A new Google Search update is rolling out, and, understandably, enterprise brands have questions about if it will impact their local search visibility. Google updates are no cause for panic. The search giant is constantly updating its algorithms and testing hundreds of thousands of improvements each year, sometimes daily. However, when it publicly announces an update as they recently have with its Google Helpful Content update, there is the potential for a sizeable impact on some websites. And questions regarding how to successfully prepare and react to the algorithm update.
In this post, you’ll learn what Google’s Helpful Content update is all about, who it may affect, and how you can come out on the right side of the update. We’ll also share several SEO and content expert’s opinions to see how they think the update will impact enterprise brands. The good news is that much of what the Google Helpful Content update looks at is content quality on a web page, which should already be an integral part of your local marketing strategy. Let’s take a closer look.
What is Google’s Helpful Content Update?
Google states it best, sharing the Google Helpful Content Update is “part of a broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.”
Google knows that content that appears designed to win clicks doesn’t meet searchers’ needs in the same way truly informative, valuable content does. That’s why they began launching a series of improvements “to make it easier for people to find helpful content made by, and for, people” the last week of August, according to Google’s Danny Sullivan.
At a high level, the Google Helpful Content Update consists of two seemingly simple things:
- Focus on people-first content.
- Avoid creating content for search engines first.
Again, these are not new or revolutionary goals. They should not mark any major changes in your existing marketing strategy, provided you had a customer experience-centric approach to begin with. This update will have the greatest impact on websites and pages designed and optimized to appeal to search engines at the expense of human experience.
What the Experts Are Saying
There has been a lot of speculation as to how big of a deal the Google Helpful Content Update will actually be, says Sherry Bonelli, SEO & Digital Marketer, Google Business Profile Platinum Product Expert. So far, most SEOs have not seen many changes in their clients’ rankings – so many SEOs think it’s a dud and over-hyped. I say – just wait!
Google has made a pretty big deal about this update – and rightfully so. This update is finally telling content creators what they should have been doing all along: quit spamming your website pages with crap “trying to game the system” and write quality content for your customers that answers questions and provides quality information they care about!
Two of the questions Google says you should ask yourself are:
- Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge?
- Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
To me this means that the days of writing random content about the latest “hot” topics that don’t particularly relate to your core business and expertise are over. The content you write needs to be focused on what you do best.
Your content marketing strategy needs to be more deliberate. The need for topic clustering will be more important. Plan on creating a group of interlinked pages around one topic. And each “cluster” should consist of a pillar page covering a broad topic and several pages covering the subtopics in-depth – so your readers get enough information that they don’t need to go anywhere else.
This will (hopefully) show Google that you’re providing “helpful” content at such a depth that your site will be considered an authoritative source…and very helpful to your visitors.
The Key to Complying with the Helpful Content Update
There are no new secrets to success, and the key to sending Google the right signals hasn’t changed.
“How can you ensure you’re creating content that will be successful with our new update? By following our long-standing advice and guidelines to create content for people, not for search engines,” the announcement advises.
That doesn’t mean you cannot use SEO to improve the visibility of your content. In fact, Google goes on to say, “People-first content creators focus first on creating satisfying content, while also utilizing SEO best practices to bring searchers additional value.”
Content creators must meet the needs of searchers and visitors first. Then, you can optimize it for search discovery using tactics such as schema markup, using relevant keywords, and incorporating on-page SEO best practices. This helps search engines better understand the relevance and utility of your content so it can be matched to the appropriate search queries.
Interestingly, one of the resources Google points marketers and website owners seeking information about this update is from 2011. That’s right –”More guidance on building high-quality sites” on the Google Search Central blog is over 10 years old. Back then, Google implemented the Panda update. The purpose of this update was to weed low-quality, unhelpful content out of its top-ranking results. Google’s goals today remain the same.
What’s different today is the sheer volume of high-quality content in the search index and the level of competition you’re up against as a result. So how can you stand out in a world where helpful, top-quality content is key?
Helpful Content Characteristics
According to Google, helpful content:
- Is useful for a particular audience.
- Demonstrates real expertise and a depth of knowledge inherent to first-hand experience.
- Exhibits a clear purpose or focus.
- Leaves the reader feeling they’ve had a satisfying experience.
We can discern some characteristics of unhelpful content from Google’s Helpful Content announcement, as well. Avoid creating content that:
- Is primarily designed to win search traffic.
- Relies heavily on AI and automation in production.
- Doesn’t really fit your target audience.
- Is thin or “fluffy” in order to meet a certain word count.
- Isn’t as fulfilling as competitor content.
- Leaves the reader with questions they’ll have to answer elsewhere.
If you’ve been creating lots of content and hoping some might resonate with searchers, you could find yourself on the wrong end of this most recent update.
How Can We Combat the Helpful Content Update?
Because this update introduces a ranking signal that can affect the entire site, those negatively impacted by it will need to review their entire body of content and get rid of unhelpful content. This could mean:
- Consolidating pages into one more comprehensive and ultimately helpful resource.
- Unpublishing pages that were created to manipulate search rankings and redirecting those links to useful pages.
- Rewriting and updating content that may have been useful at the time of publication but has not kept up with new information, trends, or audience preferences.
- Revisiting your marketing team’s SEO best practices to ensure your brand’s go-forward content strategy is current.
“I firmly believe the helpful content update will profoundly impact content creation generated by AI,” says Darrell Williams, Founder of Growth Hack Guides. “Google emphasizes helpful content since creators can quickly scale content creation with AI but sacrifice expertise with volume.”
“AI content is valuable for writing articles, but your ranking positions will suffer if you don’t add additional context from first-hand expertise. It is essential to remember that Google is an algorithm, so detecting another algorithm will trigger a red flag on just how valuable automated content is in answering users’ queries.”
Putting Helpful Content to Work At Scale
The greatest challenge for brands with hundreds or even thousands of locations is one of scale. How can you create top-quality content localized for each market? How can you ensure a searcher in Wichita has the same cohesive, personalized experience as the one in San Diego?
Searchers are looking for local context, personalized offers and deals, and key local business information that helps them decide which nearby choice is the best option for their immediate needs. Generic content created at the brand level and distributed to hundreds of stores won’t cut it anymore. Searchers want to see who owns and operates their local store or branch, what products are in stock, and product reviews from real people. They want to see that the business is an active part of the local community, and read reviews about the experiences others like them are having in that location.
They need to be met with accurate, up-to-date key business information. This enables them to take that next step and convert to an in-store visit, booked appointment, or online order.
And the best place to create that content is at the local level. This is where first-hand expertise lives.
The Benefits of Using Local Marketing Technology For Content Personalization
Of course, if you leave each local owner or franchisee up to their own devices, you risk a disjointed experience that varies widely in quality for customers in each location. Worse, you could end up with a lot of unhelpful content.
Technology can help, provided you know where to apply it for maximum impact. As Google made clear with the Helpful Content update, its algorithms do not want to see automated content production and are intent on identifying when AI has been used for writing. Instead, you can focus on facilitating quality content production at scale by giving local stakeholders access to powerful, permission-based publishing tools.
Human-first content is an essential part of rewarding local user experiences.
As Google constantly strives to improve search quality, brands will continue to be challenged to produce excellent content at scale. Given that this is a trajectory Google has been on for well over a decade, it’s a safe bet that keeping content helpful will continue to be an area of focus. Getting the technology and local marketing support in place now to enable your brand to produce and promote top-quality, original content at scale is a foundational investment that will pay dividends for years to come.