Google Makes Major Changes to SEO and Content Guidelines

Google runs hundreds of thousands of quality tests and makes thousands of tweaks to its algorithm every year – some big and some small.

This one’s big.

Google’s Helpful Content Update

The Helpful Content Update has now launched and it is designed to upgrade the user search experience by prioritizing original, high-quality content. It will downgrade anything the algorithm sense is written primarily to aid ranking in search engines rather than provide helpful, informative content.

In other words, if you are trying to game the system and write for search rather than humans, you are going to have problems. If you are just parroting what others have written before, it will hurt your ranking. If you are still trying to write to squeeze in dozens of keywords or using AI platforms to create content, stop. Google will see all of this as low-quality and inauthentic content.

Danny Sullivan, Public Liaison for Search at Google, said their testing shows the most recent update will have a major impact across industries, including shopping and product reviews, tech, online education, arts and entertainment, and other niches where content has historically been written for search engines instead of people.

This goes beyond just weeding out poorly written content. Sullivan gave the example of someone searching for information about a new movie. Previously, you might have seen results for articles that aggregated reviews from other sites without adding additional perspective. That is not helpful if you are expecting to read something new, he said. “With this update, you’ll see more results with unique, authentic information, so you’re more likely to read something you haven’t seen before.”

Focus on People-First Content

While best practices for SEO still apply, they will only work when the content puts people first. So, how do you do that?

  • Generate content for your site that people will find useful or helpful.
  • Demonstrate first-hand experience, expertise, or a depth of knowledge about a topic.
  • Align content with your website’s purpose.
  • Create content that answers people’s questions and provides original insight.

What to Avoid

Here is what Google says you should avoid:

  • Produce lots of content on different topics hoping some of it will perform well.
  • Using automation or AI to generate content.
  • Summarizing what others are saying without adding additional value.
  • Writing based on unrelated trends designed to capture the searcher’s attention
  • Promising to answer a question and then not really answer it.
  • Providing inaccurate or confusing information.

Google also repeated what it has said several times. Do not write to a specific word count. Despite what you may read, Google does not have a preferred word count. Longer is only better when it provides more detailed helpful content. If a question can be answered succinctly, you will not rank higher just because your answer is longer.

Helpful Content Update Affects All of Your Content

This does not just impact the new content you generate moving forward either. Google says once sites have been identified to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content, all of your content is less likely to perform well — especially if there is better content elsewhere.

“Removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content,” Google recommended in its Search Central Blog.

One question Google suggests you ask for every piece of content you develop is this: “Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?” If you can safely answer that question with an unbiased yes, you will probably do fine. If not, you have some work to do.

The Impact of the Helpful Content Update

Recent major updates have focused on more technical issues, including:

The Helpful Content Update does not mean you can ignore the technical aspects of web development, content creation, or other aspects of SEO best practices, but it does provide guidance on the content itself. If you want to rank highly on Google, make sure the content you produce provides value.

The most recent update was launched in late August and went into effect in September. Outside of a few outliers, there did not appear a significant impact — but it is still early. Often, updates roll out and gain steam over time. For example, when Google said they would prioritize sites using hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) instead of HTTP, the results changed slowly. An analysis by Moz showed that in 2014, just 8% of page-one results were using HTTPS. Three years later, it was 50%. Today, it is 99%.

So, even if you have not seen a significant impact yet, you cannot assume that you are OK. You should conduct a site review to determine whether your current content fits the guidelines Google has laid out, and continue to develop new content that provides tangible value for your visitors.

Regardless of today’s impact, the search engine giant is sending a clear message about what it wants in the future. Marketers and brands will do well to heed the warning and ensure the content they develop puts people first.

Author: Sheila Kloefkorn

With more than 25 years of hands on marketing strategy and operations experience, Sheila Kloefkorn is dedicated to developing marketing strategies and plans that help clients succeed. Some of the world's largest brands have depended on Sheila for marketing programs that delivered tangible and substantial results. Specialties: B2B marketing, lead generation, lead nurturing, sales strategy, marketing strategy, competitive marketing strategy, social media, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), mobile marketing, email marketing, website design, marketing plans.