The Google Helpful Content Update: What You Need to Know

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Are you publishing helpful or unhelpful content? Only Google can decide. 

Why is content marketing in constant flux? Well, Google is constantly changing and evolving to keep up with user satisfaction. After all, they want us to continue to use their platform. From testing new features and redesigning existing ones, it’s crucial to stay up-to-date on all the latest changes. 

And, in a world where Google is king, we SEO serfs must abide by the new ruling or be subject to the repercussions. 

As the name suggests, the Google helpful content update is all about, well, content. This time they’re ensuring that content is created for the people, by the people. 

What is a Google Update? 

Before we get into the specifics of the helpful content update, what is a Google update?

According to searchmetrics, “Each year, Google implements over 600 adaptations and updates to its algorithms. Most of these alterations take place unnoticed and are not announced within the search engine industry.

These updates are imperative for those managing search engine optimization (SEO), creating content, and your digital marketing efforts. By not following Google’s guidance and adhering to their standards, a website’s rankings will be significantly negatively impacted and penalized. This could include a decrease in rankings or even be removed from the Google search altogether.

A Google update is when there is an adjustment to the structure and functionality of the Google algorithm that calculates search engine rankings by the search engine.

What is the Google Helpful Content Update?

Now that we know what a Google update is, what is the helpful content update?

The update started rolling out on August 25th and can take up to two weeks to fully implement. Google’s helpful content update is “part of a broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.” 

This means that Google is taking measures to ensure their searchers (i.e., people using Google) will be given search results that not only fulfill their search query but that was written for people — not search engines.

Google will be using machine learning in their new algorithms to detect whether the content was genuinely helpful for those looking for answers or if it was written to simply get rankings, e.g., low-quality content.

And those creating content for the latter situation will be penalized for doing so (more on that later in the article).

How can you ensure you’re creating useful content with people in mind?

6 Tips for Creating People-First Content

Here are a few tips to help you create content that is people-first:

Tips For Creating People First Content

1. Write for Your Audience

Who are you writing for? What do they want to read? What will resonate with them? 

You should know your personas and target market. You should have insight into their most significant pain points and what they’re thinking, hearing, seeing, and doing.

By providing information and resources that will ease or remove their pain points, you can help them to improve their overall experience. By thinking about what they need and want, you can provide them with the tools and resources they need to deem you a credible source … which they can keep coming back to when they have more questions.


2. Write From First-Hand Experience

There’s an abundance of articles or product reviews out there that do not offer any actual value. We’ve all read them. And, it’s not hard to discern which authors have used the product or service they’re writing about and which they haven’t.

Let’s say a travel blogger was commissioned to publish a blog on a pair of sneakers, the recycled materials they’re made from, and their impact on the environment. However, the blogger has never worn the sneakers. 

Therefore, they can’t fully provide enough insight into the sneakers because they lack first-hand experience, making it a bad product review — or unhelpful content.

If the blogger continually wore the sneakers and indeed endorsed them, it should be made abundantly clear in photos and product mentions while providing genuine insights on the product across their site. Not in a blog post every now and again.

With that, heed Google’s advice and only produce content about things you’ve experienced for yourself.


3. Stick to Your Focus

Every organization has its specialty and core focus. You can’t be everything to everyone — it’s not possible, and it will only water down your message. 

On your website, be clear about what you do and who you do it for — and stay focused on that.

By sticking to your niche, your audience will thank you by visiting your site, and Google will reward you by keeping you in the search rankings.


4. Create Content that Provides Value to Readers

This genuinely seems silly that we need to spell this out, but it’s true. 

Often we see published content that stays afloat simply because the correct keywords were used and related topics were mentioned.

But it didn’t teach the reader something or help them to accomplish a task.

So the next time you’ve written a post and you’re ready to publish … ask yourself, “After reading this, will my site visitors need to continue their search to get more detailed information on the topic?” Or, “Am I rephrasing information simply to meet a suggested word count?”

If the answer is yes, you’ve got some editing to do, or the helpful content update will sentence it to content purgatory … never to be seen by searchers. Thus wasting your time writing the article in the first place.


5. Don’t Neglect User Experience

Your content could do everything right — no keyword stuffing, providing unbiased information, presenting various perspectives on a topic, and fully answering your reader’s question. 

Chef’s kiss to you for writing an impeccable, people-first piece of content. 

But you’re not done yet. You cannot neglect the user experience. Be sure there are no walls of text, and you’ve added photos, graphics, and subheads to keep the reader engaged.

Without those elements, perhaps only a college professor reading doctoral dissertations would appreciate your blog.

By adding headers, concise paragraphs, and visual elements, not only will your readers stick around to read your content, but Google will ensure you earn your spot in the search engine rankings.


6. Do as Google Says

When it’s all said and done, you should just follow Google’s advice on what to publish. Their updates can only be interpreted as best we can. 

But you can ask yourself the questions that Google has put out to discern whether or not you’re taking a search-engine-first approach to produce content:

  • Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines rather than made for humans?
  • 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 seem to trend 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 has no answer, such as suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn’t confirmed?
After finishing your article, “Ask yourself, after reading this, will my site visitors need to continue their search to get more detailed information on the topic?” Or, “Am I rephrasing information simply to meet a suggested word count?”

What to Do if You’ve Been Penalized by Google

If in the next few weeks you notice that your search engine rankings are on the decline, you may violate the helpful content update. 

And it will likely take a few months to recover.

According to Google, “A natural question some will have is how long will it take for a site to do better, if it removes unhelpful content? Sites identified by this update may find the signal applied to them over a period of months. Our classifier for this update runs continuously, allowing it to monitor newly launched sites and existing ones. As it determines that the unhelpful content has not returned in the long-term, the classification will no longer apply.”

Once Google has given you a black mark of disapproval, you’ll need to remove the harmful content. You’ll then need to prove to them that you’ve changed your ways of publishing content geared toward search engines.

But since the update is still rolling out, you may have time to review your existing content and remove anything that Google has decided is search-engine-first content.

If you’re struggling with how to update your content or bounce back from being deemed unhelpful, RedShift has your back. And, we’re here for you for all your content marketing needs.