This is not another reaction piece to Google’s Helpful Content Update—we’ve already written one of those. Instead, we’re here to work through the weeds, looking at what this content update means for content marketing moving forward and how you should react moving forward.
But first, let’s clarify what this update is not (i.e. anything new or surprising).
What the Helpful Content Update is Not
Before we get into acceptable reactions to the update, we want to be clear about what the helpful content update is not.
It’s Nothing New
The Helpful Content Update should not be a wake-up call. It’s not announcing anything new, but rather reaffirming what we already know—content should be written for people, not for bots. The most reliable way to rank has always required you to provide useful content.
If you’ve only been focused on writing content that panders to web crawlers and SEO bots, chances are you haven’t climbed that high in the rankings. With the new update, that is twice as true. Now, you must provide customers with a satisfactory experience with your content if you want any chance at winning rankings and customers alike.
It Doesn’t Discourage SEO
This reaffirmation of user experience also does not mean you have permission to neglect SEO best practices. In Google’s words, “SEO is a helpful activity when it’s applied to people-first content. However, content created primarily for search engine traffic is strongly correlated with content that searchers find unsatisfying.
So what does that mean for keyword research? Well, there are a few angles you could take (which we’ll dive more into later). Suffice it to say, don’t let keyword chasing be the foundation of your content strategy, but always implement SEO whenever applicable.
Two Deeper Questions Raised by the Helpful Content Update
It would be easy to take Google’s Helpful Content Update at face value: An update that’s designed to improve the user experience of their platform. But that may not be the most productive angle to look at this.
Looking at this update, there are two deeper questions and concerns we’re pondering over here at Big Leap.
1. Is the Google Announcement-Digital Marketing Reaction Cycle Serving End Users?
This question is less geared towards the Helpful Content Update and more towards the whole relationship between Google algorithm announcements and digital marketers. It always goes something like this:
- Google exerts its authority by releasing vague new guidelines
- SEO experts and digital marketers try to read the tea leaves, experiment with the new algorithm, and reach a generalized consensus on what works in the new algorithm
- Digital marketers spread the good word about SEO best practices under the new update
- All is well until Google drops another new update with vague guidelines.
This cycle, in our humble opinion, is not productive. It is pretty counter-intuitive to Google’s push towards more unique and valuable content.
Google’s search results pages (SERPs) are plagued with FAQ content, skyscrapers that are filled with “what is…” questions, and authorless regurgitations of the same information, just formatted a little differently.
The reaction to these updates directly creates more of this type of redundant content. When you search “Helpful Content Update,” your SERP is probably filled with different digital marketing agencies and organizations trying to answer the same question: What does it all mean?
This is by design. Google knows they can’t rank for all 10 positions surrounding content update keywords, so they know there’s some value in going after the topic.
In short, this Google update-user reaction cycle encourages the creation of “pretty good” content and not the “amazing” content Google wants.
2. Is Google Trying to Break This Cycle? Or Simply Reinforce Its Authority?
It’s safe to assume that Google knows about the self-perpetuating death spiral of unhelpful content. But what are they doing about it? And does this update give us any insight into how they’re trying to solve the problem? There are two potential schools of thought here.
Google Wants Us to Stop Playing SEO Detective
We may read into the Helpful Content Update as Google’s way of saying to stop trying to “read the tea leaves” and just focus on making excellent content.
Think about it. Google hasn’t given us an optimal word count. We don’t know what the Google algorithm’s interpretation of “unhelpful content” is (or how it differs from your interpretation). They’ve also given us little to no indication of how long these updates will take to affect your rankings.
The only problem is when you tell someone to not think about pink elephants, they think about pink elephants. And when Google tells you to not worry about the nitty-gritty, you’re going to worry about the nitty-gritty. This leads us to the other potential motivation behind this update.
Google Wants to Build their Authority
But another way to look at this update is the way that many digital marketers have already chosen: Focus entirely on the clues Google left behind to figure out the best way to optimize content under the newest guidelines.
If this is Google’s true intention, it’s an incredibly effective way to tighten its vice-grip on the digital marketing industry. If everyone’s talking about the Google update, more and more digital marketers entering the field will be conditioned to look at Google as the only search engine worth using. Besides, when’s the last time anyone cared this much about a Bing update?
This leads marketers to update our lists of best SEO practices so we can maximize our content’s performance. And can you blame us? We can’t call SEO content our bread and butter if we’re uninformed about the latest Google news.
3 Possible Reactions to the Helpful Content Update
The news of this update might inspire three distinct reactions that affect your marketing strategy. Not all of these reactions are good or even recommended, but they are also not surprising.
1. Keep On with SEO-First Content
This reaction would involve simply ignoring Google’s advice and trudging along to produce SEO-minded content.
You only look at what’s ranking without ever thinking or brainstorming new or original thoughts. You use the same tactics that have been discussed countless times over the last decade. The main KPIs you focus on are keyword volume, keyword difficulty, and CPC. Your content is littered with “what are/is” questions and FAQs that have already been answered by your competitors just because you want to steal that coveted answer box result.
Did any of that read sarcastically? Great! That was the intention.
It’s time to evolve your strategy. If your first reaction to the update news is to double down on your old SEO-minded strategies, you won’t be very useful to your company or its marketing endeavors.
2. Abandon Keywords for Unique Content
Another reaction would be the other extreme: To never touch an SEO or keyword research tool ever again. We know how tempting this option sounds—SEO is a headache, so eliminating it as a variable in your life could be the relief you’ve long sought for.
This approach is already employed by websites where content is the main thing they produce. Think of news organizations like The Ringer or the New York Times. They don’t have to focus too much on SEO because people already organically come to their sites to see what they’ve produced.
Creating people-first content also gives you the license to focus more on quality and less on quantity. Think of all of the YouTube creators who have the luxury of only posting once a month; they focus on creating the greatest content they can no matter how long it takes or how much it costs. The most extreme example of this might be MrBeast, a YouTube creator who famously spends thousands to millions of dollars on videos.
However, all of this is just wishful thinking if you can’t break through the noise. That’s what SEO helps you accomplish—a means to leverage your content to better rank on SERPs without having an established audience off the bat.
Without SEO, this strategy can feel like an uphill battle and require a lot more time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Because of these challenges, it’s too easy to abandon this type of content creation before it has the time to catch on.
3. Put Equal Focus on SEO and People
The third (and most correct) reaction you can have to the new update is to put equal effort into your SEO strategy and people-first content. After all, this is what Google wants people to do. This means several things:
- You still do keyword research. Keywords genuinely help in choosing and refining topics to write. Plus, keywords are still vital for helping your audience find your content online. Just don’t let those keywords be your focus for your content—let the topic entice the reader and augment your reach with your chosen keywords.
- You define your personas and write to them. Buyer personas are just good business. They help you define your audience, which makes it infinitely easier to write to them. Otherwise, you’re just writing to a faceless, nameless ether (which is pretty hard to empathize with).
- You offer unique perspectives. If you’re targeting the same keywords as your competitors, you better be offering unique perspectives. It’s not just about answering a question better or writing longer content. It’s about really diving into the intention of the keyword and creating something uniquely valuable to your audience—not just a regurgitated version of what they’ve already read.
- You think about the brand experience. Webpages and SEO content should be structured to optimize conversions and reduce bounce rates. They should also be structured in line with a strong brand experience structure. This may involve expanding your current content offerings. Since over 7.5 million blog posts are published every day, it may be worth looking into video, design, or other interactive types of content that are easy to consume.
How Big Leap Is Evolving Content with the New Update
We’ve poked fun at the plethora of businesses who feel compelled to post their reactions to Google content updates, but we’d be remiss to not discuss what we’re doing in the face of the Helpful Content Update.
A lot of what we’re doing is simply a continuation of what we’ve discovered to be our best practices. Our recent analyses determined we need to focus less on quantity and more on quality. This means:
- No more monthly content quotas
- Using content audits to remove deadweight from outdated or irrelevant content
- More SERP research during content ideation to determine if topics are actually relevant to our audience
- No more focus on word count—just write enough to get your point across
We’re also hell-bent on content quality assurance. We strive for all of our content orders to be:
That last bit, “extraordinary” can sound a bit convoluted to the uninitiated. This is the detail that ensures your content has a little something extra—original insight that is uniquely valuable to the reader.
So what are you doing to make sure your content is in line with this new focus on quality? Do you need help implementing better content practices? We’d love to chat about what you should do moving forward.