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What does Google's helpful content update mean?

Google’s August helpful content algorithm update explained

This week, Google announced its latest algorithm update. Dubbed ‘the helpful content update‘ this change to the algorithm follows the rise of AI generated content. That’s content written using programs and apps that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and GTP-3 to rapidly create content.

While there’s nothing inherently bad about using technology to fast track content creation, the issue sits with the quality of content generated. Unfortunately, like many SEO tactics, AI generated content has been abused by some to create large swathes of low quality content. And while this tactic worked for the short term to give meteoric increases in organic search impressions and traffic, this latest update from Google promises to prioritise content that genuinely adds value.

You see, the thing is … there’s already bucket loads of content on the web. And Google doesn’t need more shoddy pages or half-baked blogs to keep people coming back to the search engine. In fact, with Gen Z turning to TikTok as the go-to search engine, you could argue that Google needs content that’s helpful more than ever before in order to stay relevant and maintain market share.

So what do you need to do about this latest update? 

More than anything, this update calls on brands and marketers to focus on people-first content. In the update posted on Google Search Central, Chris Nelson from the Search Quality team says ‘The helpful content 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.’

Wondering what to do? I’ve chatted with the Young Folks team and broken down every item on Google’s update checklist to show you exactly what it means and what’s required.

Google’s prompt: Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?

Recommended action: Write content that makes sense for your intended target audience and current website audience. Meet an existing demand or build an audience that makes sense for your brand. Avoid confusing your target audience or ideal customer with content that’s not relevant to them.

Google’s prompt: Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?

Recommended action: Write high quality, factually accurate, original content on topics that you have expertise. Which should be easy, if you’re sticking to your niche and relating content back to your products and/or services. Noice.

Google’s prompt: After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal? Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience? Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?

Recommended action: Ensure your content meets the intent of the search query – that is the intentions of the person conducting the search. Answer the question, address the need, and provide so much value that the person searching doesn’t need to hit the back button and search again.

Google’s prompt: Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?

Recommended action: Get your brand positioning right and own the niche with your website content. Remove irrelevant content to reduce the risk of a negative domain signal and lack of authority. Stick to your core topics/pillars/niche.

Google’s prompt: Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?

Recommended action: Avoid creating lots of low value content. And if anyone is offering you SEO copywriting for $50 a post it likely means that AI is being used for content writing (and you’re probably overpaying) or someone is being unfairly paid or exploited. If AI is being used to assist with content creation, ensure that a very clever human (aka: a copywriter or content strategist) is doing the content strategy and proofreading.

Google’s prompt: Are you keeping in mind our guidance for core updates and for product reviews?

Recommended action: Always check Google’s latest guidance to ensure your SEO approach isn’t using out of date practices that could harm your site.

Google’s prompt: Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results? Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?

Recommended action: Write for humans first and then optimise for search engines. Never ever be spammy with keywords. Reminder: good SEO copywriters can both write a compelling piece of content that humans will love to read and that search engines will rank.

Google’s prompt: Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic? Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?

Recommended action: Stick to your key messages, brand story, and content pillars when producing copy for your website or blog – yes there’s always a trend or opportunity to jump on but you need to make sure it’s relevant to your brand.

Google’s prompt: Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?

Recommended action: Write original, thought-provoking content that includes your unique perspective on the topic. Never copy and paste from other sites (else you’ll be penalised for duplicated content). Don’t paraphrase content from other sites, share your expertise with the world instead. Worth noting that poor quality paraphrasing without citations and references is often what causes problems in AI generated content. Essentially the AI content generator sweeps the internet and puts together a mish mash of content – sometimes copying and pasting different content together and other times poorly paraphrasing. Think: every word is verbatim with the source AI copied from except for a couple of changes like swapping ‘refers to’ for ‘alludes to’. Short story? It’s not good.

Google’s prompt: Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (No, we don’t).

Recommended action: Word count can still be the difference between your article ranking and an article from another site ranking, but it’s not the only factor. Don’t add waffle just to fill up word count – look to improve other SEO factors like domain authority, backlinks to social signals instead.

Google’s prompt: 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?

Recommended action: Don’t be the jerk that tries to rank a page that has search demand before the answer even exists. Say no to clickbait!

Keeping on top of your SEO

SEO success depends on a combination of technical SEO, on-page SEO and off-page SEO. In simple terms, this means:

  • website information architecture that’s easy to navigate;
  • website speed is fast and usability/user experience is top notch;
  • content addresses the search intent and is both high quality and original; and
  • domain authority is strong thanks to backlinks and social signals,

Responsible brands seeking to achieve radically better results from their SEO need to take things a step further and ensure that the SEO content that’s been created supports demand generation, demonstrates credibility, and influences behaviour. Get those things right and brand awareness will grow, traffic will increase, and you’ll experience an uplift in conversions.

Written by

Erin Morris is the founder and director at Young Folks. Packing more than 10 years marketing experience, Erin has worked with start-ups, corporates and everything in between. She loves listening to audiobooks whilst running, oat milk flat whites, and scouring Marketplace for secondhand furniture finds.

Our Melbourne and Mornington Peninsula studios are open 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday. If you’re a brand in the business of doing good, we’d love to hear from you.

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