Demystifying the Google Helpful Content Update

Helpful Content Update infographic

Google frequently updates its algorithms and services to improve the relevance and quality of search results. If you have any role in creating online content, you're no stranger to the ever-evolving landscape of search engine optimisation.

One of the most significant developments in recent times are the Google Helpful Content Updates. These updates, although shrouded in some mystery, have been causing quite a buzz in the SEO community. In this blog post, we'll dive deep into what Google Helpful Content Updates are, why they matter, and how you can adapt your SEO strategy to stay ahead of the curve.

What is Google’s Helpful Content system?

The objective of the helpful content system is to reward content that provides visitors with a satisfying experience, while content that falls short of visitor expectations will not perform as effectively.

This system generates a signal that is applied across the entire website, and it is just one of several signals considered for Google Search. It operates by automatically identifying content that appears to offer minimal value, lacks substantial added value, or is generally unhelpful to users.

Notably, any content, not exclusively unhelpful content, on websites deemed to have a relatively high volume of unhelpful content overall is less likely to achieve favourable Search rankings, especially if superior content is available elsewhere on the web. Therefore, removing unhelpful content could potentially enhance the rankings of your other content.

What is unhelpful content?

Here’s how they expressed it in their own words:

But what do they mean by “primarily to gain search traffic?”

Historically, a considerable amount of content has been crafted primarily to secure high rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs). While this approach can drive traffic to websites, it often falls short in terms of attracting visitors with a genuine intent to convert. Content created solely with SEO and keywords in mind tends to lack a human touch (*cough* AI *cough*), and will often resemble automated content generation. It tends to prioritise keyword frequency over delivering meaningful answers or tangible value to the user.

In contrast, content tailored for human readers places value at the forefront. These articles are dedicated to offering the sought-after information in an easily digestible manner. While keywords may find their place organically, the primary focus lies on the human aspect rather than SERP rankings.

To be deemed high-quality, content must meet certain criteria: it should be informative, well-crafted, and genuinely enrich the reader's experience. This update is a response to the pervasive trend of publishing subpar content on the internet.

What is the Helpful Content Update?

How often have you embarked on an online search, only to click on a result and be met with instant disappointment? This is a common occurrence, and Google is taking steps to rectify it.

With this update, Google essentially communicates, "If you wish to attain high rankings in our search results, your content must be genuinely helpful."

The Google Helpful Content Update, also recognized as the "Helpful Update," comprises a series of algorithmic alterations introduced by Google to prioritize and reward web pages that furnish truly beneficial and informative content to users. In essence, this update strives to ensure that search results not only match the user's query but also genuinely enrich their understanding.

Google’s most recent update was announced on 14th September 2023 and is currently ongoing at the time of this article's publishing. They have now added insight into considerations about removing content or changing dates as well as new guidance about hosting third-party content.

What does this system and updates to it mean for websites?

If your content is genuinely helpful, you don't need to take any action. In fact, this system can be beneficial for your website, as it is designed to reward helpful content.

However, if you've observed changes in your website's traffic that you suspect may be linked to this system, especially following a publicly posted ranking update, it's advisable to conduct a self-assessment of your content. Identify and rectify or remove any content that appears unhelpful. Google provides guidance on crafting helpful, reliable, user-centric content, includes questions you can use for self-assessment to succeed with the helpful content system.

Naturally, some may wonder how long it takes for a site to see improvements after removing unhelpful content. Sites flagged by this system might experience the signal's effects over several months. Periodically, Google will refine how the classifier identifies unhelpful content. When significant improvements are made in this regard, they communicate it as a "helpful content update" as they did very recently. Following the rollout of such an update, if the refined classifier observes that content has improved, the previous unhelpful classification from any earlier classifier may cease to apply.

How to create helpful content

Assessing your content with a list of questions can serve as a valuable measure to determine whether your content is genuinely helpful and trustworthy. In addition to conducting this self-evaluation, it's advisable to seek honest assessments from SEO Specialists who have no affiliation with your website.

Does the content follow E-E-A-T best practices?

  • Does the content offer original information, reporting, research, or analysis?
  • If the content references other sources, does it avoid duplication or rephrasing and instead adds substantial additional value and originality?
  • Does the content offer significant value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • Does the main heading or page title refrain from exaggeration or sensationalism?
  • Does the content convey information in a manner that instils trust, such as clear sourcing, evidence of expertise, or background information about the author or publishing site, possibly through links to an author page or an About page?
  • Is this content composed or reviewed by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably possesses extensive knowledge of the topic?
  • Does your content clearly exhibit firsthand expertise and in-depth knowledge?
  • Does your content leave readers feeling they've gained sufficient knowledge to achieve their goal from their search?
  • Is the content predominantly crafted to attract search engine traffic?
  • Are you churning out copious amounts of content on various topics in the hope that some will perform well in search results?
  • Are you heavily relying on automation to generate content on a wide range of topics?
  • Are you adding or removing content extensively with the primary goal of improving search rankings by making your site seem "fresh"? (Note: This won't help.)

These are all considerations that need to be taking place on your site but the easy way to think about it is “Who created it, how was it created and why was it created”.

Addressing the "why" behind your content creation is arguably the most pivotal question to tackle. Why are you crafting this content in the first place?

The "why" should stem from a genuine desire to create content that serves people, content that proves valuable to visitors when they navigate directly to your website. By adopting this approach, you inherently align with E-E-A-T principles and the overarching goals of Google’s core ranking systems.

However, if your "why" revolves around generating content primarily to attract search engine traffic, this doesn't align with the objectives Google’s systems aim to promote. Moreover, if you employ automation, including AI-generated content, with the primary intention of manipulating search rankings, this constitutes a violation of Google’s spam policies. And nobody likes spam and certainly nobody likes to be on the receiving end of a spam penalty.

Need help with the SEO landscape?

When it comes to navigating the ever-evolving SEO landscape, reaching out to ICS-digital is your strategic advantage. 

Whether you're looking to optimise your website's visibility, decipher the latest algorithm updates, or craft compelling, user-centric content, we have the expertise and tools to guide you through the complexities of SEO.