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Forget SEO and Write for People: A Public Service Announcement

Joanna Humphreys

It’s not an exaggeration to say that digital content makes the world go round. Imagine not being able to Google something and get an answer the next second. Or ask Alexa, and have her tell you what you need to know immediately.

If you’re in the business of creating content, you’re up against much competition. Whether you are running a website, blog, or social media account, the words you put out there can literally make or break your success. 

By now, it’s no secret that Google and other search engines use the content you publish to indicate how high up your website or blog should be ranking in the SERPs (search engine result pages). 

So, writing with search engine optimisation (SEO) at the forefront is a tactic marketers have developed over the years. They’ve been diligently writing content designed solely to please Google’s almighty algorithm, hoping they’ll get in the good books and see ranking growth. With just the right number of strategically placed keywords, they hope that Google will deem their content good enough. 

And for a while, it worked. 

But will it always work? Does it even work anymore? No. It’s time to stop, and here’s why. 

Enter: The Helpful Content Update

Google’s latest algorithm update is all about ranking helpful, informative content written by somebody who clearly doesn’t care about whether it ranks; they want to put good information out there. 

If Google hadn’t made it clear in the past that they don’t like it when marketers and business owners write content only for SEO purposes, they have now. 

The Helpful Content Update will do precisely what it says on the tin. The algorithm is deprioritising the use of keywords and other SEO strategies in online content (although they will still have a role to play) and focusing on ranking content that scratches all the right itches for the reader. 

Google’s algorithm looks for indicators that the readers are enjoying the content. It’ll hunt for content that solves problems, soothes pain-points, and gives readers that ‘aha’ moment when they finally find the solution they’ve been looking for. Google makes no secret that they want the user experience to be excellent, and part of that involves promoting high-quality, informative content that addresses the reader’s needs. 

What’s Google looking for? The basics are:

  • Informative
  • Well-researched
  • Relevant
  • Engaging
  • Easy to understand

SEO-focused content isn’t usually helpful

According to SEO Chatter, the Helpful Content Update will reward content that provides a satisfying user experience. And unfortunately for those who write for algorithms, not people, most content written for search engines first will not cut the mustard. 

We’re not talking about the content you’ve written to inform readers but have done your keyword research and sprinkled some naturally-fitting ones in. If that’s what you do, keep on doing it. You’ll be fine. Keywords aren’t going to be useless – it’s still important to research them, but for the sake of your readers’ sanity, don’t make your content all about them. 

We’re focusing on SEO content that’s purely written for SEO and SEO only here. It’s the kind of content you read, and you can see the writer thought keywords were the be-end and all-end of everything and forgot readers exist. It’s probably on a topic that’s been written about a thousand times before, boring, and nobody’s going to read it let alone find it helpful. If Chat-GPT could cook it up and do a better job, then you can bet Google isn’t going to like it. 

Even worse, it might be good, with some great information. Still, it’s so ridiculously splattered with awkward keywords that it’ll drive the reader bonkers until they furiously hit the back button and hope they can find something a little bit more easy to read elsewhere, lamenting the fact that it might have been a good read. If only ‘insert several keyword variations with a few locations tagged on’ hadn’t appeared 71 times. 

Until 2022, content like that might have gotten you somewhere. We say it might have worked because Google’s never been the biggest fan of boring and unhelpful content. And they definitely don’t like keyword stuffing.

Once the Helpful Content Update finishes rolling out, though, content written for search engines first will have no chance. 

How will it affect search results?

The Helpful Content Update has been in the works since August 2022, and Google will fully roll it out soon. Site and blog owners are already seeing differences in their rankings and results depending on how helpful or not their content is. 

Website and blog owners that post valuable, helpful content that people like reading will likely see improvement in search rankings. And it’ll have the potential to bring even more traffic with it. 

On the flip side, websites and blogs filled with useless, boring, unhelpful content complete with a zillion keywords a piece including the misspelt ones, will find that they did all that work in vain. If your site has published content like this, then now is the time to get rid of it. Delete it, shred it, flush it down the toilet, burn it. Get it gone.

The bright side: Writing for readers is considerably easier

You’re a human. You’re writing for other humans, possibly on something you know a lot about. So, there’s really nothing to stress about with this update. Unless you only know how to write for robots – that might be something you should work on. But no, really, all you need to do is focus your efforts on writing something interesting, informative, and engaging. 

For us writers, it’ll be great not to worry as much about making sure a particular keyword appears in the text a specific number of times. Sure, put a target keyword or three in there if it’s natural and flows well, but the fact is, keywords will do very little for unhelpful content. And it’s welcome news for some content writers and copywriters. ‘Whatever service near me’ has been the bane of many lives, and we can’t wait to see the back of it. 

It’s a bit like the backlinking situation. Once upon a time, people posted their backlinks in every crevice of the web to get ranked higher. Then Google decided they had had quite enough of that. 

Today, one high-quality backlink from a super-authoritative site will get you further than a hundred backlinks from low-ranking nonsense sites. And content is to follow suit. You’ll get better results with a few high-quality, well-researched, helpful blog posts on your site than you’ll get with a hundred boring, keywordy ones written for Google.  

And to be honest, that’s fantastic news. You could focus the time you’d normally spend writing loads of boring SEO-first content into a few interesting pieces that benefit the reader and possibly do just as well. You’ll improve your site’s reputation without breaking your fingers from all that writing and losing your mind over keywords. 

What guidelines has Google given for creating helpful content?

Google are transparent in their demand – no more writing for them. Stop it now. Enough’s enough. 

They want to see content that their users will enjoy. And as always, they’ve given some pointers. These are as follows:

  • Focus on writing for your intended audience. Ensure that the content you post will be helpful to your audience if readers come directly to you for information. 
  • Write content that demonstrates a depth of knowledge and expertise from first-hand knowledge or a ton of research. 
  • Make sure that your website has a primary focus or purpose. 
  • Write content that, once somebody has finished reading it, will make them feel that they’ve learned enough about the topic to achieve their goal. 
  • Write content that leaves the reader feeling satisfied by the end.

Ask these questions to figure out if your content is helpful

Google have come up with some questions you can ask yourself to determine if your content is helpful. These are as follows:

  • Are you writing content to attract people from search engines without thinking about if they will find it helpful? 
  • Are you producing content on many different topics, hoping that some of it might have a chance at ranking?
  • Do you add any value to your content, or are you just summarising existing content?
  • Are you only writing about topics because they’re trending rather than because you think your audience will find a topic helpful?
  • When readers get to the end of your posts, will they need to search again to get more or better information or have you covered it?
  • Are you writing for a niche you barely know anything about, hoping to get more traffic?
  • Does your content appear to offer answers that don’t exist, such as suggesting you know when a new TV show season will be released, even though the production still needs to give out that information?
  • Are you writing to a particular word count?
  • Are you using automation to produce content on many different topics? 

The bottom line

Writing for SEO and writing for people are going to become the same thing, which can only be good. Most of us use Google daily to look something up and learn new things, so it’s in everybody’s best interests to stop writing solely for algorithms and focus on the people searching instead. 

Do you need to update your blog content or marketing strategy considering the Helpful Content Update? If you’ve been writing mainly for SEO, don’t panic. It’s never too late to turn it all around. We can help! Writing content that helps people, rather than feeding algorithms, is our favourite thing to do. And we’re good at it! 

Get in touch – we’d love to help you out.  

Check out our blog post-writing service here

For more content marketing tips, advice, and information, visit the Ink Elves Blog.