Google Helpful Content Update: New Ranking Algorithm Details

On August 18, 2022, Google announced a new algorithm update called the Helpful Content Update that would be released soon. This article will provide an overview of what this update is, when it’s rolling out, the expected outcomes, why this ranking algorithm update is important for content creators and search engine optimization (SEO), as well as tips and advice on how to make sure your content meets the new algorithm requirements.

The ultimate goal here is to help you become better informed about the Google Helpful Content Update so you know how to work on improving the quality of your content and adjust your digital marketing SEO strategies for long-term success.

Google Helpful Content Update

What Is the Google Helpful Content Update?

The Google Helpful Content Update is a ranking algorithm update that aims to reward content that provides a satisfying user experience while reducing visibility in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for content that is written for the purpose of ranking in search engines to attract clicks.

This is not a Google Core Update, manual action, or spam action, but is a new signal that Google will use to evaluate and rank content for a website. It is also a site-wide algorithm that is weighted. This means that if the machine learning algorithm determines that a relatively high amount of content on a website is unhelpful (or unsatisfying), then it may get flagged with a classifier that impacts the entire site’s visibility in the SERPs. Sites with a lot of unhelpful content may notice a stronger effect than sites with a large percentage of helpful (or satisfying) content.

Recovery is also estimated to take months for affected sites. To regain search engine visibility, the unhelpful content must be removed and your website must prove to the ranking algorithm that it’s following best practices for publishing people-first content. You can think of it as a probation period. Google does not want content creators to revert to publishing unhelpful content as soon as the recovery has happened.

Is This Panda 5.0?

If you’re at all familiar with the Google Panda Update, then the new algorithm change seems very similar to it because it’s focused on low-quality content. However, when Google was asked about this by Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Roundtable, he was told that the Helpful Content Update has a new set of algorithm signals that work in addition to Panda, which is already part of the Google core algorithm. You can read more details on its background and history on the complete list of Google algorithm updates page.

When Is the Google Helpful Content Update Rolling Out?

The Google Helpful Content Update was released on August 25, 2022. This ranking algorithm update will take approximately two weeks to fully roll out for English searches globally with future plans to expand to other languages.

You can stay up-to-date on the launch and rollout by visiting the Google ranking updates page, which includes the latest details on ranking updates made to Google Search that are relevant to website owners. 

Why Is Google Launching This Ranking Algorithm Update?

Google is constantly refining its systems to ensure that the web pages being displayed and ranking in its search engine are as helpful and relevant as possible to the users. As a people-focused search engine, Google wants website owners and content publishers to create high quality content that satisfies the needs of humans, not just ranking on search engines using SEO.

An issue Google is trying to fix in Search with the Helpful Content Update is reducing visibility for low-quality content in the SERPs and increasing rankings for content that feels authentic and useful to its users. It can be very frustrating when a user lands on a web page from clicking on a URL in the SERPs and does not get the information or insights they were expecting. At the same time, being served content that seems like it wasn’t written by a person, or even for a human to read, harms the Google Search experience.

Categories to Be Impacted By This Content Update

While the Google Helpful Content Update will impact every website industry, initial testing has found that the following categories should see the most improvement in the SERPs for surfacing higher quality, people-focused content that’s been written to satisfy users’ needs and not just search engine algorithms for SEO ranking purposes:

  • Online Education
  • Arts and Entertainment
  • Shopping
  • Tech-Related Content

Expected Outcomes of This Algorithm Update

  • A large fluctuation in the SERPs across all website industries.
  • Seeing more search results with unique, authentic information.
  • Reading content you haven’t seen before.
  • Fewer low-quality websites ranking in the top SERP positions.
  • Less AI-generated content that wasn’t written by humans or even for people to read.
  • Lower influence of backlinks for SEO when the content is considered to be unhelpful or unsatisfying to users by the ranking algorithm.
  • More content creators taking a people-first approach with content rather than primarily publishing content for search engine traffic.

Google’s Recommendations On How to Create People-First Content That’s Helpful and Satisfying

According to Google’s official documentation on what creators should know about the Helpful Content Update, answering yes to the questions below means you’re most likely on the right track with a people-first approach with your content:

  • Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
  • Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?
  • Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
  • After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
  • Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
  • Are you keeping in mind our guidance for core updates and for product reviews?

Google’s Checklist for Assessing Content Quality That Is Search-Engine First

Google’s documentation on this update also includes information about assessing the quality of your content to find out if it follows a search-engine first approach. As stated in the guide, answering yes to some or all of the questions below means you should reevaluate how you’re creating content across your site:

  • Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
  • Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
  • Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
  • Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?
  • Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?
  • Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
  • Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (No, we don’t).
  • Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic?
  • Does your content promise to answer a question that actually has no answer, such as suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn’t confirmed?

My Advice On How to Recover (And Avoid Having Issues) With This Helpful Content Update

After the Google Helpful Content Update rolls out, the algorithm will operate on an ongoing basis. If a signal has been applied to your site, then it can last for a few months before recovery. My best advice on how to recover (and avoid having issues) include the following tips:

  • Create the content YOU want to see in the SERPs. Before you hit the publish button, ask yourself, “Would you be satisfied with this content or feel like you wanted more out of it?”
  • Follow the journalism code of ethics. (See SPJ Code of Ethics.) Seek the truth and report it. Minimize harm to the reader. Act independently. Be accountable and transparent.
  • Identify the content that was created only to rank high in the search engine without any regard to the user experience. Then, either remove it, add a noindex tag to the HTML code, or improve the content so that it is truly helpful to people.
  • Only publish content you have first-hand experience in, hire experts in the field to write that type of content for your site, or interview authoritative people in the industry who can provide accurate information on the topic. Don’t just write on topics for their potential SEO value and try to fake your way through it. Truly demonstrate your expertise, authoritativeness, and trust (E-A-T) or specific topics.
  • Be specific as possible in your content. Remove all unnecessary words or “fluff” just to fill a certain word count. Being general in nature is not good for the user who wants answers to their specific questions by reading your content. If a user has to return to the search results page (i.e., pogo-sticking) to review additional websites to satisfy their needs, then can be a signal to Google that your content is unhelpful or lacks enough depth for people who land on the page.
  • Try to include as many facts, figures, and statistics when it is applicable to the content. And make sure they are 100% accurate by doing the research with trusted sources.
  • Clarify the purpose of each web page and remove unhelpful content that doesn’t match that purpose.
  • Revise content so it satisfies the user search intent as quickly as possible on the page. There’s a common theme among websites that are monetized with display ads, for example, to put the helpful content at the bottom of the page in an effort to make the user scroll through the content so the website owner can display more ads to the user to make more money. Instead, adapt your writing style to the inverted pyramid which is a journalism method of writing where the most important information is presented first. The who, what, when, where, and why appear at the start of the article, followed by supporting details and background information for users who want to gain more insights into those details.
  • Don’t just copy the content structure of top-ranking competitors. Find ways to make your content better by adding in more subsections, statistical data, expert quotes, charts, tables, images, videos, etc, that are helpful for the user. Look for the information gaps that your competitors are missing and fill those in with your own expertise on the topic.
  • Write the content first so it serves a people-first approach. Then go back through the content and optimize it for on-page SEO.
  • Focus on publishing quality over quantity. If your business model is to blast as much content as you can onto the Internet with the hope that some of it ranks to bring in search engine traffic, then that will not likely be a sustainable SEO strategy. Websites like those may be impacted by this Helpful Content Update and continue to be targeted in the future because it’s an easy signal to detect.
  • Reduce your dependency on AI-generated content without human editing or fact-checking. AI tools can be used to assist the writing process but should not replace it.

Note: This advice is purely based on opinion. We will need to monitor the algorithm update after its launch and continued rollout to learn more about what types of sites are being affected and study the recovery cases that are published by other industry experts as they arise.

More Guidance On Building High Quality People-First Websites

Google provides helpful guidance that publishers can use to make sure they’re delivering the best possible user experience on their websites and not just focusing on what they think will satisfy the current ranking algorithms or signals for on-page SEO. You can read the complete documentation here. I’ve highlighted the most important points below that I think best to apply to the Google Helpful Content Update.

  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

Official Google Resources for This Algorithm Update

Other Expert Resources On This New Google Update

Google Helpful Content Update Summary

I hope you enjoyed this guide on the Google Helpful Content Update.

As you discovered, this ranking algorithm update is aiming to reward content that provides a satisfying user experience in the SERPs while reducing visibility for content that is written for the primary purpose of ranking in search engines to attract clicks. Google wants to surface more helpful content for its users, and through testing, the engineers have discovered that a people-first, not search-engine first, content is the most satisfying to its users. Therefore, the more in-depth, accurate, and helpful your content is for people, the better it should do in Search.