What Google's Helpful Content Update Means for Your Small Business' SEO Efforts
Google recently launched its Helpful Content update to improve the quality of search results. It has always been concerned with providing users with the most accurate and valuable answers.
But Google's search engine isn’t perfect and is constantly improving. Many search queries don’t show the best results; sometimes, users land on sites with too many ads, and other times, the content isn’t helpful.
With the Helpful Content update, Google plans to weed out sites that produce unhelpful content.
But how does the new update affect your SEO efforts? What do you need to know about it? And most importantly, how can you leverage it to improve your organic rankings?
In a recent survey we conducted of small business marketers, we asked those that reported doing SEO what their biggest challenge was with SEO.
13% of respondents said staying on top of Google’s algorithm changes was their biggest challenge. And certainly Google’s most recent Helpful Content update was a massive change.
So in an effort to make sure our readers understand the implications of this change and what to do if it has affected your small business’ website, let’s dive in…
What is Google’s Helpful Content Update?
The Helpful Content update is Google’s most recent answer to providing an incredible user experience. Google wants to show the most beneficial results as search listings that answer the user’s questions immediately such that they don’t have to check other answers.
Unfortunately, in Google’s eyes, much of the web is now copycat content. Chances are, you agree.
We’ve all come across those blog posts that aren’t saying anything particularly enlightening or helpful, but doing so with 1,000+ word counts. Their goal isn’t necessarily to help you, it’s to make sure they are using certain keywords in the hopes that the article will rank on Google.
Google is trying to put an end to that behavior because they have decided it’s proving to make their searchers’ experience more frustrating. In response, they want to reward sites that are truly trying to provide helpful content to its readers.
That’s why the name - Helpful Content update.
Google announced the update on 18th August 2022 and rolled it out entirely on 9th September 2022.
In recent years, website owners have tried to acquire first positions in searches by over-optimizing content with SEO techniques. Such content ranks higher and drives organic traffic but doesn’t help users much.
The new update will ensure these sites don’t rank higher. It’ll remove unhelpful content altogether and display better results.
The Helpful Content update is a big one; you must know its qualities as a small business owner to leverage it.
#1 Site-Wide Update
The helpful content is a site-wide update. It means that it would consider the overall quality of your site content.
If your site has lots of helpful content, you might see a positive effect and a rankings boost.
But if your site has a significant amount of unhelpful content, you might lose your first spots too. You will see a decrease in overall rankings.
#2 Content for People, by People
The Helpful Content update will rank human-written content and attempt to remove machine-generated pieces from the search.
The new AI-powered writing concept made creating highly optimized content pieces effortless, and they ranked quickly for most search terms.
Many SEOs were using AI writing tools to create content.
Image Source: Screenshot of Jasper AI
The problem? Such content lacks an essential human element, emotions.
Its results? The content wasn't very effective in answering users' issues.
So this new update will eliminate AI-generated content from the searches. And prioritize content written by people as it's better at helping other people.
#3 Focus on People First
One of the two crucial points of the Helpful Content update is encouraging creators to focus on creating content for people.
As I mentioned, most SEOs over-optimize content to rank on Google to secure higher positions in searches.
But many times, optimizing doesn't favor answering questions correctly. And such content ends up not being helpful.
The new update will remove such content from searches and prioritize content written with the sole purpose of helping people.
#4 Search Engines Later
The new update will also remove “overly optimized content” written to acquire higher rankings. Overly optimized SEO content doesn’t come off as natural.
Notice that I double quoted overly optimized; it’s because Google still recommends optimizing for SEO to make your content discoverable.
Google wants content creators to prioritize and focus on people and also use SEO best practices.
#5 Take Months to Recover
One notable point of the new Google update is that it takes months to recover. If your site gets hit by it, it will take months to restore the old rankings and traffic.
Why? The algorithms will monitor the site for some time to ensure it has good display content. Once it's confirmed, everything will return to normal.
How does the Helpful Content Update Work?
The Helpful Content update will punish sites that publish too much unhelpful content by decreasing their organic positions. It's a site-wide update that will look out for unhelpful content in an entire site.
So, even if your site has only a few unhelpful pages, you will see its effect.
Google also said that it's not a manual action. This means that Google's algorithm will automatically figure out and punish sites.
When Will it be Active?
The update is active already. It started on August 15, 2022, and finished on September 9, 2022. Google took 15 days to roll out the Helpful Content update completely.
What Type of Content will be Penalized?
Google focused on two phrases while announcing the update:
- Focus on people-first content
- Avoid creating content for search engines first
So, unhelpful content is content that does not add value to the user. It is created solely for ranking on Google and not to help answer the user’s query.
Google also posted some questions that will help determine if the content is overly optimized for SEO.
Google still wants you to optimize for SEO, as it will help bots find your content faster, but keep it a second priority and don’t overdo it. You can follow Google’s SEO guide to learn the basic SEO strategies.
Now the question is - what type of content should you create?
Google has always been focused on its users. It wants to provide a brilliant user experience by answering the user’s questions quickly and effectively.
To rank more, you should focus on creating content that answers the user’s question quickly and effectively. You must follow this approach to create new content and update old content.
Google wants you to follow its guidelines and answer yes to these questions while creating helpful content for users.
What if Your Site Gets Hit?
You might already have unhelpful content, so what happens if your site gets hit?
You will notice a drop in traffic and organic positions if it happens. Some site owners noticed a massive drop; for others, it was negligible.
Because it's not a manual action, the systems will scan the entire site and look for unhelpful content.
If a site has a lot of unhelpful pages, it will have a considerable effect. A site with few unhelpful pages will see a slight drop.
Google also mentioned that it would take months to recover if your site gets hit. So the best you can do is remove unhelpful pages from your site.
How to Recover your Site from the Algorithm Hit?
If you look at it like this, the Helpful Content update benefits your business. It's forcing you to remove unhelpful content from your site to improve the overall quality.
If your site gets hit and you see a huge traffic drop, don't panic because there are ways to recover from it.
Following these steps will build better customer relationships and gain rankings for more terms.
Get Rid of Unhelpful Content
The most logical step is to remove unhelpful content from your site.
Do a detailed content analysis and find out unhelpful content. Look for pages that have these issues:
- Thin content
- Overly optimized for SEO
- Low or zero organic rankings
- Duplicate content
Now, you can do two things. You can update an existing post or delete it entirely.
If you find a page helpful to your audience but not performing well because the content could be better, consider updating it.
And if a page isn't valuable at all, you can delete it.
While removing pages, redirect deleted links to relevant similar pages and avoid creating broken links.
Fix Over SEO-Optimized Content
You might also find pages over-optimized for SEO.
Since SEO is constantly evolving, you might have tried strategies that worked before but not today. And now that the update is in action, these pages can drop your ranking.
So, it's best to rewrite these pages with a people-first approach and using Google-recommended SEO practices.
Add more Niche-Specific Content
Google wants to show expert results for a search term. It wants to show results from something other than a generalist source.
If you want your site to be considered an expert source, you must focus on your one niche.
Have you published any out-of-the-niche content in the past just because the search volume for the term was high?
It's time to delete that piece. And publish more niche-specific content.
Add First-Hand Experience
You read two blog posts on medical care. The only difference is that one is written by an expert doctor and the other by a freelance writer.
Which advice would you prefer?
The one with expert opinion, right? Because it's from a trustworthy source and more credible.
That's exactly what Google wants for all searches. Therefore, you need to ensure that your site content has a first-hand experience of the writer.
If you work with freelance writers, then make sure to hire industry experts rather than generalists.
Improve User Experience
As said above, Google's priority is its users.
They enter a search term, hit the search button, land on the SERPs, click on the first link, read the page, find the answer, and close the browser.
This is the great user experience Google wants its users to have.
Is your site this easy to use? Are pages bloated with pop-ups? Ads? Or is your site taking too long to load?
You might want to eliminate anything that makes it hard for your reader to view content.
If your site provides a good user experience, it will rank.
Conclusion: Google Helpful Content Update for Small Business Owners
Google rolled out its massive Helpful Content update to improve the quality of content shown in search engines.
You can leverage this update to increase your organic rankings as a small business owner and expert in your niche. Publish first-hand experience to help your target audience find answers to their questions effectively, and you will rank for many terms.
Ekta Swarnkar is a professional copywriter and content strategist. She helps online businesses optimize, startups build a presence online, and aspiring bloggers grow a blog. She shares her best tips on her personal website EktaSw.com.