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Google tightens grip on bad content with new 'Helpful Content Update'

Many remember when Google rolled out their Panda update. But if you're new to SEO, let's take a quick recap. Panda is an algorithm that crawls for bad content. The algorithm was introduced in 2011, as an attempt to raise the quality of content and thwart so-called 'content farms'.

11 years later, Google comes up with a new update. They've named it: Helpful Content Update, which we think is a well-defined name for the algorithm's purpose.

Helpful content blog

What is the impact of Google's new update? 

On August 18, Google tweeted that they would be rolling out a new update. The 'Helpful Content Update' will already affect search results starting this week (week 34, 2022). The update targets bad content on Google, content that is not valuable and helpful to the user, but created to rank high in search results.

Google's business model is built around being the most preferred search engine for us consumers. Therefore, Google's first priority is to ensure that users are greeted by valuable content that solves their search intent. Unfortunately, many companies using Google have a less revered goal. As a result, in recent years, far fewer relevant "search queries" have been seen on search results, and this degrades the quality of Google's product. 

The new major ranking algorithm (Helpful Content Update), can be seen as Google's attempt to remain relevant to the user and defend their market share. The aim of the algorithm is to weed out the type of content that only serves the purpose of ranking high, but is not directly informative or value-adding for the user. Google states that the update will "tackle content that looks like it was created primarily to rank high on search engine results pages" and that the update will "help ensure that unoriginal, low-quality content doesn't rank high in search results”.

Google has been saying for years that you should create content for the user first and not the search engines, and now comes the consequence. This means that if you write content exclusively to drive traffic and visibility in search results, you may be affected by this update. 

Therefore, it's also a good time to take a look at your content strategy, as this new update (much like Panda did) is most likely going to change how we think about content for Google.


What do we know about the update now

The update rolls out from this week (week 34, 2022).

Although the new 'Helpful Content Update' is being rolled out as early as this week (week 34, 2022), Google estimates that it will take up to two weeks for the update to be fully implemented. If you want to keep up with the update, Google will be updating us all regularly via their update page.

Initially, the update will launch for English-search, and later roll out for other languages. This means that if your website is in English, you have a bit more time to run in terms of improving the quality of your content.

This algorithm is based on machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence (AI), which aims to evaluate and identify content that is not created for the user first. 

This means that the algorithm will improve over time, through its own learning and input from Google engineers. In addition, Google has announced that it will use so-called "quality raters" to ensure that the new update actually raises the level and quality of the content found in search results. So this is an update that will evaluate your content both against specific pre-defined parameters, and will continually improve based on human input. 

The 'Helpful Content Update' will look at a number of different signals and parameters. But what those signals are, Google is, as usual, very quiet about them. What we do know a little more about, however, is what type of content might be affected. We also know what Google qualifies as good content. From this, we can form a hypothesis about where to act.

As SEO and social media have an indirect positive influence on each other, there can be several advantages to combining the two in your strategy:

What types of content will be affected? 

The algorithm is initially targeted at Google Search. Google is also reportedly considering whether it will affect other products, such as Google discover. 

Google announces that the algorithm will not go after a specific type of niche, but still some content may be more affected than others. These are largely: 

  • Online training material 
  • Shopping 
  • Tech related content
  • Art and entertainment

The reason why these types of content may be hit harder than others is that they are historically and more often targeted by the search algorithm, not the user.

In addition, articles that aggregate, for example, reviews from other websites, without adding any new perspective or valuable content for the user, will also be affected. Google states; "This type of content is not very valuable if you expect to get a new perspective. With this update, you'll see more results with unique content, so you're more likely to read something you haven't read before.

For a long time, the content world has not seen the need to invent the 'deep dish' or to write more original content online if others have already created good content. This often leads to some curated content (we are guilty here). 

However, content curation does not seem to be the primary enemy of the 'Helpful Content Update', but rather the type of content where text is copied directly, without adding new value. 

This is no surprise. We've long shown that Google doesn't like duplicate content. What may be the difference here is a whole new form of content quality assessment that is far more sophisticated than what we've seen before.

Helpful Content is a 'sitewide algorithm' 

Unlike algorithms that look at a single landing page at a time, the Helpful Content algorithm will evaluate your entire website at once. If Google judges that you don't have a high amount of helpful and valuable content, then your entire website's ranking will be affected. 

Google has not announced how much of your content should be value-added in terms of a positive or negative impact. Therefore, despite having what you consider to be a high amount of helpful content, you may risk having your ranking affected.

The advantage for you with the English website is that you can follow how the impact will be for English websites. We'll probably all be a bit wiser in a few months and it will be easier to guess at the amount of value-added content.

Google itself says that "removing content that is not 'helpful' can improve the ranking of your 'helpful' pages".

What you can do to create better content 

As the user-centric company Google wants to be, they of course also a number of recommendations for how to create content that will be rewarded by the new 'Helpful Content Update'. 

As we mentioned earlier, English content will only be affected later and therefore, unlike companies with English content, you have a bit more time to update your content where necessary.

We won't reproduce the whole list, but here are a few of the recommendations and guidelines that Google itself comes up with: 

  • After reading your content, will a user feel they have learned enough about a topic to achieve their goal? 
  • Will a user, after reading your content, feel that they have had a complete experience? 
  • Do you comply with the guidelines for Core updates and product reviews?
  • Avoid summarizing what others say without contributing new value
  • Avoid writing about topics just because they are trending, without them having a real relationship to what your target audience is interested in.

There is a lot more advice and good guidance on Google's own site and we would recommend that you familiarise yourself with it. Because if your site is affected by this new update, it could take months to get it back to where it was. You need to prove to Google that your site does not exist for the sole purpose of ranking high in search results, but that it exists to provide value to its users, and that takes time. 

Therefore, we recommend that you get started as soon as possible.

Has the potential to change how we think about content 

Although it is too early for us to guess how significant this update will be, we can already say that it will have an impact on your website, if you do not think user first in terms of content and search intentions. 

We therefore recommend that you keep an eye on your website and review your content strategy if you have any doubts about whether it meets Google's 'Helpful Content Update'.

Here at InboundCPH, we're keeping up with what the 'Helpful Content Update' will mean and what impact it will have as it rolls out to UK websites. We are of course on hand to advise existing clients as well as you who need some sparring about your website and what impact this new update may have on you.

If you need guidance you can write to [email protected] or contact us via our contact form.

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Mark Molgaard

Partner & Senior SEO Specialist

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