What does Google’s helpful content update mean for content strategies?

Google rolled out its new helpful content update, aiming to improve the quality of content on the web and facilitate better search journeys. But what does this mean for content creation — and how will it affect your ongoing content strategy? 

It’s an important question to ask. And Google’s latest update is particularly debate-worthy in the context of Scribly’s last blog post: Is AI the Future for Content Marketing?

In that post, we discussed the risks and benefits of using AI within your content marketing strategy, before concluding that AI was nowhere near capable of rivaling quality, human-created content, at least not for many years. With its recent update, it seems that Google is pushing the AI content revolution even further back.

What is the helpful content update? 

Google’s helpful content update looks to phase out content that’s written solely for search engines. Once implemented, unoriginal, paraphrased content won’t perform as well in search rankings. To quote Google’s Developer page

“The helpful content update aims to better 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.”

Google explains that it’s making this update to provide better information, satisfy user intent, and connect people with interesting, rich content written by humans, for humans.

While the update does put less emphasis on SEO, Google also makes it clear that you should still follow long-standing guidelines and advice to meet SEO best practices.

So how will Google implement this?

The Google helpful content update in practice: How to be ‘helpful’

Google will start using a site-wide signal to indicate if a website is helpful and whether or not it adds value to what is already out there on the internet. 

If any content on your site is signaled as low value, then deleting this unhelpful content can help boost your other pieces of content and increase your visibility. It will also remove the “unhelpful” flag that Google will otherwise display next to your page in SERPs.

It’s worth noting that Google’s classifying signal will run continuously to identify unhelpful pages, and it may take a few weeks or even months to see the effects on your site. The good news is, that means you’ve still got time to find any of your own unhelpful content and get ahead of the game.

To do so, Google recommends asking the following questions:

  • Do you have an established audience, and would they find what you’re creating useful if they came to you directly? 
  • Does your content demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge? For example, has the writer used the product/service? 
  • Does your site have a primary focus/goal?
  • After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they have learned enough to achieve their goal?
  • Will someone reading your content have a satisfying experience? 

Check out the complete list of questions on Google’s Developer page to ensure you meet the new update’s best practices. 

Is this the end for AI content? 

AI-generated content is unlikely to perform well on Google — ‘helpful update’ or not. That’s because most AI content fails to show empathy for the user and fails to speak their language.

With such an abundance of quality content existing already, the only content worth creating is 10x human-created content that completely satisfies a user’s needs and is a better resource than the competition. 

So will Google’s new update be the nail in the coffin for AI-generated content? We don’t yet know how advanced AI tech will become, but we do know that AI autonomy is years — and even decades — away. And when it comes to creating amazing content that performs well, the best approach you can take is trusting an experienced content team.

Content marketing: the secrets for success

yellow balloons with a smiley face printed on them

How do you find the sweet spot between audience-centric content and passing the algorithm’s assessment? 

Here are some steps to increase your chances of success: 

  1. Perform an objective content analysis, looking at both its overall quality and how well it satisfies user intent. 
  1. Once you’ve evaluated your content, eliminate or update content you believe is focused too heavily on SEO. Ask, has it been created primarily to rank on Google? Keyword-stuffed pieces are redundant and you should delete them. 
  1. Highlight your expertise within your niche. This can be achieved through first-person content ‘from’ someone in your team, thought leadership content based on trending topics, or any other authentic and original, value-add pieces. Content like this really ticks the box for ‘unique’ content under Google’s latest update.
  1. Don’t rely too heavily on keyword research tools. Google is getting smarter at identifying content that delivers no additional value on top of what’s already ranking. Google wants unique perspectives and original, helpful content; use keyword analysis as a starting point and then think about how you can add to the conversation.

Why we’re happy about Google’s helpful content update

Writing content for people has always been our priority. So if Google’s helpful content update does what it says it’s going to do, then that’s music to the Scribly teams’ ears. 

We think this new update sets a creative challenge for content marketers. We’ll all need to focus more on the readers’ needs and seek to genuinely help our audience. We’ll also need to work even harder to deliver valuable, engaging, human-to-human content, as the stakes will be raised.

Only time will tell how much the update affects content creators and how well content performs on Google, but we feel pretty confident that Scribly’s ‘audience, then algorithm’ approach will stand the test of time.

Do you want to create content that customers and Google’s helpful content update will love? Get in touch with Scribly today. Together we can engage, entertain and educate your audience — and get you ranking, too.