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Google’s helpful content system to surface hidden gems

Google plans to continue updating its Helpful Content System as it implements AI in Search in various ways. Recently, it announced its “hidden gems” update. What does this update mean for enterprise brands, and is there anything you can do today to prepare for search updates in the future?

In this post, we’ll look at Google’s plans and motivations for its Helpful Content System, as well as what will change in the next update. You’ll find tips and best practices for producing top-quality content that meets the needs of local customers – and appeals to Google’s evolving algorithms, too.

A brief overview of the Helpful Content System

Google says it best, describing its Helpful Content System is “part of a broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.”

We took a deep dive into the Helpful Content System and how it impacts enterprise brands shortly after the first update, in this blog post. That’s a good place to start if you want to learn the backstory of this particular algorithm change.

The Helpful Content System is an extension of Google’s ongoing commitment to give searchers the best possible answer to each query. This update enforces the need for marketers to evaluate each piece of content they create and ensure it meets Google’s exacting standards. As with other Google algorithm updates, marketers were quick to see search results plummet in instances where unhelpful content was present.

We know what several of the characteristics of helpful content are

These characteristics include if:

  • It’s useful for the intended audience.
  • The information presented demonstrates real expertise and a depth of knowledge typically only available to those with first-hand experience.
  • It has a clear purpose or focus.
  • Interacting with it gives the reader a satisfying experience.

We also know what helpful content is not, according to Google

These are traits and attributes to avoid in your content:

  • Over-optimizing to the extent it appears designed more to rank in search than serve human needs.
  • Relying heavily on AI and automation in content creation, without an editorial process.
  • Creating content that may be popular but doesn’t really fit your target audience.
  • Trying to meet a certain word count or density of keywords, which can result in thin, low-quality writing.

We’ll dig into more specific tips and best practices for creating helpful content. But first, let’s look at what’s coming up in the next update.

The next iteration of Helpful Content will uncover more “hidden gems”

Google understands that the most visible content from the largest sites isn’t always the best answer. That’s why many factors are in play as Google’s algorithms attempt to understand, classify, and rank content. 

With this upcoming update, Google aims to surface higher-quality content that showcases deep knowledge and expertise from lesser-known places around the web.

Lauren Clark, Product Manager at Google Search, shared on The Keyword blog recently: “In the coming months, we’ll roll out an update to this system that more deeply understands content created from a personal or expert point of view, allowing us to rank more of this useful information on Search.”

Other aspects of the upcoming update include:

  • Surfacing more pages based on first-hand experience, or created by someone with deep knowledge on the topic.
  • Continuing to focus on information quality and critical attributes such as authoritativeness, expertise, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T).

Furthermore, Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, wrote on Twitter, “Helpful information can often live in unexpected or hard-to-find places: a comment in a forum thread, a post on a little-known blog, or an article with unique expertise on a topic. Our helpful content ranking system will soon show more of these ‘hidden gems’ on Search, particularly when we think they’ll improve the results.”

Alongside the Helpful Content updates, Clark also announced the launch of “Perspectives,” a new filter that may appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) when Google’s algorithms determine what might benefit from the experience of others.

Tapping the filter will change the composition of the results page. Clark notes, “…you’ll exclusively see long- and short-form videos, images, and written posts that people have shared on discussion boards, Q&A sites, and social media platforms. We’ll also show more details about the creators of this content, such as their name, profile photo or information about the popularity of their content.”

How the Helpful Content System differs from other Google updates

Unlike core updates, which primarily affect the rankings of specific pages within a website, the Helpful content update has a broader impact across the entire site. When a site is affected by this update, it will experience an overall decline in rankings and traffic shortly after its launch.

Google emphasizes that the ranking of affected sites will not improve unless the website owner genuinely tries to enhance the quality of their content or remove content deemed less useful for users. In other words, taking proactive steps to improve the overall user experience is crucial for recovery.

According to Google, its classifiers will continually reassess the quality and usefulness of the content over several months. If a website consistently improves its content quality and refrains from publishing unhelpful material, its ranking will gradually improve. Eventually, the effects of the previous classifiers will diminish, leading to a more favorable position in the search results.

Best practices and tips for creating helpful brand content 

Preparing for the Helpful Content System and even core updates should not require a massive shift in your digital marketing or SEO strategy. Google still wants what it always has: to provide users with the best answer.

Here are a few best practices you can use to ensure your content is helpful, high-quality, and provides the best answer for relevant queries.

Define your brand’s AI content strategy

It’s crucial to exercise caution when using AI for content creation, for several reasons:

  • AI lacks a contextual understanding of your business, customers, and industry. While AI has made significant advancements in understanding and generating language, it still lacks the nuanced interpretation that humans possess. AI may struggle to grasp local or cultural references, or specific industry knowledge, leading to inaccuracies or misinterpretations in the content.
  • Helpful, high-quality content is also unique. AI models are trained on vast amounts of data, including existing content from the internet. As a result, there is a risk of generating unoriginal or plagiarized content, which can harm your brand’s reputation, negatively impact search engine rankings, and potentially lead to legal issues.
  • AI may not consistently capture your brand’s desired tone, voice, or style. Establishing a distinct brand identity requires careful consideration of the language, tone, and messaging used in your content. Human content creators better understand your brand’s personality and can tailor the content accordingly, ensuring consistency and authenticity.
  • AI doesn’t know how to engage your audience. Content that resonates with your target audience is key to driving engagement and building meaningful connections. While AI can generate grammatically correct content, it lacks the emotional intelligence to evoke the desired response from readers.
  • Ethical considerations with AI-generated content call for human decision-making and oversight. Humans can exercise ethical judgment, empathy, and responsibility when creating content, ensuring that it aligns with ethical standards and provides accurate and trustworthy information.

While AI can assist in content creation by generating ideas, providing insights, or automating specific tasks, it is essential to balance its role with human expertise.

Showcase the expertise of content creators and local stakeholders

Local owners, managers, franchisees, and their teams are the heart and soul of enterprise brand locations. These are your public-facing assets and the point of contact and customer interaction in real-world transactions. Brand content – whether in blog posts, Google Posts, on local pages, or elsewhere – must reflect a deep understanding of customer needs and the experience of your content creators.

Even where AI is being used to create content, it’s essential to enrich it and add value with some combination of:

  • Expert tips and advice
  • Examples that highlight real experiences
  • Use cases and stories that demonstrate expertise
  • Answers to questions people would logically have upon reading the content
  • Additional helpful resources the reader can explore
  • Next steps that align with the reader’s journey

Avoid unhelpful content primarily designed to rank in search, “cheat” the system, or that simply restates what others have already published.

Plan every piece of content around the reader’s needs and search intent.

Too often, marketers fall into the default position of creating content based on what they want to say or the message the company wants to put out. Turn this mindset on its head and focus on customer experience (CX) – what will be most helpful to the reader – instead.

Adopt a CX-focused mindset

Here are a few practical ways to implement a user-centric focus in your content planning

  • Use AI research tools to uncover the questions people commonly ask about the subject, competitor content that ranks on the topic, related keywords, and concepts, etc. Make sure you address these in your content.
  • Ensure authors understand the user intent behind queries on the topic. What problem are readers trying to solve, and how can you address that?
  • Use keywords to guide the writing process but don’t focus too heavily on SEO. Well-written content that meets the searcher’s needs will naturally incorporate long-tail keywords and reflect an understanding of search intent.
  • Think of the types of content that will be most helpful, too. Local photos, immersive videos, mobile-friendly short-form FAQs, and infographics or other visuals can all help improve the reader experience and content quality.

The Helpful Content System is not one update to prepare for and then forget about, nor is it a penalty. It’s part of Google’s ongoing commitment to meeting searchers with high-quality, expert answers in their decision-making moments. It’s a mission that serves brands well, too, so keep the local CX front and center in your content planning. 

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