Creating Consumer-First Messaging: What to Expect with Google's Helpful Content Update

BY: ERIK BRAUNITZER | TECHNICAL SEO LEAD

PUBLISHED: 8/31/2022

Google recently announced the launch of their helpful content update and this update is “to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.”

The Google Helpful Content Update (GHCU) is targeted towards online-educational materials, entertainment, arts, shopping and tech-related content. Publishers and creators like Mashable, Forbes, TechCrunch or Cosmopolitan, should be the most concerned about the impacts of this update.

Google is also likely attempting to combat some of the lesser known publishers—or link farms as I like to call them. Publishers and general informational articles often touch on topics that people are already talking about but in doing so, they often publish content without any true added value, perspective or real expertise on said topic(s).

For example, let's examine The Sun, an online newspaper, and discuss how this update might impact publishers.

 


On The Sun, there’s over 8 menu items situated on the home page that span a great deviation of topics and infer expertise across tech, health, celebrities, travel, politics and more. This is all well and good, but the chances of having actual in-house expertise is quite limited so some of the content is either guest authored or “spun.” It begs the question of, is this content produced in hopes it might perform well in search results? GHCU's purpose is to deter publishers away from creating content that will perform well from search engines and encourage creation of content that is made for human exploration.

As users navigate deeper into The Sun's website, it is apparent that some content is gathered from external sources and even possible that The Sun has sponsored posts, which goes against Google's webmaster guidelines.

Another example of who could be targeted with Google’s new update is publishers who mass produce “best of” lists. This means sites such as Ranker (or any review site), as well as publishers like US Travel News or TripAdvisor who create content like “Top Places to Travel in 2022.” 

These sites can at times aggregate “best of” lists through simple backend logic, such as cities by population. Below is an example of a low-ranking search results page for “Best Places to Visit in Maine."

 


 

Since the information is fairly unorganized, it would not be uncommon for a user to toggle between other SERPs to locate additional info to help them achieve their goal of finding an ideal place to visit. 

Google provides a few key points on what is considered useful content for consumers:

  • After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they've learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
  • Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they've had a satisfying experience?

“This update introduces a new site-wide signal that we consider among many other signals for ranking web pages,” says Google, “Any content—not just unhelpful content—on sites that are determined to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall, is less likely to perform well in Search, assuming there is other content elsewhere from the web that's better to display. For this reason, removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content.”

Sites classified as having unhelpful content can still have people-first content that ranks well if identifying signals are in place. Ultimately, this update takes a pre-existing classifier for "unhelpful" content and includes it into its performance algorithm. GHCU runs continuously and is constantly monitored but depending on the action taken, websites could take months to recover from the impact. 

However, GHCU will be refined in the coming months on how it detects unhelpful content and how to better reward consumer-first content.

Here’s 8 key ways websites can streamline and enhance the value of content:


  1. Understand audiences and primary business objectives. Use Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to run audience taxonomies and assess key audiences. Then, create pieces of content that would resonate best.
  2. Re-read Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines (QRG) and Webmaster Guidelines WMG. Google Quality Rater Guidelines are a set of principles used by individuals (quality raters) at Google to evaluate and score search results. In theory Google then models its algorithm methodology after these scorings. Public Search Liaison at Google and co-founder of Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan, stated: “Google validated these algorithms with quality raters and that using this system improves its search quality, just as Google validates any type of ranking improvement prior to launch.”  
  3. Create people-first, mission-oriented content. Provide outlines and instruct writers based on the mission of content, instead of focusing on items such as word count, SEO keywords and title tags. Additionally, do not use automated tools to generate content. Don’t leave users feeling as if they need to go to another website or search result. Be thorough and detailed with content so audience members feel rewarded that they utilized search effectively.
  4. Use intuitive and descriptive META tags. Titles and meta descriptions are among the first things users see. Format these tags with user conversion and SEO keywords in mind.
  5. Keep content fresh. Set a cadence and project schedule for updating content, and streamline other signals as well, such as updating linking and the sitemap.
  6. Hire experts if possible. Always attempt to put a face to the name. This includes author bios, credentials, linking. Do not aggregate content from outside sources without the correct tagging in place.
  7. Update headers and tags. Force crawlers to re-evaluate content on a  frequent basis and ensure caching is cleaned up.
  8. Differentiate your content. Look for areas of opportunity, particularly if the industry or search landscape has changed. Produce unique, user oriented content.

At MERGE, our deep SEO expertise can help brands shift their content strategy from SEO-keyword-first to consumer-first content. Let’s connect today and create a comprehensive plan for Google’s Helpful Content Update.