Google Helpful
Updated: 09 / 12 / 2022

Google helpful content update and its impact on SEO

Bruno Díaz Marketing Manager
Bruno Díaz
Marketing Manager
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The purpose of this update is to filter much better the content that Google finds on the Internet, in order to offer better results and user experience

On 18 August Google announced a new update of its algorithms, which they have called Helpful Content Update. This update has started to be deployed on August 25th (starting with English-speaking websites), and as usual it is deployed in two weeks, then usually comes a subsequent adjustment, and in this case it is very important that as this update is based on AI, it will be polished over time.

In this post I will summarise and explain everything that is known at the moment about this update, but I will try to go a little further and gauge the possible impact it may have in the medium term not only on SERP results, but also on the SEO sector itself and how we professionals in SEO agencies such as ours have been working for clients or on our own projects.

Note: this post uses quite a few technical SEO concepts and anglicisms from the sector. If you are not familiar with them, please consult our SEO dictionary.

1. What is the Google Helpful content update

In short, this update seeks to reward quality content. And it puts the focus on the fact that quality content should not only be original, but also written by and for people.

Content written by people: in recent years there has been a proliferation of websites that are generated with automatic content, based on scrappings, content construction rules, or software that generates content through AI. These contents are very poor and their writing is usually terrible, but at the same time we have noticed that they rank perfectly.

Content written for people: this approach emphasises that content should not be written explicitly to rank in Google. On the contrary, the focus is on the content being focused on generating a good user experience with respect to the search that has been made. In short, that our content solves what the user is looking for, and that can be achieved in fifty words instead of two thousand. With that, techniques such as keyword stuffing would be definitively buried.

Useful content: the key will be to define very well how you are going to classify useful or not useful content for users. From the outset, what is clear is that it will not be black and white (useful vs. useless content), but rather a gradation. Imagine that your content will be assigned a usefulness score, and that this, weighted with the rest of the signals and algorithms, should explain the TOP 10 of a SERP.

2. Its impact on results

A very important aspect to bear in mind about this update is that its impact is side-wide, i.e. a possible requalification or penalisation does not affect a specific content of a website, but affects the whole site. In other words, if Google detects in its analysis that a domain has a lot of content that is not very useful for users, it will notice a drop in rankings and SEO traffic for practically all of its URLs.

If the update's remit is implemented correctly, all indications are that it will be an instability bomb for projects based on artificial and massive content creation. Affiliate or dropshipping webmasters with little original content should also be on their guard.

Still, I am very sceptical about the algorithm's ability to differentiate between artificial and manual content. Already today we can find AI-generated texts that are better written than many humans. And the technology will improve over time. In very extreme cases it will be easy to detect (the typical website that generates 5,000 URLs a day would be a clear candidate), but with individualised processes it will be much more complex to identify.

3. What you need to do to benefit

Generally speaking, in essence, if you have a website with original, manually generated, natural content, there is no need to suffer.

In any case, if you want your site to be seen in a positive light, Google recommends that you ask yourself these questions about your content:

Will your regular audience find this article useful, and does your site have a clear objective or focus?If you have a cooking blog, it is difficult for them to be interested in a post about quantum physics. It also encourages, in general terms, websites to specialise in specific topics. Generalist sites, without much authority, are going to have a hard time.

Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand experience and in-depth knowledge (e.g. experience that comes from actually using a product or service, or visiting a place)? This seems very review website oriented and could be mixed up with the product review update, but it goes beyond that. In any case, everything you publish should be as well documented as possible.

After reading your content, would someone leave with the feeling that they have learned enough about a topic to help them achieve their goal?
This may be understood as a pursuit of thin content, but I think it will go much further. It is about your content resolving the doubts or needs of the user who has searched for it. This is also where sites that use clickbait techniques, and/or content that generates a lot of pogo sticking, are being pursued.

Will someone reading your content leave with the feeling of having had a satisfactory experience? Here I would say that in addition to the resolution of the information need, aspects such as browsing experience, loading time, mobile usability and so on will be taken into account, as on average satisfaction could be somewhat ethereal.

Do you take into account our recommendations for updates to the core algorithm and for product reviews? With this tagline they are telling us that this update will be one more of Google's signals and it will not be the only one. Check out Google's full guidelines and remember them. It is also curious that the product review update is explicitly mentioned, but I would say that it is a contamination derived from the fact that it is the most recent one.

In addition to these questions, it is clear that this update has a lot to do with the whole EAT topic. Ultimately, Google will want you to write about topics that you know in depth. For this, it is highly recommended that the content is signed by content creators who specialise in the subject matter and that this is accredited to Google, especially on YMYL sites.

4. What to avoid to avoid being penalised

Here are some tips that can help you to guide some actions. Google sums it up with a very clear "AVOID CREATING CONTENT FOR SEO". It seems like a no-brainer, but just in case:
  • Avoid replicating content from other sites without adding value. In the spotlight will be websites that take unoriginal external content, especially media that reproduce press releases, content aggregators or e-commerce with Dropshipping.
  • It is not recommended to write about thirty thousand different subjects. Generalist websites are going to suffer, it would be interesting to specialise in what you know best and can add value to.
  • You can review content from other sites, but you cannot limit yourself to this. If you put a news item from a media outlet, for example, you can add value by adding your opinion. You must add value, Google wants to clean its results of copied or rehashed content.
  • Create content that your audience is asking for, not based on kilo keyword research.
  • Don't count the words in your content, it's a waste of time. Look at the quality of the content and its originality. The length will be what you get or what it should be.

5. What to do if you have been penalised

In the case of noticing a very big impact and with a clear trend in Search Console, well, you've been caught. The good news is that there is a solution, the bad news is that it is slow. Google has confirmed (and John Mueller corroborated) that this website will be able to revert this drop if you remove the unhelpful content. Other options to consider there would be to put no index to some content that you don't want to index but you don't want to block users, or to modify and expand the poor content. But once all this is done, recovery can take months, basically for two reasons: Google is going to need time to check and process all the content on the site again. You will want to make sure that the content improvement on the site is permanent, not a one-off tactical move to trick the algorithm.

6. Impact on the SEO sector

We must always think about Google's business logic. What does Google want? In essence, it wants you to use its search engine when you have a need, and that when you perform a search through its tool, you find the expected results, and that when you finally decide to click on one of those results, its content meets your expectations. If this happens, it is very likely that the next time you need to search on Google, you will search again. On the other hand, if you detect that Google gives you low quality content that does not meet your search intention, then next time you will use another search engine or even another type of tool that is not a search engine. In this sense, the new consumption habits of Internet users, place certain APPs, marketplaces or social networks as alternative ways to get information without going through the Google search engine.

In recent years there has been a proliferation of thousands of websites created with automatically generated content, of a rather pitiful graphic and lexical quality. We have also seen how many of these websites have positioned themselves perfectly in Google, often not for main keywords but for many longtail keywords. This has necessarily affected the quality of Google's results and has set off all the alarm bells. The purpose of this update is to filter much better the content that Google finds on the Internet, in order to offer better results and user experience.

Personally I am very sceptical about the technical ability to implement the purpose of the update. However, the announcement itself and the hype will surely have an impact on webmasters and content creators. If less but better content is generated in the face of this general threat on the Internet, we all stand to gain.

As for the impact of SEO professionals in our sector, it remains to be seen. On the one hand, all those SEOs who have dedicated themselves to positioning niches with automatic websites with black hat techniques and have earned a lot of money, will surely have to correct some of their practices. We would welcome the fact that these SEOs will continue to make niches, but with original and well-worked content, although it is also possible that they will continue to try to outwit the algorithm. We shall see. As for SEOs who, like us, work for client projects and always with White Hat techniques, logic leads me to think that we will benefit a lot. But it is also true that this has also been promised in other algorithm updates, and it didn't happen. What is clear is that in our strategies and planning with projects, the focus will shift from technical SEO (Core web vitals and so on) to SEO strategies focused on content.

7. Conclusions

This new Helpful Content Update is neither surprising nor isolated. It is part of many years of work by Google engineers to better understand the content of web pages, so that they can be ranked and sorted in an optimal way for the user. It should be understood in conjunction with other updates such as Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird or EAT, among many others.

For all of us who have been working for some time on generating good content and delivering it correctly to Google, we can rest assured that sooner or later the rewards will come. And for the rest of you, we wish you lots of encouragement and luck, as it will become more and more complicated.

We will stay tuned ;)
Bruno Díaz Marketing Manager
About the author
Bruno Díaz — Marketing Manager
Professional with a long career as a communication and digital marketing consultant, specializing in SEO, SEM and web projects. As Marketing Manager of the agency, I coordinate a great team of digital marketing technicians of which I am very proud.

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