Google’s Helpful Content SEO Update: What You Need To Know

by | Aug 23, 2022

Google is constantly updating and tweaking its algorithm in a bid to drive more value for users and advertisers. A recent staple of these updates has become the helpful content update, a type of algorithm update designed to get users to the most useful, accurate, and succinct content needed to answer their questions. 

Since the helpful content update has returned as an annual update, it’s important to develop your content strategy with it in mind. This guide will explain what we know about Google’s helpful content updates, as well as how to ensure the content you’re publishing is truly helpful to users.

What is Google’s helpful content SEO update?

Google’s helpful content update is an annual algorithm update intended to elevate content that Google finds helpful to answering user’s search engine queries, while de-emphasizing content that is primarily written to try and game the search engine system, so to speak. Content that is effective at answering user questions and providing actionable insight (hopefully like this one!) will be better-positioned to rank on page one of the search engine results page (SERP). 

Helpful content is created for an intended audience and provides a depth of expertise that goes beyond common knowledge and isn’t immediately accessible just anywhere. This content should provide a satisfying user experience (UX) that educates readers enough to help them achieve their goal. This goes beyond any single page; Google will reward sites that have a primary focus and demonstrate authority in that focus area across multiple pages.

In other words, Google’s helpful content update is all about surfacing content that is helpful for people and that is written by people, not AI algorithms. Content that is purposefully created to answer questions, educate users, and help them take whatever action they’re interested in will benefit from this update.

When will Google’s helpful content update take effect?

The most recent helpful content update rolled out in September 2023. In that update, Google relaxed its guidance around AI generated content, such as that created with ChatGPT and Bard. Additionally, Google issued warnings about making fake updates to pages to present a false image of freshness. Finally, Google also emphasized Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (EEAT), recommending that content be reviewed by “an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well.”

How to tell if your website’s content is helpful

If you’re wondering whether your content is helpful or not, there are a few questions you can ask yourself. These questions come directly from Google and illuminate the differences between helpful and unhelpful content, so you should take them to heart when considering how the helpful content update may impact your site’s rankings. 

Your content may be helpful if you can answer “yes” to the following questions:

  • 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?
  • 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)?
  • Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
  • After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
  • Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
  • Are you keeping in mind Google’s guidance for core updates and for product reviews?

If you answer yes to the following questions, your content may NOT be helpful:

  • Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
  • Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
  • Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
  • Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?
  • Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?
  • Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
  • Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (It doesn’t.)
  • Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic?
  • Does your content promise to answer a question that actually has no answer, such as suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn’t confirmed?

How to write helpful content for users

At CannaContent, our mantra has always been to “write for people, not robots.” And while everything we do is infused with the latest SEO best practices and a tailor-made search strategy unique to each of our clients, our No. 1 goal on every single page is to provide visitors and leads with the information they need. Whether they’re looking to make a buying decision or simply educate themselves on a new topic, our first consideration is how to best serve them — only after that do we implement SEO strategies to help surface the content we create on the SERP.

Here are some useful tips to keep in mind to ensure your content marketing strategy meets users where they are and delivers them the information they’re looking for.

1. Consider your audience’s needs

Think carefully about the type of content you’re about to create and why a user might want to read it. Then, do your best to meet those needs.

For example, a long-form blog post might serve to answer many different questions users type into a search engine, but many users will seek out long-form articles for more comprehensive education. So, instead of creating a long FAQ list that’s not particularly thoughtful, you should structure the article in a way that offers readers a holistic understanding of the topic. 

Another example is an “about us” page, which is less geared toward consumer education and more towards introducing your brand, philosophy, and team. An about page should contain concise information about the company and its leadership, which is delivered immediately without much preamble. 

Whenever you set out to create a new piece of content, before you write a single word, ask yourself: “Who would want to read this page and why?” Let the answer be your guiding principle as you move forward.

2. Perform keyword research

While we want to avoid writing purely for SEO reasons, it’s critical to know the keywords and phrases users are looking for in their searches. This will help you understand more than just what keywords to include in your content; it will give you insight into the way your audience is thinking.

For instance, you can use keyword research to gauge the level of education they already have on this topic; based on the questions they’re asking is this a 101 audience or are you speaking to users who already have a great deal of knowledge under their belts.

And, of course, it’s important to infuse your content with keywords and phrases that are relevant to the topic. Avoid keyword stuffing or incorporating keywords that aren’t relevant; instead, focus on naturally weaving the most relevant keywords your audience is already searching for into your content, with the goal of answering their questions and giving them the information they’re looking for top of mind.

3. Create a strategic outline

Sometimes it is tempting to just dive in and start writing to see where a piece of content takes you. Resist the temptation and take the time to sketch out a strategic outline that includes the H2s and H3s you intend to use to organize your piece. Incorporate those relevant keywords from your research into these subheadings, and consider how arranging them in different orders will change the user experience. 

When creating your outline, try to answer their most basic questions immediately in succinct, digestible sections. Then, elaborate in more detail below to further educate your audience or answer higher level questions a more educated consumer might understand. Always take some time with your outline to determine whether you’re delivering information in the most logical and efficient order possible.

4. Draft, proofread, and revise your content

Sometimes overlooked in the world of content marketing is the critical importance of clean copy. Clean copy doesn’t have grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes, or typos — sloppy content is not helpful content.

Your content should also make logical sense and read clearly to a reader, even if they don’t have much knowledge of the topic when they first land on the page. Drafting and proofreading your copy is an absolute must — we recommend you proofread your own copy at least twice. If possible, have an editor read your copy as well. 

Editors bring fresh eyes to your draft and can approach it just like a reader landing on your page for the first time. If something is confusing to them, it would be confusing to a reader as well. Once your editor is finished, revise your draft accordingly and proofread it again. Ask them to challenge you on what needs to be in your content and what doesn’t. Always work to cut the fluff.

Ensuring your content has relevant internal links throughout can help readers navigate to related content they might be interested in after reading your page. Links should be affixed to anchor text that makes sense and gives the reader a clear idea of what page they would land on if they were to click through. 

Linking is also how bots crawl your site and index pages for search engines. The more links you have to related internal content, the more likely those bots will follow those links and index those pages. More frequent indexing improves your odds of ranking on the SERP. 

Helpful content marketing drives success

The more helpful content you maintain across your site, the better you are likely to fare in the wake of this update. Not to mention, user satisfaction should always be a major focus when creating or updating any content. While Google’s helpful content update is a great reason to audit your site and update it accordingly, helping to answer user questions and meet their needs should always be at the heart of all your content marketing efforts. After all, the point of a search engine is to help users find what they are looking for, so do your best to offer up relevant, useful content at all times.