Google Update: how ‘Helpful Content’ might be harmful to your rankings (and how to fix it)

On August 18, Google released a potentially very impactful Search update to their product updates feed. Dubbing it the ‘Helpful Content’ update, with this new algorithm change Google aims to eradicate content written mainly for SEO purposes from the top of the SERPs. In addition, they’ve tweaked this update to affect not only individual pages but whole websites, based on their assessment of individual content pieces. Simply put: time to level up your content production. Wondering how, and what might be some red flags to the updated algorithm? By all means, read on!

The Helpful Content update in a nutshell

First things first, let’s hone in on the scope of the algorithm update. Google announced that starting next week, websites will start seeing an impact in their rankings, based on the Helpful Content (HC) changes. The update’s main purpose is to improve the user experience of searchers across the board. Now this in and of itself is a noble goal, but it most likely will impact a big portion of future SEO strategies. Gone are the days of pages written by SEO copywriters, who usually only focus on getting their keywords in, and (usually) don’t take readability in the highest regard. But there is more…

Hitting SEOs right where it hurts

In the past, most (smaller) Google updates were aimed at penalizing individual pages. Of course, low page scores will ultimately influence your overall domain authority as well, but only marginally. The HC update, on the other hand, will not only impact the rankings of the specific pages with low-quality content but will (reportedly) have the power to send entire websites to SERP-hell.

A measure like this is sure to make an impact, as it greatly discourages people from testing out more grey- and black-hat SEO trials, with more ambiguous keyword- and content strategies. A penalty like this could potentially set you back months on your organic growth roadmap. This is exactly why from now on, it’s vital to focus not only on getting in your keywords but actually providing added value to your visitors, by creating original, high-quality content. ‘But how, Niels, are we going to get there?’, I hear you ask…

Creating content for your visitors, instead of Google

I’ll be frank: quick action is probably warranted to keep the proverbial floodgates of your organic traffic stream closed, and thus prevent an all-out tanking of your website in the search results. The definition of quick is quite fluid though, as they can’t reasonably scan all websites at the same time, and it will take some time for the crawler bots to re-index everything, by the standards of the new algorithm.

The fact is though, that Google is going to come down hard on easy-to-detect SEO mistakes like keyword stuffing and duplicate content, as well as content that doesn’t seem authentic or even written by a human. Let’s go through some pointers on how to significantly reduce the risk for your websites, and shift the focus from creating for Google to creating for the end-user.

Quality over quantity

In the past, most SEOs (me included) were usually focused mostly on getting new pages up, and running, and most importantly: indexed by Google. Afterward, a lot of minor tweaks and optimizations would then take place. These would not only focus on stuff like adding the necessary internal linking, but also on improving the readability of pages, by letting their content experts take a longer look at them.

This process simply has to change. The focus now has to shift from getting pages up to first creating quality content with added value for the end user, and then getting the pages up and indexed. Sub-par, ai-generated content just won’t cut it anymore. The focus has to be on quality, instead of quantity. This brings me to the experts that you should get in on writing them…

Expert takes

Copywriters are the backbone of the content marketing industry. Writing great content for all of our web, sales, and product pages. But there’s one thing that you might find lacking, just a little bit: knowledge. Most copywriters are used to working on copy for copious amounts of companies, from all walks of life, and thus are usually not able to specialize in one specific market niche. This is where your specialists come into play. From now on, getting the people that are going to execute the job, or at least have a huge amount of knowledge about it, talking about it, is going to make all the difference in the world.

Google values content that is written to satisfy the search intent of its users to the fullest. Your experts are the most likely to satisfy that need, as they simply are the most knowledgeable people in your company. Now don’t get me wrong, you might need to get a copywriter in on it as well, to get the writing flowing like a playful stream from a mountain peak, but the input should be coming right from the spring of that stream.

Author profiles

One way to make sure that Google recognizes your specialists, is by giving them author profiles on your website. These profiles should, of course, include some background on why they are forces to be reckoned with, but also function as a content hub, for all articles and pages on which they have contributed. This, in turn, will make them stand out to Google, supplying them with higher authority- and relevance scores. While this is good for their ego, which may or may not be a good thing to be honest, the most important result is that your pages’ relevance and authority will rise accordingly.

How to tackle Google’s Helpful Content update (in short)

  • Write like a human, not a keywords stuffing, sentence bending robot;
  • Focus on search intent and content relevance;
  • Keep your eye on the quality, before the quantity;
  • Put your experts on a pedestal, and let their knowledge do the work for you.
Niels Krikke
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