Google's Helpful Content Update: Predictions & Hypotheses

Google’s Helpful Content Algorithm Update: Hypotheses from 23 Years of SEO Experience

Google has a new signal for limiting the appearance of low quality / not authoritative content in organic search. This signal seems to focus on content that doesn’t “help.”

That could be everything from a complex topic written by an individual who doesn’t have strong expertise in that topic , but follows outdated “SEO Rules” (Hey have this sophomore intern write up this best CRM guide, make sure to keep it to 1500 words with 1 h1 and 2 h2’s) to GPT-3 generated content – a language model that uses deep learning to auto-generate human-like text.

While that content can read well, does it truly offer expertise? Imagine if we allowed GPT-3 to write this article (which it could do and it would sound great) vs my expertise of 23 years of Search (started in August of 1999) – which would you follow the advice of, which content is more likely to be helpful to the user?

Some queries are “fact” driven and some are built to help you make a decision or “expertise” driven. What is a ribeye steak is very different than what happens when I dry age a ribeye for 1 hour vs 1 day vs 3 days. We believe it’s the queries you want to research a level deeper that this update will affect.

Google’s advice in this update echoes what they’ve been saying for years:

  1. Focus on people-first content
  2. Avoid creating content with the primary objective being search engines

This advice is often so broad that it leaves people asking more questions than getting answers, but that is what we’re dealing with. When I think back to updates, esp the old ones like penguin and panda, Seer always embraced those because it validated that the stuff we were trying to push was getting “solving for users & writing helpful content” could lead to a failing SEO campaign.

My mantra, I’d rather be thanked than ranked, here is a link to my video on this from Mozcon, it grounds us in writing helpful answers to problems as a way to get rankings, instead of putting “get rankings” first.

The gist is, we all know that once we get ranked, too many of us think the job to be done is over, but shouldn’t we be constantly evaluating that content and tweaking it to ensure it stays helpful?

My bet, publishers should watch out (we’ll validate this with a larger study as it rolls out!) Sign up below to get future updates:

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There is a business case for looking at people who aren’t your direct competitors and our big data approach to SEO helps us find the head-scratching moments when someone we don’t expect is outranking the sites in the space with topical authority.

  • Publishers focused on a very broad range of topics (CNET, Forbes, etc.)
  • Sites that exist to collect and monetize organic search traffic, without providing unique value
  • Sites that leverage content created with tools like Jasper or Copymatic

Recommendations: What You Can Do

Google’s announcement gives us extensive clues to signal what content may get knocked down, how greatly our websites may be impacted overall, and how we can move forward.

We’ll go through them one-by-one – giving our hypotheses, tests you can run, and any takes I have based on the data I’ve reviewed combined with my 23 years of experience in the SEO industry.

Stay in Your Lane

Here’s what Google qualifies as “not staying in your lane”:

  • Producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it may drive traffic
  • Writing about things just because they are trending – not specifically for your existing audience
  • Entering niche topic areas without any real expertise to capitalize on a content gap

Hypothesis: This will greatly affect publishers like Forbes, CNet, Mashable, etc. Watch content velocity, are you suddenly showing up with “lots” of content, across various theme’s off of your main topic? If so, keep an eye out.

Example: ranked 2nd for “best truck tires,” even though they are a self-described “global media company, focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle.”

Forbes ranked higher than 3 other sites clearly focused primarily on Automobiles.

When you run Forbes’ homepage meta description through Google Cloud’s Natural Language API demo tool – you’ll see that the categories Forbes focuses on are:

While if we take Car and Driver’s meta description, we get this:

Hypothesis: Websites like Forbes will rank lower on topics that don’t directly relate to their core mission: business. They may even slip on business terms if this is a domain wide penalty.

What You Should Do Instead: Talk to customers, study their problems, their triggers to finding solutions, and their interactions with your brand. Map those out into your content strategy – answering the burning questions you know your existing audience is bound to have to solve.

If Google seems to be talking about helpful content, then understanding the questions in People Also Ask boxes is a great place to start. Notice how they talk about having to search after the search to find answers, how else will you know what the users searches for after?

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Deceiving Content That Doesn’t Truly Answer the Searchers Question

The sights and sounds below revolve around two core topics:

  1. AI-Generated content
  2. Your user’s question doesn’t get answered

Here’s what Google qualifies as “content that doesn’t truly answer a user’s question”:

  • Using extensive automation to produce content on many topics
  • Mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value
  • Your content leaves people feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources
  • Content promises to answer a Q that actually has no answer (release date for a product, movie, TV show when one isn’t confirmed yet)

Hypothesis: This could affect sites who bought “cheap content” or are using algorithmic approaches of entity matching to produce content, based on what is already ranking on Google. If you jumped on the GTP-3 train and started creating content with tools like Jasper or Copymatic and didn’t augment it with expertise, you could be identified, lets see.

Example: If you told a tool that auto generates content using GPT-3 to write a page on a topic and told me to write on the same topic – my page would smoke GPT-3 to the human eye. But up until now, Google wasn’t able to catch that.

What You Should Do Instead: There are no shortcuts to creating great content at scale, but there are frameworks and solutions that make it easier for all parties. Here are some things we’ve successfully done with busy teams that have aggressive goals:

  • Find time with someone on the sales or customer service team, and record and transcribe your conversation. Years ago we had a client who only had time to chat on their drive home. We took it, and we were able to collect great information from an individual with deep subject matter expertise and turn it into content.
    • Experts have opinions, ask them what they feel about trending topic X or Y vs just regurgitating facts back.
    • Use trends, PAA clues, and news to ask them what they think.
  • Use the resources that already exist. Does your sales team have old webinar content that explains their product and solution? What about sales collateral? When you’re in a pinch with resourcing, repurposing other types of media can be a great strategy to get ahead.
  • Hire experts and create logical/efficient workflows or risk penalties. Choice is yours but if this thing rolls out and takes a hold, we’ll need to find a way to balance scale and helpfulness in our content. This takes more buy-in, but our clients who are most successful creating content at scale have in-house resources that they pair with freelancers.

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Reverse Engineering the Algorithm Won’t Help You Write Expert Content

Here’s what Google qualifies as “hack attempts on their algorithm logic”:

  • Writing to a highly specific word count because you’ve heard the Google has a preferred word count
  • Content made primarily to exploit search trends vs actually helping humans

Hypothesis: If you’ve been doing this, you’ve probably already experienced big dings over the past few algorithm rollouts from Google.

Example: You should already know if your site will be impacted by this, as it’s a very intentional tactic to create misleading content. This isn’t something you can accidentally fall victim to.

What You Should Do Instead: So if you want to stop chasing Google, start chasing your customers. Sit with them, ask them questions, get feedback on your content…imagine if companies started having a content counsel where they asked customers to review content for helpfulness before it launched? Asking what is missing, what else would you have to Google to find it…that could be an interesting direction.

What It All Comes Down To

Google directly called out that “sites with relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall are less likely to perform well in Search.” Their advice is to get rid of that unhelpful content to help increase the rankings of your other content.

What’s Next for the Helpful Content Update?

Because we’ve been pushing the envelope on big data and SEO for years we have lots of ways to slice and dice millions of keywords and hundreds of millions of ranking URLs, we’re going to go DEEP into the vault, and we’ll share everything we can about winners and losers.

For example, we’ve started looking back over 12 months at which publishers built the most “new pages” of content, so we already know who to have our eye on.

Need Additional Support? Let us know how we can help you.

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Source:, originally published on 2022-08-18 12:51:27