On 25 August 2022 Google released a ranking update stating that the rollout could take up to two weeks to complete. According to Google, this is part of a “broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.” Their system will be identifying what it deems as “unhelpful” content automatically.


The guidelines Google provides are mostly in line with what Google have been advocating since the Panda update, the main difference is that they will now be buckling down harder on ranking sites according to these standards.


The update will also seem to be heavily focused on targeting websites that produce content that is specifically created for search engines (in other words, to rank better). The update will be introducing a sitewide signal which means that not just the pages that violate this guideline will lose rankings but the whole website. 


Google goes further to say that removing unhelpful content could help the rest of your website to rank better but also mentions that it could take a few months before you will regain your rankings as the algorithm will first want to see whether the unhelpful content has returned or not.


It’s important to keep in mind, however, that this is now just another ranking signal among many others so even if a website does have some unhelpful content, the website can still rank well if other important ranking factors have been prioritised.


So what is helpful content?


As mentioned above, longer term guidelines relevant to other updates, such as Panda still applies and factors in the Helpful Content Update, but there are a few ones that are new to an extent


1. It is created for a specific audience. This applies sitewide, not just on a page by page basis. If your business’ target audience are people who want to buy flowers, having content on your website about bicycles is not a good idea. This “audience” can also not be search engines as one of the central focuses of this update is to motivate people to remove content that serves search engines more than humans. Your content also needs to be serving the genuine interests of your target audience. This could mean that if your website is for your business that sells plants, your audience might not be interested in reading about insects.


2. Feature expertise. The E.A.T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthy) guidelines have been around for a while and websites were evaluated on this by humans, it’s not clear whether this practice will fall away but it will now be reviewed automatically as part of this new ranking signal. It boils down mostly to who wrote your content and whether the writer has demonstrable expertise in the topic. It also pertains to avoiding content written mainly as a summary of what other people are saying without adding much additional value.


3. Meets the wants and needs of the users. With this update it becomes even more important that users leave your site feeling like they’ve achieved their goals through learning enough about the topic they were interested in. If users feel like they need to search again to reach that goal, you have failed. 


In 2019, Google released an article explaining the six needs of consumers, in a nutshell, it consists of the below and this can also be helpful (see what I did there) to keep your content writing efforts on par with what users look for. Remember though, it needs to be for your human users as it is relevant to them:



So how do you know whether your content is the content your users are genuinely interested in? 


Data is a good place to start. Look at engagement metrics in Google Analytics such as bounce rate, pages be session and session duration. If you post your content on social media, check the engagement there. Or, and this is probably the best way, ask your users.


Why do we care?


1. The impact could be significant if you haven’t been practising Google approved content writing.


According to some, this is the biggest update since Penguin (10 years ago) during which many websites’ rankings plummeted for practising blackhat link building. Websites that were hit had to wait 3 years to recover since it took this long before Google rolled out another update related to link building.


Things will, however, not be as bleak this time around. Firstly, blackhat practices are all but of the distant past and many websites will not be affected if they have been following Google’s Panda related guidelines. Secondly, as this update will set in motion a continuously running ranking signal you will not have to wait three years to recover.


2. Good content means user retention and a better business reputation

This is not something that is new but the update does add some more motivation to take this seriously.

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