Helpful Content Update?
This change is here to stay and we will no double find that Google will continue to fine-tune its algorithm over time to keep the most high-quality content at the top of SERPs and to reward websites that provide users with valuable content. Therefore, now is the time to assess the quality of the content on your site objectively. We recommend completing a content audit to replace spammy content with high-quality content that educates users and answers their queries effectively and efficiently. You should also think about different kinds of content you can put across your site, we suggest leveraging content such as blogs and case studies in addition to product/service-focused pages. Finally, conduct a thorough competitor analysis to see what your competitors are doing well (or not at all), and make sure you are covering those bases on your site by addressing any content gaps they may have.
However, having your site packed with helpful content isn’t enough without creating a logical structure so that both users (and bots) can make their way to that content. Therefore solid navigation and an internal link plan are essential. Within individual pieces of content make sure you use different headers and sub-header to help users quickly find the content they need to answer their query. Finally, don’t forget to back up what you are saying to improve your E-A-T score. Add author bios, clear display certifications of accreditations, link to your sources, and use reliable data.