What is the ‘helpful content update’ & how does it impact you?

Laura Davies

SEO Director

What is the 'helpful content update'?

We all know to perform well in search you need to put humans before machines when developing your content strategy.

Over the years, Google has improved the way it evaluates content to ensure it’s providing value to the end-user, crucially introducing Core Web Vitals and a focus on E-A-T to enhance user experience.

The ‘helpful content update’ is its most recent rollout (wow, an algorithm update name that actually reflects what it is about!), starting from the 22nd of August 2022 and expected to take up to two weeks to complete.

It’ll only be for English language content to begin with, but we’ll likely see a wider roll-out across other languages soon.

The aim of the update is simple, to ensure that people are getting original, helpful content that’s written for them, not for or by robots.

How does it impact you?

If you don’t take an audience-first approach to content, you could see a drop in organic visibility and traffic as a result of the update.

If you have content that doesn’t answer the person’s query, isn’t original and doesn’t add value, then expect to see ranking and traffic plumet across these pages.

Equally, content that doesn’t meet Google’s page quality evaluator guidelines is likely to be punished further. Assess the quality of your content against these with our free E-A-T checklist download.

Developing a content strategy that defines the purpose of your content for specific target audiences, in the context of brand objectives, is the best way to ensure that there’s demonstrable value in what you’re creating. (You’ll find more on how in our simple content strategy template).

Google has released a set of questions to help you understand how it determines this. If you answer yes to some (or all) of these questions, it’s time to re-evaluate how you’re creating content across your site:

• 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 the hope that some of it might perform well in search results?

• Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?

• Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?

• Are you writing about things simply because they seem to be 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?

Product reviews update

The update follows the same audience-first approach as the product update/s Google released to help improve the information and support available when users are considering a purchase. In total there have been four product review updates with the latest announced on 27th July. This included:

• Providing in-depth details on the product, such as the version history details or how a product works

• Including real-life reviews from previous customers to build authenticity

• Including unique information such as videos or links to other reviewer’s experiences

• Being transparent with how the product compares against other competitors and what its unique selling points are

How does the helpful content update work?

You’ll find more information about how the helpful content update works on the Google blog, including how long it will take to improve if impacted.

One key thing to note is that the helpful content signal is weighted, this means that if your site has lots of unhelpful content you may notice a bigger impact. We recommend reviewing the content across your site and removing (& redirecting) any unhelpful content.

What are your next steps?

As with any algorithm update it’s important to keep a close eye on organic traffic and keyword ranking changes, but don’t just wait for the good (or bad) news. Be proactive and follow these steps:

• Review your sites page quality against our E-A-T checklist

• Make sure your content answers the person’s question clearly and quickly

• Review the ‘people also ask’ questions to find out other information people are looking for around a topic – then answer it, if it fits your audience and brand objectives

• Make sure your content is unique – is there any information in there that differentiates it from a competitor?

• Consider how you can differentiate your content by demonstrating expertise. This could be by using your first-party data or internal knowledge and expertise within your business, or by speaking with external partners

• Remove content that’s unhelpful. Position yourself as the audience and ask – is the content relevant and useful? If not, consider removing and redirecting it to the next best alternative page, or refreshing the content to make it more helpful

Most importantly, take time to understand your audience before you get into production and keyword specifics. Who are they? What are their pain points? What information do they need?

Because in content, context is king.

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