Google’s helpful content update: what you need to know
Following much speculation about the latest Google algorithm update, Dave Colgate of Vertical Leap tells us what we know so far, and what it means for SEO best practices.
Google's helpful content update is said to help ensure content is designed for people - not robots / Gabriella Clare Marino via Unsplash
Google’s helpful content update was expected to make a big impact, with many comparing it to the notorious 2011 Panda update before it even started rolling out. It’s fair to say reality hasn’t lived up to the hype and the helpful content update didn’t have the impact many were predicting.
Now, many people in the community are questioning the importance of the update, so let’s look at the initial impact and Google’s response to early feedback.
What is the helpful content update?
The helpful content update is designed to reward content created primarily for the purpose of helping users. Google says the update will demote pages and content that prioritize search engines over users.
Google’s official announcement says the update is about meeting users’ expectations. In the same statement, it reiterates the need to follow standard SEO good practices (these are still important) but places emphasis on creating content for people, not search engines.
Google uses the phrase ‘people-first content’ throughout the statement, giving a clear indication of how the update is meant to affect rankings.
How important is the helpful content update?
Google announced the helpful content update on August 18. The update started rolling out on August 25, until completion on September 9. This gave us a week’s notice ahead of rollout and some people in the industry were speculating the helpful content update could be the biggest since the chaos of Panda in 2011.
Yet the initial impact of the helpful content update fell short of expectations, with only 20% of SEOs saying they noticed an impact in a Twitter poll of 632 votes.
We have to consider, too, that a large portion of any cohort claiming to notice an impact on ranking will incorrectly attribute it to a specific update when the changes could be caused by a variety of factors. So, if 20% say they noticed a change, the percentage of respondents actually affected would likely be much smaller. Either way, the consensus is that the helpful content update had a smaller impact than anticipated.
Google’s Danny Sullivan chimed into online conversations, some of which accused Google of overstating the importance of the update ahead of rollout. On August 31, Sullivan reminded everyone that Google will continue to refine the update, even after the rollout finished (it was still taking place at this point).
Sullivan said: “With this helpful content update, as I said before, it's part of a continuing effort. Directionally, it's what SEOs and creators should pay attention to. We'll continue to tune it, refine it. It matters, which is why we've spent so much time talking about it.”
Clearly, the message here is that Google’s advice ahead of the helpful content update still applies and the impact of this update on search results could increase over time. We’ve seen this with many updates in the past, including the mobile-friendly update; hummingbird; Bert; and Mum.
Will it become more important?
The helpful content update is a reminder that speculation doesn’t help anyone with navigating Google’s algorithm updates. The SEO community regularly complains that Google doesn’t provide enough notice or information about major updates but, when it does give fair warning, the same pattern of hysteria and anti-climax follows.
To fully understand the helpful content update, we must look at the data over a period of months and consider other factors that could skew analysis, especially other updates like the September 2022 Core Update that quickly followed.
There’s a good chance the helpful content update will become more important over time but, until we have the data to confirm this, any other answer simply fuels more speculation.
In the meantime, if you need help with your content, Vertical Leap has a large team of SEO and content specialists in-house ready to help.
Contact us for more information about our services.
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