Google’s latest update, known as the Helpfulness update, is reshaping the landscape of SEO and content creation. Danny Sullivan, Google’s Search Liaison, has shed light on what constitutes ‘unhelpful content’ in the eyes of the world’s largest search engine. As an advocate for user-centric content, Sullivan underscores that the primary red flag for Google is content created with the intent to rank well in search results rather than to genuinely serve end users. While creating content that search engines can find is important, what is more important is remembering your true audience: people.
Stop writing content for search engines
Sullivan’s guidance is unambiguous: content written for search engines rather than human audiences is considered unhelpful. For instance, creating a list of “20 SEO Tricks to rank on Google” that are just common knowledge with the main goal of ranking for “SEO Tricks” instead of providing real value to readers exemplifies content that Google would label as unhelpful. This pivots the focus from search engine optimization to the actual value and relevance for the audience. This will likely have a serious negative impact on sites and pages that employ sketchy methods for keeping people scrolling, for example, recipe websites that bury the actual recipe under a deep bed of search engine bait text. This move is nothing new. We have seen similar updates to search ranking that target and derank unhelpful page designs to falsely increase SEO and SERPs while annoying visitors. The infamous slideshow article trick may immediately come to mind for SEO specialists who suffered through the age of the click-through wars. In the end, the message is simple: write for people, not for robots, because the goal is to create content that helps real people, and keeps the ‘robot’ of AI and SEO tools as a passive intermediary instead of the main target.
Highlights on the Google Helpfulness Core Update:
- Danny Sullivan’s Warning: Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, highlights the issue with content created mainly for search engine rankings rather than for human readers.
- Criteria for Unhelpful Content: Writing content like top 10 lists mainly to rank for keywords is considered unhelpful by Google.
- Content Creation Tools Caution: Using tools to find content topics might lead to content that Google deems unhelpful if the focus is on scoring rather than genuine content creation.
- Guidance on Useful Content: Sullivan emphasizes creating people-first content that answers questions and provides value as opposed to search engine-first content.
- Signals for Helpful Content: Google uses web signals to determine content helpfulness, favoring content that addresses user queries effectively.
- Content and Quality Questions: Google suggests self-assessment questions regarding originality, comprehensiveness, insight, value, and credibility of content.
- Expertise Matters: Questions surrounding the expertise involved in content creation are crucial for establishing trustworthiness.
- Page Experience Significance: A good page experience across various aspects is important for high rankings in Google’s systems.
- People-First Content Approach: Content should be created primarily for people, with a focus on expertise and satisfaction from the reader’s perspective.
- Avoid Search Engine-First Tactics: Google discourages creating content solely to gain search engine rankings, warning against practices like keyword stuffing or chasing trending topics without genuine expertise.
- SEO and Content Creation: While SEO is essential, it should complement people-first content rather than dominate the creation process.
- Understanding E-E-A-T: Google uses E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) as a framework to identify high-quality content.
- Quality Rater Guidelines: Google’s quality rater guidelines help creators understand how their content may be perceived by Google’s algorithms.
- Content Evaluation Tips: Creators are encouraged to ask “Who, How, and Why” about their content to align with what Google’s systems reward.
- Disclosures on Automation and AI: Transparency about the use of AI or automation in content creation can aid in establishing trust with readers.
Sullivan points out that relying excessively on tools to determine content topics can inadvertently lead to the production of unhelpful content. He suggests that content creators should prioritize the “who, how, and why” of content production over merely aiming for a high ‘score’ that would supposedly please search engines.
Answers a user’s question effectively
Responding to a query from Simone de Vlaming about how Google discerns the intent behind content, Sullivan explains that Google’s algorithms look for signals that align with what people generally consider helpful. Content that answers a user’s question effectively is likely to be seen as ‘people-first’ and, therefore, helpful.
crackdown on high-domain-authority news site exploits
The Helpfulness update has implications for SEO strategies. ‘Parasite SEO,’ which exploits high-domain-authority news sites for quick rankings, might take a hit if it dilutes the site’s primary focus. The use of AI in content creation could also be under scrutiny, especially if it leads to content that lacks firsthand expertise or appears automated without clear disclosure. For example, this article employed Ai to design the post image! (Which we are disclosing to you here, but also in our metadata.) ‘Tool-Optimized Content,’ like that created using SEO tools for research, (think SEMrush or AHREFS) will most likely not be at significant risk, since the bulk of research and content development is still person first, and provided it also caters to user needs and offers genuine value.
Focus on Topical Authority
Strategies likely to benefit from the update include building ‘Topical Authority,’ which entails creating focused content around a specific niche. Google favors sites with a clear primary purpose, and a concentration on topical authority aligns with that preference. For example, we allow guest posts but only from a select few and under a limited number of topics that we know our Louisville-local audience of website owners have an interest in. Additionally, content optimized for user metrics, such as minimizing the need for users to search elsewhere for better information, may gain traction. This speaks directly to E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) page and site structure goals. Make it easy for people to find what they want on your site and you will do well with the new helpfulness update.
Navigate the Helpfulness update successful
To navigate the Helpfulness update successfully, Google advises content creators to ask themselves key questions about the originality, comprehensiveness, and trustworthiness of their content. These questions address factors like spelling and stylistic issues, mass production, expertise, and the overall page experience. In plain terms, do you enjoy reading your own content? If not, you may want to rethink your content strategy.
People-First Content is essential
The main emphasis, if you have not already noticed, is on ‘People-First Content.’ Google encourages content creators to craft material that serves their intended audience with depth and expertise. Conversely, ‘Search Engine-First Content’ should be avoided, as it is made primarily for ranking purposes and could lead to penalties. The good news is this is a “if you know you know” situation. If you are not sure what that means there is a good chance you are already doing the right thing because your content is guided by human interaction and your very real experiences that you want to share. If however you are using so many SEO tools to create content that becoming a cyborg is starting to appeal to you, I would strongly suggest taking a step back and taking a “Touch Grass” approach to your content strategy. Slip on your real-world experience and write from the heart. You don’t have to produce The Lord of the Rings or the Magna Carta for each new post, but try to come at it from a perspective that what you write needs to be engaging and influential in a real and authentic way.
A call to action for content with integrity, authenticity, and audience Focus
Google’s Helpfulness update is a call to action for creators to produce content with integrity, authenticity, and a focus on the audience. By aligning with Google’s guidance, content creators can ensure they are contributing positively to the vast pool of online information and standing out in the digital arena.
Helpful Links and resources on Raising the Bar for Content Quality:
Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content https://developers.google.com/search/docs/fundamentals/creating-helpful-content
Google Search Status Dashboard
Interested in seeing what SEOs are saying about the Helpfulness update on Reddit? Check out this thread started by Matt Diggety: