What is the Helpful Content Update?

Looking deeper at the latest Google Algorithm update

Ever since 2011, Google have been making strides towards better filtering their SERP (Search Engine Results Page) with the end user in mind. This past week has seen the latest in the long line of updates that have been designed to help promote useful content over all others - removing useless content from the SERP. Beginning their rollout this week (w/c 22nd August 2022), the update has been termed the Helpful Content Update by the Google Team.

What is the Helpful Content Update?

The Helpful Content Update is a core Google Algorithm update designed to help discover and promote genuinely useful content as opposed to those written solely with getting more traffic in mind. This is a welcome addition to the algorithm, not just for websites that adhere to Google's E-A-T guidelines but also for SEOs who focus on quality content production.

The simple explanation of what the Helpful Content Update does is that it is a housekeeping update, designed to latch onto content that has been created with the user in mind whilst acting like a filter for spammy articles.

The way the Helpful Content Update does that is, of course, not as simple as applying a filter, including a change to how Google crawl and index sites; however, Google have provided guidelines for creating content that should rank well under the HCU.

Google's Helpful Content Update

Google have provided a list of dos and don'ts when producing content to ensure that it is user friendly. The full list of advice for the Helpful Content Update can be found on the Google Search Central Developers Blog - however, they can be summarised as followed:

  • Write with your audience in mind
  • Position yourself as an authority on the topic, not just another site writing about it
  • Demonstrate first-hand experience and depth of knowledge (ie. what makes you the expert?)
  • Write so that someone feels like they have learned something or had a satisfying experience after having read what you have written
  • Don't aim to produce content over a wide variety of topics that you are not an expert in to get traffic
  • Don't write with a word count in mind
  • Don't write purely speculative content that doesn't have an innate value (such as "THIS IS THE RELEASE DATE OF MOVIE Y" when the release date hasn't been confirmed)

By following those guidelines, it should be possible to produce content that is innately valuable for the user and performs well in the SERP.

What does the HCU mean for websites?

So now the juicy and technical portion of this article, which is what the Helpful Content Update means for websites. Well, for this there is actually two answers - one that is surface level and one that is technical.

The surface answer level is - websites are going to need to step their content game up if it isn't based around high quality articles - however, if you strategy already involves high quality article production then you should be fine. This update isn't designed to penalise anyone following best practice, so if you follow best practice then it can/could be a positive update for your site.

The deeper level comes down to how spammy pages interact with your site (especially if you have a lot of it) and is more around how Google index pages. Namely, if a site is unhelpful, then any bad pages could affect the ranking of any good pages that do exist. This is summarised by the Google Developer Blog as:

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. For this reason, removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content.

Following those guidelines, normal service or ecommerce sites shouldn't suffer; however, if a site specialises in click-bait then it could end up suffering within the SERP.

What does the Helpful Content Update mean for SEOs?

When it comes down to what the Helpful Content Update means for SEO then it doesn't actually change best practice or how SEO is approached for most SEOs. We still need to do Keyword Research to find out what users are searching for. We still need to write articles that are engaging and help deliver on the KPIs for our clients. For most SEOs that won't change.

That said, there is a school of SEOs where the strategy will change and will need to. If you have been focusing on churnalism or link farming then the strategy will need to change, and this could have a large impact on your sites. The whole of the SERP, and the whole of the Organic world, is moving toward a normative best-practice that should be adhered to.

"I'm worried about what the HCU means for my site..."

If you are worried about what the Helpful Content Updates means for your site then there are two things that can be said. If you try and always produce content that is best for your users and converts to any meaningful KPI beyond "more people to the site", then the odds are your site will be absolutely fine. Google is looking to reduce spam in the SERP, and if your site isn't spammy then you don't need to worry.

If you are still worried however, then reach out. At UM Birmingham we have a senior SEO team who can help put your mind at rest.

Find out more about how CRO can help boost your marketing strategy

If you would like to find out more about how CRO can be used to help take your marketing strategy to the next level, you can contact us today.

Asset 1