A great website can help your business stand out against the competition. If you rely on your website to regularly bring in leads, then your website also needs to be ranked as high as possible in search engines like Google. You can improve your rankings through search engine optimisation (SEO). While SEO isn’t an exact science, when Google performs and update provides you with information on how to get the best results, it’s important to listen and act accordingly.
In late August 2022, Google implemented its latest update, the 'helpful content update'. Here's how Google has described it:
"Google Search is always working to better connect people to helpful information. To this end, we're launching what we're calling the 'helpful content update' that's part of a broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results."
What does the Google update mean for your business?
When Google released information about this major update, it raised a few questions for website owners to ask themselves about their content. In this article we break down those questions for you and provide tips to help you use the changes to your advantage.
Google's questions and our tips
These are the key questions that Google is asking website owners and bloggers to consider before publishing content so that the content you publish is relevant and helpful.
Q1. Does your content demonstrate firsthand experience?
Can you confirm that you have used the product you are reviewing and recommending in your article? Google doesn't want to see a 'review' or 'recommendation' on a product or service you've never used, just because it’s a popular topic.
OUR TIP: Don't write a review on something you've never used or experienced. Instead, try a 'list post'. For example, ten examples of modern paving styles you can use in your backyard.
Q2. After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they've learned enough to achieve their goal?
If you're writing a blog post claiming to teach me how to clean my blinds, make sure I know exactly how to do that once I've read it. You don't want someone to read your content only to return to the Google search results because you haven't answered their question or solved their problem.
Google calls this pogo-sticking, and not only is that a poor experience for the reader, but Google will notice and penalise you accordingly.
OUR TIP: Provide valuable and comprehensive information that helps your audience. Don't hide the vital info in paragraphs of fluff. Instead, use sub-headings and bold words to help people skim directly to the parts they need (like we've done with our 'our tips' paragraphs).
Q3. Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they've had a satisfying experience?
The easiest way to satisfy your audience is by solving their problem – as we've mentioned above. You can achieve this by being concise and clear. Bullet points, summaries and headings help people to find what they need quickly and efficiently. Read your content aloud; if you have to reread it to understand, your audience will too.
OUR TIP: Once you've finished writing, take a break, make yourself a cuppa and reread your content with fresh eyes, and edit your to reduce by 10% if you can to make it clear and succinct.. Also give it to someone else to read, and ask them to tell you the key points. This will quickly identify if they understand it or not.
It's been proven the writing style that has the highest engagement is a conversational tone. So it's time to ditch the corporate speak, and write in friendly chatty voice, just like the way you speak.
OUR TIP: Write like you're chatting to a mate. Refer to your audience in the first person (use 'you' and 'your'), use unique examples that resonate with your audience, and stay away from clichés.
Q4. Are you writing to attract people from search engines or to serve humans?
It's advice that's been given since the beginning of (SEO) time; Google wants you to write for humans and not for search engine optimisation. But how many have actually listened? Well, now Google isn't giving you a choice. Write for people first, search engine optimisation second.
After all, what's the point of getting visitors to your site if they find your information unhelpful – they'll just leave and go somewhere else, and Google will notice and drop your ranking anyway. Not only that, the next time a reader sees you in the search results, they may remember their poor experience and steer clear altogether.
OUR TIP: Write for people, not search engines.
Many SEO content tools are geared at helping you create content to increase your search engine rankings. However, if you write with the intention of of incorporating your keyword ten times (like some of the tools recommend), it won't feel organic and not provide the best experience for your reader.
If you review your content and feel it is guilty of “keyword stuffing”, don't just replace the overused keyword with synonyms and be done with it. Instead, read through your content and ensure the keywords you've replaced make sense in the paragraph and in the whole context of the article. You're better off introducing a new phrase/keyword, even if that means adding another paragraph to explain it and give the search engines some context.
OUR TIP: Use SEO content tools as a guide, not a bible. Don't keyword stuff; … write for people first, optimise second!
Q5. Are you summarising what others have written without adding value?
This refers to taking someone else's content, switching paragraphs and summarising to pass it off as your own. When you do this, you're not delivering new content with value.
If you are hiring a writer, it's up to you to ensure they aren't just summarising other people's content. If they are charging you a bargain price, it's likely they aren't researching, planning and writing unique content for you. That stuff takes time and experience, so if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
OUR TIP: Create unique content by starting with a copy brief that maps out your structure, keywords and the objective of your content. For example, this blog aims to answer questions and provide tips on Google’s ‘helpful content’ update.
Q6. Are you writing to a particular word count because someone told you Google prefers a certain number of words?
A 'how-to' post on changing a lightbulb may need 500 words, whereas a 'how-to' post on rewiring your entire home might need 5,000 words to answer the searcher's question comprehensively. There is no magic number, just value. 400 words is probably the minimum number of words you need on a page or in a post if you want Google to recognise and index it as valuable content.
OUR TIP: Don't bump up your word count with superfluous fluff. Be helpful and succinct.
Q7. What do you do about existing content after an update?
It’s always interesting after a Google update to see what impact the update has had on your blog posts and web pages. The effect on your existing content can guide you with crafting your content moving forward.
OUR TIP: We recommend waiting three weeks after the update and reviewing which content has increased in rankings and which has dropped.