August 31, 2022

Google Algorithm: Helpful Content Rules

By: Mary Hiers

Google algorithm updates are a fact of life. How your website about your towing business or insurance agency deals with them can significantly affect your site’s performance.

The reason Google algorithms evolve is that some content providers create content designed to appeal to the algorithm rather than the people who search for information. When this happens, search results can lead users to uninformative content that does not meet their needs. 

In other words, the people who try to game the search algorithm and don’t care about content quality are ruining things for everyone else. But you don’t have to be afraid of the latest Google algorithm update as long as you write content for people rather than search engines.

Google Algorithm Updates: Two That Changed Everything

In 2009, a Google algorithm update revolutionized the search engine’s ability to index content quickly. It could weed out spam content, but it couldn’t weed out content that was just good enough to not be spam.

Thus began the era of “content farms,” content companies that hired freelancers to crank out sometimes barely passable content stuffed with keywords. The content farms chose keywords not out of genuine interest, but out of the potential to dominate the SERPs and make money from ads on their sites.

This was bad news for search users.

In 2011, another Google algorithm update was launched. Its purpose was to penalize sites with poor-quality content and prioritize sites with high-quality, original content, good analysis, and actual research. This algorithm update had the code name “Panda.”

Content farms suffered tremendously. No longer could SEO writers publish articles on content farms so they could build backlinks to their main sites. They still could, but it did them no good. Likewise, sites with intrusive ads, padded word counts, and low standards were hit hard by Panda.

Time will tell whether the brand new “Helpful Content” algorithm update will be as seismic as Panda. But it is a big change, and if you have a website that you want to dominate the SERPs, you need to understand it.

SEO Starter Guide Still Applies

The Helpful Content update does not mean that SEO best practices no longer apply. On the contrary, Google still urges businesses and content creators to read, learn, and use the SEO Starter Guide, a necessary read for anyone who wants their content to be found via Google search.

Keywords are still important. Clear, original content is still important. The algorithm change puts the focus back on the human beings who consume web content rather than the search engines that rank it. If ever there was a time to rely on “white hat” SEO and reject quick fixes, it’s now.

Striving for high-ranking content is called search engine optimization. But SEO should be a means to an end, which is the presentation of relevant, high-quality content to the people who ask for it.

Characteristics of Helpful Content

In the context of the updated Google algorithm, “Helpful Content” has key defining characteristics. 

  • Helpful Content is for humans
  • It demonstrates expertise in the subject matter
  • It is trustworthy
  • It meets the needs of the user

Perhaps you’re thinking, “I already write content for people, on subjects I know. I’m trustworthy, and I try hard to meet the needs of the user.” If this is the case, then the algorithm update may not affect your content.

The problem is, most people think their content is helpful. To try and be more objective about it, Google suggests that you ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is there an audience for your business that would find the content useful if they asked you directly and you gave it to them?
  • Does your content demonstrate actual knowledge of a product, service, or relevant concept?
  • Does your website have a primary focus? Who or what is that focus?
  • After someone reads your content, will they feel as if they learned something and did not waste their time?

The more “yes” answers you have, the better your chances of coming through the Helpful Content upgrade unscathed. 

Google Algorithm Meeting Searchers’ Needs

Search engines are supposed to help people who want information. The thing is, there is a ton of “information” that ranks highly in search engine results yet does not answer people’s questions.

For example, suppose you want to know when the next season of your favorite TV show premieres. You Google it. The search results will likely list content with titles like “What We Know about the Season 3 Premier of Show XYZ.” 

It may look promising, but all too often you’ll click on the article and read it only to discover that “what we know” happens to be “nothing.” You did not get an answer to your question and wasted your time.

The Helpful Content update should mean that you encounter fewer of these annoying “bait and switch” type articles. The lesson is, if your content claims to answer a question, it better actually do so, or it will be penalized.

Types of Searches to Keep in Mind

Google outlines four major motivators for searches:

  • I want to know
  • I want to go
  • I want to do
  • I want to buy

Keep these motivators in mind as you plan and create your content, and you should do fine. Remember, content creators who write content for search engines rather than actual humans are the ones who will feel the negative effects of the Helpful Content update the most.

Is All of Your Content Helpful?

The thing about the Helpful Content update that could really shake things up is that penalties apply to entire sites rather than individual pages. Theoretically, if some of your content qualifies as “helpful” and some of it does not, your entire site could pay the price.

There’s no reason to immediately pick your entire website apart and try to evaluate each and every page for helpfulness. Everyone will have to wait and see just how the Google algorithm update will affect the SERPs. 

Right now, all anyone can do is watch, wait, and monitor analytics.

If your site ends up dropping rank and does not recover after a few weeks, then it may make sense to go through every page and try to separate the metaphorical wheat from the chaff by evaluating older as well as newer content.

Watch Your Analytics

The business owners and webmasters who rely on Google search for traffic will be watching their analytics closely over the next six weeks or so. This means that you should too.

After the Panda update in 2011, it soon became clear that certain types of websites were losing favor. In that case, it mostly had to do with the quality and originality of the content. This time, it should depend mostly on how helpful a given site’s content is.

Helping Your Website Weather the Changes

Over the next month or so, you will probably be more concerned about your business performance as the calendar inches toward the holiday season. How are you supposed to optimize your website at the same time?

Maybe we should talk. Every website that Best Websites builds has SEO built in from the start.

Our team of UX and SEO professionals keeps up with Google Algorithm changes that affect SERP rankings. We also have access to a team of digital marketing experts who know how to make every digital advertising dollar work its hardest. 

Schedule a call with our team and let’s talk SEO. Whether you need a website refresh, digital marketing help, or an entirely new website design, we know how to make it happen so that you get optimal results.


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