What Is Google’s “Helpful content” Update?

Algorithm UpdatesSearch Engine OptimizationSEO 101SEO Audit

Google’s helpful content update was rolled out this month on September 9th. Some in the SEO community are saying they barely noticed a difference, while others noticed a big change in rankings. As predicted, Google has not clarified much at all.

Remember that nobody knows exactly how Google’s algorithm works, and we cannot predict what Google’s core algorithms will reward next. Experience is the most important factor in SEO.

Dropping in rankings due to an update doesn’t mean you have been penalized. It simply means Google’s algorithm thinks your competitors website is better than yours for specific terms. This is a very nuanced comparison. From your perspective, your content might be better than the competition. The competitor might feel the same.

From our perspective you might have less links than the competitor, and it has nothing to do with content. You need an expert to guide you. Otherwise you might waste your time fixing something that is not broken.

Keep in mind that recovering from one of these updates can take time.  It does not happen over night, but it does happen if you take the right steps and stay consistent. Here is a quick synopsis on how we would audit and optimize your website so that its up to date with Googles ever changing algorithm.

Stay Up To Date Like A Pro

Follow Google and stay on top of announcements using Twitter. They regularly respond to tweets and answer questions that might guide you in the right direction. Go back and look at the discussions and answers given.

Community SEO outlets such as Moz, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Round Table, Search Engine Journal, Semrush, Ahrefs and any other major source of information or tools. Use multiple sources. Read articles, check the forum boards and see what other SEO’s and analysts are saying about the latest update.

Within days of an update these outlets will release their findings and what they are seeing. You do not have to play the guessing game when you have the best resources in the world at your finger tips. If you have an SEO, you better make sure they are doing the same.

Were You Effected By The Helpful Content Update?

Do not knee jerk react to updates. Analyze, plan, educate, and be patient. It can take days for an update to roll out and sometimes weeks. The engineers at Google are not focused on perfection. They will tweak the algorithm until something sticks, and continue doing so until their perceived outcome has been realized. This is what former Google engineers told us and the SEO community and it is obvious when you look at algorithm fluctuations on a daily basis.

The first step is to make sure that the update is finished rolling out and the algorithm volatility has died down for at-least a week or two.  You can use tools like to gauge Google volatility. Mozcast reports turbulance in the algorithm as a “temperature.” Temps below 90 are normal, above 100 is extreme. If you see 120 +, you are seeing rare readings.

Here Are Google’s Recommendations For Creating Helpful Content

Google has given us some insight into how they view helpful content. Here is a snippet from their helpful content update page.

  • 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?

How To Get Started

Maybe you feel your content is following the guidelines above, but you’ve dropped in rankings. It happens. You follow Google’s guidelines and yet you do not seem to benefit.

Instead, take a look at your competition. See who is ranking, and what are they doing different. This is why it’s important to pay attention to your competition and their ranking history.

If you have paid attention, you can use this information to start building a plan of attack. If you have not, it’s time you started. You can use Semrush and Ahrefs to track competition and keep a history of their performance versus yourself. You should also periodically check the SERPs using your master keywords.

Providing Information Is Not Helpful To Your Visitors

Many websites are informative, but do not help you apply or understand that information. If you are the expert, you should be able to create content that guides and assists. Helping your visitors realize your value and how you help them make decisions and choices in life.

Stop generalizing, and regurgitating the same information your competitors have created. Be unique and take a different approach.

Be critical with your website. How is your content formatted, organized and written? How does your layout compare to the competition? How are your titles written? Are you using h1’s and bullet lists? What about content length, complexity and grammar?

Here Is How Our SEO Experts Optimize Content

Content does not stop at text on your landing pages. From font sizing and layout, you are trying to create a visual experience that keeps your visitors on the site, and eventually converting into a conversion.

  • Fonts : Start with your font, font size, color and spacing of text. Google and many other sites have tons of articles and guides that will help you make your decisions
  • Typography: Make sure you are using H1, h2, h3, h4, italics, bold, strong and anything else to organize your content. Most WordPress themes have built in topography allowing you to use short codes for quotes, accordions and more. If all else fails, visit theme forest’s wordpress themes to get some ideas to improve your content organization and readability.
  • Layout: Are you separating your content visually or do you have a big wall of text? You can split up your content visually by using images, multiple columns, spacing between sections of content, and using a table of contents plugin. Anything that makes your page of content easier to traverse, read and research is helpful. Don’t make your visitors think. Make it easy for them.
  • Organization: Do you have a table of contents for long pages of text. Is your content organized by topics or chronological order?  All of these factors determine how easy or hard your content is to absorb.
  • Categorization: Divide and conquer. You can divide content into multiple pages so that it’s easier to navigate. This allows you to create more information without overwhelming your customers with too much information on one page. You can also hyper focus on specific keywords easier this way. For example, our client Simmons & Fletcher has a car accident page, and sub pages on each major insurance company and their insurance claims process.
    • Do not forget to internally link to this content within your master page or create a mini navigation menu that links out to these sub pages. You can also create bullet lists linking to these sub pages.
  • Reading & Grammar: How are your titles written? Are your titles written to clarify the paragraphs contents? How long are your paragraphs? Are you using complex terminology or sentences? Simplify everything and include definitions for terms that your visitors might not understand. There is a book out there called “Don’t Make Me Think.” You can learn quite a bit by just reading the title and never reading the book.
  • Technical SEO: Make sure you are using Schema and proper markup so that the algorithm can easily index and rank your content. For example you can use Schema generators to create FAQ and location schema. The same goes for reviews and recipes.

How Do I Recover After A Core Update?

Ask any SEO expert and they will tell you that Google’s algorithm updates are a mystery. There is no straight forward answer.

For websites that were poorly optimized it is an easy answer. Simply optimize the website by hiring an expert or obtaining the knowledge to do it right. Content like this blog post will point you in the right direction.

For websites that are optimized but dropped in rankings, you need a trained eye. Sometimes a core update’s title is misleading. You think your content is not helpful because your site dropped in rankings after the “helpful content” update was rolled out. But, there are other other factors like bad link-building practices or maybe your competitor simply has a stronger back link profile than you. The core algorithm update identified these differences and this is why your competitor is now ranking above you.

Technical issues can also wreak havoc if your site hasn’t been audited in a while. You will be surprised how badly your site can be effected by having duplicate content, duplicate or missing title tags, and poorly organized content. You will be also surprised how quickly you can recover when these are fixed.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From A Google Algorithm Update Gone Wrong?

Unfortunately, you will have to wait for the next core update to be released. This does not mean you cannot increase in traffic and increase visibility. This is why it’s important to create plenty of content. Not all of your content has to be effected by an update. Find the pages that are ranking at the top of page 1 and improve upon those rankings and you will realize the benefits.

If you improve your website’s SEO, you will realize a benefit when the next core update comes out. Until that happens, stay on top of your SEO, make sure you hire the right team and do not take your rankings for granted. Create other avenues of income and never rely solely on SEO as your only source of income. Try paid search, social media, off line marketing, newsletters and any other option that might work for your industry.

If you have been effected, you can reach out and request an audit. We will be happy to review your site and give you our expert opinion on how to fix your SEO and get you moving in the right direction. Call today or send us an email.

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