While it’s no secret Google would rather keep you on their site than click-off to another, they do still have a motivation to improve the quality of search results that do show up under Google Shopping, Google Ads, Google Maps, and Google My Business widgets. To this end, in August 2022 Google released the “Helpful Content Update” in an attempt to battle back against poorly executed SEO strategies on websites that decrease the value of search results.
What is Google’s motivation for launching the helpful content update?
Since the larger Panda/Penguin updates around 2012, the majority of algorithm updates have been tweaks over time that didn’t necessarily change the playing field. In that time, as automation and AI have become more refined and prevalent in digital execution processes, the quality of website pages earning high ranking spots in search has decreased. These sites have been specifically created, updated, and written to abuse search crawls and “earn” high rankings. The easiest way to think about this concept is that poor quality content pages are optimized for the search engine, not the human reading the page.
Directory and review sites that curate content from other sites and sources are another example of the types of high-ranking websites that have hurt search quality by providing redundant and unoriginal content. Recently, these sites have regularly de-ranked useful product or company websites.
Lastly, social media sites are starting to infringe on Google’s search share, especially amongst the younger generations. This is an indirect effect that digital users are starting to favor social media platforms over google search for searches that include reviews because they view the social content as more relevant, accurate, and of higher quality.
What the helpful content update does.
When your website is scanned, Google bots will now be focusing on the approach to content on the page. If your page or post offers little more than a title that is overly optimized and a keyword stuffed paragraph as content, it may be seen as low quality and unhelpful to a search visitor. This would result in a drop of rankings for that page.
Overly redundant, curated, or unoriginal content will also be penalized. This isn’t necessarily to say that you can’t publish a post with a unique angle or perspective on your website that’s related to a topic covered on the internet already. This is meant to avoid the carbon copy bulk-publishing sites and AI-generated content that add noise to search results.
While there is no “word count” floor or ceiling to dictate the quality of content by Google, when thinking about the human experience, your site’s page and posts should consider using multiple content elements on each page to improve quality and experience. For more on that you can read our Critical Elements For an Optimized Landing Page article.
And lastly no, Google will not tell you which pages are low quality on your site. Having said that, it’s fairly defined what “low quality” means. You can read more about the qualifications of quality in Google’s post about the helpful content update.
How you can continue positive SEO growth.
“Content is king” is not a new saying, but comes into play here yet again. The best way to improve your search performance and avoid any penalties moving forward is to have a robust Content Writing Strategy and constantly improve and augment the pages and posts on your site over time.
Helpful and informative articles.
Blog articles are not going out of style with this update. A well written and helpful blog article can still be a major boost to both search visibility and website traffic alike. In 2014 Google introduced “snippets” as a way to encourage website content creators to make content that answers questions and informs users. If you’ve ever earned a snippet from Google, you know the impact it can have on your website traffic while it ranks. This will remain a big factor in on-site SEO.
Robust service and product pages.
Sub-pages related to services and products are a great optimization tool to provide more information and an opportunity to rank for specific granular terms. Where these types of pages can fall flat is when they lack substance. Simply having a page with a title and paragraph will not suffice to meet the demands of high quality. Consider how your social media, sales, and content marketing materials can improve the quality of a page with FAQs, PDF downloads, videos, and imagery. A robust page will increase content quality and improve the page’s ability to help a visitor to an answer or action.
Home grown educational resources.
Demonstrations, tutorials, case studies, and courses are a few of the types of content that Google favors as it trends towards primarily looking to answer a search user’s question. These types of content are already positioned to identify a problem, describe a solution, and demonstrate a result. Each providing a valuable experience. As a side effect, you will also be adding credibility to your website and boost the confidence of the visitors as well.
A few final thoughts on SEO to remember in general.
Google appears to be acting in the user’s best interest here and we agree with that, but this is only a piece of the puzzle that is SEO.
Domain Authority, primarily fed by link-backs and age of the site, will continue to be a primary ranking signal, despite Google’s best attempts to refute what us SEOs have seen in the data for years.
While this update is meant to improve the quality of what Google ranks in its organic result links, they are still going to push their proprietary tools like Google Ads, Google Shopping, Google Maps, Google My Business because they are a for-profit company that wants to hold the user’s attention for as long as possible.
Lastly and most plainly, a stale website will de-rank whether it has high quality content or not. Websites are not meant to sit stagnant for months, let alone years. They must be updated with current information, supporting contextual content, and useful items for visitors (reviews, documents, articles) that keep them coming back.
If a site does not grow, its rankings and traffic will not either.