No more clickbait? What creators need to know about Google’s “helpful content” update

Google have announced they are cracking down on unsatisfying content with a new “helpful content” algorithm update that aims to improve its users experience online.

This Google Search update, which began rolling out August 25th 2022, prioritises content that has been “written by people, for people”.

Is it time to say goodbye to clickbait articles that simply summarise what everyone else is saying? It seems so!

Why this update was released

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen an increase in people declaring the death of Google Search as SERPs have be filled with unoriginal and over-optimised content.

News websites have complained about breaking a story, only to be outranked by other publications rewriting their articles.

While many other sites use clickbait titles promising to answer a question that has no answer – such as the release date for a product, film or TV show.

In a bid to improve user experience, the Helpful Content update will diversify search results to make it as helpful, authentic and relevant as possible.

This should in theory tackle content that has been published purely to get clicks or rank highly in search results.

How the update works

First thing to note is that this new update will go hand-in-hand with the many other factors Google use in their algorithm for ranking.

This site-wide signal will analyse your site as a whole to automatically identify low value content.

If Google determines that the majority of your content is low quality, unhelpful and seems to have been published for search engines, you’ll likely see a drop in organic traffic overall.

However, there is good news. Since the system will run continuously, you will be able to recover. Google suggested that removing the unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content over time.

According to Danny Sullivan, testing found that this update should especially improve results for sites with online education, arts and entertainment, shopping and tech-related content.

Does your content pass the test

Google list a number of questions to ask yourself to ensure your content is helpful, such as:

  1. Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge?
  2. After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
  3. Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
  4. Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
  5. Are you mainly summarising what others have to say without adding much value?

What you should focus on as a creator

Whether you’re a blogger, marketer or small business owner, I urge you not to panic or make any rash decisions. If you’ve been following Google’s guidelines you shouldn’t see any major shift in rankings.

As always, focus on creating content for your audience first and foremost. Think about the following: What would your current or ideal audience find useful? What do they already ask your opinion on? Can you demonstrate first-hand expertise or knowledge on that topic?

Obviously optimising that content is important if you want your audience to find it. But you want to ensure that they genuinely find it helpful and enjoy the experience you offer.

Make note that Google specifically mentioned that creators and publishers should evaluate whether they are:

  • Producing lots of content on different topics in hopes to rank
  • Writing about things that are trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience
  • Writing about a niche topic area without any real expertise because you thought you’d get search traffic

They also mention the use of “extensive automation to produce content on many topics”. This is likely due to the rise in use of AI-writing tools. If you do decide to use these, make sure you’re adding a personal spin by including your first-hand experience.

My recommendation is to do an audit of your content, figure out what is genuinely helpful and what articles need some work. Keep in mine your target audience and online personas when doing so.

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