Everything you need to know about Google's Helpful Content Update

By Evolved • 22 August 2022 • minutes reading time

Late last week, Google announced a new algorithm update called the Helpful Content Update. So, what is this latest update and what can you do to ensure it has a positive impact on your business?

What is the Helpful Content Update?

Google has designed this update to reward websites that create content for its users and to punish websites that create content solely to try and rank in search engines.

Here are a few pointers from Google to help you think about your website with a people-first mentality:

  • 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 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?

Why is it important?

Many businesses still focus on the wrong thing when it comes to SEO – ranking highly for a selection of keywords. This shouldn’t be the objective of optimisation but a natural outcome of giving your users what they need.

It’s great to see Google’s algorithms catching up to the standards they say they’ve been operating at for years. If implemented correctly, this update should significantly improve search results for users and force businesses to focus on what matters: creating a great experience for users.

What can you do about the Helpful Content Update?

Many businesses focus on which messages they want to push, rather than what their users need. Your business needs to become an organisation that puts the user at the heart of everything.

To be better than your competition, you don’t need to create more content – you need to create smarter content. Businesses with relevant, helpful content are exactly the type of websites that Google is looking to reward through the helpful content update.

If you’re not sure where to start, then think about the following three areas:

  • Who is your audience(s)?
  • What do they want from you?
  • How do you speak to them?

Your users are human beings that have needs, and creating good content to serve those needs is how you win in organic search.

What if I don’t understand the needs of my users?

Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. In fact, there are very few businesses out there that can honestly say that they put their users ahead of everything else. The good news is there are many different techniques that you can use to begin understanding your audiences and their needs. Here are just a few:

Empathy mapping

Empathy mapping involves bringing together your experts who have a unique insight into your audiences (such as market and consumer insights, product, digital, and sales leads – essentially, anyone who has a deep understanding of your audiences and customers) and having them map out each audience segments’ main goals, needs, influences, actions, and pain points.

The result is a detailed ‘map’ which visualises audience insights, creating an invaluable resource in understanding how to tailor everything from onsite content to email marketing that resonates with your audiences’ main needs and questions.

Audience interviews

Some of the most valuable insights gained are those that come directly from the source – your audience. In-depth interviews with your audience will allow you to unpick all the findings from empathy mapping and stakeholder interviews from the perspective of your core audiences.

The key thing to remember is that just because someone says they want something; it doesn’t mean that the solution is the same as what they want. What a user wants vs what they need is an important part of the process that comes after audience interviews.

Content journey mapping

Once you understand who your audiences are and what they want, it’s useful to map out existing content that meets the needs of users throughout the customer journey.

This will provide you with a clear view of what content currently exists and, importantly, what content needs to be created to better assist users through their journey with your brand.

Keyword research by intent

Instead of just creating a list of keywords that you want to rank for, consider your user journeys and how each of the keywords that users are using must be answered with content that is going to meet their needs.

A great way to start with this process is to begin sorting your keywords by Google’s Micro-Moments (Know, Go, Do, Buy). You can take this to the next level by combining this with user research and observing how your users are actively using Google and what results they’re expecting to see on your website vs what they’re getting right now.

What if my website suffers because of the helpful content update?

The good news is that this update is continuously running and automated, meaning there will be no manual penalties applied. Google is referencing a signal that may be applied to a website over a period of months, but that the classifier runs continuously.

This means if a website is hit, you will need to ensure that all unhelpful content is removed. The classification will then no longer apply, removing any dampening of visibility that has occurred. That isn’t to say the website will be as visible as it was before, as there will need to be an injection of ‘helpful content’ to improve visibility.

So, what next?

We’ll know more once we see the update rollout this week but expect some turbulence across all sectors while this happens as things usually take a few weeks to settle down.

Expect there to be some initial mistakes as well, Google very rarely gets an algorithm like this 100% right during its first iteration.

Importantly, if you aren’t already, start focusing all your content across all marketing channels on what your audiences need.

If you need help with understanding your audience’s needs and how that translates to content, then get in touch with us today.

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