Google has just released an update, possibly the most significant one since Panda in 2011, that could be a complete game-changer for content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).
Google announced a “helpful content update” on Aug. 18, sending businesses scrambling to ensure their content meets these new guidelines and best practices. The new sitewide ranking signal targets websites with a large amount of unhelpful content. This is Google’s latest push to ensure content isn’t being written for search engines and rather focused on user experience, giving someone the most relevant information to match their search query.
According to the Google Search Central blog, the goal of this Google content update is to “ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.”
The rollout of this update began last week and could take up to two weeks to complete. There was a lot of volatility in the search results last week across industries, with some businesses’ high-volume keywords bouncing up and down within the hour. It has many creators, publishers and marketers worried, especially those whose content strategy heavily depends on keyword optimization, long word counts and rewriting existing and better-ranking articles.
Read on to learn more about the Google “helpful content” update, how it could affect your website and what you can do to minimize the negative impact on your rankings.
Google Content Quality Guidelines: Understanding the Context
The decreasing quality of Google search results has been a topic among Internet users for many years. Poor user experience (UX) in content is frequently cited as a major concern. For instance, in a Reddit thread about Google Search Quality, Redditors’ complaints included:
• Every piece of content that comes up on the search engine results pages (SERPs) wants to sell something.
• Websites that come up as answers for a query have the actual answer buried deep within the article, requiring the reader to scroll past walls of text.
• Listicles that require readers to click “Next” after every sentence or slide.
• Articles that appear at the top of SERPs are often just rehashed or reworded versions of other, better-written articles.
• Too much clickbait content making it to the first page of SERPs.
• Too many websites appending the current year to blog titles so that they show up in searches for recent content.
• Creators and publishers attempted to game the system through black-hat SEO, pushing low-quality but heavily optimized content to the top of SERPs.
Many users, trying to get authentic, high-value content, append “Reddit” or similar qualifiers to their search queries.
And it’s not just anonymous Reddit users who have noticed the decline in the quality of content. An article on the subject, written by a software engineer, went viral in February of this year. Shortly after, The Atlantic published an article about how Google Search is worse than it used to be, citing reasons such as the magnified presence of ads in Search and how the search engine’s pivot to search intent over keyword matching has made it more difficult for users to get information on demand.
For example, doing a Google search for “how to fix a flat tire” pulls up:
• Multiple ads for tire sealers and inflators
• Blogs on the topic posted on websites in varying industries (from an insurance company to a camping gear retailer)
• Oddly phrased “People also ask” questions
Google’s helpful content update is geared toward improving user experience and increasing the quality of search results, so it’s likely to address these and similar complaints.
Helpful or Hurtful? Understanding the Google “People-First” Update
Google’s people-first content update is meant to address these and similar downsides to search, making it “helpful” indeed for Internet users. However, is it also helpful to website owners, marketers and SEO content creators?
This Google content update wants the focus to be on “people first” – mainly, content should be written primarily to satisfy users and meet their needs. At the same time, Google encourages continuing to utilize SEO content best practices to provide searchers with additional value.
For the most part, Google content guidelines have remained unchanged in this update.
“This [update] shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone,” said Tristan Harris, Thrive’s Senior Manager of Demand Generation. “Google has been pretty open about the kind of content they’ve wanted to see for years now.”
However, to better guide creators, publishers and marketers, Google has provided a list of questions to help them determine whether they’re taking a people-first approach to content. Based on the questions, the new Google content guidelines can be summarized as such:
• Be useful to an existing or intended audience.
• Demonstrate first-hand expertise and knowledge.
• Educate readers, enough for them to feel that they’ve learned as much as necessary to help achieve their goal.
• Give readers a satisfying experience.
Additionally, websites must have a primary purpose or focus, and creators, publishers or marketers of the content must keep Google’s guidance for product reviews and core updates in mind.
Google also warns against creating content for search engines first. It has also provided several guide questions to help creators determine whether they need to dial back their SEO – or at least adjust their SEO content strategy. Some ways to do this are to follow SEO best practices as well as content marketing best practices and perhaps hire SEO consultants to ensure compliance with the SEO portion of the updated Google content guidelines.
What’s Different From Existing Guidelines?
While the new guidelines are similar to existing guidance from Google on content quality and SEO best practices, the effects are new – and, for some creators and publishers, unwelcome.
The new Google update is a sitewide ranking signal. Google will automatically identify content that is low-value or otherwise unhelpful to search users.
According to Google, any content on websites it has determined to have a high volume of unhelpful or low-quality content is less likely to perform well in Search.
This means that even though you might have a lot of high quality content on your website, a few low-value articles could impact the entire site’s performance on the SERPs and result in lower rankings for several weeks.
Meanwhile, websites with a lot of low-value content will likely be significantly impacted in terms of rankings, even if they’re search engine optimized.
As of writing, the update only impacts English searches globally. However, Google will likely expand the coverage of the update to searches in other languages in the future.
What This Means for Businesses With an Online Presence
“There’s a big potential to lose rankings, traffic and leads or sales for businesses that have ignored the warnings from Google over the past few years that quality content is king,” Harris said. “Companies that have focused on keyword-stuffed, low-quality content are going to have a rough time with this update.”
If you have a website, it’s critical to evaluate your existing content and remove unhelpful and unsatisfying content. Remember that, for Google, one bad apple spoils the bunch, and having one article that does not meet their requirements for high quality content can affect the performance of your entire website in Search.
There’s No Stopping the Tide, But You Can Ride the Wave
Google’s helpful content update is likely here to stay, and the search engine titan has stated that it aims to further refine its process for classifying content as helpful and unhelpful. It will also be determining ways to reward websites that consistently provide search users with valuable content.
Whether or not you believe your website contains valuable content, it’s important to have it assessed by an expert. SEO content creators or an SEO content strategist will evaluate the content that’s already on your website with a fresh, unbiased eye. They will also provide you with content marketing tips to ensure that your content marketing strategy is aligned with Google content quality guidelines and, essentially, content marketing best practices.
While content marketing largely involves creating and distributing valuable and relevant content, it is possible that some of your content doesn’t hit the mark. This is especially true if you are not personally involved in content marketing and creation, such as if you outsource articles from third-party SEO content creators that are more concerned about search engine-friendliness than quality.
A trustworthy and experienced SEO content strategist will help you assess your existing content and determine whether it passes Google’s standards for valuable content. Your SEO content strategist will also help you develop an SEO content strategy that helps ensure a steady stream of high-quality content that abides by SEO best practices.
SEO content writing services are also helpful for businesses that do not have the resources to research and write in-depth high quality content according to content marketing best practices and in compliance with Google content quality guidelines.
Weather the Storm With Help From Thrive
Thrive has always been about people-first, high-quality content that satisfies user intent. Thrive has placed more of an emphasis on this approach over the last three years, particularly.
“At Thrive, we’ve focused on generating the best quality content we can for our clients,” Harris said.
However, he encourages business owners to head off potential problems by being proactive about content quality.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes,” Harris said. “We do a content audit when we onboard clients, replacing spammy content with high quality content focused on educating the consumer and moving them down the sales funnel. As such, our clients should have nothing to worry about.”
Added Brandon George, Thrive’s Director of Content:
“Our internal content is focused on a thought leadership strategy where we leverage our in-house experts by using their industry knowledge to add more first-hand expertise within our content through direct quotes, best practices, case studies and unique data,” George said. “This content is more likely to attract more organic backlinks while also positioning our team of experts as thought leaders in our industry. We’ve seen this work well for us and help us climb the search rankings while also building a strong following with our blog.”
Our SEO content writing best practices include:
• Having our expert writers perform in-depth research and competitor analysis. They use the best tools available to identify content gaps, helpful topics and high-volume keywords.
• Creating a logical content structure for each article so that readers won’t have to scroll past walls of text to get the information they need.
• Connecting with readers’ pain points and clearly explaining the solutions to them, citing unique data, such as survey results and case studies, to support our conclusions. Including unique data also demonstrates the client’s industry expertise, helping them build a stronger brand.
• Using direct expert quotes from the client and their employees. This helps humanize their brand while strengthening their thought leadership and building trust with their target audiences.
At Thrive, we utilize this unique SEO content strategy in our own internal campaigns. The results speak for themselves:
Our success with this strategy in our internal campaigns empowers us to offer this approach to our clients. For instance, Longhorn Investments worked with Thrive to develop and implement a strategy that included SEO content writing services.
Our SEO content creators wrote well-researched, high-quality content that was also search engine optimized. Using SEO content best practices, we conducted thorough audit and keyword research. We used the information we gathered to drive changes to the website, improving its ranking on Google and other search engines.
By using our SEO content service along with other data-driven digital marketing tactics, Longhorn Investments saw these results:
• A 69.31 percent increase in site visitors
• A 36.93 percent in organic traffic
• A 147.22 percent increase in social media traffic
• A 96.92 percent increase in online leads
“For Thrive, the update is no cause for concern,” Harris said. “Our approach to content writing has always been ‘quality first.’”
With our help, your website will not just survive the latest Google content update – it will flourish.
To learn more about Thrive’s SEO content service and how it will help you weather the changes brought by the helpful content update, reach out to our SEO consultants directly. You may also visit our case studies page for more success stories from our clients.