Google’s latest Helpful Content Update finished rolling out in early September 2022. As the name suggests, its aim was to eliminate high-ranking websites that contain a lot of unhelpful content that doesn’t answer the questions users have.
As Google put it, it targets “content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines rather than to help or inform people.”
One of the goals of this update is to reduce user frustration, which occurs when they have to bounce between sites to find the information they need. Instead, Google wants to help users find the information they need on the first site they visit.
These changes will affect entire sites, not just individual pages. If you have lots of unhelpful content across your site, then even the pages with genuinely helpful content are likely to lose ranking position. By removing the unhelpful content, you’re likely to see better results across your entire site.
What is helpful content?
Content should be written for the human reading it. If you’re writing with the primary aim of ranking on search engines, then your content may be unhelpful and you may see a negative impact from this update.
The main aim of search engines is to help users find answers to the questions and needs they have. This could be anything from learning how to cook a new recipe, to comparing reviews that will help decide which new phone to buy.
In order to serve these users, Google is constantly making updates to help provide the best results. Those results are what show up at the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
While Google is already pretty clever in identifying what content is and isn’t helpful, this recent update aims to fine-tune its understanding of content from a human perspective.
As part of the update, Google has provided a number of questions to help identify whether or not your content is helpful. They cover the following areas.
What is your site’s primary focus or aim? Does all your content relate to that?
You may have heard about a keyword that gets lots of traffic, so have written a page to target that keyword in search. But if that keyword has nothing to do with your site, Google is going to look unfavourably on it. Don’t write about multiple unrelated topics in the hopes that some of them will rank well.
Similarly, avoid writing about topics that are trending just to try and get traffic. Only cover them if they’re genuinely relevant to your product or service.
For example, a site selling garden supplies doesn’t need to be writing about the best local wedding venues. Even if the content is informative, it’s not relevant to your site and the people visiting it.
Do you know this topic well? Can you write about it confidently and with appropriate authority? Can you add to the information that’s already out there?
The way to provide helpful content is to make sure you know what you’re talking about. And the better you know your subject, the better you can help visitors to your site.
So if you’re selling those garden supplies, then write about your favourite tools for different jobs. Write about the best times to prune plants. Answer the questions that users to your website are likely to ask and you’ll do well.
Remember to bring your own experience and knowledge to the topic in order to provide information that isn’t already out there.
Read my guide to E-A-T for more advice on demonstrating expertise and authority.
Would your target or existing audience find the content on your site useful? Would they know to come to you directly for information on your subject, rather than having to search for it elsewhere?
Knowing your audience and their needs will help you create the best content for them.
How valuable is your content? Does it help the reader accomplish a task or learn something new?
Don’t write excessively just to hit a word count. Instead, focus on answering your users’ questions fully and in as much details as is appropriate. Avoid repetitive and unnecessary information. They should leave your site feeling satisfied with the information obtained, and without feeling the need to seek clarification elsewhere.
Don’t promise to answer questions where an answer doesn’t exist. Drawing users in with false promises is heavily frowned upon and you should absolutely avoid misleading site visitors or outright lying to them.
How to improve your site
If you saw your rankings drop in early to mid-September, you may have been affected by the Helpful Content Update. If so, you should audit all pages on your website using the above criteria and Google’s guidelines to assess where you can make improvements.
You may have to delete some pages, and you may have to rewrite and update others.
Even once you’ve fully audited and updated your website, be aware that it can take several months to see rankings improve. Remember that this update has an ongoing affect and Google will continuously assess sites for signals over helpful and unhelpful content.
Even if you didn’t see a major negative effect from this update, it could be worth running an audit anyway. Google has been moving towards more people-focused content for years now, and this most recent update can be used to guide your site in the right direction. There will likely be more similar updates in the future, so making improvements to your content now may help you avoid large rank drops in the future.
The latest Helpful Content Update from Google aims to reward content created to help humans, rather than that created to obtain good search rankings. It’s likely to be one of many similar updates over the coming years. Audit your site to ensure all the information on it is relevant, informative, and human-focused.