On August 18, Google announced it was rolling out a new algorithm update called the “helpful content update” that introduces a new sitewide ranking signal that targets low quality, unhelpful content that’s written for “search engines-first.” Google noted that this is part of a broader effort to make sure searchers see more original, helpful content that is written for people, not search engines.
The update is expected to have a large impact on sites that Google classifies as having large amounts of “unhelpful content,” which it considers to be content that has “little value, low-added value or is otherwise not particularly helpful to those doing searches.”
The goal is to limit the amount of content shown in search that is written for SEO only and to reward content that is high quality and meets the needs of searchers. This isn’t to say that SEO isn’t important (it still is), but content should be written for users first and search engines second. Google recommends first focusing on creating content your audience cares about and will find valuable, while utilizing SEO best practices for added value.
They’ve even gone so far as to provide a set of questions content creators can ask themselves to evaluate if their content is people-first or search-engine-first.
- Is written for an intended audience of your business who would find the information useful if coming directly from you
- Demonstrates “first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge”
- Is in line with your site’s primary purpose or focus
- Leaves the reader feeling like they’ve learned enough about the topic to achieve their goal
- Provides a satisfying experience for the user
On the other hand, search-engine-first content:
- Is written with the sole purpose of ranking in search, not for the benefit of your audience
- Uses “extensive automation to produce content on many topics”
- Summarizes what others have said without adding much value
- Does not meet the needs of searchers and leaves them feeling like they need to search again
- Covers topics that are outside your expertise, are outside the area of focus of your site or are on topics your audience would not care about
A New Sitewide Ranking Signal
Unlike Google Core Updates, this is a new ranking signal (one of thousands used to evaluate and rank content) and it’s a sitewide ranking signal, which means your entire site can be impacted if Google classifies your site as having high amounts of unhelpful content. This means any content — not just unhelpful content — is less likely to perform well in search.
For example, if you have a few pieces of content on your site that are high quality and rank well organically, but Google identifies a large number of pieces of content on the rest of the site that are thin or unhelpful, you could see ranking declines for all content on the site, even the few pieces of high-quality content.
Google shared that this new ranking signal is also weighted, meaning sites with a lot of unhelpful content could see a greater impact.
Remove Unhelpful Content from Your Site
Google very directly states that site owners should remove unhelpful content from their site.
But if you’ve been hit by this update, don’t expect improvements to happen overnight. Google notes that sites that have been classified as having relatively high amounts of unhelpful content can have this signal applied to them for several months until Google’s classifier (which runs continuously) has a chance to review the content again and is confident that the unhelpful content is gone and will not return.
Make Sure You Have a Strong Content Strategy in Place
As we start to see the effects of this new ranking factor over the coming weeks and months, having a strong content strategy and a clear road map for creating the right content for your audience that is also well-optimize for search will be more important than ever.
MoreVisibility has been focused on working with clients to produce high quality content for more than 20 years. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help make sure you’re well-positioned for a strong future in organic search.