The ‘helpful content’ update is not one to ignore – it will affect anyone with SEO-first content or AI generated content on their website. Here’s the down low.
This week you might notice a huge dip in your search engine rankings. If you do, it’s possible that you’ve been affected by Google’s ‘Helpful Content’ update that has goes live this week.
Periodically, Google makes updates to the algorithms that control the position websites hold on the search engine. Most of the time these updates will have little effect for most people. But occasionally they implement a ‘core’ update that has wide-reaching implications. This latest update represents the biggest change in how Google ranks the content in its listings since the ‘Medic update’ 4 years ago.
With these algorithm changes Google is really trying to stop practices that aim to ‘play the game’, in favour of content that genuinely helps people. At Big Bee we really welcome these updates, because they increase the integrity of the content that’s being shown to users. That’s our bag entirely! For Google, they’re working to maintain their authority through trustworthiness. In other words they want to ensure their users are confident that Google is the place to go for trustworthy information.
With the Helpful Content update they’ll be making sure that “unoriginal, low-quality content doesn’t rank highly in Search”. So if your website has either SEO-first content designed purely to drive traffic, or AI generated content, it’s likely you’ll see the negative effects.
In this article I’ll explain what the Helpful Content update is and what you should do about it.
The Penguin update was released to prevent ‘keyword stuffing’, a process used by a lot of SEO specialists to add as many keywords as possible into a page in order to ‘cheat’ the rankings and appear higher. This led to poor-quality content appearing higher. The penguin update saw many website rankings and pageviews plummet. What’s worse is that businesses who tried to correct their ills would have to wait until the next penguin update to see if there was any change, which could take weeks or even months.
The Medic update was the last core update to promote content with integrity. It adapted its algorithm to better identify the quality of the content and the author’s authority. During the process ‘Your money or your life’ websites that focused on your finances and your wellbeing received a huge boost in search rankings while websites that received negative feedback or had poorer quality or even dangerous content were penalised.
The helpful content update builds on these previous updates to improve the quality of content that is shown first on Google.
This latest update will provide “better ranking of original quality content.” This has implications for two major trends in content: firstly content that is created purely for SEO purposes, secondly, content that is AI generated. Both will be downgraded with the algorithm changes.
It’s important to know the difference between SEO-optimised and SEO-first content. SEO-optimised content retains its integrity of purpose, providing useful information to the reader, but using search engine optimisation to ensure it can be seen by the most appropriate audience. Whereas SEO-first content is designed to pull you into a website, but offers little value to the user and often makes little sense.
The update will create considerable disruption to the AI content industry that has grown significantly over the past few years as the technology has matured. AI content facilities can produce content quickly, but its quality, relevance and individuality has been criticised.
This latest update is another step that Google have implemented to promote genuine expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness, saying “We train our systems to identify and prioritize (sic) these signals of reliability”.
Additional algorithm changes
The Helpful Content update doesn’t just affect the ranking system, it also improves snippets and introduces mechanisms that provide transparency over quality.
Google already addressed so called ‘data voids’ that occur when breaking news happens and content begins to appear rapidly without the time to validate the authoritative nature of content on the subject. They use content advisories, or highlighted messages asking to ‘check back later’. Similar advisories will now be implemented where Google’s systems aren’t clear on the overall quality of the results available for the search.
What Google is making clear with these updates is that integrity matters. Tricks that try to bypass integrity by getting around their algorithms will, eventually be penalised. So, what’s our advice?
You cannot go wrong when you put your audience first. Create content that supports and informs, that addresses their needs and interests. Your organic (non-paid) reach will benefit and importantly, won’t take the hit when Google releases its next update.
If you think you have SEO-first pages on your website, do a content audit to identify them and determine what needs to stay and what can go. It might be that your SEO-fist pages contain some useful info that could be collated into a genuinely useful page so all might not be lost.
It’s so tempting to use systems and services that promise to create content quickly or boost your site’s performance. But on a platform where integrity matters, cutting corners costs. There is no substitute for human-created content with solid content strategy behind it.
If you think you’ve been affected by the Helpful Content update, or are interested in learning more about content with integrity get in touch.
Niki May Blane is founder of Big Bee Content – our ‘Queen Bee’.
She can most commonly be found buzzing around her computer, delivering virtual workshops, creating copious amounts of copy and drinking coffee to combat the ill effects of non-sleeping children.
Find out more about Niki
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