Google’s Helpful Content Update: What it means for your website

Back in mid-August 2022, Google announced that they would shortly be starting to roll out a new major sitewide algorithm update, called ‘helpful content’. This roll-out was officially considered complete on 9th Sept 2022, and if there is to be an impact on your website as a result, it’s likely that this will have been seen by now, at least in part.

To muddy the water somewhat, Google released a core update shortly after ‘helpful content’ was completed, so if your website only saw changes from 9th September onwards, it could be the impact of the core update rather than specifically in relation to website content. In this article, we look specifically at sites that may have been affected by the helpful content update and what to do about it.

What’s the ‘helpful content update’ all about?

Essentially, this is an update that is designed to reward websites that deliver unique and ‘helpful content’ that has been written for humans first, rather than for search engines primarily. Google strongly hinted that these websites should start to rank better than those with less useful content and Google has confirmed that this is a sitewide thing; if you have some content that is ‘helpful’ and some that is not, the unhelpful content on some pages could potentially be affecting the rankings of your great content on other pages too.

Google has long been telling us that this is the approach that they want websites to take, so the difference now seems to be that their latest algorithm update has the capability to better determine what ‘helpful content’ is and isn’t. What does this mean for SEO services and content marketing?

Google warns content creators against doing several things when writing for their website, including:

  • Creating content specifically to try and gain search traffic above all else. Including writing on trends that aren’t really relevant for your audience and writing to a specific word count thought to be preferable to search engines
  • Using content automation (i.e. using AI tools to write content rather than real writers) to produce content on lots of topics
  • Regurgitating the same content as other websites produce, without adding anything unique of real value for readers
  • Writing superficial or generic content that will mean readers will need to find other sources to get more detailed or useful information
  • Writing on niche topics when you don’t have the expertise to back it up
  • Writing content that doesn’t fulfil its promises e.g. looks like it will answer a specific question but there isn’t really an actual answer to this question contained within the piece

Google has also suggested that sites should potentially look at removing existing unhelpful content already on their websites to help benefit the wider site and the potential future search rankings for other pages which contain more useful content.

What is considered ‘helpful content’?

Google say that their people-first approach looks for content that:

  • Is created for a specific audience that is relevant to the site in question and provides something they will find useful
  • Displays genuine expertise and depth of knowledge on the topic covered
  • Provides the reader with enough information to satisfy them on the topic
  • Follows their previous guidance on content such as product reviews and the E-E-A-T principles (known as E-A-T before December 2022)
  • Follows search engine optimisation best practice, but isn’t targeted at search engines over real people

What actions should a website take in relation to the helpful content update?

Whether any action is needed in relation to your existing website content will depend entirely on the content that you currently have and how/why it was created.

It’s absolutely worth taking a look at your website analytics data and Google Search Console reports for the period 25th August 2022 (when roll out of the update started) to 9th September 2022, and compare this to previous periods to see if you have lost any traffic or organic visibility on certain pages or your site as a whole. This should indicate if you’ve been affected by the update as things stand. If you have, you might want to put a plan in place to make some changes. With an algorithmic update such as this, the good news is that once you make positive changes, websites can start to recover what they have lost over time.

For example, if you have previously used an AI content generation tool to generate multiple location-specific pages that target particular geographic areas and respective keywords, this could be seen as unhelpful content if it doesn’t actually contain any unique information for the people living in that region, but simply regurgitates generic info that doesn’t deliver real value to the reader.

This is likely to be seen as unhelpful content and it might be wise to remove it or drastically edit the copy.

A location-specific page that actually includes local information in relation to your services or products, that can’t be found elsewhere, means that the content is much more likely to actually be useful to the target audience and give them what they were searching for in the first place.

Google isn’t saying that content cannot be optimised for search at all. Rather that the knowledgeable human-focused quality content comes first, with search engine friendliness (according to their best practice guidelines) being part of the process too, but not the focus.

The same principle goes for all existing content. If its primary aim is to meet the identified needs and questions of your audience, and you are offering information that is genuinely unique and useful, you’re already doing the right things. However, if content was originally developed with search engines as the audience first and foremost, and you have noticed a dip in organic performance between 25th August 2022 and 9th Sept 2022, you might need to take action on this content to avoid a long-term negative impact on wider site rankings. Large websites with a lot of legacy content may be most affected by this update, especially if past SEO activity isn’t fully known by the current team.

If you haven’t done one recently, then now might be a good time to run a full content audit on your existing website, to make sure that you have an up to date understanding of what content you have and then you can run it through a manual quality check (using the criteria already mentioned) to ensure that there isn’t an obvious danger to rankings due to the helpful content update.

No Brainer’s helpful content creation checklist

When it comes to creating new content, whether it’s blog pieces, product copy or educational/informational content, we’ve always been ‘people-first’ when it comes to content strategy, which fits perfectly with Google’s helpful content update. You can find out more about our approach in our introduction to content design.

We have also created a quick checklist below that you can use when planning content to ensure that it meets the criteria for ‘helpful content’ that has users at the centre, whilst also ensuring that organic search visitors can find what you’re offering and therefore giving them what they need on your website.

Ask yourself these questions for each potential new content idea:

  • Does the content meet a specific need/solve a problem for your target audience or answer a relevant question that’s important to them?
  • Do you (or someone else within the business who can help you) have enough expertise on the subject to provide unique, credible, trustworthy and useful information that they can’t get from elsewhere online?
  • Will the content provide the user with enough useful information to achieve their goal or at least move them on in their journey?
  • Does the content deliver on what the title/heading promises the audience?
  • Is this the kind of content that someone might share, recommend or bookmark to refer to again in the future?
  • Are there any search terms or phrases that match the user’s intent when looking for answers or information on this topic that you can use to help follow optimisation best practices with the content?

By running through this checklist for any new content plans, you can help ensure an audience-first approach to your content strategy that aligns not only with Google’s latest update, but also means you’re providing your target market with all the information that they need to become a customer or client of your business.

Google helpful content update checklist

If you want help with your SEO or content strategy, our team would love to chat and find out more about your business what you want to achieve. Get in touch for more information using the form below.

Laura Rudd

Laura Rudd

I’ve worked in digital and content marketing for over 20 years, specialising in SEO since its inception. My career has spanned both agency-side and in-house roles, working alongside brands like HomeServe, Taking Care, Checkatrade, and My expertise centres on SEO and content marketing, where I’m passionate about audience-first strategies that drive long-term organic performance.

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