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Google’s Helpful Content Update: Everything you need to know


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2022 saw a myriad of updates, from link spam and product reviews, to page experience and the ever-terrifying and unavoidable core updates. The Helpful Content System is one small part of the overall ranking algorithm, developed to tackle the increasing amount of poor-quality content being released online.

The fact that Google has been trying very hard over the last 18 months to quell the visibility of poor-quality review sites, where the content is thin and likely regurgitated from somewhere else, kind-of (definitely) walks hand-in-hand with the helpful content update.

It also came around the time when the popularity of AI content generators had reached a fever pitch, resulting in a lot of content across the web that either read very closely to other content, or didn’t always actually make sense.

So, Google did what they do best, and chucked a great big primary-coloured spanner in the works and watched the people panic!


What is the helpful content update?

Part one of the update completed its roll out in early September of 2022, the second part in December. The Helpful Content System looks for content that provides little-to-no value to the user, and delivers those signals into the core ranking algorithm. Part one focused on English language sites, December’s variant brought those changes to the rest of the world.

This removes the process of writing just to include a keyword – which you should never have been doing in the first place really. Instead, you will now be rewarded by the almighty Google gods for offering a fantastic user experience through content created to help solve someone’s issue.

This switch is widely beneficial as users will now see a larger benefit from content produced to satisfy users needs, rather than having to sieve through the noise of automated blogs created for search engines. Copywriter’s skills are no longer (probably never were) under threat from AI generators – primary-source content will still reign supreme in 2023.

However, it’s worthwhile holding onto the rulebook as SEO best practices will still play a big part in moving up the rankings from your content. It’s important to still focus on getting the fundamentals down and merging this with a great user experience to satisfy your users.

People-powered content is helpful content

Creating a successful content strategy undoubtedly takes a lot of work, particularly when taking an integrated, cross-channel approach. But physically creating each article in essence, is simple. And if you find yourself questioning whether what you’re doing even might be considered dubious by Google, then you’ve already answered your own question.

Generating quality content whilst still hitting Google’s SEO best practices doesn’t have to be hard, but consider asking yourself the following questions if you find yourself stuck:

  • Will my intended audience find the content created useful if they came directly to your site?
  • Does your content demonstrate a depth of expertise on the subject matter? To become a trusted source you must have actually used the product or service to give valuable advice to users.
  • Does your content have a core purpose?
  • Is your content on a topic nourishing for the user, and does it fill any knowledge gaps they may have?
  • Building on trust factors, will your content include reviews and build on existing core updates?
  • Finally, will the user feel like they’ve had a positive experience from your created content?

Essentially, it’s content that’s created by people, for people.

No more writing for the sake of ranking

Google is suggesting that a people-first approach to SEO is more helpful to users’ overall activity in the SERPs, because a person writing an article is more likely to try and answer a real person’s query.

However, this does not invalidate other SEO best practices. To make sure your SEO activity has the perfect blend of both approaches, consider the following:

  • Is the content created for users or to attract people from the SERP?
  • Are you creating content with the primary goal to drive more traffic or to hope it performs well in the search results?
  • Are you creating lots of content on multiple topics with the users best interest at heart?
  • Are you summarising material already published by others without adding any valuable context?
  • Are you writing about topics because they are trending or because they add value to your audience?
  • Does your content satisfy the criteria of the customers search or leave them desiring more?
  • Are you filling content to hit a target word count or to offer rich content to users?
  • Did you write content on a niche topic without thoroughly researching the discipline to ensure all content is factual?
  • Does your content raise suspicion by answering a question that currently has no answer, such as House of Dragon season 2 date?

How does the helpful content system work?

So, the Helpful Content System releases signals to the core algorithm, analysing pages within Google’s index to identify those sites offering little to low value or no benefit to the query for that SERP.

Singular pages could be caught in the helpful content classifier, or whole sites, depending on the amount of poorly-executed content there is in use. But any pages found to have high amounts of unhelpful content will be less likely to perform in the SERP, forcing individuals to focus on making content as satisfying as possible.

There’s currently no telling how long existing unhelpful content will take to be devalued and removed from rankings, and equally no-one knows how long it will take for exceedingly helpful content to rank! Which brings us back to emphasising the importance of paying attention to all of the core SEO principles, not just focussing on the most recent update.

If you’re creating content that adheres to Google’s E-E-A-T principles, you’re being led by trying to solve an issue or answer a genuine question, chances are you’ll reap the rewards.

Who was impacted by the update?

As the second part to the update only rolled out in December, the jury is still out as to the overall impact. But in all honesty, the negative impact expected from the update was underwhelming at best, with even sites that were-and-are clearly flouting the system’s guidelines still ranking well.

Any patterns to be discerned from SERP volatility in the final quarter of 2022 are muddy at best. Where we’d usually look for website categories that benefitted or saw a decline in visibility around a specific update, patterns were hard to spot between Sep & Dec last year, because Google rolled out a whole bunch of updates within a few short weeks of each other:

  • December 14, 2022: Released the December 2022 link spam update. This update is global and affects all languages. The rollout may take up to two weeks to complete.
  • December 5, 2022: Released the December 2022 helpful content update, which improves our classifier and works across content globally in all languages. The rollout may take up to two weeks to complete.
  • October 19, 2022: Released the October 2022 spam update. This update is global and affects all languages. The rollout was complete as of October 21, 2022.
  • September 20, 2022: Released the September 2022 product reviews update. This update applies to English-language product reviews. The rollout was complete as of September 26, 2022.
  • September 12, 2022: Released the September 2022 core update. The rollout was complete as of September 26, 2022.
  • August 25, 2022: Released the August 2022 helpful content update. The rollout was complete as of September 9, 2022.Almost all of which are trying to deal with bad user experience, spam activity and poor content. Releasing this many updates together is historically something Google have avoided doing, but is becoming more common – let us cast your mind back to the summer of 2021…

Stay helpful, but don’t lose your head

The lack of negative impact to sites that aren’t offering a helpful experience, does draw attention to the fact that for nearly a whole quarter of last year, and certainly intensely for at least four weeks, the whole SEO industry was up in arms about ‘the next Panda’.

Google did-and-does a fantastic job of working with well-known voices within the industry, releasing ‘critical’ information ahead of time in return for coverage, working the PR machine to get us all talking – and that is something to bear in mind.

It wasn’t that long ago that SEOs were the nemesis of Google, with the intention always being how to work the system, figuring out a way to ‘beat’ the algorithm. Those days are long gone, in part because of the algorithm’s intelligence, but also because Google found an opportunity to promote themselves further by including SEOs in their PR output.

We’re 100% not saying that Google releases false information, but it is definitely in their best interests to have us all discussing their products and processes positively. So when a new update is announced, and you see it being fervently poured over by your favourite SEO guru, just keep in mind the business relationship that exists between Google and those individuals whose income depends on the search giant’s success.

Want to know more about how to factor helpful content into your 2023 SEO strategy? Get in touch with the team today, we’d be happy to… HELP! There, I said it. #sorrynotsorry

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