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Why The Google Helpful Content Update Might Change SEO Forever
by Jeff Trumble on
Now that the Google Helpful Content Update has fully rolled out, followed up by a surprise September 2022 Core Algorithm Update, website owners around the world are trying to understand what this all means for the future.
Google’s latest update focuses on content. Specifically, content that exists solely for search engine ranking purposes. As a marketer, you might ask — “is there any other kind of content?” If, however, you have searched for ‘crossword clues for thin stemmed mushroom,’ you will understand the problem. There are a lot of pages, but very few that give you an answer.
When we search for something on Google, we get a lot of results. Sometimes we’re lucky, sometimes we can spend many minutes finding the answer to our problem, clicking through page after page of results.
That is why we search for things. We have a problem that needs to be solved. Information is a tool just as much as a stapler is a tool.
Google has more than 100 trillion pages in its index. That’s 100 with twelves zeros after it. That’s like a stack of papers 63,100 miles high.
Imagine searching through a stack of pages that high to find the answer to your problem. Understandably that would be a problem. You wouldn’t bother. You’d ask someone other than Google.
Google’s gold standard of service is relevance. Relevant results for your queries. People use Google because they usually find what they want on page one or two. Google wants people to keep using their system. So it updates its algorithms regularly.
Google Has Been Updating its Algorithms Since 2003
Updates aren’t a new thing. Since the first ‘Florida’ update in November 2003, Google has been doing its best to keep us, as search engine customers, happy. The current update isn’t a purge — updates to the search algorithm are made daily.
Google’s updates are house cleaning, so we return and stay loyal. Makes sense. No one wants to sort through a stack of papers thousands of miles high in order to find a crossword clue.
A lot of the pages you find on Google have no immediate relevance to solving our problem. A lot of pages are there so you click on them, see the ads, stay on the page and look around — everything other than find the solution you seek.
Google wants to change that. It wants to reduce the mile-high stack of paper.
“Google’s algorithms are a complex system used to retrieve data from its search index and instantly deliver the best possible results for a query. In its early years, Google only made a handful of updates to its algorithms. Now, Google makes thousands of changes every year.”(Search Engine Journal)
What is the Google Helpful Content Update?
On August 18, Google announced that it would be launching a new algorithm called the Helpful Content Update that caught the SEO community by surprise to mixed reaction.
The aim of the update is, according to Google in their blog, to show “more content by people, for people in search”.
Google’s current Helpful Content Update is exactly that. Google wants to be helpful. It wants the content you find in the SERPs to be helpful. Ergo, your website content needs to be helpful. We’re sure it already is very helpful – but now Google will take a peek.
“Our systems automatically identify content that seems to have little value, low-added value or is otherwise not particularly helpful to those doing searches.
Any content — not just unhelpful content — on sites determined to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall is less likely to perform well in Search, assuming there is other content elsewhere from the web that’s better to display.
This update impacts English searches globally to begin with and we plan to expand to other languages in the future. Over the coming months, we will also continue refining how the classifier detects unhelpful content and launch further efforts to better reward “people-first content.”(Google)
Google Has Always Updated its Algorithm. What is Different with the Unhelpful Content Update?
Unlike Google’s product review update in July, the new content update will be sitewide. Regardless of page, regardless of the website.
This update sends out a signal that there will be changes in the ranking of websites. In that regard, this is similar to the Panda (2011) and Penguin (2012) updates.
The aim of the Panda update was to further improve the quality of Google search results. The update focused primarily on the quality of the content of websites. In a second smaller update, further improvements were implemented, which primarily increased the quality of “long tail” search queries.
The Penguin update aimed to further curb webspam in search results. It was also known as the Webspam Update. Google classifies “webspam” techniques as those used to achieve the highest possible position in search results. As these techniques serve this purpose alone, websites rank unjustly in top positions in Google’s opinion.
“I do believe this update, when we look back at it years later, will be at the same stature of a Panda or Penguin in the way that it forced SEOs to rethink some of their SEO strategies. I think this update will do that with content marketing and SEO content strategies for some agencies.”(Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Roundtable)
Google, Search Engine Optimization, and Your Websites
SEO is a misnomer. On the surface, it’s about optimizing your websites and your website content for search engines, but that’s only so we have a title. SEOs are like Chefs. Chefs do so much more than cook food. SEOs do so much more than getting pages listed on Google.
Search Engine Optimisation has three parts — and your page content is only 33.3 … % of it:
- On-Page SEO (your website content and structure),
- Off-Page SEO (backlinks and social media),
- and Technical SEO (loading time, website build and function).
Any of these three areas of SEO is a full-time job. Each of these is an art form. Just like being a Chef. SEO is about people finding your content, being happy with the experience, and returning for more content. Sounds just like a Chef.
SEO is about problem-solving. Unhelpful content doesn’t solve problems, it just creates new problems.
How Does The Helpful Content Update Impact My WordPress Websites?
Do your websites have content? Do you try to be found by search engines? Then the update will impact your websites regardless of your CMS.
WordPress SEO plugins are a useful tool. Some of the major plugins are already talking about the update. Check with your plugin provider to see what they are saying about their tool:
- Yoast: https://yoast.com/google-helpful-content-update
- RankMath: https://rankmath.com/google-update/helpful-content-update/
Regardless of CMS or plugin, you need to know that the Helpful Content Update rewards content written by people for people. That is, content that is both useful to searchers and can provide a great UX is going to be rewarded.
Content that has been created mechanically, perhaps with an AI tool, or created solely for search engine visibility and less for people, could lose relevance in search.
If Google currently ranks some of your page content as “search engine-first,” the entire page could lose in ranking.
Still unsure how best to proceed? Seer Interactive’s Wil Reynolds has some solid, common-sense advice:
- Stay in your lane: write about topics that pertain to your business, that you’re an expert on, and are for your audience
- Answer the searcher’s question: provide an expert and unique perspective along with answers to likely follow-up questions
- Don’t hack the algorithm: aim for content lengths that satisfy the reader’s query
The Impact of this Update on AI Writing Tools?
There has been a lot of talk about AI-generated content in the last little while. Have you tried one of the many tools? If AI can create content, then Google’s AI can see that content was created by AI. It stands to reason.
Here is a recent article we wrote about Woocommerce Styling and Design Tips in WordPress: https://rocket.net/blog/woocommerce-styling-and-design-tips
You can compare our article with a paragraph of AI content on the same topic sentence:
“AI text example start | Technically, WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, which is what WordPress sites use to add additional functionality to their sites. While you can use WooCommerce with any WordPress theme, you will want to opt for a WooCommerce-ready theme. | AI text example end” https://ai-writer.com
What Distinguishes Good Content from Bad Content?
Why use an AI writing tool? Probably to save time and save money. Perhaps you don’t have writers or writing skills. It’s best to find someone who can create unique content for you.
Poor materials make for a poor product. Everyone can tell the difference between a frozen pizza and a handmade one.
Produce website content that:
- you actually need
What does Google say about AI writing tools?
“Are AI content writers good for creating blog posts or product review posts?” Google’s John Mueller was asked this question, and his answer was short and sweet: “Nope.”
The topic circulated on Twitter. There he was asked whether he would use AI-based content creation tools. John then explained:
“Content generators / spinners have been around since the start of the web. People have used all kinds of tools & tricks to do that. As far as I can tell, most sites have trouble creating higher-quality content, they don’t need help creating low-quality content.”
- which you can manage with your resources
- and continuously optimize through tests.
Good content is written for people. Put yourself in the shoes of someone with a problem you can solve:
- Answer the questions of your target group
- Write less about yourself and your products —write about problems you solve
- Your content should be part of a story
- Format your content to make it easy to read
- Go into some depth —go the distance
- Give recommendations for action
- Keep your content up to date
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