Google’s ranking engine now places greater emphasis on displaying content that users will find helpful, according to a recent post by the company. Published on August 18, 2022, the post officially dubs the new ranking signals as part of the “helpful content update.”
What does this mean for content publishers and website owners? Well, for one, they’ll need to put away their book of SEO cheap tricks and get out their thesaurus. As part of the search giant’s ongoing effort to serve up results its users will find helpful, the new ranking signals promote sites with quality content — and it penalizes sites with low-quality, gimmicky content.
The company provides some helpful prompts to encourage content creators to focus on markers of quality. But the general idea is this: publish content related to your specific area of expertise, and consider the audience’s needs first. We’ll walk you through some of the techniques and approaches needed while providing you with a general understanding of the direction Google’s been going over the past decade.
Google Serves Its Search Users First and Foremost
One critical thing to know about Google Search is that since the 2010s the company has steered towards a more useful and more user-friendly experience with each passing update. They clearly understand that competitors are waiting in the wing. Bing, DuckDuck Go, or any other company could easily snap up Google’s user base the instant they provide an appreciable advantage over the current heavyweight champ.
Consider the ire companies like Facebook have drawn when they have updated their site to be friendlier to advertisers and metrics, not the actual user experience. While other tech companies aim to please their shareholders, Google seems to grasp that they enjoy their current 90%+ market share at the pleasure of their users, not in spite of them.
To that end, whenever Google sees something happening regularly that it doesn’t like, it tends to root out the problem. A 2014 update saw a website being punished for spamming by not only tanking its rank but also the rankings of its affiliates. In some cases, the domain associated with the site was penalized permanently, receiving the proverbial Flanders’ Garden treatment. Much like a mafioso enforcer, Google Search wanted to send a clear message: no more tricks.
Fast forward to the present day, and Google’s pursuit of useful content has reached new heights of complexity. Instead of merely penalizing publishers that spam keywords (which they still do) they’re now on the lookout for websites that tend to publish low-quality, unhelpful content for the sole purposes of gaming their search results listing rank. To pull this off, Google will start looking at the total quality of all published work on a website. In other words, your old content could actually be hurting your ranking, not just what you’ve been publishing lately.
Guidelines for Creating Content After Google’s Helpful Content Update
To aid website owners and content creators in getting aligned with Google’s goals, the company published a list of guidelines in the form of questions to ask yourself, which we highly recommend reading.
We’ll summarize these guidelines in terms of clear DOs and DON’Ts.
DO These Things After the Google Update
- Perform an audit of your website content to determine if it has a clear primary focus or if it serves a distinct purpose to your audience
- Create clear audience personas you want to cater to. These personas represent the hypothetical audience you’re writing for.
- Write what you know. Ideally, your content will have some sort of knowledge or first-hand expertise only you can provide.
- Set writing guidelines to ensure published blogs, pages, and articles are useful. Be sure to stock them with specific information, and link to authoritative sources.
- Take an inventory of your existing content and decide if any of it is a candidate for rewrites or removal
- Organize your content into discrete sections, each with its own purpose, making it easier for Google to feature individual excerpts
DON’T Do These Anymore
- Write content just because you see a search engine ranking opportunity
- Write on a bunch of different topics with no unifying purpose or interest category
- Rely on automation or cheap outsourcing to create content
- Summarize or aggregate existing content with little value
- Write on trending topics in an attempt to seize traffic
- Create content that fails to provide a clear answer to an implied question or that holds out on promised information
- Write on topics in which you lack knowledge, especially when your site doesn’t have a history of featuring that particular knowledge area
- Spam keywords, backlinks, or content in general
Ranking Higher in the Era of Helpful Content
The bottom line is that Google is trying to help out its users while sending a strong signal to would-be gamers of the system: we got your number.
As for those who are worried that their site could be affected by the update, Google provided some helpful advice in 2019: “We suggest focusing on ensuring you’re offering the best content you can. That’s what our algorithms seek to reward.”
It’s that simple! Or, at least, it is in theory. In practice, writing great content requires understanding your audience, finding the right topics, performing research via trustworthy sources, structuring your pages in a way that’s easy to digest, and generally just going out of your way to ensure your audience comes away appreciating what you created for them.
If you have any questions or want any assistance improving your rank or creating awesome content, then don’t hesitate to reach out. We are available to answer your questions, and we are happy to take on new projects to ensure that everyone can write content worth reading.