Dissecting Google’s “helpful content” update

google search engine optimization ultimate playbook

Google announced its “helpful content update” Thursday as a part of ongoing efforts to serve “original, helpful content written by people, for people,” in their search results. The update will begin rolling out next week and will take about two weeks to complete. Sites impacted by the change may see fluctuations for several months following the update.

Google’s initial guidelines around this update have been met with some confusion. On one hand, they’re saying that content “made for search engines” will be negatively impacted. On the other hand, they acknowledge that SEO best practices, such as those listed in their own guidelines, aren’t the behaviors they’re targeting with this update. 

Most high-ranking content today didn’t get there by accident. Tons of content that appears on Google SERPs was made for search engines to some degree, leaving us with a huge outstanding question: where does Google draw the line? 

Translating Google’s “Helpful Content Update”

While it remains to be seen exactly how many websites will be affected and to what degree, Google lists several questions to ask yourself to identify if your website or content will be negatively impacted by this update. We’ve translated each into behaviors that we believe Google is trying to deter, and ways you can mitigate the risk to your site and blog. 

 

GOOGLE'S INDICATORDRAFT'S TRANSLATIONTACTIC FOR MITIGATION
Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?If your content is designed for search engines to the detriment of human readers, you might be at risk. Revisit and rewrite low-quality SEO content. Draft’s proofreaders and editors can help you address these quickly.
Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?Strong SEO strategies center around a focused topic or set of topics. If your website isn’t focused around a cohesive theme or you’re throwing spaghetti at a wall hoping something ranks, you might be at risk. Think strategically about 1–3 topics you want your website to rank for and remove any content that doesn’t closely align with those topics.
Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?If you use an AI copywriter (without also having a human edit the content), you might be at risk.At Draft, we believe AI is the future but only when paired with human expertise. Make sure to have an editor or proofreaders review any and all AI-generated copy.
Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?If you’re just regurgitating what other sites have already said without adding your unique spin or additional value, you might be at risk. Always add something unique to your content, even when it’s a topic that’s been discussed before. This can be something as simple as an opinion or a personal story.
Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you'd write about them otherwise for your existing audience?Again, if your website isn’t focused on a cohesive topic, you might be at risk. While it’s tempting to discuss trending topics, first ensure they align to those 1–3 topics you want your site to rank for. If a trend doesn’t align, you run the risk of sending Google mixed signals.
Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?Be sure to fully answer the questions that your readers are seeking to avoid clicks back to the search engine result page (SERP). Keep an eye on your website analytics for content pages with high bounce rates, and try to expand on those topics. Answer your audience’s questions more thoroughly in those pieces to try to reduce bounces.
Are you writing to a particular word count because you've heard or read that Google has a preferred word count?While word count can impact how thorough your content is and how likely your content is shared, it’s not a direct ranking factor for Google. Make sure you have a healthy mix of long- and short-form content across your site so Google knows you’re not trying to game their algorithm, and so your human readers have multiple formats for consumption.
Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you'd get search traffic?Google wants you to show you have authority about a topic before you delve too deeply into niches to ensure you’re the right authority for their searchers. Before jumping into a niche topic, make sure you’ve built some authority on a topic through higher-level content such as explainer guides and how-tos. Draft can help you generate these pieces quickly.
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?This one’s simple—avoid clickbait.

While Google already has some measures in place to deter click-bait, they may be more nuanced in their approach with this update.
Make sure that your headings, meta descriptions, and even CTAs make good on their promise to searchers and visitors.

 

The bottom line

Many of these tactics will seem obvious to seasoned content marketers and SEOs. At its core, this update is about E-A-T or, in other words, serving searchers content that has expertise, authority, and trustworthiness.

Draft customers have little to worry about with this update. Because our content is written by vetted, human writers, each piece is unique and aims to add real value to your site, blog, social media, and wherever else you publish content. 

For help proofing or editing old content ahead of this Google update, submit a brief

*Please note that the opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author. Draft cannot guarantee the effects of third-party updates on content ranking or efficacy. 

 

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