Google Helpful Content Update: Everything You Should Know

Search engine algorithms continue to evolve, prioritizing delivering more relevant and meaningful content to users. Google’s helpful content update (or “Helpful Content System”) is the latest in the hundreds of yearly updates the search giant makes.

This article explains the system and its implications for website owners or content creators.

What is Google’s Helpful Content System?

The helpful content update introduces a system or algorithms to ensure users find people-first content that satisfies their search queries. It considers the user experience and the sitewide signal (content pattern) regarding helpful content.

For example, a website with high volumes of unhelpful content may not fare well on the SERPs (search engine results pages).

How Does the Helpful Content System Work?

  • Identifies high-quality content: Pinpoints content with minimal value, relevance, or doesn’t substantially contribute to a user’s quest for information.
  • Rewards satisfactory experiences: The helpful content update or system rewards content that makes visitors feel they’ve gained value from their search. Google probably determines this, in part, through the Core Web Vitals, Mobile Usability, and HTTPS factors.
  • An automated process: The classifier process is automated via a machine learning model and operates globally and across all languages.
  • It has a sitewide component: If a website predominantly features unhelpful content, even its good-quality content could suffer in rankings.

So, if you notice ranking drops across the board after the helpful content update but have great content, consider auditing your site for forgotten pages. Many of them may still be appearing on Google’s search results.

Also worth noting is that it might take months for your site to recover after removing unhelpful content. That’s because the system needs time to update classifications.

What Does the Helpful Content Update Mean for Creators?

The message is clear: Content Google deems helpful and offers a satisfying user experience is more likely to rank in its search results.

Here’s how to ensure you don’t get hit by this update.

  • Maintain top quality: This system might benefit your site if you’re committed to delivering people-first content, as it should increase search rankings. Maintain a consistent quality level across your site’s content portfolio.
  • Assess your content inventory: Evaluate your content regularly and remove any pieces that might be deemed unhelpful. Consider doing this at least every three months, or pick a timeframe that fits your business.
  • Make a Long-term commitment: Commit to producing quality content for your site.
  • Watch out for third-party content: Unhelpful third-party content can influence the sitewide classification. So, consider no-indexing anything you host that isn’t closely supervised or aligned with your site’s primary purpose.

How Do You Know Your Content Is Helpful?

Consider the following questions when assessing if your content is helpful.

Originality and value

  • Does your content offer unique insights, reporting, or analysis not easily found elsewhere?
  • Have you delved deeper into the topic, offering a thorough overview?
  • Does it present a thought-provoking analysis or share novel information?

Source reliability and adaptation

  • If relying on external sources, have you refrained from mere replication or rewriting?
  • How have you added to the information to make it uniquely valuable?

Presentation and clarity

  • Is your main title reflective and descriptive of the content’s essence?
  • Did you avoid sensationalized or misleading headings?

Shareability and recommendation

  • Would readers find your content worthy of bookmarking or sharing?
  • Is the quality good enough to be featured in an esteemed publication?

Comparative value

  • When placed against similar content in search results, does yours stand out in terms of value?
  • Are you bringing something to the table that’s distinct from other search results?

Attention to detail

  • Have you ensured the content is free from spelling and grammatical errors?
  • Does the content presentation seem well-thought-out, or does it come across as hastily put together?

Production quality

  • Is there evidence of quality control, or does it appear like mass-produced content that lacks individual attention?
  • If you publish the content across multiple platforms, has each piece received the necessary care and attention?

Expertise and trust

  • Does your content clearly show sources and the expertise behind its creation?
  • Is there information about the author or the publishing site through linked bio pages or an ‘About Us’ section?
  • Upon researching your site, would someone think it’s a recognized and credible authority in the field?
  • Is the content penned or reviewed by someone with topic expertise or a passion?
  • Are there any factual errors in the content, and if so, can they be easily identified and corrected?

People-first content

  • Does the content cater to your site’s target audience, meeting their needs and expectations?
  • Does it highlight firsthand expertise, perhaps from product use or personal experiences?
  • Is there a clear primary objective or theme behind your site’s content?
  • After consuming your content, would users feel informed and that they accomplished their search objective?
  • Will visitors leave with a sense of satisfaction and contentment?

Note that your content doesn’t have to tick the box on everything here, just the ones that matter most for the given search intent. Focus on the quality and credibility of your content.

Avoiding Search-Engine First Content

Craft your content for the searcher first and consider SEO variables second.

Don’t do any of the following.

  • Produce content merely as a magnet for search engine traffic.
  • Generate volumes of content on various topics and bank on some performing well in search.
  • Overly rely on automation for content production.
  • Rehash existing content without significant added value.
  • Chase trends without aligning with your site’s core audience.
  • Leave readers in search of more comprehensive sources.
  • Produce content based on misguided SEO myths (like an ideal word count).
  • Dive into unfamiliar niches without genuine expertise, only for the potential traffic.
  • Mislead readers with unverified or speculative information.
  • Update content dates without making substantive changes, misleading users about its freshness.

The Potential Problems with The Helpful Content Update

The helpful content update is undoubtedly a commendable effort by Google to promote high-quality and user-centric content. It’s another step forward in ensuring searchers get information that addresses their needs. However, like any algorithmic solution, it comes with potential pitfalls.

1. The Challenge of Defining Helpfulness

What constitutes “helpful” is subjective.

Some criteria, such as information accuracy, author expertise, or content originality, can be universally acknowledged, but there’s a gray area. What is beneficial for one person might not be to another.

For example, a concise one-paragraph web page might be exactly what someone needs, while another person may find it unhelpful.

How does the algorithm account for diverse user preferences?

2. The Risk of Marginalizing Alternative Voices

Another concern is the potential suppression of alternative voices. There’s a risk of sidelining content that doesn’t align with mainstream narratives as Google attempts to define and prioritize helpful content.

The world should have diverse opinions, perspectives, and insights. Also, favoring widely accepted viewpoints can stifle innovation.

3. Gatekeeping

Google, intentionally or not, is assuming the role of a gatekeeper. Deciding what content is helpful and what’s not is immense power, and with it comes great responsibility.

In fact, the European Commission has designated Google as a gatekeeper under the Digital Markets Act (DMA).

Gatekeeper designations by the EU Commission

Understanding E-E-A-T and the Role of Quality Raters

Google employs algorithms that take many factors into account to rank web pages. Learning about each one is beneficial but not something everyone can do.

That’s where E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) comes into play.

Google’s algorithms have signals that align toward ranking websites with high E-E-A-T. As such, the Page Quality (PQ) rating is higher for sites with all E-E-A-T elements. And among the E-E-A-T fam, trust takes center stage.

Even if you have experience, expertise, and authoritativeness, the lack of trustworthiness will drop your PQ rating. This also means it may not be imperative for your content to have all the other elements.

In addition, while you can assess your content through E-E-A-T, it’s not a ranking factor.

Google employs Search Quality Raters to evaluate changes in their algorithms. These people use the E-E-A-T framework to observe sample search results and provide feedback based on the quality of the sites ranked.

Quality Raters do not dictate page rankings.

Added Significance For YMYL

Content addressing critical subjects that can potentially influence an individual’s health, finances, safety, or societal welfare is called “Your Money or Your Life” (YMYL) topics. Such topics get added significance when algorithms and Search Quality Raters evaluate pages.

For example, a health clinic’s website that provides advice on diabetes management would be YMYL.

The following example of the search quality rating process is also helpful.

Search quality rating process example

It’s a Good Thing

The helpful content update emphasizes providing value and a satisfactory user experience, which is good. When you think about it, lousy quality and UX can jeopardize your brand’s reputation and pathway to success.

For businesses or creators, the message is clear: don’t compromise the content’s primary purpose, which is serving the user.

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