Google's Helpful Content Algorithm Update | Venn Digital

Google's Helpful Content Algorithm Update

4 minutes

By Sara Kavanagh

Head of Search

On August 18th, Google announced a new algorithm update that will impact how ranking signals are used regarding the content and SEO copywriting on web pages. Like many of Google’s updates in recent years, this change has been launched to improve the search experience and help people find informative, original content ‘written by people for people’.

With the topic dying down and everyone forgetting an update happened (and mentally preparing for a new spanner in the works), we’ve looked at how the new algorithm has changed SEO in the recruitment industry.

What is Google’s Helpful Content Update?

Google’s Helpful Content update is a new signal designed to limit the appearance of low-quality content, helping users find helpful content during their organic searches. The update rollout began the week of August 22, 2022, usually these rollouts take about two weeks, but as the globe has many sites your website may not see impact on results for a month or two.

How will the update affect your SEO strategy?

The new ranking signal targets content that’s been created for users, not for search engines. Whilst this might seem confusing, with many users assuming keyword research and careful planning is no longer necessary, it’s actually a step towards intent-driven content that is rich in information. 

Google has designed this update to reward user-first content and sites that offer a satisfying experience for searchers. Complex topics and copy that follows old SEO rules will no longer rank well; instead, Google will favour content that provides unique answers and solutions. What does this mean in practice? Relevant, research, and user-query-driven content over marketing mumbo-jumbo that focuses only on what you provide.

Helpful Content vs Unhelpful Content

This algorithm update aimed to improve the search experience by prioritising authentic, helpful content and information online. Our focus should be shifting towards supporting user experience and changing the game for old SEO copywriting rules as part of the broader effort to enhance search results. 

This new signal focuses on Helpful and Unhelpful content to weed out sites that write for Google rather than people. Google describes Helpful Content as ‘People-first’, offering the reader a unique and valuable experience. 

On the other hand, Unhelpful Content describes copy that follows old SEO rules and has been written for search engines. This type of content includes complex blogs from non-authoritative sources and collated data from other websites. Under the new ranking signals, this just won't fly anymore. 

From now on, Google will “reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn’t meet a visitor’s expectations won’t perform as well”.

What does ‘Helpful Content’ look like?

Putting it into practice, SEO experts have used an example of someone conducting a Google search for information about a new movie:

“You might have previously seen articles that aggregated reviews from other sites without adding perspectives beyond what’s available elsewhere. This isn’t very helpful if you’re expecting to read something new. With this update, you’ll see more results with unique, authentic information, so you’re more likely to read something you haven't seen before.” - Blog.Google

This example shows how a unique perspective will add value to your web pages under the new ranking signals, allowing searchers to find more helpful content easily.

For recruitment agency websites, consider user intent and queries when thinking about your SEO strategy. The aim isn’t to drive loads of organic traffic to your website by hitting generic terms and hoping it sticks. Zero in on lower traffic and high-intent copy where you can offer real value, unique perspectives, and informative advice.

Whether you’re creating content for a service page or constructing a blog, ensure your content is answering a question and offering an original solution to a search query. For example, if you’re going to tackle “10 Most Searched Jobs in XX Industry” make sure these are the most searched jobs - whether you’re currently recruiting for them or not is irrelevant. Users want to hear real answers to their questions.

Marketing experts often work hard to produce content marketing for Google in a desperate attempt to rank and be visible in SERPs. This new update rewards websites that prioritise the reader over meeting SEO, meaning high-quality SEO copywriting is crucial to your strategy. That’s not to say that SEO marketing best practices should be ignored, just that they should not be forced at the risk of damaging the user experience.

Things to think about for producing quality content

The Helpful Content ranking factor is a site-wide signal, meaning if your website has a lot of what Google considers ‘Unhelpful’ content, your entire site will be scored down. In fact, Google has made it clear that all content featuring large amounts of ‘engine first’ copy will not perform well, even if it's not deemed unhelpful.

Now, this sounds very scary, and most site-owners will interpret this as no longer needing keyword research or SEO content. I’d like to highlight that these are still important things, they are just now used differently. More informative content will naturally use keywords you’re targeting, and a well-optimised website will not be obviously optimised. The aim of the game is to make sure you’re not keyword stuffing but using keyword knowledge to inform your writing and answering your reader’s needs within it.

With this, it’s essential to understand the core guidelines Google has in place to help people meet the new requirements and remain visible in search engine rankings. The following questions adapted from Google guidelines will help you identify if your content is adding value to the reader.

  • Do you know your target audience, and would they find your content helpful?
  • Does your content portray a high level of expertise and knowledge of your field/sector/industry?
  • Does your site have a clear focus and purpose?
  • Does your content leave readers feeling more knowledgeable and like they have achieved their goal?
  • Does your website/content provide a satisfying user experience?
  • Does your content follow Google SEO best practice guidelines?

Google has also provided a list of questions that help you identify unhelpful content across your site.

What to do if your site is affected by the update

Our recommendation, as always, when it comes to the Google algorithm is not to make rash changes to your site. Instead, over the next few weeks, monitor your site's performance changes to identify whether the algorithm impacted your site. Keep an eye on your organic traffic, keyword ranking and visibility, as well as conversion rates. If you see unusual spikes or dips that are not seasonal - Google has seen your website!

Google has expressed that returning from this update will take time and hard work if your site is negatively affected. This is because the ranking signal is site-wide, meaning improvements will need to be made across the majority of your pages before you’ll see results. This could take months to achieve.

The Helpful Content ranking signal will continuously run, meaning short-term, reactive changes will not result in overnight success. The overall classification of your site will change over time with a long-term commitment to improving your content and increasing the amount of helpful content on your web pages. It won’t be a quick recovery but a careful process of weeding out unhelpful content and evaluating your SEO efforts, start by:

  • Reviewing your main landing pages - Whether it’s specialism or industry pages, are you using marketing speak to sound exciting? Focus on explaining to users what you do, how you do it, why you’re working in this sector, what clients and candidates can expect from you and what roles are most popular for you in this area.
  • Blog content audits - We don’t want to focus on a “word limit” or just SEO searches, but longer and well-researched content that uses actual user queries and long-tail keywords to answer questions will perform better. This type of content is tailored towards informing users seeking knowledge in a specific area, this area should always relate to the sectors you are actually working in!

Will this change SEO in recruitment?

Absolutely. Recruitment websites often are focused on generic content and content relating only to roles and internal news that they are working on. It’s time we branch out and start answering questions users have! More transparency, explanatory content, and a clear plan for what you want to achieve with content will be needed.

Don’t spread yourself thin, understand your priorities. For example, if you want to increase visibility in marketing, don’t just write the same blog post over and over again about the jobs you’re recruiting for! Find out what clients and candidates are asking when it comes to the marketing industry and get to researching, learning, and writing about that.

This update holds us all accountable for our words. Thin, aimless content written “just so we have a landing page” will be frowned upon. Using previous updates such as Core Web Vitals and this HCU change - Google is clearly starting to move away from websites and content for the sake of being there and towards rewarding those who truly want to make a difference.

Slow websites, confusing UX/UI, lack of call to actions, thin and jargony copy - these will no longer work. We need to start thinking about websites that work well, user journeys that please, and content that builds authority.

Need help with your strategy?

We hope we’ve been able to shed some light on yet another surprise Google update and give you an idea of what to expect. Our key takeaways from this announcement are:

  • Google will now be targeting low-quality content and prioritising sites written for people rather than search engines.
  • Similarly to past updates, this signal will be site-wide, meaning marketers will need to take their time to optimise content before seeing improvements to the site's classification.
  • Strategies will need to be thought out, and your content researched, with user intent and queries well-understood in order to produce quality content.

With the update now settling in, it’s time to start reviewing your results and auditing your content - are you in need of updating your copy? Is your strategy in need of changing direction?

Take the time to educate yourself on what Google considers helpful and unhelpful content, and review your organic performance. Our team of SEO specialists will continue to monitor the impact of this update to provide the best possible support for our recruitment clients.

If you find your site affected by this update or wish to learn more about content optimisation in SEO marketing, speak to our SEO specialists today. For more guidance on SEO copywriting best practices, download our guide for SEO content.

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