How Helpful is Google’s ‘Helpful Content Update’?


Google regularly tweaks its algorithms. Some cause more panic than others, but all are designed to improve a user’s experience when they search for information on Google. Google’s latest big update, the absolutely non-ironic Helpful Content Update, has created a few waves since it was released in August last year. Five months on, it’s still causing palpitations in the SEO world.

At the time, Google said the update was intended to reward original, helpful content as opposed to generic, low-quality content produced purely to gain search traffic. Unfortunately, a lot of sites have since found that the Helpful Content Update has proven less than helpful to their site traffic.


What Kind of Content is Google Targeting?

The days of scraped content are, thankfully, long gone. Most SEO practitioners have learned the hard way that terrible, keyword-stuffed content written purely for search engines doesn’t help a site rank, at least not in the long term. Yet there is still a ton of bad content out there. Often, content is only written to help build links. This means it doesn’t contain much useful information and is basically generic crap that has been rehashed from a million other pages.

Google recognises this. It understands how annoyed people get when they click on a search result, only to land on a page that is at best not useful, and at worst, not even relevant. This is why the Helpful Content Update was created.

The update penalises pages that don’t contain helpful content. It isn’t so bad if only your older pages are affected, perhaps because you didn’t bother producing decent content when you first built the site. But if your entire website is filled with bad content, you have likely already felt Google’s Wrath.

How to Create Content Google Loves

What kind of content does Google want? Well, the clue is in the name. Content must be helpful.

Helpful means content that helps users in some way. Since generic content isn’t usually helpful because it only touches on the surface of a topic, content must be helpful to the people who are seeking answers to their questions. It must go beyond generic.

Google still uses keywords as an indicator that content is relevant. That hasn’t changed. Content creators do still need to include relevant keywords that match a user’s search query. However, Google’s Helpful Content Update looks beyond basic keywords. It also assesses whether the page contains other relevant information related to the main keywords, such as pictures, infographics, and videos.

Look at the page analytics. If people land on the page and immediately click away, it’s a clue the content doesn’t resolve whatever search query led them there in the first place and they didn’t learn anything new. While you can’t create content 100% of visitors will find useful, you do need to please the majority of them.

Write Content for a Target Audience

In-depth content written for a targeted audience is much better than generic fluff. Analyse who your reader is and ask yourself what kind of content they want.

For example, if your website is about extreme sports, people visiting the sites will be interested in topics like ice climbing, ultrarunning in inhospitable locations, and white water rafting. Posting content that’s in-depth, interesting, and goes beyond the basic because it is written by experts on the topic is going to be more appealing to readers.

If you target the keyword “ultrarunning” but write a generic article on jogging, anyone landing on the page will be disappointed. They will probably click away pretty fast. But if you write a guide to getting started with ultrarunning and include kit lists, information about training plans, how to build up from a marathon distance, potential injuries to watch out for, and a guide to the best ultrarunning events in the UK, your reader will learn something and leave the page feeling satisfied.

Remember, a happy reader = happy Google algorithm.

Whether your website has been hammered by the Google Helpful Content Update or you are building a new site and want to avoid issues, here’s how to keep Google happy.

Stick To Your Niche

There are a ton of magazine sites on the internet. Some offer useful content and continue to attract a lot of traffic, but the majority contain a lot of junk content. Many were created purely to generate traffic, so they could earn money from ads and affiliate marketing. There was a time when this business model was a licence to print money, but not so much these days.

It is a far better idea to focus on creating content for a target niche, rather than writing random topics that are currently trending. Pick topics that appeal to your target audience, topics you know something about and can do justice to. If that’s not possible, hire writers who are experts in the niche or willing to research the topic.

Google Wants Content Written By Experts

OK, so that’s not strictly true. Google doesn’t care whether you have a degree in marketing or you have learned your trade the hard way. What readers want is content written by someone willing to research the finer details and share their knowledge. Even if you don’t have an advanced degree, you can still offer valuable information.

Be willing to put the time into creating good quality content. Link to your sources, include stats and dig a bit deeper into a topic. Share your own experiences where relevant and offer some unique viewpoints on the topic you are writing about.

Content is much better when written by someone who knows the subject matter. This is why websites like MoneySavingExpert have succeeded where a million other generic blogs about personal finance still languish in some dark corner of the internet.

Answer the Right Questions

Most people use Google because they want an answer to a specific question, such as “is my boyfriend cheating on me” or “how do I get a red wine stain out of a cream carpet”.

Think carefully about what your audience is looking for.

  • What kind of queries might they use when searching for information?
  • Can you provide answers?

Put yourself in their shoes.

Write content that offers more useful information than other sources and the reader will stay on the page for longer. They’ll eventually leave feeling satisfied they learned something new.

Write for Readers, Not Search Engines

Don’t make the mistake of writing content for search engines first. Yes, keywords are important because they tell the search engine what the page is about. However, filling a page with keywords just to score a better rank is the wrong way to go about it.

Include keywords naturally. It’s OK to optimise title tags and headings with keywords. It’s not OK to shove them in unnaturally, purely to attract search traffic.

Don’t use AI to produce a ton of content on a topic; it won’t read as natural.

User experience is the most important factor when writing content. Improving UX is what Google’s helpful Content Update is trying to do.

What’s Next?

Worried about Google’s Helpful Content Update? Don’t be.

Here at Ink Elves, we understand that writing good quality content isn’t easy. Unless you write content every day like our fantastic team of writers do, it can be surprisingly difficult to craft interesting, well-researched blogs, articles, and guest posts. Thankfully, you don’t need to have a nervous breakdown writing content – we’re here to help!

Get in touch with us whether your site has been nuked by Google and you need everything rewritten or you are hoping to start on the right foot with great content from day one. Our Ink Elves love nothing better than crafting useful content.

Try out the Ink Elves service by placing a sample order. You won’t be disappointed!