Google is rolling out what may end up being one of the most significant sitewide algorithm updates to date. It’s called the helpful content update and it will devalue content “written for search engines.”
Google ‘Helpful Content’ Algorithm Update Launching Soon
Google announced it’s launching the update next week. It aims to boost content written for people and devalue content written primarily for SEO.
Unlike the recent product review update, which targets specific kinds of pages, the helpful content update is sitewide. That means it has the potential to impact all pages.
The helpful content update also introduces a new signal Google will use to rank web pages.
Although Google is giving a heads up regarding these algorithm changes, a week isn’t a long time to prepare. However, one could argue that all sites should be written for humans in the first place.
Will We Be Saying Sayonara to Keyword Tools?
With the most recent BERT and MUM updates, Google’s ability to identify quality content has greatly increased.
The writing has been on the wall for quite a while: the most effective form of optimization happens on a broader topical and contextual level.
After personally working specifically on SEO copywriting research, planning, and production for the last 7 years, I can tell you that the following approaches don’t perform well as a competitive strategy:
- Making sure you have a certain number of keywords in your content WITHOUT critically focusing on having the proper context
- Treating your pages as if they’re a “bag of words.” Google understands the combination of words and their meaning before and after keywords
- Simply rewriting the top ranking content and summarizing it without adding value
For example, getting a score of 100 with Surfer SEO can be useless if the content isn’t topically on point, well written, and engaging.
User engagement metrics are becoming increasingly more important and the days of looking at keyword density have been over for quite some time.
Here’s the Info Google Has Given Us So Far
Google published the following announcement on Twitter:
“Next week, we will launch the “helpful content update” to better ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, rather than content made primarily for search engine traffic.”
The tweet links to a blog article with more information, including details on how websites can continue to succeed after the helpful content update rolls out.
How Does the Helpful Content Update Work?
We do know this update introduces a new ranking signal that will negatively impact sites that publish high amounts of content with little value, are low-added value, or are unhelpful to searchers.
Google said that based on its testing, it will have a greater impact on online educational materials, as well as arts & entertainment, shopping, and tech-related content, not because those areas were focused on but because they might have higher amounts of content that this update targets.
“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.”
What To Do if the Helpful Content Update Puts You Through the Ringer
If the helpful content update hits you, Google advises removing unhelpful content from your website.
Google stated that answering yes to these questions means you’re on the right track:
- 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?
- 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)?
- Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
- 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?
- Are you keeping in mind our guidance for core updates and for product reviews?
Sites impacted by the update may find the effects to last several months, Google says. Google’s blog post continues:
“Our classifier for this update runs continuously, allowing it to monitor newly-launched sites and existing ones. As it determines that the unhelpful content has not returned in the long-term, the classification will no longer apply.”
More General Details About Google’s Helpful Content Update
Here are some additional facts about the update:
- The update is not a manual action. The process is automated using a machine-learning model.
- People-first content can still rank even if it’s published on sites with large amounts of unhelpful content.
- The signal is weighted, meaning some sites get hit harder than others.
- Only English searches will be impacted, to begin with.
Will the Quickest and Most Direct Answers to Queries Come Out on Top?
Yes and no.
In some cases, Google wants to help searchers find the answer or information they are looking for as quickly as possible – sometimes without ever leaving the search results page.
However, your content should be the best answer that someone is searching for. That often entails being thorough and including the most complete details available on a topic.
Google Simply Wants to Improve Their Product
Industry leaders are likening this update to the mother of all updates that rocked the SEO world: the Panda Update.
Google Panda was launched in February of 2011 and targeted black hat and web spam. It was a huge win for the overall user experience.
The jury is still out on how deep the impact will actually be. SEO Content Hero will be sure to provide an analysis once there’s sufficient data.
Cheers to those who have invested in writing quality content written for people.