What Google’s ‘Helpful Content Update’ means for your content

This guest blog, written by Ewan Burkinshaw, digital marketing manager at creative digital agency, The Bigger Boat, takes a closer look at the landmark new ‘Helpful Content Update’ from Google – which has set the digital marketing community ablaze.

Since its inception, Google has tried to serve websites to users which provide the best user experience possible. In fact, its entire business model is built around this concept –the more people who use Google, the more advertisers want to use Google, and the more money Google makes. Therefore, assessing and displaying the best websites is directly proportionate to Google’s success.  

Broad Core Updates

Over the years, several of Google’s updates have been made in response to people who work in digital marketing doing things to try and manipulate the algorithm – rather than provide the best experience to the user. Examples of this include Panda in 2011 – which targeted websites with thin, duplicate, or plagiarised content and utilised keyword stuffing – as well as Penguin in 2012 which targeted websites which had utilised ‘blackhat link building tactics’.

What is Google’s Helpful Content Update?

Google’s latest broad core update, known as the ‘Helpful Content Update’ is an extension of these revisions, and aims to target websites which have a large amount of unsatisfying or unhelpful content – which has been produced specifically for the purpose of manipulating the rankings, rather than providing a better user experience.

This ‘Helpful Content Update’ is slightly different to other, broad core modifications in that rather than targeting specific URLs, it targets websites as a whole. So, instead of the ‘unhelpful’ content alone losing its place in the SERPs, the entire website will be penalised. This has understandably got a lot of people in the digital marketing community very worried.

What Action Needs to be Taken?

Google is always steadfast in its advice when rolling out broad core updates. It essentially states ‘if you haven’t been trying to manipulate the rankings then you have nothing to fear’. However, due to the size and potential impact of this update, Google has also released the following checklist to mitigate any penalties:

  • 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 used a product or service)?

  • 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?

  • Are you keeping in mind our guidance for core updates and for product reviews?

And when it comes to avoiding search-engine first content, Google laid out these questions:

  • Is the content primarily to attract traffic from search engines, rather than made for humans?

  • Are you producing lots of content on different topics in 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 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?

While unscrupulous marketers might have a sense of foreboding after reading the above, those who’ve always produced the best content possible should feel relieved. It can be frustrating to produce well-researched, well-written content only to rank below AI-generated content designed to tick boxes rather than provide value to the user.

This update will change all that - and we, for one, welcome it with open arms.


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Written by Rosie Holt

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