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Explaining Google’s Helpful Content Update

Google’s recent update could have serious implications for your website’s traffic

Google announced last summer an important algorithm update called the Helpful Content Update. In short, this algorithm update is meant to remove content that delivers a low quality value to the user.

Google says its goal is to remove content that is written for search engines, and not for humans.

And as with any algorithm update from Google, there could be serious consequences for your website’s traffic, if it does not comply with what Google deems a “value to the user.” In other words, if your site does not comply, your site will receive less traffic.

Here is what all of this means, how it could affect your website and how we’re approaching this update.

What is an algorithm update, and how frequently do they occur?

Google claims they’re making updates to the algorithm almost daily, yet the company does not announce these slight tweaks. They only announce what they call “core updates.”

Core updates occur “several times a year” and are “designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present relevant and authoritative content to searchers,” Google says  The reason Google announces the core updates is they “typically produce some widely notable effects. Some sites may note drops or gains during them,” and by announcing core updates Google attempts to lessen the effect on businesses and make sure websites comply.

By not complying with core updates, you’re putting one of your largest assets at significant risk, with the possibility of month-over-month or year-over-year declines in website traffic falling off a cliff.

What are the key components of the Helpful Content Update that my business should be aware of?

Everything in this update stems from Google’s desire to ensure users have a high-quality experience and find content they deem valuable. Google is making it abundantly clear that valuable content must be written by people and for people, not for search engines.

Google’s business model is predicated on providing a user with an immediate answer to a search query. Google is making sure the content you’re producing has a high likelihood of providing valuable content to a user, while attempting to stop site builders from gaming the system by stuffing keywords into a blog post. That type of content tends to stink anyway, and Google wants to do everything it can to avoid providing that type of negative experience to users.  

Google suggested questions to ask yourself about your website’s content. Answering yes to these questions indicate you’re likely on the right track to producing “people-first” content.

  • Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
  • Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?
  • Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
  • After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
  • Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?

Is my website compliant with the Helpful Content Update?

Google states that websites following its long-standing advice and guidelines will not be affected by this update. We highly recommend reviewing those guidelines.

The reason Google is placing such an emphasis on creating content for people and not search engines is that “content created primarily for search engine traffic is strongly correlated with content that searchers find unsatisfying.” Websites with a large amount of content that is deemed “unsatisfying” will experience decreases in website traffic during the coming months.

To determine if your website is up to par, run through these additional questions Google provided.

  • Is the content primarily to attract responses from search engines, rather than being useful to site visitors?
  • Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes 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 are 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).

If we could sum up these questions we’d say focus on creating meaningful original content.

Do not create content because you think it’s trending or because you saw another business produce something similar, regurgitating information that’s already been produced.

Stick to your expertise and double down on creating high quality and original content,not that other stuff.

Here are a few action items we recommend our clients consider:

  1. Take a look at your top-ranking organic landing pages and get an idea of which pages bring in the most organic traffic. Once you identify those top pages, analyze them through the lens of the questions above. Is the content original? Does it fit your niche’s theme? Did you have AI bots write this content? Would someone reading the content get an answer or value after reading it? Be honest when analyzing this content to ensure it’s top quality. You can remove or update old content to comply with this update.
  1. Remove content you deem “unhelpful.” Google states that “sites determined to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall [are] less likely to perform well in Search, assuming there is other content elsewhere from the web that’s better to display. For this reason, removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content.” We highly encourage you to analyze your website’s content, especially those old blogs, and ensure everything is up to par. Additionally, we recommend you take a look at that content calendar and make adjustments accordingly. You also need to keep in mind that Google is scraping these webpages, and even content on your site that is helpful could result in decreases in traffic, if you have other poor-quality blogs or content. Do NOT let those few pieces of poor content bring down the overall value of the website and reduce the overall traffic to the website.
  1. Create a Google Analytics 4 property and establish benchmarks, and track performance trends over the next few months. By establishing benchmarks in both Google Analytics and Google Search Console, your team will have direct insight into any changes. If you never track this website data, you will never understand the impacts from this update. Additionally, you will not be able to make updates based on data. Google says you’re allowed to remove content or update older pieces of content to avoid impacts. Therefore, you need data at your disposal to make these tough decisions.

Need help with any of this?

Our team has an analytics department in house that is helping clients adjust to the new Google Analytics 4 property, as well as conduct content audits to avoid negative effects from this update. If your team has any questions about our content auditing process or Google Analytics capabilities, please reach out.