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The sky crashes. The great sea yearns. Google publishes another update that sends search rankings into throes of chaos.

If you’ve been wondering whether SEO has gotten a little weird in recent years, you’re not wrong. And just when content marketing seemed a hair shy of Wild West, a new sheriff comes to town, and it's called the helpful content update.

Helpful Content Update

What is Google's Helpful Content Update

Originally called The People First Update due to Google’s realization that search results were permeated with patchworked articles harvested from other sources despite a lack of originality and usefulness.

No longer willing to allow streetwise marketers to use their knowledge of SEO tactics to rise to the top of SERPs, they began to tweak the algorithm to address this issue.

This cannibalization of sources coupled with keyword stuffing not only led to low-quality content rising to the top but, more importantly, an overall worse product for Google’s users to engage with.

And so, they set out to solve this by putting the end user first by making changes to how they rank content beyond keyword volume and other common on-page SEO best practices.

When another September helpful content update rolled out in 2022, rankings tanked across sites full of bloated blogs and unoriginal information.

Dog in tub with text Dog Water Bath Temp translates to What Temperature Should I Bathe My Dog?

How does the Helpful Content Update Work?

Simply put, Google’s algorithm has gotten smarter, more human. Or at least smarter about what information humans want and when.

It no longer needs to rely on content writers feeding it the optimum keywords to the optimum ratio of copy.

Rather, it contextually discerns how likely it is that your web page has the best information for the question a searcher has behind the words they typed into search.

Note, I didn’t say, “the question they typed into search.” Unfortunately, this is yet another area wherein SEO gets a little messy.

As searcher's searches lack precision (i.e. I type “dog water bath temp” into Google rather than “What temperature should I bathe my dog?”), Google has gotten better at ascertaining the search intent behind a grouping of words and can serve up the best content for that query whether or not a specific search phrase appears on the page.

Don't Write for Search Engines

Not long ago, climbing to the top of Google through a methodological keyword strategy was a little more straightforward.

While keywords are far from obsolete, they just don’t do for rankings what they used to. You can rank for keywords that don’t appear in your writing or fail to rank for keywords that your topic addresses. So what is a good content writer to do?

Write for People

Unfortunately, search engines aren’t handing over the cheat codes any time soon, and there is no clear set of guaranteed ranking factors. However, we can prepare our content strategies to move in the direction that Google’s helpful content updates trend.

To arrive at a search result, hundreds of billions of pages of web content are evaluated in an instant. Among other factors, the language used, the page’s UI, the trustworthiness of the source, and the location of the searcher are taken into account to various degrees.

Essentially, creating high-quality content that takes these elements into consideration is the consistent key to an effective SEO marketing strategy.

Effective SEO Strategy

What Kind of Content Does Google Consider Helpful?

The phrase helpful content seems concrete at first glance, but what exactly is Google after?

We know the update is designed to reward content created for specific audiences and punish content created for search engines, but what exactly does this mean and how do we write our pages in such a way that Google understands we have more helpful content than our competitors?

While there is no single way to solidify your SEO rankings, there are a few ways to check whether your content fits Google’s bill of help.

Put Aside Conventional Methods of Optimization (Mostly)

It may surprise you to hear that conventional methods of optimization, particularly those surrounding keywords could actually do more harm than good to your rankings.

While we’ve long known stuffing is frowned upon, there is now evidence that layering keywords into alt tags, headings, and titles is a game of diminishing returns.

If your content is generic or your UI doesn’t indicate where the answers to important questions are located, these previously beneficial markers of optimization may result in a drop in rankings.

Are You Implementing a People-First Approach?

Your website isn’t about you. Okay, it is about your company, but it is important to remember that it isn’t, by in large, for you and your company.

Your web pages should be geared toward your prospective audiences’ and customers’ needs with a focus on solving their problems. Shape your copy around the questions and concerns your target customer is likely coming to a search engine with.

In other words, every content area should be written with your audience’s search intent in mind. Take time to think through the questions your audience is likely asking behind their searches.

Write your content to answer these questions. Then use schema, internal links, and an appropriate heading structure to tell Google how to crawl your pages so it can easily understand where your content answers these questions.

You Rank What You EEAT

What is Helpful Content? You Rank what You E-E-A-T

If writing to answer search queries still feels a little ambiguous, there are a few more tools in the arsenal to dial down on how to tell Google your web pages have got the goods.

When evaluating copy on your web pages, ask yourself whether sections demonstrate that the author of this information and your business behind them have: experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness or E-E-A-T.

In a world of regurgitated, non-specific content, the devil truly is in the details. Write your content through the lens of what makes your approach original and special. To tingle Google’s algorithmic senses that your web pages have E-E-A-T be sure to highlight:

  • Your history within the industry
  • Authorship credentials or qualifications
  • What you add to the conversation
  • Resources that instill confidence in your organization

Takeaways: Stay Ahead of Helpful Content Update Changes

While it is true SEO is an industry built on the shifting sands of algorithmic whims, these changes are trending in a consistent direction.

If writers, optimizers, and marketers align their new strategies to serve the needs of Google’s customers overall, then we can feel certain that we are making the right decisions for our websites.

While we at Mostly Serious are never ones to sacrifice quality for quantity, we rest easy knowing that disaster-proofing our SEO content marketing strategy for the future entails a balance of form and function, and despite evolving trends, thoughtful, attentive writing is in. May the best words in the best order win.

Need Help with Helpful Content?

If you’ve organized your content according to Google’s old-guard ranking guidelines, it can be a daunting task to redo years of now-outdated pages.

We’ve ridden the wave of these changes for the last decade and would love to help your organization realign its SEO content marketing strategy. Have questions about how to create high-quality, helpful content on your website? Drop us a line, and we’ll connect you with the right resources for your organization.