From Panda to Helpful Content: 38 SEO questions you have to answer

Organic Search
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Google’s most recent ‘helpful content update’ was announced in August 2022 and finished rolling out on the 9th September. After the dust settled, I wanted to reflect on the similarities and cross over with Google. Overall, I welcome the support Google has given the SEO community to guide class leading strategy.

Google Helpful Content Update impact

One interesting element of the Helpful Content Update (HCU) was the apparent lack of obvious SEO winners and losers. With this latest addition to their publicised broad updates, Google’s intention is to ‘surface original, helpful content made by people, for people, rather than content made primarily to gain search traffic.’ 

At a top level, there are 2 potential reasons why there were not thousands of webmasters reeling from lost rankings in August 2022:

 

  1. HCU is a new sitewide ranking signal; almost like a domain level rating. As opposed to a specific page being viewed in a different light (think search quality rating of a particular page within the context of E-A-T), this is a holistic weighting system whereby low quality content could negatively impact other pages on any said domain. 
  2. HCU is on v1. Therefore awful AI content is the low hanging fruit here for Google, almost like spun content or boilerplate text back in the day.

 

Speaking of which – Back in 2011, webmasters keen to get the most out of organic search were given a helpful 23-point checklist from Google to guide them in being ‘Panda proof.’ This list rarely comes out of the woodwork in 2022 SEO chat but was foundational when understanding the principles behind E-A-T with the quality updates occurring from 2018/2019 onwards that now sit within the ongoing Core Search Updates from Google.

 

So, I’ve added in the Google Panda question list below to look back on similarities with the most recent Helpful Content Update. 

 

The reference to ‘content mass-produced’ definitely illustrates a linkage in themes when the HCU reminds webmasters that content needs to be primarily for users and not engines alone. 

 

Predictably, the HCU refers to demonstrating ‘first-hand expertise’ which back in 2011 was a big issue for Google to deal with because many ecommerce operations were indulging in ‘ghost writing’ to feed their blog rolls or product page descriptions.

 

Finally, the Panda question of ‘does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines? Is very similar to the HCU question:’ ‘Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?’ As an old area of search engine manipulation, farming in traffic (the Panda update used to also be referred to as ‘the farmer update’) was a bit out of control back in 2011. In modern terms, farming in traffic with the shiny new toy of AI content in article sections of websites is definitely under scrutiny.

 

  1. Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  2. Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  3. Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  4. Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  5. Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  6. Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  7. Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  8. Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  9. How much quality control is done on content?
  10. Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  11. Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  12. Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  13. Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  14. For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  15. Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  16. Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  17. Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  18. Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  19. Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  20. Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  21. Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  22. Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  23. Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

 

Here are the Helpful Content Update questions that are designed to have a positive outcome if you answer ‘yes’:

 

  1. 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?
  2. 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)?
  3. Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
  4. After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
  5. Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
  6. Are you keeping in mind our guidance for core updates and for product reviews?

 

…and here are the Helpful Content Update questions that are designed to have a positive outcome if you answer no:

 

  1. Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
  2. Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
  3. Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
  4. Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?
  5. Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?
  6. Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
  7. Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (No, we don’t).
  8. Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic?
  9. Does your content promise 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?

Conclusion

Google’s advice on the Helpful Content Update should not be introducing new concepts to experience SEOs. Instead, this is a clarification on how the search engine giant is building up it’s algorithms to put the user first. As covered in this article, Google’s commitment to providing a user-centric search engine dates back over 10 years and their ability to engineer towards this mantra is really what sets them apart in this cornerstone of the web.

Article by Duncan Colman, Director at spike®