Google has finished rolling out its helpful content update, and SEO experts are experiencing significant volatility and fluctuations in their Google search rankings.
As part of its continuing effort to better connect users to valuable information, the search engine has released an updated sitewide signal that targets sites with a relatively high amount of unsatisfying or unhelpful content. These are characterized as any content written for search engines first.
The helpful content update seeks to better reward content that provides valuable information and an overall satisfying experience to users. This should encourage digital marketers to move away from simply publishing content they think will perform well in SERPs, and focus on content from which their target audiences will learn and find value. It should be genuine, non-clickbait, and human-first.
How will this affect your content marketing efforts and what should you do moving forward? Read more to find out.
How to Recover From Google’s Helpful Content Update
Although the update was hyped to be as significant as the Panda and Penguin updates, that has not been the case so far. Nevertheless, it’s one that you should not ignore. Any content deemed to be overly optimized and deceiving, and sites with relatively high amounts of unhelpful content are most likely to get hit.
Google is quite specific with what they want with your content, and it’s evident in most of its algorithm updates that penalize exploitative marketing tactics. If you’re hit by this new update, it can take several months to recover — and that’s if you make changes to your content. Here’s what Google says to recover or continue appearing in relevant searches.
Focus on your target audience first
This recommendation is nothing new. The search engine has long been taking a user-first approach in Search, and thus wants marketers to design pages and create content with their targeted users in mind.
How can you ensure you’re creating content that will pass the new update? Follow this long-standing advice: write content for users first and the search engine second. Demonstrate your expertise and authority in your niche and give what users are trying to look for within your site to provide an overall positive, satisfying experience.
Google also doesn’t like automated content — using AI writing tools goes against its Webmaster Guidelines. Although it can’t automatically detect AI-generated content, that’s not to say it will not in the future. And when they do, they are most likely to penalize it.
The search engine provides some self-reflective questions to help you determine whether you’re on the right track with a user-first approach. To summarize them, your content should:
- Be useful to your existing or target audience.
- Demonstrate your first-hand expertise and depth of knowledge.
- Focus on your area of expertise.
- Help users learn or provide solutions to their problems.
- Provide an overall satisfying experience to users.
- Follow the guidelines for core updates.
Related reading: 10 SEO Trends to Watch Out For in 2023
Avoid creating content solely for search engines.
Google also warns against publishing content with the primary purpose of ranking high in SERPs and in the process sacrificing quality, readability, and substance. It also means avoiding clickbait at all costs — if your title says 10 tips to improve your writing, then don’t try and insert irrelevant content in an attempt to stuff keywords. Otherwise, users will leave your site feeling unsatisfied and probably even more confused than they were prior.
Writing high-quality, engaging content that ranks at the top of SERPs starts by having a deep understanding of your audience. It means meeting your target users where they are on their journey and providing as much value as possible.
A successful content marketing strategy should put less emphasis on ranking for your targeted keywords or the word count, and more on producing valuable content. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and establish authority. Some of the red flags that indicate you are creating content mainly for search engines instead of users include the following.
You are producing lots of content on different topics. Bigger isn’t always better. The same goes for marketing. However, many marketers make the mistake of casting a wider net with their content strategies to draw in more customers. While effective to some extent, this strategy falls short in driving qualified leads. Creating more niche-focused content allows you to target specific audiences that are more likely to convert.
You are writing about a niche topic without any real expertise. You can’t fake good content. The key purpose of content marketing is to grow brand authority and trust, and this isn’t something you can achieve without adding any real value to your audience. You have to ensure that your viewpoints as an expert are something readers can take value out of.
You are relying too much on AI-generated content. While there are benefits to using AI tools — less time to generate content and lower production costs — some marketers argue that these tools aren’t entirely practical or helpful. AI-generated content takes as much effort to polish into something usable as writing manually would have. Although Google doesn’t say it out in the open, AI-generated content is deemed spammy and goes against its guidelines.
You are recycling already-existing content on the Internet without adding much value. Covering topics that everyone else covers just because you think they would drive traffic doesn’t add any real distinctive value to your marketing efforts. This is particularly true if you don’t add as many insights to your content to make it truly original. This type of content will get hit sooner or later, and if you want to avoid it, you should create content that brings something new to the table.
Prune Existing Unhelpful Content
As said above, Google’s Helpful Content update will also evaluate unhelpful content in your domain. It means having too much unhelpful content can affect the overall organic visibility of your site, useful articles included. So, one of the most effective ways to stay on the good side of this update is to start removing any content that could be classified as unhelpful. Content pruning is a great way of putting your site in a good position to have a higher density of articles evaluated as “helpful”.
Tools like Moz and Ahrefs can help you identify URLs with low word count, low traffic, low revenue, and low link metrics — factors that usually define unhelpful content. You should also look for content that doesn’t resonate with your brand.
There are a few considerations, however. A low word count doesn’t automatically mean the content is not helpful. You should manually inspect these pages and determine whether they are helpful to your visitors. If not, you might be better off removing them from your site. Another option is to unpublish the content instead of deleting it. This way, you can always restore and update them later to make them more relevant.
What’s Next with Content Marketing?
With an effective content marketing strategy in place, you should not worry or stress about the latest search engine update. If you’re already producing high-quality and engaging content, then your search traffic should increase, not decrease following the update.
Coming up with a solid content marketing strategy and creating content that is update-proof doesn’t have to be as challenging as you think. As long as you have a deep understanding of your target audience and thus provide value to them through your content, then these Google updates should be less of your concern.