What you need to know about Google’s ‘helpful content’ update

Did you hear? Google is rolling out its latest update this week — and it’s all about rewarding content that’s written by people, for people. 

If you’re at all familiar with what we do here at Content Copywriting, you’ll know that our focus has always been to connect brands with their ideal audience by creating content for humans first, Google second

So with its new ‘helpful content’ update, Google is essentially giving a BIG thumbs-up to the way we deliver all our content creation and search engine optimisation (SEO) services. 

Suffice to say, we’re giddy with excitement! And by the time you’ve finished reading this article, we hope you will be too. 

It’s official: quality content rules

According to Google, the ‘helpful content’ update is part of a broader effort to connect people with information that’s genuinely helpful and original. 

“It’s all about better rewarding quality content,” says Sarah Spence, Founder and Strategic Director of Content Copywriting. “If you have content on your site that gives visitors a more satisfying experience than your competitors, then you’ll do better in search results — whereas content that doesn’t meet visitors’ expectations won’t perform well.”

Ultimately, your site will rank better if your content is created for people first, not search engines. 

How does Google know if content provides a ‘satisfying experience’?

Google watches everything people do online: think of it as the all-seeing eye of cyberspace. 

“When people search something, Google sees what result they click on and then watches their activity on that site,” Sarah explains.

“Say someone clicks on a webpage but immediately bounces back to the search results to try another page or search something different. Google will know the content didn’t meet that searcher’s expectations.”

Google also tracks whether people:

  • stay on your site (and how long for)
  • go further into your site and look at more pages
  • watch any videos
  • make a purchase
  • share your content

“All this tracking is how Google determines whether someone has had a satisfying experience on your site,” Sarah says.

The dos and don’ts of creating successful website content 

Fortunately, Google has provided clear tips for ensuring your website content is successful. 

In its blog post, Google says content that’s made primarily for search engine traffic tends to be unsatisfying for site visitors. Instead, they recommend creating content that satisfies your audience as the first priority, while using best-practice SEO techniques to create additional value for searchers. (This is exactly what Content Copywriting has always done and continues to do for our clients — hence why we’re jumping for joy!)

Here’s how to boost your rankings with a strategic people-first approach.

1. DO know your audience and create content that is useful for them

In most cases, brands and businesses are quick to say they of course have an intended audience. 

“But do you know who your audience actually are?” Sarah says. “Have you defined them and done the keyword research on what they’re searching for that’s aligned to what you do?” 

Ask yourself: What is it I do that would be useful for them to know?

“Your site may have ecommerce pages that directly sell your product,” Sarah says, “but when you look at the content that goes around it, are you just smacking people in the face with sales copy? Or are you actually giving them helpful, practical advice?” 

Essentially, having a deep look into what your audience would find informative is essential for creating people-first content. 

2. DO create content that demonstrates first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge

Searchers are usually looking for an answer to their question, so they’ll be looking for content that’s written by someone who has relevant experience or expertise. 

“Say your business sells baby swaddles, and you’re writing an article about getting babies to sleep,” Sarah says. “It’s important to engage someone who’s an expert in the field — perhaps a medically trained or university qualified child sleep specialist — and interview them to add authority to your content. 

“This will help ensure the content on your site is useful for your audience, and not just pushing sales on them all the time.”

3. DO give your visitors the insights and information they need to achieve their goal 

As marketers, we want our job to be selling our products and services — but actually our job is to provide useful information to help people with their decision-making process. 

“If we do that well enough, we’ll sway site visitors towards considering our products or services,” Sarah says. 

You can help solve your audience’s problems by providing them with content that’s unique, valuable and useful — which is exactly the approach we take at Content Copywriting.

“If your content only skims the surface of the topic and doesn’t go into what will be valuable to the reader, they won’t leave your site feeling they’ve learned enough about the topic to achieve their goal,” Sarah says. 

If you just want to rank and get clicks for your product, you’ll need to pay for that traffic. And when you stop, the clicks will stop. Ultimately, you’re better off building long-term loyalty amongst your audience by creating valuable content that doesn’t go in for the hard sell every time.

4. DON’T just summarise what others have to say without adding unique value

At Content Copywriting, we never create content that simply summarises what others are saying. Our strategy is to create content that lies at the convergence point of:

    • What the business wants to say
    • What the audience wants to hear 
    • Where we can provide unique value 

A business might want to say, ‘Hey, buy this swaddle.’ But their sleep-deprived audience probably just wants to hear tips on getting their baby to sleep. 

However, there are millions of articles out there on getting babies to sleep. So how does this business add unique value?

“Our team creates that unique value by engaging with authorities on the topic,” Sarah says. “We’re not just going to write another blog post on 10 ways to get your baby to sleep faster (and one of them happens to be our product). We’ll write an article about the science behind how babies sleep. We’ll provide site visitors with tried and tested techniques recommended by an actual sleep expert who has helped hundreds of families get their babies to sleep.”

5. DON’T write about things simply because they’re trending

Have you ever been tempted to write content on a trending topic with the hopes of getting more clicks? With the rise of social media — where success means jumping on the latest bandwagon — it’s a tactic we’ll forgive you for trying. (As long as you stop it. Now. You’ll thank us later!) 

“If you keep jumping from trend to trend because they seem cool, then your content won’t perform well because there’s no solid strategy behind it,” Sarah says. “When it comes to SEO, it’s like the tale of the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race. 

“If you spend time understanding your audience, researching what they’re searching and planning content that will be valuable for them, you’ll end up with a solid strategy. Then, instead of rushing your content planning, you can then choose your topics methodically and strategically.” 

Hello successful Google-approved content!

6. DON’T write to a particular word count because you’ve heard Google prefers it

No matter what you might have heard, there’s no magic word count that will bump you up the ranks. Remember — you want to create a reading experience people will love. So let the article topic guide the length. 

“There’s no point writing 3000-word articles if they’re just full of gumph and there’s no value in them,” Sarah says. “Some topics naturally lend themselves to longer word counts. But if a topic only needs a 600-word answer, then that’s perfectly acceptable.”

For example, you might identify a short-tail keyword phrase such as ‘baby sleep’ that has significant search volume and high competition. It’s a broad phrase with just one qualifying word, so it’s hard to determine exactly what searchers want to know (it could be anything from how much babies sleep, to tips for getting babies to sleep, or where their nearest baby sleep consultant is). 

But you might then identify longer-tail keyword phrases that have lower search volumes and less competition, like ‘Baby consultants near me’ or ‘The best swaddles for getting babies to sleep’. In these cases, it’s easy to infer the search intent. 

It’s going to be hard (or downright impossible) to write 4000 words on ‘the best sleep swaddles’ without going on tangents that aren’t relevant (there’s only so much that can be written about a swaddle after all). However, you’d have lots to write about in the baby sleep article. 

Here’s where a Pillar and Cluster Content Model comes in handy (and why we use it in all our strategies). You can write a longer editorial blog post about baby sleep (the pillar), as well as a group of shorter posts based on the specific long-tail keywords you identified (the cluster). The pillar article will link to the cluster articles, which will link back to the pillar and to each other.  

Not only is this approach useful for creating a satisfying experience for site visitors, but it also lifts your site’s SEO. Beauty!

‘Unhelpful content’ could drag your whole site down

Google evaluates many signals on sites to determine how they’ll rank. As part of the move to better reward people-first content, the ‘helpful content’ update is adding a new signal that automatically detects unhelpful content on sites.

If you’ve published a bunch of unhelpful content, it’s going to be harder for your site to rank well in search engines. And beware: this penalisation can apply to the helpful content pages you’ve invested in, too. 

“Let’s say you have a really great set of core website pages that talk about your products or services and they’re ranking really well,” Sarah says. “But the SEO agency you worked with recommended you write blog articles on a huge amount of topics in an attempt to generate website traffic. And these articles aren’t necessarily related to what you do or valuable to your audience. 

“What’s going to potentially happen with this update is that even though you’ve got some great pages, because you’ve got a bunch of pages that aren’t, Google is going to penalise your whole site, not just your unhelpful content pages.”

So if you want to help the rankings of your quality content, you’ll need to start taking your unhelpful content down. 

Can I just take my unhelpful content down while the rollout takes place?

Although the rollout will take just two weeks, Google says the unhelpful content signal will be applied to sites on an ongoing basis. If you stop uploading unhelpful content now and Google sees it hasn’t returned to your site in the long term, you’ll eventually stop being penalised in Search. 

“So it’s no use taking your unhelpful content down, waiting until the update is rolled out and then putting it back up,” Sarah says. “Google will see it’s there.”

The moral of the story is: don’t be sneaky. Google sees all! 

Your best chance of ranking well and achieving conversions lies in using approved white-hat strategies (as we do here at Content Copywriting) and leaving any manipulative black-hat tactics behind. 

A new era of brilliant content marketing has begun 

The ‘helpful content’ update is just one step forward in Google’s goal of connecting people with the most valuable content for their query. 

“In other words, this is only the beginning,” Sarah says. “Google will keep introducing more updates to reward helpful content over unhelpful content into the future. 

“If your content isn’t up to scratch, a quick fix won’t be enough. You’ll need to re-evaluate your entire approach and focus on people-first content.”

Not sure if your content falls into the helpful category? Google has provided a list of handy questions you can ask yourself to determine whether your content strategies are providing real value. 

We’ve always known strong content-led SEO yields long-term benefits — but Google’s official endorsement of this approach means brands can have even greater confidence in their investment in content marketing. 

Need a hand to get started? Content Copywriting specialises in creating strategic content that’s written for humans and loved by Google. It’s what we do! 

Let’s talk.

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