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Google Helpful Content Update Explained

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📗SEO Resource
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📝On-page SEO
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🤖Google Update
Last updated
Jan 4, 2023 5:55 AM

Timeline and Objectives

On August 25, 2022, Google released the Helpful Content Update and completed its rollout on September 9, 2022. The latest Helpful Content Update was released on December 5, 2022. Any future relevant updates can be tracked on Google’s Ranking Updates page.

The main objective of this update is to make content more helpful and reward good-quallity, original content while reducing unhelpful content at the same time.

Let’s first understand the concept of Helpful Content.

What is a Helpful Content?

“Helpful content” could be defined as the presentation of helpful, reliable information that's primarily created to benefit people. Google states that “the helpful content system aims to better reward content where visitors feel they've had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn't meet a visitor's expectations won't perform as well.”

In this context. Google emphasizes the priority of “people-first content” over “search-engine first content”.

Search-Engine First Content is written for the purpose of ranking in search engines. In contrast, People-First Content refers to content serving for the benefit of target audience of human visitors (people).

Basically, the more the content is designed for search engines, the more unhelpful it becomes.

Similarly, the more the content is intended for people. the more helpful it is.

Yes, pretty vague but that's how it is.

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People-First = Helpful Content Search-Engine First = Unhelpful Content

Content of your page can be considered a good example of a people-first helpful content if it meets the following criteria:

  • Existing or target audience of your website would find the content useful if they came directly to you
  • Your content clearly demonstrates first-hand expertise and solid knowledge
  • Your site has a primary purpose or focus
  • After reading your content, someone will leave feeling they've learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal
  • Someone reading your content will leave feeling like they've had a satisfying experience.

In creating helpful content. Google recommends the following:

  • Critically self-assess your content against quality and content, expertise, presentation and production questions. Full list of relevant questions can be accessed here.
Content and quality questions
  • Does the content provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis?
  • Does the content provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond the obvious?
  • If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources, and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
  • Does the main heading or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
  • Does the main heading or page title avoid exaggerating or being shocking in nature?
  • Is this the sort of page you'd want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia, or book?
  • Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
Expertise questions
  • Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site's About page?
  • If someone researched the site producing the content, would they come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?
  • Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?
  • Does the content have any easily-verified factual errors?
Presentation and production questions
  • Does the content have any spelling or stylistic issues?
  • Is the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don't get as much attention or care?
  • Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Does content display well for mobile devices when viewed on them?
  • Focus on people-first content
  • Avoid creating search engine-first content

How does this update work?

According to Google:

This update introduces a new site-wide signal that we consider among many other signals for ranking web pages. Our systems automatically identify content that seems to have little value, low-added value or is otherwise not particularly helpful to those doing searches.

In other words, it is a mechanism to identify unhelpful content and filter it out in order to promote more useful and valuable content for users.

As a general rule, site-wide algorithms mean that a separate or a group of pages can affect the ranking of pages across the domain.

Most probable “targets” of the update:

  • Overly optimized content
  • Content going considerably beyond your core content
  • AI-generated content/Rogeting
  • Content that does not help readers achieve their search goals
  • Clickbait sources

Segments with larger impact:

Google mentioned that the following segments are expected to have a greater impact on their content:

  • Online Educational Materials
  • Arts & Entertainment
  • Shopping
  • Tech-related content

Implications for websites

Extent of application

According to Google:

this signal may be applied to sites identified by this update over a period of months.

In other words, it may take several months for sites to recover in rankings after unhelpful content was fixed or removed.

Google’s classifier (tool for content classifying) for this update will run continuously, allowing it to monitor both newly-launched and existing sites.

Classification will stop as soon as it determines that the unhelpful content has not returned in the long term.

Weighted classification

The new signal is weighted so that sites with more unhelpful content may have a stronger effect.

At the same time, some people-first content even on sites classified as unhelpful could still perform well in rankings.

Risk of using AI-generated content

Even though it is not clearly mentioned in helpful content updates, SEO experts assume that AI-generated content can be detected and identified by the classifier as unhelpful.

The reason is that Google strives to "help people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results” and promotes human writers.

When asked about AI-written content, Google’s John Mueller replied:

“For us these would, essentially, still fall into the category of automatically generated content which is something we’ve had in the Webmaster Guidelines since almost the beginning.

My suspicion is maybe the quality of content is a little bit better than the really old school tools, but for us it’s still automatically generated content, and that means for us it’s still against the Webmaster Guidelines. So we would consider that to be spam.

Negative impact on ranking-only focused sites

Content aggregation resources and websites focused on overoptimizing for ranking purposes might be affected most significantly by Google’s Helpful Content algorithm.

Their content is usually too generic, lacks depth of expertise, and reliant on materials adapted from other high-quality resources. Google does not welcome this approach and they can be potentially penalized.

Languages affected

The initial August update release was introduced only for English-written content. However, December 2022 Helpful Content Update works now across content globally in all languages.

How to adjust your content strategy?

Well, if you’ve been following Google’s guidelines for creating helpful content and building high-quality sites along with key best SEO practices all the way through, there is not much to be concerned about.

Just try to update your older blog posts and keep following all these guidelines to the best of your ability.

If you are not too confident about complying with the above and feel the need for content improvement, consider the following adjustments:

  1. Create expertise-based content. High-quality content can be produced using solid expertise. Avoid rewriting existing materials and actively involve your in-house or if needed external experts to fact-check articles, improve FAQs and include insightful content that cannot be generated by AI systems or copywriters. Try to become an expert yourself, research your topics deeper and share your findings in a way helpful for your audience.
  2. Keep updating the older content regularly. As time goes by, older articles naturally become outdated and lose their value for readers. Google Helpful Content update may classify your older content as less helpful at some point. Therefore, it is important to refresh your content on a regular basis both to the benefit of your audience and to the potential to be people-first and helpful.
  3. Implement The 3-Point Process, advised by Search Engine Journal.
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  1. Identify the primary purpose of your website. Try not to be too generic with your content. Having a clearly defined primary area of focus will help you produce high-quality informative content for your target audience. If you are unsure about the primary purpose, you should put some effort and figure it out based on your area of expertise.
  2. Produce evergreen content. Evergreen content is a search-optimized content that is constantly relevant and useful, regardless of the time it was published.
  3. Periodically perform a content audit. This helps to find low-performing content and identify what your older content is missing. You can compare that type of content with your competition and improve it accordingly.
  4. Use tracking metrics to identify weak spots. Metrics such as keyword position ranking, click through rate, impressions in Search Console, organic traffic volume in Google Analytics can help determine poor-performing pages that could be impacted by this update.

The main takeaway from this update: focus on people, not robots - try to make sure your content provides value and helps your visitors.