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Understanding Google's Helpful Content Update

Aug 29, 2022
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On August 18th, 2022, Google announced they are going to be adding something called the helpful content update into their algorithm.  Well, it started rolling out on August 25th, 2022.  In this video, we're going to be talking about what this update means, what we need to do right now as it's rolling out, because it's still in the rollout process, some things to be looking out for, and some ways that we can set ourselves up for success long term when it comes to SEO.

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Video Transcript: 

What is "Google's Helpful Content Update"

All right, let's talk about Google's helpful content update. The helpful content update is going to be a site-wide signal. The goal is to target websites that have a large amount or relatively high amount of unsatisfying or unhelpful content. This would be content that was written for the sole purpose of ranking and attracting search engines, rather than serving the end user.

I want to put this warning out there, there's been a lot of videos on YouTube and articles on how to recover and what to do when this happens, and how to rebound your site. The problem is most of these videos came out before Google even released this update. We have no idea what the impact of this update is going to be.

Yes, we know that if we follow SEO best practices, and think about our end users and the intent of our end users, we should have good content. But to sit there and say that we know the exact strategies right now to either avoid getting hit from this or how to recover from this, it's a little bit premature.

So, go ahead and just take all of the stuff that you may have seen out there's a grain of salt. I'm not going to tell you anything in this video about how to overcome this, because we don't know yet. We have to wait and see. Don't run after trends or clickbait, take a deep breath and let's just spend some time in this video, learning about what this update is and what Google is saying about this update.

What Does Google Say About This Update?

The Impact of the Update

First off, it's a site-wide update, and right now it's only targeting English languages. So, it's not going to be impacting other languages for now, but Google expects to do that down the road.

The Target of the Update

Now, what are they targeting? They're targeting any content. And not just unhelpful content, but on sites that they've determined to have a large amount of unhelpful content. You could have some pieces that are good and you can have a large amount of content that's not helpful, that's not good, and you can still be triggered within this update.

How Google Will Do This

Well, they're using machine learning, and ML classifiers to determine how helpful the content is. This will be a tool that's going out, scraping, looking at your content, matching it with what they know, and all of the other ranking factors, and determining whether or not this content meets the intent of the end user.

What To Do When You're Impacted

What Google says right now is that removing your unhelpful content could help in the rankings of your other content. One thing to note on this is that they're taking your site in a complete picture. They're looking at your entire website. When we say site-wide, we mean your whole website, not just individual pieces of content.

And unhelpful content in other areas could impact your helpful content and how it performs as well if Google sees that your site as a whole is not helpful, that it's being used specifically for manipulation of search rankings. So, we have to think holistically about our processes, site, how we're building out our content, and whether this will meet the end needs of our users.

This is a new signal and it's one of many signals that Google uses to evaluate and rank content. This is not the end all, be all, it's just another signal within the algorithm itself.

Is This Similar to the Panda Update?

If you've been in SEO for any time, you might know about the Panda update, which was in 2011.

And Barry Schwartz from SE Roundtable says, "Does this sound like Panda to you? It does to me, but Google told me that this update is in addition to Panda. So, this update is not Panda, it's in addition to Panda. Panda's already baked into the core algorithm and it has been so for a very long time. Panda's still running, but this update is a new update and it might feel a little bit like Panda did when it launched, but it is different."

That's coming from Barry Schwartz over at SE Roundtable. You can go ahead and check out that post to learn a little bit more, but this is targeting content. This is a content-specific update.

What Should You Do?

This is from the mouth of Google themselves. They say you should be able to answer yes to all of these questions, to make sure that your content's focused on people first. This is something that we approach a lot. You have two audiences. With the search engine, we talk about semantic SEO, you have machines, and you have people, and you have to meet the needs of both. You have to meet the needs of the people first, and then you need to make it machine-readable so that the machines understand your context.

1. Focus on People-First Content

This is more important than ever now when they're using machine learning in order to determine what your content is about and does it meet the needs of the end user. You need to look and say;

  • Is my content intended for my audience? Would they find it useful if it came directly from you?
  • Does the content demonstrate firsthand experience or depth of knowledge?
  • Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
  • After reading your content, does someone think, "Oh, I just learned something, I just grew, I met the needs of what I was looking for?"
  • Will somebody read my content and leave feeling like they've had a good experience on my website?
  • Are we following their updates? Google wants to make sure that we're following their guidelines for all of these different updates, whether it be core updates or product review updates, or anything else that they're putting out.

2. Avoid Creating Content for Search Engines First

They've been saying this for years, that I know a lot of people still create content for search engines first. And there are a lot of reasons for that because a lot of that content has performed well and still does perform well. And it probably will even after this update to some degree, but Google's continually working for ways to snuff that out.

You have to think about:

  • What's the primary purpose of this content?
  • Are we producing content on lots of different topics, hoping that something's going to work for us?
  • Are we using automation to produce the content? So, this is where you know can get in with AI writers. AI writers are extremely helpful. They can help us scale writing, but if you're relying on them to do all of the work and you're not adding that human influence, it's probably a bad idea.
  • Are we summarizing what other people have said?
  • Are we writing about things simply because they're trending, not because they're going to provide value?
  • Does it leave the readers feeling like they need the search again to get more information?
  • Are you writing to match a particular word count because you think that Google has to have a specific word count? I like how I'd say, no, we don't.
  • Did you decide to enter some niche without any real expertise, but did it because you wanted traffic?
  • Does your content promise to answer a question that actually has no answer? So, which is kind of funny, because that's kind of what we talked about before. There's a lot of content out there right now that's ranking well about the helpful update when they didn't have an answer because the content hadn't been released yet, and the algorithm hadn't been released yet. We're just seeing it released now.

And so far, we're not seeing too many waves, but I do expect that to tick up as this rollout continues. So, I think that's funny that they did that in the last one. And then all of the people in the SEO world went and go ahead and created these answers for a question that had yet to come up.

Do you need more help? Something I'm going to start offering is SEO coaching and marketing coaching. If you are looking at your site and you're not sure where to start when it comes to content, you're not sure where to start when it comes to creating intent, you're not sure where to start when creating content depths, both for your end users, but also machine-readable, we can help you do that. And I want to offer you a free sample session.

The link is below. You can click that link and you can sign up and fill out a form. I'm asking you a couple of questions, and then maybe you and I can have a conversation and we can look for ways to help you grow your agency, your business in a way that's going to scale, be sustainable, that's going to follow best practices and guidelines, but also generate results for you.

Sign up for a sample coaching session here: https://hackmygrowth.io/

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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