Here’s What Google Considers ‘Helpful Content’


Key Takeaways 

  • We’re long past the day of hidden text keyword stuffing – today, Google rewards sites that are publishing helpful, people-first content. 
  • You can ensure your content is seen as helpful by demonstrating expertise through original content, keeping your audience in mind rather than a search engine, and providing content that fulfills the needs of your audience. 
  • Overuse of AI, false ‘clickbait’ tactics, and content that looks to please a search engine rather than the reader will lead to drops in rankings. 

While the exact algorithm for how Google ranks search results is a closely guarded secret, we know the underlying concept: always ‘give Google searchers what they’re looking for.’ This way, Google’s users are happy and get what they need immediately. 

However, there is also a lot of competition to get to page 1 and rank one on Google, with them accounting for 88% and 28.5%, respectively, of all click-throughs. So, even though everyone would like to give searchers what they want, getting to those high positions often matters more.

Google wants to allow users to see the ‘best’ content up front, instead of just the content that uses a keyword the right number of times and in the right spaces. What they consider the ‘best’ result for a query is what will serve the needs of the person who searched for it. 

That’s why its recent major update, called the ‘helpful content update,’ is designed to make content creators work with their audience in mind, not Google’s algorithm. In this article, we will look at what Google considers ‘helpful content,’ why and how to include more of it on your site, and what’s ‘unhelpful’ and should probably be removed.

What content does Google consider ‘helpful’?

Throughout the history of Google search, there have been ways of building a site and writing content that appeals to Google’s algorithm rather than its users. There have been times when a page’s relevancy was measured by how many other pages linked to it, which led to thousands of empty sites linking to each other. 

At different stages, keywords were the be-all-and-end-all of search, so pages would just write “cheap t-shirts” hundreds of times, either blatantly or as hidden text, if they wanted to rank for that.

While the worst of these exploits have been removed, Google still feels that content should be better and more “people-first.” 

The main goal of the helpful content update is to encourage website owners to create people-first rather than SEO-first content. This means that Google is saying that they will reward helpful, people-first sites, so in effect, helpful content is now SEO content. But what does that content look like, and how do you create it? Helpfully Google has given some guidelines, which include:

Focus on your existing or intended audience 

Google’s advice to have a primary focus for your site also makes good marketing sense. If you’re drawing one type of audience, there’s no point in adding loads of content that won’t be relevant to them. 

One of the clearest indicators that Google’s crawlers have of a site’s relevancy is what adjacent content is about. For example, suppose your site is mostly about skincare regimes but has a sideline in monster truck detailing. In that case, you won’t get as many visitors for the latter, no matter how good the content itself is  – Google will have your site signaled as the former.

Demonstrate expert knowledge 

Being a thought leader in your subject or having first-hand experience of what you’re talking about is a signal to Google that they should send people your way. You can demonstrate this expert knowledge by explaining things you know a lot about in your field, such as “This is how a prop shaft works” or “Everything you need to know about aioli.”

Providing ‘enough’

This is a relatively vague bit of advice from Google –  how do we know how much is ‘enough’? Well, Google probably has the answer: they believe a searcher has found ‘enough’ information when they go to a page and then don’t return to the search results and open a new page on the same topic.

In content terms, that means answering the question people are asking. So, if you’re ranking for “10-minute yoga routine,” that’s what someone should get, whether you make that 200 words or 2,000. 

Publishing original content

Publishing original content should be a given for your site, but copying and pasting from elsewhere is a massive faux pas for Google. No matter what you’re writing, make sure they are your words (outside of small quotes or clearly labeled extracts). 

Being capable of writing original information on a topic demonstrates that you are knowledgeable in that field.

Follow good content guidelines 

This isn’t the first time that Google has advised on how people should make content for their sites. In the Helpful Content Update, they reiterate that they’ve already described what they consider to be helpful content in their starter guide and core update guidance

Check out those guides to get the fundamentals of how a piece of content is structured and posted.

What’s not considered ‘helpful’

Along with the good, Google also lets us know what the bad looks like. This is not always necessarily ‘unhelpful’ in the conventional sense, but it will certainly be unhelpful for your site’s rankings. For example, if you copy the greatest homemade barbecue sauce recipe on earth, it will still be helpful for people who see it, but Google will certainly not reward you for it. To avoid a decline in traffic, here are some other don’ts for your content:

Content tailored to search engines 

There are many standards and beliefs in the SEO community about what works and what doesn’t, but as Google never says exactly how its algorithm works and constantly changes it, we don’t know what’s true and otherwise. 

With that in mind, it’s usually good to just follow what they do say, so that means practices such as putting headings after every two sentences or writing 5,000 words where 500 would suffice are being deprecated in favor of more ‘natural’ content approaches (i.e., writing like a person would like to read).

Extensive automation 

Heard of ChatGPT and how it will rewrite the whole internet? Well, not on Google’s watch, seemingly. Google has specifically asked web content creators not to overuse automation, probably because an AI bot isn’t an expert in anything and is only copying someone else. We don’t know how Google detects automation yet, but it’s useful to keep in mind before publishing 20 pages of ‘free’ content.

Promises you won’t keep 

Following that advice in the real world is your call, but Google certainly won’t be happy with broken promises. In web content terms, this means don’t say you have the answer to a particular question, like “When’s the next Game of Thrones book out?” if you don’t actually answer that question in your content. It’s the same as clickbait or misleading headlines that are not nearly as exciting as the story underneath; Google doesn’t like content that pretends to be more than it is.

Importantly, Google also outlined what it does when it detects ‘unhelpful’ content. It gives your whole site a negative signal that identifies it and so will also affect all the rest of your content, even if the rest is fine. So, if you have content that you feel is low-quality, doesn’t answer users’ questions or is just straight-up copied, it’s probably best to prune it, rather than just figuring to leave it there to hang around. 

How can a website be more helpful?

Google’s ‘people-first’ approach aims to improve the average internet user’s experience while navigating the web. There are a couple of questions you can ask yourself before publishing a piece of content. Namely, “Will this content answer that question?” and “Will the reader find it satisfying?”. It’s not an exact art form, but keeping your reader in mind is always a good guide.

As always, with Google algorithm changes, it can take a while to find a groove in terms of what works and what doesn’t, and that’s something Redefine Marketing is happy to help with. 

Honestly, we love everything about content writing, SEO, and figuring out how best to help our clients achieve organic growth and hit their conversion goals – regardless of what search engine updates throw at us. If you want to touch base about the best way to make your site more ‘helpful’, we’ve got you. Get in contact with Redefine Marketing Group today. 

Author avatar
Stephanie Fehrmann
Stephanie was an SEO content writer before transitioning to a management role. As the co-founder and Head of Content at RMG, she oversees everything from the development of content strategies and content creation to day-to-day office operations. She graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in Journalism, and enjoys showing clients the power and versatility of content.
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