Whether it’s the ridiculous hat your friend’s worn to the night out, the person ordering three sides and two desserts when you’re splitting the bill, or the new multi-level marketing scheme that your uncle’s recruiting for at the family gathering, sometimes, it’s best when someone comes out and says what’s been sitting there unsaid. We all knew there was an issue, but at least now it’s out in the open.
In a way, that’s what Google have done with their new ‘Helpful Content’ algorithm, which has been in the process of rolling out over the past two weeks. We’ve all known for a while that content written specifically for people should win out over content formulated largely for SEO, but it’s nice to hear Google actually come out and say it.
What does this update mean?
In getting to grips with this update, it’s probably good to look at a few things that the update does mean, and also a few things that it does not.
It does mean that content that displays “first-hand expertise” and “depth of knowledge” will be rewarded as useful to the user. This insight comes directly recommended by Google themselves.
It does not mean that all existing ranking signals have gone. There’s still real value in optimised meta tags – relevant and engaging of course, rather than keyword-stuffed – as well as keyword targeting across headings and copy, in addition to using relevant internal links to provide a helpful user journey.
It does mean that chasing longtail keywords by dangling a potential answer to a user question – that you have no intention of answering on the page – will likely be penalised. No more “how much does …. cost?” or “how long does …. take?” if you’re not willing to provide a clear answer.
It does not mean there is now a preference for lengthy content to showcase in-depth knowledge, or for concise content that gets straight to the point. Google have stated again as part of this update rollout – and we take them at their word – that they have no preferred word count for ranking.
It does mean that if you don’t have something original, or at least first-hand, to say, it might not be worth saying. Google stated they are not looking to priortise content that merely summarises what others have already said, or that seems to be written to jump on a trend rather than service your audience.
It does not mean there is now a perfect formula to meet every point of what Google classifies as “helpful content”. Not only could this differ across industry, topic and page type, but it’s also not in Google’s best interest to fully show their hand; they still want Ad spend after all!
Key takeaways for content creators
While the list above is far from exhaustive with regards to the key elements of the new algorithm, it does give some helpful – no pun intended – pointers on what to aim for.
Within the Content Team at Yard, we have long talked about wanting to “inform, educate and entertain” with any content we create. Beyond being a group of catchy buzzwords, these core values are strongly aligned with the type of content Google now wants to serve up to users: content aimed at people rather than search engines.
In an ideal world, these factors should align to serve the best interests of Google, the user, and your business. If you produce content based around your own areas of first-hand expertise, designed to provide the key answers a user needs rather than simply chase keywords, you’ll produce better content and hopefully be rewarded for it.
The helpful content update is being rolled out sitewide as part of Google’s algorithm. There is slight irony in Google using a machine-learning model to make judgments on which content is “written for humans” but, ultimately, this is a positive move for anyone producing quality content built to inform, educate and/or entertain the user.
What about existing content?
For many sites, it may be time for some home truths, or at least a spring (should that even be autumn?) clean, when it comes to their existing content offerings.
Too many companies and organisations have treated their websites like an attic, or a storage locker, simply loading up more and more ‘stuff’ and hoping to be able to pull out what they need – or in this case have Google pull out what the user needs – at the right moment.
Not only is this practice no longer going to be accepted by Google, and may actually be penalised, but it also makes your website far weightier, and in many cases more environmentally damaging than it needs to be; speak to some of our experts about that if you want to know more.
In the same way that moving house, or more migrating website, forces you to take a stock check and work out what needs to move with you, there may now be cause to look at your existing content offering and work out what really needs to stay, what needs to be improved, and what may be doing more harm than good and needs to go.
You may soon find, or have already found, that content that previously ranked well has started to drop off in the past week or two. We can’t say definitively that this will be linked to the new ‘Helpful Content’ update, but there’s a decent chance it may be, so it’s worth looking into.
As a Content Team, we’d be happy for you to get in touch so that we can discuss any of your needs with regards to new and/or existing content and how we can improve its current level and future performance.