SEO BLOG

What is Helpful Content? Our Take on the Google Helpful Content Update

Illustration of someone helping a person up the stairs. Two other people are protecting someone with their arms
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I’ve been in this game for a long time. I’ve had a front-row seat for just about every major Google update.

During my first few years as a professional SEO expert, I found updates to be more stressful. The SEO playbook had to be rewritten and thrown out several times. But that’s not the case anymore.

Google updates are now more… predictable? It seems like a stretch, but it’s the closest word I can find. The updates we’ve seen over the last few years have all been incremental steps towards a better internet for everyone, especially the searcher.

And the latest update is certainly no exception. Google’s Helpful Content update is exactly what it sounds like. It is a mass update that seeks to reward the content that legitimately helps people.

Like a lot of the recent updates, the quality of SEO content is the focus, not the quality. Gone are the days of just trying to pump out as much content as possible. Now, we’re trying to answer questions and solve problems.

If you’re like us, you’ve been focusing on quality for a few years now and it shouldn’t be a seismic event for you. But, if you’ve been publishing for the sake of publishing (if you have been, you’re not alone), this will represent a major shift in thinking.

As always, we’ve got your back! We’re going to walk you through how to re-think your content model and create content that helps and ranks.

Why This Update is Important

Two people jumping over a fire with the title “Update” above

Why did we need this update?

Every time the SEO marketplace starts moving towards something that ruins the experience for searchers, Google puts their giant foot down.

When people were just stuffing keywords into nonsense copy, Google cracked down. When people were just using link farms to boost their rankings, Google said, “Enough.”

What is this update meant to crack down on? AI-generated content. There I said it.

For the last few years, people have been using AI to write content, trying to take the time and cost of a human author out of the equation. And I’ll be honest, some have done pretty well doing it. But let’s call it what it is, they’re using AI to trick Google. So any success they’ve had was always going to be temporary.

Google has been focusing on rewarding good content that aligns with its EAT guidelines for years now.

That’s why, several years ago, we decided to go all in-on writers. Not many agencies were doing that, and very few still do. We saw that we needed to focus on writing good stuff, so we hired good writers. That’s right. Real-ass writers, complete with their dark-rimmed glasses and their leather laptop bags. These were not all SEO writers! We hired journalists, poets, and novelists. We wanted real writers that could make a human connection. AI content doesn’t know how to be interesting, funny, or original. We wanted a team that could.

So, humble brag, I guess you could say we were ahead of the game in that regard. Are we SEO revolutionaries? I don’t know. That’s not for me to say… You can say it if you like.

See? Humour.

Now let’s get into the weeds of this update and discuss how to write helpful content.

People-First Content

First, let’s talk about what this update is NOT. It is not the abandonment of all SEO optimization tactics and strategies in the name of writing for people first. Not even close.

As Google said in their own blog, “Our advice about having a people-first approach does not invalidate following SEO best practices, such as those covered in Google’s own SEO guide.”

This means you still need to do all the SEO nerd stuff that helps you rank. You still need to do extensive research to create content with organic keywords that apply to your business. You still need to optimize those keywords on the back end. And earning organic links to your content will still help you significantly.

Writing for human beings does not mean ignoring the technical aspects of SEO. It just means changing the way you think about the content you optimize.

For years, Google has been saying some version of, “Write for human beings. Not search engines.” That seems incredibly counterintuitive for a lot of people. And we get that.

You may be saying, “But. I DO want to write to impress search engines. That’s the whole purpose.” And of course, you do. This is an investment that’s supposed to increase your company’s traffic organically and help your bottom line. All of this holistic bullshit doesn’t align with your business goals, and it’s impossible to quantify. Right?

Wrong.

“Good” may seem like a subjective term, and “Helpful” may not fit the formula on a spreadsheet. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t finite ways to measure any given piece of content’s quality or helpfulness.

Here are some questions you need to ask.

A help wanted sign in Google’s colours and font

1. Why are WE the Ones That Should Write This Blog?

Google’s guidelines ask us to consider, “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?”

Translation: Know your audience and know why they would come to your site to answer a question or fix a problem. Simpler translation: Lock into your expertise and try not to stray from it.

Let’s say you run a garage door company. Why would people come to your blog? Probably for detailed explanations about the R-value of a door, the various options available, and maybe some quick fixes and maintenance tips. They may even come to your blog to find out the ROI of replacing your garage door to help sell your home. But they are not coming to you to find out anything about the local real estate market.

Anything that isn’t really in your wheelhouse or your expertise is going to stand out in the eyes of the average user, and to Google as well.

Stay in your lane. Today, creating a good content strategy means laser focusing on your target market, without the need for much broader content.

2. What are We Bringing to the Table?

This is a continuation of the last point.

Why would someone choose your blog over someone else’s? Why would they see you as an expert? Why would they trust your content?

Other blogs on your topic certainly exist. Why is yours better? Are you just recycling what’s already out there? Or are you bringing in your own unique:

  • Insights
  • Statistics
  • Stories or anecdotes
  • Photos or videos

Whatever your competitive advantage is as a business, you can probably apply the same advantage to your content. And that advantage could simply be your brain. Your unique insights and stories can go a long way.

3. What’s Our Focus?

Once again, focus on something and own it. Don’t try to write about too many topics.

Let’s go back to the garage door example we used earlier. If that’s your company, you might say, “Let’s throw some general interest pieces in there. Garage door blogs aren’t always that interesting.”

FALSE. Garage door blogs are the most interesting thing in the world to one group of people: People looking for a new garage door. Who cares about anyone else? Good marketing (and SEO is still marketing) should appeal to your target market, and repel anyone that doesn’t matter.

You may ask, “So… you want us to write 50 blogs about R-value? Seriously?” No, I want you to write a handful of really good blogs about R-value. Don’t worry about volume.

Once again, your brain and the collective brain of your entire staff are assets. You collectively know all of the questions that people ask you on the phone, in emails, or in your showroom:

  • How much of a difference will this actually make on my hydro bill?
  • Will this insulate well enough to turn the garage into a home office?
  • Will the R-value fade over time?

Each of those questions gets a blog, and each of the blogs gets a complete answer.

4. What Type of User Experience are We Providing?

Hands putting together a website mock up

Remember, we’re trying to be helpful. And a slow website is not helpful. A giant interstitial banner ad that the user can’t click away is not helpful.

Part of providing the answer is creating a good website experience. Otherwise, our visitors will leave us before they can read our content. Google has said that we need to ask ourselves, “Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?” That experience goes beyond making something that is appealing to the reader.

Not too long ago, Google announced that your website’s user experience was now a major ranking factor, as they announced The Page Experience Update and the Core Web Vitals.

Prior to that, a good user experience was a bit undefined, or even subjective. Not anymore. Google announced that the Page Experience Update would reward sites that:

Prior to the Core Web Vitals, we never really knew what a good site speed was. We just knew that being as fast as possible would help our SEO. The new Core Web Vitals test would give us some very clear metrics to shoot for:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): How long does a given page take to completely load? The target time is 2.5 seconds.
  • First Input Delay (FID): When can the user start clicking on links and buttons? The target time is 100 milliseconds.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): When do all of the images and assets on the page stop shifting around during loading? This is measured by a complex layout shift score, and the target score is 0.1.

These are now arguably the most important website statistics in the world of SEO. Hitting these thresholds isn’t easy. In fact, most sites will fail their first CWV test… And the next few after that. But increasing your speed will do more than help your rankings and traffic. It can also help your conversions. Google has estimated that sites that meet the thresholds for the new metrics are 24% less likely to see users abandon page loads.

5. Is This B#ll$h!t?

A laptop with ‘Was this helpful?’ on the screen with thumbs up and down icons

Everyone wants to be the first one to break a story, or be the first on the scene with valuable information. However, we never want to jump the gun and try to be first at the expense of the truth.

Google said something really interesting in their blog. They advised us to make sure we never want to “answer a question that actually has no answer, such as suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn’t confirmed.”

Translation: Don’t bullshit to try to get clicks.

Facts are helpful. But speculation and rumours that are presented as facts are not helpful. In fact, they’re dangerous.

So, if you’re speculating about something, make it clear that’s the case.

  • Good: “There are a lot of rumours floating around out there that the iPhone 15 will have device-to-device charging.”
  • Bad: “The iPhone 15 will have device-to-device charging.”

Stick to what you can prove, or what other people have already proven.

What You Need to Know About Pretty Much Every Google Update

Do you need to be aware of Google updates? It certainly helps. Do you need to drop everything and pivot after each update? Not at all.

We have a saying around the office. “Don’t be an algo-chaser.” Take it from me, chasing and reacting to every single rumour you’ve heard about the most recent Google update is a great way to go insane, and an even better way to poison your SEO results.

On the modern web, I would say that optimizing for the Google algorithm is an everyday thing, not something you do leading up to an update, like cramming for an exam.

Do what Google has been asking for years: Write quality content that human beings would actually want to read, share, and link to. It’s actually that simple.

We have another saying around the office. “If you’ve been doing cheats and hacks, you probably need to be worried about the next google update. If you’ve been doing the right things, you should be borderline excited for the next update.”

I have no idea what Google’s next major update will be. But I can tell you that it will almost certainly reward the people that are doing good old-fashioned organic SEO, and bad news for the people that don’t want to do the work.

Let’s Talk About Update-Proofing Your SEO Results

Does that all sound like a lot more work? It certainly can be. Dealing with frequent Google updates can be a full-time job, and you already have a job. Let us worry about your SEO success, while you worry about running your business.

Paul is a 15-year veteran of the industry and a thought-leader that is frequently sought by major media outlets like the Globe and Mail, and respected blogs like GoDaddy. He began his career working for the biggest SEO agency in Canada. But he started his own agency to solve some of the problems that come with a Big Agency. He made it his mission to make transparent and affordable SEO services available to the business owners who need the most help.

If you’re ready to unlock more organic traffic and more sales, click the Connect With Paul button at the top of the page, or call 647-448-4449.

About the Author

Paul Teitelman - SEO Consultant

Paul is a well-respected Canadian SEO consultant and link-building expert with over 15 years of experience helping hundreds of companies rank for competitive keywords on Google. He is a Toronto-based SEO consultant who is passionate about search engine optimization and link building. Over the years, he has made a reputation for himself as a leader in the industry by consistently delivering phenomenal results to his growing client base.