Some people on Twitter and Linkedin are legitimately freaking out about the next Google Update called “Helpful Content Update”.
I want to explain it, dispel some myths, give you some guidance and some actions for your content and websites going forward because this update reminds me a lot of Panda.
And Panda, launched in 2011, was a big deal, destroying entire sites that were mostly created with automations and templates of thin content.
But for those that have been doing everything right, there might not be anything to worry about.
At a glance, Google released a blog post on August 18th, 2022. First hand experience will be rewarded, focus on your topic and stay in your lane, satisfy the intent of your audience and follow the guidelines (like the latest Product Reviews recommendations).
How the update works
First of all, it’s going to start rolling out in late August, 2022, beginning in Calendar Week 34, and will take about a week or two. This update introduces a new site wide signal that Google may consider amongst many other signals for ranking web pages. With this new capability, Google claims to be able to identify content that has little value, low added value, or is otherwise not particularly helpful in general.
This is a new signal. Google says that they use 200 signals to rank content. So, each signal has to be weighted differently. Like, backlinks are a signal that’s given a lot of weight. Similarly to the page content is given a lot of weight as well.
At this point, we don’t know how much weight they are going to add to this new signal. However, in essence, if you have high amounts of unhelpful content, overall your site will be demoted in search.
This means that they have some type of threshold to demote an entire site if the content is not helpful. Google will look at sitewide and at each individual piece of content to evaluate this.
When Panda was rolled out, Google used an automated classifier process using machine learning models. So, this update can have lots of mistakes in their first days.
Quick win: Check your site and if you have automated or poor quality content, prune the content right now.
Who is this targeted to?
This may affect News sites utilizing their authority to rank from “best grills” to “best credit cards” – without providing expert content on the matter. We’ll see if this prediction is correct, but that will allow for many good review sites to get back their rankings.
And if this is correct, this will be a step forward for Google to not put so much weight on links.
Other sites affected are those utilizing AI to create hundreds or thousands of pages with automated content to rank for the PAA (People Also Ask) and win Featured Snippets.
What to do?
Simple, follow the guidelines.
Just kidding, we know it’s more complicated than that.
How can you ensure that you’re creating content that will be successful?
If all your answers are YES then your will be fine, I will explain later what to do if some of the questions were answered NO.
Helpfulness and People Satisfaction
- Is the content primarily made for humans rather than to attract people from search engines?
- Has the content been primarily written by a human rather than using extensive automation?
- Is the content topic aligned to your site primary purpose or focus? (audience that would find the content useful if they came directly to you)
- Does your content actually answer the question that it promised to answer?
- After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
- Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
- Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
- Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
- If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
- Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
- Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature?
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
- Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
- Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page?
- If you researched the site producing the content, would you come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?
- Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?
- Is the content free from easily-verified factual errors?
- Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?
Presentation and production
- Is the content free from spelling or stylistic issues?
- Was the content produced well? (is not sloppy or hastily produced)
- Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
- Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
- Does content display well for mobile devices when viewed on them?
- Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
- Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site? (doesn’t exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines)
Let’s review these questions with some examples
If your site reviews “running gear” and suddenly you started reviewing “crypto” because it’s generating a lot of buzz in the media, that new section of content is not relevant to your existing or intended audience.
Unless you clearly demonstrate that you have first hand experience and in-depth knowledge, the “crypto” content in this example could get hit hard and potentially wipe your whole site.
How do you demonstrate your expertise? Having used a product or service or visiting a place, going further with your research that just looking it up online and/or rephrasing other peoples content.
How does Google determine this? By checking your overall site and understanding the primary focus. I see many times that Google promotes expired websites called “restaurantXYZ.com” that someone added a bunch of poor quality reviews of guitars, shoes and cookware.
So, generic websites that try to rank for any keyword that has low competition and/or utilizing authority or AI to do so will be hit.
In my opinion, sites that target a niche, or a broader niche, and demonstrate that they are knowledgeable, and that provide more information than the obvious, and that have original photos or videos of the products, service or the places will be fine.
If your content is not readable, if it’s illegible, if you’re just keyword stuffing, if it doesn’t add any value, then I think you’re going to get hit by this.
I’m guessing that Google will use some metrics like pogo sticking (used also by Panda) to understand if your content is answering people’s questions. Google has been able to tell for a long time whether or not the user has a good experience on your site. We have seen in the latest Google Updates how they removed a bunch of Featured snippets, reducing traffic for many affiliate sites as they were not providing helpful answers.
What to do if I answered NO to a few questions?
I will recommend you to focus on adding value.
That means go an extra mile to show your content is better; add your own videos, add real images that nobody has, research information or compile data that is hard to get (own data, bought data, access to APIs, etc.). In essence, do not copy or summarize content from others.
If your site is too broad, try to slice it, redirecting and moving the content to new domains. Following the example of the “running gear” that suddenly talks about “crypto”. You could buy a new domain and move all that crypto content to the new domain, letting the “running gear” site safe for this update.
Focus on E-A-T signals – And if you are not an expert, hire someone to review the articles you publish.
When I worked for Onmeda, a health website, we had a few healthcare professionals that wrote the content and then they will send it to doctors and medical specialists to review. The results were astonishing, from 200k users when I started to 3 million in 9 months. Our focus was the content and E-A-T signals – long before that even was a thing back in 2012.
If you are producing hundreds or thousands of new pages with AI, evaluate if you are actually adding value. Some sites that have automated content can be really helpful, for example if you look up the price of gold in grams or cooking calculations.
I don’t think publishing 100 or so articles a week will affect your site. I used to work for news media sites that were publishing easily 1.000 articles a day from agencies. If you are publishing hundreds of thousands, then that’s another story.