‘Helpful Content Update’ to the SEO algorithm

From an organic search perspective Google’s ongoing quest is to provide the best search results they can. Ultimately, to keep them the dominant search engine and allow them to continue to make ad revenue.  

 What does the update mean? 

Google regularly release updates to the algorithm that drives these search results, with some updates being larger and more significant than others. The most recent update from Google known as the ‘helpful content update’ is designed to help surface exactly that: more helpful content, down-valuing content that is written with an ‘SEO first’ mentality. To understand the quality of content, the algorithm is looking at criteria such as: 

  • Does your site have a primary focus? And is that content related to that focus? 
  • Does someone leave after reading your content feeling that they’ve had a satisfying experience? 

How they quantify these things is not completely clear, which is common with algorithm updates that are strongly enforced via machine learning, but any guidelines that Google publish around their updates are always worth taking into account. On this occasion they have provided more information about what to avoid, and this offers some points that are a little more quantifiable, such as: 

 Are you producing lots of content on different topics, and maybe even some things which don’t really relate to your site that much?  

  • Using content automation this is a big no-no.  
  • Are you trying to hit a certain word count? Google have now stated that they don’t take word count as a factor.  A great example of this is when you search for world records, you can often see the Guinness book of world records site in a top position when it only has about 50 words on the page. Try world’s longest sausage roll as an example.  

Another key element they mention is rewriting content others have already created. That is quite common SEO practice: trying to put your own angle on existing content to also appear in the search results where this existing content performs well. But really, rather than mimicking other content, you need to go to the next level and offer something unique and researched, or consider why it applies to the user and how to impart similar value with your own content, and not just offer a new way of rejigging the existing words. So, if you’ve seen your competitor is writing about a certain topic don’t just rewrite that article: instead understand what else you can provide users with.  

How does the update work? 

One of the most important things about this update is that it’s not just going to be affecting your blog pages or any other individual pieces of content across your site, it’s actually going to impact the site as a whole. Specifically, Google have confirmed that where any site has high amounts of unhelpful content, it can impact performance for all the keywords the site as a whole is trying to rank for (much like how domain authority works). They also state that removing any unhelpful content could help the rankings.  

What do you need to think about? 

So, what do you need to do as a brand? First of all, you need to ask the simple question, are you writing good content? When you are talking about a subject are you going to help answer users’ questions? And check what keywords your pages rank for: if users land there for unrelated queries just because you’ve engineered it to gain lots of clicks, is it worth ‘de-optimising’ towards those queries? At root, this update is about Google trying  to provide an optimal user experience, and you should consider whether you’re trying to do the same.  

Another thing to look at is your underperforming content and potentially remove that. You can’t expect every page to be top of Google driving a lot of traffic, however you can look at pages retrospectively and weed out those where you think there is no value to this page for the users on the site anymore.  

This update is scheduled to roll out between the end of August and the beginning of September: exact dates are yet to be confirmed from Google and this sort of implementation often takes around two weeks. Also, if a site is deemed to have significant amount of unhelpful content then it might take a bit of time to recover as Google have to reassess your whole site to be confident that the site now provides helpful content overall. 

There has been no mention as to whether this update will specifically flag pages for being unhelpful content, however if you notice a big downturn in your rankings right around the next few weeks/month that may well be a consequence of this latest update.  

As stated at the beginning, Google’s idea is to make the web a better experience for the user. For a long time many SEOs have instead provided content designed to benefit rankings and drive clicks: now it is time to focus on crafting content for the benefit of users. 

Space & Time has a content team who have always worked on providing valuable and useful content for our clients and their consumers. If you’d like to chat about auditing the content of your website, get in touch here.  We can help ensure your website is optimised towards Google’s latest update and ensure it’s performing as best it can, and helping you drive growth.