A helpful guide for writing helpful content
Around 2 months ago, Google rolled out their helpful content update, which aimed to “better connect people to helpful information”. And according to Google themselves, “it was big”.
So, if you want to know how this is affecting your business now that the dust has settled and what you should be doing to make sure your website keeps performing, we’ve put together our thoughts on Google’s latest update, and an easy-to-follow guide (with examples) for online businesses looking to write helpful content that ranks well.
What this article covers
In the spirit of being “helpful”, here is a list of everything we are going to cover in this article so you can jump right to what you want to know.
The Helpful Content Update
Our guide on making your content “helpful”
The Helpful Content Update in a nutshell
Googles “Helpful Content Update” aimed to better reward content that has been optimised to answer a person’s query, rather than optimised to rank for a query. If your content provides readers with a feeling of satisfaction, it is helpful, so keep your content original, focused and above all else, make sure to answer the readers question, quickly!
While the areas hit the hardest were expected to be online education, arts, entertainment, shopping and tech-related content, if you rely on your informational content ranking to bring in traffic to your site, you should probably evaluate your content as this update indicates the direction Google is going in terms of what it will be rewarding going forward.
Why has Google rolled out this update?
Google’s found that their users were becoming frustrated with how often they visited a web page that offered nothing but the illusion of an answer. They have identified that this disparity in expectation vs reality is caused by pages that are optimised to rank rather than optimised to help. So they are now trying the reward sites optimised to help in an effort to improve their user experience.
When did Google roll out the update?
According to Google, the update began on August 25, 2022 and ended on September 9, 2022.
Has the helpful content update had a big impact?
Google has stated that the update is a big change to how it ranks content, however many SEOs are reported low volatility, and minimal change in search results. What we saw is change throughout the duration becoming more significant, and we can say that many of our clients seeing more significant gains toward the end of the rollout in early September the search results rankings, where early in the rollout we so no discernible impact.
Who will be most effected by the update?
As we mentioned above, Google has suggested they aim to “improve results related to online education, as well as arts and entertainment, shopping and tech-related content.” We read this as, if you are providing information online and rely on your content ranking to bring in traffic to your site, this update relates to you.
How do you know if this is effecting your site?
Going forward, we predict this ranking factor to be turned up slowly, giving sites time to adjust to the new expectations. We recommend you don’t go change your website all at once. Don’t panic! Instead look at which of your pages climb or fall, audit them, and try to gain insight into why they may be responding the way they are. Make small incremental changes (if needed). If you are unsure how to update your content for the better, we have made some suggestions that you can use to make sure your content fits with Google’s helpful content guidelines.
Our Guide on making sure your content is “helpful”
According to Google, helpful content is original content that aims to help the end user (written for people), as opposed to content that has been designed to rank well (written for search engines). Helpful content will be satisfying to read, while also adhering to SEO best practices. Here are some rules to make sure your content is helpful.
Rather than just summarising what is on the web, write something from your own perspective. People came to you because they see you as an authority on the topic, so bring something new to the table.
If you are a dentist writing a guide on brushing your teeth, rather than stating the obvious in a numbered list, you could make your content original by providing your readers with an educated opinion on the most used techniques, comparing brush bristles and throwing in some gross dentist stories that your traffic can cringe to.
Make sure your content has an intended audience
Don’t write a piece of content simply to hit some keywords and get a few extra words published on your site. If your blogs get no traffic, its likely you haven’t asked yourself who you were writing for! Look through your inquiries, think back on past customer interactions. Ask, why did they need my help and start from there!
If you are a car salesperson writing a blog on choosing a car, instead of comparing all cars for all people, compare cars for your underserved demographics. Go through and check the age of your customers, if you notice that you are not getting many learner drivers buying their first car, home in on what they need. Compare cheaper cars with good reliability, great safety features, maybe cars with a surprisingly good sound system. I would also suggest displaying some cars you currently have for sale and links to your favourite manufacturer pages to make their selection easier.
Make content easy to digest
If you know what the reader is looking for, give it to them straight up, don’t hide it at the bottom of a page of fluff (looking at you, online recipe blogs. I don’t need to know the origin story of nachos).
Google is smarter than you think, they know what your customers want better than they do. In fact, thanks to Rank Brain, your customers don’t even need type exactly what they are looking for… Through a range of different signals, Google finds what it believes to be a true interpretation of your intent based on mountains of data. Don’t believe me? Search “cricket” in google and see if it gives you pictures of crickets, or a wiki page on the sport cricket or what the majority of users have shown they are interested in when searching the term – A summary of fixtures, scores and news.
For this reason it is important that you know what your customer wants, and that you give it to them straight up in the best format possible.
When we wrote this blog, we wanted to make finding what you are interested in as easy as possible. To do this, we did the following …
- Added a summary of the blog in dot points so readers can scan for points of interest.
- Added anchor links to each of the dot points for those who want to jump straight into a specific topic.
- Added a TLDR for readers who are time poor and want the quick takeaways without reading the entire blog.
- Used descriptive titles with a clear hierarchy to make skim reading easier.
- Provided clear examples in each instruction to ensure each point was both meaningful and actionable.
- Used bullet points to communicate large amounts of information in smaller chunks.
Align your content with your site’s primary focus
You customers will have goals that directly benefit from yours; they want to buy your product; you want to sell your product. Focus on making sure the information on your site is helpful to that same group of people and you have a winning content strategy.
If you are a retail business, treat your site like a salesperson trying to provide the best solution to their customer’s needs. Ask yourself how your customers likely quantify the perfect product or service. If you sell air conditioners, be clear about how little energy each of your products use for easy comparison. If you sell flowers online, make sure it is obvious that you deliver on Mother’s Day!
Give users a satisfying experience
Making your content satisfying to read is simple, if you don’t have the answer, don’t pretend that you do. Focus on what you can provide, and make sure it is clear what you offer
If you are an entertainment blogger, don’t tell people you KNOW what happens to everyone’s favourite character in the next season of house of the dragon, then proceed to list a bunch of speculations! Wasting peoples time is frustrating, saving people time is satisfying!
So hypothetically speaking, what is “unhelpful” content?
The basic rule for writing helpful content begins with a simple question. Does your content leave users with no more information than they started with? If so, it is unhelpful! Make sure they leave having learned something! We have all seen unhelpful content through our own web browsing. Maybe its an article claiming to know the 3 best plumbers in Perth, that provides you with 3 Perth plumbers and no insight as to why they are any good. Or maybe it’s another list of 10 things to do in Perth when it rains, giving you yet again a suggestion that you should go to the movies, or read a book in the state library. Readers are looking for something they don’t know!
Finally, SEOs, if you are making content for the sake of adding a page or manipulating search results, you are being unhelpful!
Is AI written content, “unhelpful content”?
This is a tough one! If you want the boring answer – then Google stated that they want “helpful content written BY PEOPLE, for people”. So, if your question is, “can I fire my copywriter and instead pay a subscription to this AI content generator I found?”, then absolutely not! Or maybe you should, so we can outrank you easier.
But if your question is simply “is it okay to use AI?”, then we say go right ahead. AI is a useful tool, in fact “useful” is an understatement, how about “revolutionary”? But it is still a robot, it cannot think, and it will be a few years until it is catches up to a human, let alone one as creatively brilliant as our copywriter, Jay. So, if you are going to harness the power of AI, make sure you only use it to allow your copywriter more time to ponder about their next masterpiece, so they can ensure your content adheres not only to the “Helpful Content Update” of 2022, but also to the “Revolutionary Content Update” of 3022.
What does the helpful content update mean for the SEO industry?
Some might say this is an annoyance, and they would be correct… if their whole strategy revolved around gaming the system with word vomit blogs and bloating the internet with useless information. In our opinion, this is good for SEOs, and good for the internet. We mentioned that the disparity in expectation vs reality is caused by pages that are optimised to rank rather than optimised to answer. Well, we would say that this was in fact simply cause and effect. The cause being Google rewarding poor content, the effect being people writing poor content to get rewarded!
We think more SEOs should be excited about this update. Finally … we can write something helpful!
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