A fast-changing world: Google’s Helpful Content update
On 25th August, Google released an official search ranking update called the ‘helpful content update’. The rollout will take two weeks to complete, but unlike other one-off updates, Google will continue to refine and launch further updates every couple of months. Read on to find out what this update involves and what it means for your website.
What is the background to this update?
Google’s core mission is to provide a fantastic search user experience. This makes the relevancy and quality of Google’s search engine results – and user satisfaction with those results – paramount.
Increasingly, sites have been using a variety of methods to produce content quickly and cheaply. Often, this has involved re-using existing online content to help sites rank well for target search terms. This includes content produced using machine learning that finds existing content online and rewrites it. In Google’s words, this approach doesn’t add ‘to the pool of knowledge available’.
Google wants websites to ‘focus on people-first content‘. Therefore, this update ‘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 essence: Google is ensuring they value content which satisfies users by answering their queries in full, and which is helpful and original.
What counts as helpful content?
The most helpful content is useful information, especially original information and content that doesn’t exist elsewhere on the internet. It should also show clear understanding and a ‘depth of knowledge’ on the topic.
One way to demonstrate this is to write plenty of content around your areas of expertise and avoid content not related to your sites’ main areas of authority.
What about unhelpful content?
Websites that produce poor quality content, content that deviates from their main topics, or that use AI-powered tools to mimic human writers will probably be penalised by Google.
Google will also clamp down on content that doesn’t deliver on what it promises. This could include skirting around a question rather than answering it or providing incorrect information. The example Google have given is ‘suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn’t confirmed’.
Google has released similar algorithmic updates in the past such as the Panda update (February 2011), which penalised low quality sites. Many are expecting the impact and importance of this update to be on a similar scale to Panda, though until it fully rolls out that is unclear. Early indications are that the initial impact has not been dramatic (though sites that have been penalised are probably not sharing that information), but it is still early days and as updates continue to roll out over the next few months, the impact could eventually be far more significant.
How will Google check for helpful content?
This update is ‘a new signal’ rather than replacing any existing part of Google’s algorithm. The update is based on machine learning, likely to be based on Google’s Transformer architecture – an irony, when you consider that content produced using machine learning is likely to fall foul of this update.
We can assume that part of this machine learning process will compare pages to content already in Google’s index and identify content that is not original in either facts or opinions.
Google have also told us that sites with a large proportion of unhelpful content will be flagged, and the entire site may be penalised. They have hinted that very good or helpful content should still rank well.
What does this mean for website owners in general?
Your content needs to provide an excellent resource for your audience, satisfy their search queries and help them to answer their questions, matching the initial intent behind their search term. This is known as ‘needs met’.
Those website owners hoping to outrank existing sites by combining information from elsewhere, without bringing in additional expertise or further research, may find this tactic no longer works.
Those site owners trying to rank for high search volume keywords that no one is answering well, by creating unhelpful pages solely to rank for those terms, will also need to rethink this approach.
Focusing on creating content around topics relevant to your products, services or main website purpose gives you the best chance of ranking and boosting existing content and other pages, including landing pages and product pages.
Whilst AI-produced content may improve over time, its current potential for unoriginality or inaccuracy will be classified as unhelpful by Google and is something Google specifically wants to avoid in their results.
Site owners should now focus on auditing their existing content and identifying any content that is:
- Poor quality
- Not relevant to other content on their sites
- Written for search engines rather than humans
- Incorrect or misleading at the time it was written
- Created, either by a human or AI, by rewriting information that already existed online
There is no suggestion that content that is simply older, outdated or rarely visited needs to be removed – and these pages can have a good deal of valuable link equity.
What this means for you
This update is a new way for Google to check that sites are following Google’s long-standing recommendations on what makes good content, and to reward those who follow them.
Oban already follows these recommendations and will continue to do so. Our approach is to work with the best writers for any content we produce. This includes native speakers, based in market, who bring expertise and a depth of knowledge to a topic. We believe content needs to be tailored to the needs and culture of users in a specific market to be most useful and relevant and to deliver the best search user experience. Our experienced content LIMEs (Local In-Market Experts) are skilled in carrying out detailed research that adds genuine value.
A key tactic we use is to create topical content clusters rather than one-off pieces of content. These are groups of content pieces focused on various niches within a broader topic – as one example, by producing multiple, complementary pieces of content on ‘International Site Structure’, rather than simply ‘SEO’ or ‘Digital Marketing’ in general.
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Creating great content which suits your audience – i.e. humans creating compelling content for human readers – is not always easy, especially when carried out across multiple markets and languages. An exceptional network of content producers and strong SEO expertise will ensure your content marketing strategy continues to generate relevant, engaged traffic. To find out how Oban can help your business, please get in touch.
Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion. Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.