Google is first and foremost on the side of helping the searcher find the information they’re looking for. That’s why they are always making human-centred updates. Read on to find out what their latest update, Helpful Content, means for creators in all areas.

  • The Google Helpful Content update is the latest effort by Google to favour quality, informative content.
  • It’s a move to reward original content creators who provide value for their readers.
  • You can make sure you’re prepared by reading this article and following our handy checklist.

What is the Helpful Content update?

Google’s latest update is specifically named ‘helpful content’. Every user should come away from a webpage knowing more than they knew before. Otherwise, who does the page serve? 

Google states it is part of a ‘broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results’.

Their people-centred language highlights how much content on the internet is written by rephraser bots. They don’t tell the user anything new but rather repurpose content they have found elsewhere. Google wants to prioritise content written by and for humans. Especially since voice search has increased exponentially over the last few years. 

They explicitly advise creators to write ‘for people, not for search engines’. Too often people approach SEO writing as if they are just writing for an algorithm. They’ve got everything backwards. By writing content focused on usability, you can ensure your visitor has a positive user experience (UX). Readability is essential for user-centred content design. 

Google’s update emphasises quality first. You should aim to create a high-quality, satisfying piece of content. Then look to the widely accepted SEO best practices. Otherwise, your writing style could look forced and robotic. You should avoid keyword cramming, which is a very outdated strategy already outsmarted by Google’s clever algorithmic advances. 

Be prepared for the Google Helpful Content update

Let’s have a closer look at what questions Google advises you to ask yourself before you publish a piece of content. 

‘Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?’

As mentioned, Google strongly advises a people-first approach to writing. Do not write directly for the search engine. Search engines are informed by human behaviour. Rather than trying to crack the algorithm, you can be ahead of the game just by focusing on human behaviour which informs search engines. 

‘Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?’

This implies that casting a wide net will not necessarily benefit you. Even within our niche, we have found that some of our articles (such as our blog post about the use of the phrase ‘per se’) bring in tonnes of traffic, but not traffic from people who are necessarily interested in our product. They just want to know what per se means, and when it’s most appropriate to use it. 

This is with a grammar topic that’s relevant to us. Imagine if we were writing outside of our niche and writing about celebrity gossip, for example? We’d be speaking on topics that aren’t our speciality, as well as not serving the user. Wouldn’t we rather the user went to a website that would serve them? 

Instead, you need to create a content plan that thinks creatively within your niche and anticipates the informative needs your target audience will have. Investigate common pain points and questions and stay in your lane. 

‘Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?’

Google is warning you that their algorithm can spot a bot. Resist the temptation to rely on AI and automation to create your content. Bots will simply scour the internet for other articles on the topic you want to write about and then labour the same point in several different ways. You get to know what an AI article reads like after you’ve read a few of them. 

‘Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?’

Leading on from their point about bot-written content, they emphasise that the focus is on value. An article summarising what other people have said about a topic, without demonstrating independent thought and thought leadership, is a worthless article. By asserting yourself as an authority in your area, you can also build trust in your brand. Focus on education, not traffic. Traffic and leads will surely follow and you will inspire respect. 

‘Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you'd write about them otherwise for your existing audience?’

Automation, automation, automation. Clearly Google hates it! This is the third point they’ve made in this area. They are punishing websites that are so desperate for traffic that they will get automated content on whatever is trending or viral, regardless of the relevance to their product or service. 

‘Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?’

Google will reward you for being informative, reliable and trustworthy. Focus on quality content. Educate and build a relationship with your audience. 

‘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).’

This point in particular is a smirk at widely accepted ‘best practices’. You may have heard that long masterposts on a topic are rewarded by Google. But the truth that Google confirms is that their algorithm is more advanced than favouring a particular word count. It’s not all about size! 

‘Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you'd get search traffic?’

Again, Google said to stay in your lane. 

‘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?’

Don’t be clickbaity just for the traffic! Be upfront when you don’t know. Few things are more frustrating for a reader than clicking on an article that promises the answer to something and then it’s never delivered. Google have given the best example here. This will also dramatically increase your bounce rate because readers skim-read when they’re searching for answers, so they’ll give a glance over your article, sniff out the clickbait within seconds, then it’s back-button to the SERP they go. Away from your website. 

Don’t be tempted to write clickbaity, trashy articles. You’re so much better than that. 

The bottom line

Follow this checklist and you can make sure you’re prepared for the Helpful Content update:

  • Write your content for the human first, not the search engine. Write for your audience’s average reading level and their preferred tone.
  • Because it’s human first, then SEO, check for keyword stuffing in your content. 
  • Focus on your niche, not just what’s popular. 
  • Provide value. 
  • Write original content which provides value and thought leadership. 
  • Focus on being informative, reliable and trustworthy. You can help to build trust in your content by making it highly readable to respect your reader’s time. 
  • Focus on the value provided, not the word count. If you can make a point in fewer and simpler words, it’s better to do that.

Laura Kelly

Laura is a freelance writer and worked at Readable for a number of years. Laura is well-versed in optimising content for readability and Readable's suite of tools. She aims to write guides that help you make the most out of Readable.