What Does Google’s Helpful Content Update Mean For Me?

02/09/2022 - SEO

On 25th August 2022, Google began rolling out its latest algorithm update.  Named the “Helpful Content Update” Google has tweaked its ranking mechanism to favour "People First” Content, examples would be blogs, pages, product descriptions and other website content that is written for people rather than for search engines.

What Is ‘People First” Content?
For as long as I can remember, every website owner and manager has been encouraged to include key words and phrases in their content so that search engines can better understand what the site is all about. It’s tempting therefore to pepper the text with those terms in the hope that it will appear higher in the SERP’s. 

However, just because an article uses the phrase ‘dog training’, ’Hair styling’ or ‘tennis courts’ repeatedly, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be helpful to the reader wanting to learn about a specific aspect of dog training, hair styling or tennis courts. (Adjust the keywords to suit your business here)

It seems to us, that with the Helpful Content Update, Google aims to figure out whether website content is actually informative, useful, original and yes, helpful. That way it can populate the search results with articles that really will answer the searcher’s questions. This is an extension of Google’s 2019 EAT update (expertise, authoritativeness, trustworthiness) and it could potentially affect your website ranking IF your content is not deemed to be people-centric.
People-first content is written to help people solve their immediate problems, rather than to help search engines index a website. In short, it is providing content that helps people make informed decisions.

  • Answering a specific question (e.g. where can I find puppy classes with availability?)
  • Providing information about a business (e.g. opening hours, accessibility)
  • Describing products or services
  • Comparing different products/services
  • Educating the reader about the science/methodology/ethos behind your business offering.
 Will My Website Be Affected By These Changes?
Without reading your website it’s difficult to judge how Google might interpret the content. But here are some questions that might help you decide whether or not to update your website content.  (Tip: It’s a good idea to refresh content from time to time anyway, so this update might just give you the impetus to do just that.)
  1. When you wrote the content, was your intention to attract traffic from search engines or did you write it specifically to help website visitors to find the information they want/need?
  2. Have you used automation to produce content?
  3. Does your site just re-iterate what others have said on a topic or is it based on your own experience and expertise? In other words, could people find similar content on competitors websites?
  4. Have you written content for your target audience, or are you writing about things simply because you think they are trending? For example, if your website is about restoring fine antiques, would your audience really be interested in learning about flat pack furniture? The two subjects are vaguely related but would probably appeal to different audiences.
  5. After they have read your content, would readers feel as though they have to search for more information from different sources? Tip: perhaps you could write longer articles, or link to other information on your website in order to answer questions more fully.
  6. Are you compromising the quality of your writing by aiming for a particular word count because someone has told you that article length is a ranking factor? (It isn’t)
  7. Does your content promise to answer a question and then fail to do so?

If you are unsure whether or not your website content is helpful - ask people for an opinion.  Ideally, approach someone who is not familiar with your industry, and who you can trust to be brutally honest.  Perhaps you could use answerthepublic.com to compile a list of questions about your products and services, and then see if your tester can find the answers on your website?
How To Align SEO With People First Writing?
So you’ve been working hard to write seach engine friendly content for your website. Researching keywords and creating blogs, landing pages, product descriptions that focus on a particular search phrase, trying to avoid duplicating content and spending hours editing and re-editing your words until you are happy with them.  The Helpful Content Update doesn’t necessarily negate all of your hard work.  Key words are still important - it’s just that Google wants to see content that helps people before it helps search engines.
From now on, creating people-friendly, helpful content should be part of your SEO strategy too.
Here’s a simple test to see if your content is people-friendly.  Set your mobile phone to record, and then read a piece of content out loud.  Now play it back to yourself (I know, I hate the sound of my own voice too). Does the recording make sense?  Does it sound natural? Would you say those things to a potential customer if he or she were standing in front of you? Would you publish that text in a brochure? 
Of course writing for the web is different to speaking face to face (to start with, you don’t have the advantage of body language, tone of voice or facial expressions). But your website content should convey a useful message to anyone using a screen reader.  If not, it probably doesn’t meet Google’s criteria.
What If I Think My Website Writing Could Be More Helpful To Visitors?
First up, don’t panic. If you have a decent content management system on your website, it’s easy to change text.  If you are not confident in your writing ability, it’s well worth investing in the services of a copywriter. Try to find someone who is experienced in writing for the web (as opposed to writing adverts, books or text for packaging).

Give your copywriter as much information about your business as you possibly can. Let him or her experience your products or services for themselves, tell them what you want to achieve with your website (more phone calls, online sales, footfall etc) and then ask them to work through your website rewriting the main pages first.

As you upload the text from your copywriter, pay close attention to the words, the way paragraphs are structured, the tone of voice and the way that keywords are distributed within the text.  Learn from it - and when you feel confident, try writing a blog or a landing page of your own - trust me, you are more talented than you think you are.

Help To Optimise Your Website For Search Engines
If the whole Helpful Content and  SEO thing seems a bit overwhelming to you, Upshot Media can come to your aid with a range of services designed to improve user experience and search engine ranking.  Talk to us, tell us what concerns you about your website’s performance and we’ll tailor a solution just for you.

Click here to get in touch with Upshot Media

Read more about Google’s Helpful Content Update: https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2022/08/helpful-content-update

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