What is Google’s Helpful Content update?

Helpful content
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Google’s latest algorithm change is designed to ease the frustration web users feel when, instead of finding useful answers to their search queries, they are faced with clickbait. With the helpful content update, the search giant is using machine learning to deprioritize content created specifically to game search engine results.

  • On August 25th, Google released its August 2022 ‘helpful content’ Search update. The major new algorithm update could take up to two weeks to complete and is designed to make it easier for people to find ‘helpful content made by, and for, people’.
  • The company has acknowledged that Search users get frustrated when they land on web pages that appear to offer the answers they are looking for, then don’t live up to expectations. Writing on Google’s Keyword blog earlier in August, Google’s Public Liaison for Search, Danny Sullivan, said:

We know people don’t find content helpful if it seems like it was designed to attract clicks rather than inform readers.

  • The helpful content update will use machine learning to downrank content that isn’t judged to provide the insight Search users are looking for. According to Google that includes content that is unoriginal, is low quality, and was created primarily for search engines, not for the benefit of users.
Promoting people-first content

Google has provided advice for content creators on its Search Central blog to ensure they will be able to meet revised Search requirements after the new updates roll out.

  • It recommends that publishers take a “people-first” approach, producing user-friendly content rather than content that’s been manipulated to rank highly on search engines. To help content creators understand what it means by a people-first approach, Google suggests asking a series of questions of your content:
    • Would your existing or intended audience find the content useful if they came directly to you?
    • Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge?
    • After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
    • Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
Avoiding search-engine-first content 

Google’s people-first approach does not invalidate following SEO best practice. However, the tech giant says that content created primarily to generate search engine traffic correlates strongly with content that searchers find unsatisfying.

Publishers are likely to be penalized if they use extensive automation, target only trending topics, summarize without adding value and write on niche subjects without any real expertise.

Mirroring the people-first advice, Google suggests a series of questions that will help publishers identify when they are taking a search engine-first approach. These include:

    • Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
    • Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
    • Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
    • Does your content promise to answer a question that actually has no answer, such as suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn’t confirmed?

According to Danny Goodwin writing on Search Engine Land, most SEOs are taking a ‘wait-and-see approach’ to the Helpful Content update. He did however say that he was surprised that so many SEOs are confident that their content is helpful.

A Twitter poll asking if the announcement had SEOs concerned showed:

  • 44.1% were not worried, they thought their content was helpful
  • 46.6% were waiting to see how the update played out
  • 9.3% thought that they need to improve their content

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