Search behavior changes frequently, so Google regularly implements algorithm updates to improve the user experience.
These rollouts can be major or minor and reported or unreported — with changes happening several times a year or day. These updates aren’t intended to penalize searchers but rather to improve how Google assesses content to deliver the best answers to a user’s query.
Each time search results change, content creators and brands find themselves searching for the facts on what the latest Google update means for them. The 2022 helpful content update is no different.
This major Google algorithm change rewards websites that meet the human reader experience based on the Google Quality Rater guidelines. Google finished rolling out the initial update on September 9, 2022 and recently completed a December 2022 update as well. But what does that satisfactory experience entail? And more importantly, how can you provide it?
Here, we’ll give you an overview of what Google’s helpful content update is, what it means for you, and how to succeed with the new guidelines.
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Google’s Helpful Content Update
Google’s helpful content update is part of Google’s long-term efforts to provide original and valuable content to its users through search results. It rewards content that meets users’ expectations while demoting content written primarily with search engines in mind.
As of writing, the update only affects English language websites but will likely expand to other languages later.
How Does Google’s Helpful Content Update Work?
As a site-wide Google search update, Google automatically classifies helpful and unhelpful content using a machine-learning model. Every time the algorithm detects unhelpful content, it stores the information for future evaluation and assists the algorithm in spotting other unhelpful content.
When Google recognizes that signal, they won’t inform you that they’ve penalized your website — you may simply lose organic visibility in Google search.
What Kind of Content Does Google Consider Helpful?
When Google releases a new algorithm or core update, it doesn’t usually share explicit tips to prevent abuse and avoidance. Users must read between the lines to get an idea of what feature Google is highlighting.
However, Google has been consistent in telling users what they find valuable. Google’s helpful content guidelines emphasize two things:
- People-first content
- SEO best practices
People-first content primarily aims to satisfy user intent.
Although there’s an abundance of content nowadays, much of what’s produced isn’t useful, helpful, or interesting. They’re keyword-stuffed articles that rehash answers found on the top results of the search engine result pages (SERPs).
People-first content is the opposite: It adequately answers users’ questions and contains original insight from subject matter experts (SMEs).
Information from SMEs comes from first-hand experience and not conjecture.
On the other hand, following the SEO best practices doesn’t mean solely focusing on what you think Google’s current algorithms or search ranking signals are. It’s about considering the overall user experience, such as whether your website is secure, accessible, or fast-loading — something Google shared in its long-standing guidelines.
Google provides two sets of questions to determine whether you’re on track. Review the list of questions below to see if your content holds up to Google’s helpful content standards.
Are You Implementing a People-First Approach?
These guiding questions help you determine whether you have an existing audience that finds the content helpful or demonstrates first-hand experience or depth of knowledge.
If you answered yes to most of these questions, you’re on your way to offering a people-first approach.
Are You Creating Content for Search Engines?
The second part of Google’s checklist helps you determine whether you’re creating content primarily for search engines. Questions include whether you’re creating content on unrelated topics, rehashing something that’s already been said, or using AI to create content.
If you’ve answered yes to most of these questions, you should reevaluate how you create website content and who you’re targeting with your writing.
Helpful vs. Unhelpful Content
Based on Google’s helpful content update guidelines, people-first content is:
- Specific: Google wants you to focus content on a specific industry or niche.
- Actionable: The content should be helpful to readers and inspire them to take action.
- Up-to-date: Google wants content to be fresh and relevant to provide users with the most benefit.
- Relatable: Adding personal experiences draws readers in, helping boost your content.
In contrast, Google considers these types of content particularly unhelpful:
- Automatically generated content: Google says automatically-generated (or AI-generated) content goes against its webmaster guidelines and is considered spam.
- Content created for monetization. Advertisers create this type of content for clicks, so it is often generic and impersonal.
What Was the Impact of the Helpful Content Update?
Google’s helpful content update is a significant update that can hurt the visibility of your website’s content if too many articles are deemed “unhelpful.”
Online-educational materials, entertainment, shopping, and tech-related content were among the websites most affected by the helpful content update rollout.
Here’s how The Blogsmith updated our clients about Fall 2022 algorithm updates, including the helpful content update.
Although Google considers their helpful content update a major one, SEOs weren’t particularly concerned about it. The update’s effects weren’t felt or as widespread compared to others. And high-quality SEOs, including The Blogsmith, believe they are already producing helpful content because they follow Google’s best practices.
The Blogsmith’s founder Maddy Osman has summarized these best practices in her book, Writing for Humans and Robots.
For high-quality content producers, Google’s helpful content update signals the demotion of spammy competitors.
However, while Google usually demotes sites with unhelpful content, high-quality content on a site with unhelpful content could still rank well — especially if the algorithm assesses the content as helpful and relevant to a query.
It’s not an excuse to stay complacent, though.
Remember, Google is continually refining its algorithms, so following the best practices for creating helpful content will pay off in the long run.
Helpful Content: Best Practices
Hit by the Google helpful content update? Here are some actionable content creation tips to implement:
1. Stick to Your Area of Expertise.
Question: “Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?”
When you force yourself to create content that’s out of your area of expertise, you may be creating content for the sake of search engines or miss adding the helpful content your readers are looking for.
For example, if you have a personal finance blog, publishing content about fishing when the keyword is trending isn’t considered helpful to your readers. They came to your blog for personal finance, not fishing, so stick to your expertise.
- Don’t combine multiple topics onto one website. Your website should have a defined niche and target audience.
- Don’t chase trending topics unrelated to your niche. Stay on topic and write for your defined audience. If you scatter your articles across randomly trending topics, you’ll confuse and frustrate your readers. You’ll also earn the wrath of Google’s helpful content update.
- Remember Google’s E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness). It is one of the many Google’s Quality Rater guidelines used to determine whether your content is valuable to readers.
2. Create Actionable Content.
Question: “After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?”
Creating content for search engines often involves a lot of fluff — words without any value.
A higher word count doesn’t always mean better content. As long as the content answers the question accurately, Google should take notice.
Remember, helpful content:
- Answers a question
- Teaches readers something
- Helps readers accomplish a goal
Create content that helps readers find the answers they came to your website for. At The Blogsmith, we do this in several ways.
First, we set the stage with a helpful intro and table of contents. We work to optimize for list snippets, which we expand in the body of the article. Lastly, we provide conclusions that suggest the next steps for readers or examples.
3. Keep Content Updated and Relevant.
For non-evergreen articles, content can quickly become outdated. Keeping up with changes to information relevant to your articles is vital to staying helpful and fresh.
Relevant content speaks directly to your user’s needs.
Benefits include increased:
- Search traffic
- Clickthrough rates (CTR)
- Average session duration
- Social media shares
During your quest for relevant content, Google reminds users to post about factual or conclusive things. For example, don’t share content without confirmed answers (e.g., release dates for movies or shows that haven’t been officially announced).
Avoid clickbait and answer the questions you promise to answer in your title and headings.
- Refresh well-performing but outdated posts regularly to keep them fresh.
- Consider user search intent. Relevant content answers your reader’s questions or problems. Optimizing for search intent helps you rank for specific queries, contributing to your authority.
The Blogsmith’s SEO content marketing service includes our advanced keyword research process, which helps us achieve promising results for our clients. We’re excited to share more once we get approval from our clients — stay tuned.
4. Demonstrate Authority.
Question: “Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service or visiting a place)?”
Authority helps Google trust your website, driving more traffic to it. As Semrush shares, authority + relevance = good online presence.
To create helpful content for humans, write about products, services, or places you’ve personally experienced. First-hand experiences make your piece more compelling than generic content created to rank.
Adding personal experiences or insights adds more depth and relatability because readers will sense that you know what you’re writing about.
- Write what you know. Rehashing content is obvious to readers. If you are writing about a topic that’s already been tackled, add a new viewpoint or personal takeaway to make your content unique.
- Contact and interview subject matter experts to make your content more compelling, especially if you don’t have personal experience.
When you sign up for The Blogsmith’s SEO writing services, we aim to match you with writers of specific topical expertise. We also get insights from industry experts.
5. Don't Neglect User Experience.
Question: “Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?”
It’s possible to create helpful content that meets the four above criteria but still does not provide a satisfying experience.
A good user experience also includes your website’s security, speed, and accessibility.
Can all kinds of people access your content? Do you have photos and videos that enhance the experience or convey the message? Have you included accessibility aids such as captions and alt text for visual content?
As many as 65% of people are visual learners, so adding media to break up large chunks of text helps users process and retain information faster.
- Provide visitors with a good user experience by following technical SEO best practices. Optimizing for website security and page load speed makes indexing new content faster.
- Leverage different content formats for a great user experience. Although most ways we access the internet are primarily text-based, go the extra mile to help all audiences understand your content.
Adding photos, creating videos and infographics, and providing a text reader option for those who can’t read are just some ways to make your content accessible.
The Blogsmith’s content service includes custom graphic suggestions and a quality check before publishing the article.
Small things like noting the punctuation, spelling, and format matter when crafting a good user experience. But many otherwise well-written articles overlook these.
Should you need it, The Blogsmith also provides a CMS uploading service. We take the last sweep of your content before publishing, ensuring articles are publishable and free of formatting mistakes before they go live.
Final Thoughts: What Is Google’s Helpful Content Update? 5 Tips for Success
Google releases algorithm updates like the helpful content update, which enhances their criteria for ranking content.
Overall, SEOs said the effect of this rollout wasn’t as widespread as others. Niches most affected by Google’s helpful content update so far include online-educational materials, entertainment, shopping, and tech-related content.
Whether you were affected or not, the helpful content update is Google’s reminder for content creators to prioritize humans first.
Contact The Blogsmith today for help with content that speaks to humans and robots. We make content marketing easy for you. And we’ll help you develop a content strategy that withstands algorithm changes.