Releasing Now: Google’s Helpful Content Update

Jon Robinson:
Hi everyone. This is Jon Robinson, VP of SEO at CAMG. Today, I want to talk to you about the helpful content update that Google just announced last week. Last week, they announced it, it’s rolling out this week and it’s taking two weeks to complete. After the official announcement was made, they provided a lot of documentation, so we expect this to be one of the biggest updates and shakeups in search, in recent years. I fully expect this to have the impact of the Panda or Penguin algorithms, which actually happened many years ago, so this is much bigger than a core update. We expect the impact to be huge.

This is really important and you need to be paying attention to what is happening with your rankings and your traffic over the next month. First, a few things I want to clarify, this really only affects organic search results. It doesn’t affect Google Discovery, likely does not affect local results. Second, this is not a manual action, so someone isn’t going through your site and manually deciding whether or not content is helpful or unhelpful. It purely is based on machine learning, which is fed by human quality search readers.

You may have heard me discuss this process in detail when Steve Nober and I were presenting at PILLMA in New Orleans back in June, but this is really how search evolves and how the results and algorithms that Google does put out in the wild are determined whether or not they are actually useful and working. Third, this update is a site-wide algorithm. It affects your entire site, not just the pages or pieces of content that are deemed unhelpful, so you could have unhelpful content that is actually hurting your helpful content rank.

Fourth, if you’re hit by this update, it will take many months to recover after you make the necessary changes. What does this infer? If you’re hit by the update, you’ll need time to figure out what the issue actually was. You’ll need time to then prune and rewrite the unhelpful content and time for Google to re-crawl and determine that your site is now authoritative and providing helpful content over a longer period of time.

I fully expect that if you are hit by this algorithm update, it’s going to be a six to 18-month journey. They’ve even come out and said it’s possible that if you’re hit by this algorithm, you may never recover, and you may need to change your whole business model, so this is something that is really important, and you need to make sure that you’re paying attention to it. Let’s get into what Google actually announced. They said that they are creating a series of improvements to search that will make it easier for people to find helpful content made by and for other people.
Of course, that makes sense. Why would they want to show search results that are not made for people? This is the evolution of SEO and what has been happening over the past few years. Google has also said they’re going to reward content that was not written by SEOs for the sole purpose of ranking. This is really important because they want to provide results that are helpful to people, results that were not written to help gain the algorithm, results that actually provide real useful, helpful content that are meeting the intent of the searcher.

They also said the ranking update will help make sure that unoriginal, low quality content does not rank highly in search. We’ll see what happens after this fully rolls out. Of course, we all hope that this is the case, and they actually gave an example of how this may work. If you search for information about a new movie, you may have previously seen articles that aggregated reviews from other sites without adding perspectives beyond what’s available elsewhere.

They said this isn’t very helpful if you’re expecting to read something new, and with this update, you’ll see more results with unique, authentic information so you’re more likely to read something you haven’t read before. Why are they making this change? Why is this happening? Google results are mostly now SEO optimized regurgitated content. We’ve seen the surge of AI written content gaining traction, where content across the web is summarized and written by natural language processing. That is not helpful content.

Google wants real people to write real authoritative content with some level of detail and expertise. As generations over time begin to understand how the internet works, we’re seeing a shift, and people like you and me just don’t trust Google as much as they used to. I’m genuinely surprised when a search result actually now shows relevant results. There’s so much spam, garbage content, that there’s been a movement by people to other platforms to find answers.
I’m going to give you a great example here. Take the search lawyers for tenants. The top Google result is this result here, that you’re seeing on the screen. The author is actually the executive editor of NOLO, who happens to be an attorney. She’s mentioned over a thousand times through the NOLO site. I don’t question whether or not she’s an attorney or whether she has some level of expertise in tenant and landlord law, that seems pretty apparent, but I do question whether or not her name was just thrown on this page as the author, when she may or may not have written the page.

Take this for example: this is another page where she’s listed as the author, but the page is actually, at the bottom, you’ll note an excerpt from a book that she has not written. If she didn’t write it, I really don’t blame NOLO for doing this, they’re simply playing the SEO game that has led to the slow demise of the search results, and really the migration of users to other platforms to get their answers. You perform the same search on Reddit and you get these results. Now the results are not as fancy. The results aren’t riddled with ads, and it’s mostly first person perspectives on lawyers for tenants, which is exactly what you would be looking for if you made this search.

These are the results as a user that I would personally want to see. They’re unfiltered. You see some good advice, some bad advice, but the bad advice is moderated by other people who are keeping the platform honest. Multiple perspectives allow you to make your own decision. That is what Google should be striving for. We also see similar things happening on YouTube, on TikTok and on other platforms. As users move off Google as their entry point to the internet and start searching for the answers elsewhere, Google loses impressions, they lose ad clicks and they lose money.

This is why many times you’ll see YouTube results or TikTok results or Reddit results actually show up in the search results. As people realize that whenever they’re searching for something, Google’s actually just showing them Reddit, well, then they’ll just start moving to Reddit first, instead of starting their search on Google. Google loses money, Google has to make a change. I believe that’s why a lot of this is happening, because they need to keep people using the platform in order to serve more ads, get more impressions, make more money, it’s in their best interest to make sure that the content that you’re getting when you’re making a search is actually meeting your intent.

What can you actually do about this? First off, you need to focus on producing more quality content, even if it means less quantity. The production of content that is insightful and from your perspective, providing unique, well researched, data driven insights or anything that’s really proprietary in nature, is what Google is looking for. Provides something that someone else cannot provide and Google will likely rank that higher than someone who is regurgitating and summarizing content.
Next, you need to make sure you’re focusing on content that’s within your and your attorneys areas of domain expertise. Are you writing content to rank for practice area that you don’t have any testimonials or any case results, or even any history litigating? Maybe you want to generate some cases so you can refer them out. I think you should think twice about that until you become a true expert on that topic.
As Google noted, this is a site-wide signal, so you may be adding these additional pages, but continuing to add unhelpful content can actually hurt the ranking of your helpful content, so Google is taking a holistic view at your site and determining whether or not you are consistently providing helpful or unhelpful content. There’s also a specific list of questions that Google provided in their documentation that you should ask yourself about each piece of content on your site.

I’m putting these up here on the screen right now so you can review them, but there’s also these and more that are listed in the documentation. The best recommendation that I can give you while we’re waiting for this update to roll out is to watch what’s happening to your traffic and to your rankings over the next month. If you see a steep drop off in rankings and traffic, you may have been impacted. Discuss this with your SEO agency, discuss this with your SEO team. Do you have a plan in place to combat it? If there is any potential impact, what are you going to do?
If you’d like to review your SEO strategy, reach out to us at CAMG, we’d be happy to take a look at your site. If you have any concerns regarding the content on your site that may potentially be impacted, or maybe you’re watching this after this came out and you were impacted by the helpful content update, and you’re trying to figure out what to do. We’re going to keep our eyes on the rankings and traffic of the legal industry, and we’ll see what happens over the course of the next two to three weeks as this update rolls out. I hope this video was helpful to you and we will see you soon.

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