What is the Google Helpful Content Update?

Organic Search
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In our new series of Q&A sessions, we ask our very own Spike SEO specialists for their thoughts on some of the big topics in technical SEO today. We asked our Head of SEO – Tom Nelson and SEO Training Director – Steve Bailey to sit down and discuss:

What is the Google Helpful Content Update and what are we likely to expect to happen?

Tom Nelson: So all we know at this point is what Google has told us. We’ve been keeping up to date on their update, but I’ve not seen any massive impacts just yet, essentially Google is targeting content that is created for search engines rather than human beings.

What that means is up for interpretation. And what impact it’ll have is, I guess, up for interpretation. My caveat that I put for a lot of these sorts of predictions is that it tends to be that if Google puts something out like this, where they give you clear guidelines, that the actual update and the impact isn’t as great as just core algorithm updates.

A lot of the time I think that what Google’s doing is telling you something to try and terrify the internet into doing what it wants. It happened with ‘mobile-geddon’ and now everybody’s mobile friendly. They’ve tried to do it with page speed, tried to do it with core web vitals. Now they’re trying to get people to basically take off their horrible content. I guess we’ll see if it works again.

Steve Bailey: I do think that you’ve hit nail on the head there to be honest, that, you know, we’ve had kind of similar updates to this one, like Bert updates and Hummingbird, and over the years, Google is still moving in the same direction of saying, you know, content is for users, it’s for people. It shouldn’t be focused on SEO and we’re getting much better at understanding intent and being able to pull out answers deep from within content and all of these things.

They keep nudging it along, but, you know, even those updates, like the Bert update didn’t really have a great impact. In my mind, based on what I was working on, it almost passed without notice. And, I imagine that would be the case with clients we have right now, some of them have got really strong article content, but that’s strong because it’s well written and it’s been written by experts in the field, and it’s been highly valued by the consumers. So I don’t think we’re going to see any real impact in that space. I think it might just be another nudge towards ‘please write good content’. And don’t use AI bots to copy and paste other people’s work.

Tom Nelson: Yes. One thing I did see that I thought was very interesting. It’s almost a call back to your Penguin, Panda days of that enough bad content on your website could lead to your whole website being impacted by that.

So a lot of Google updates recently have been on a page-by-page basis. Whereas, this is very much suggesting that they will penalise full domains rather than just a one-off page that’s bad. So if you have, it will basically mean that if it does have an impact, that will start to mean that people actually have to go and look at the bad content and remove it. It is going to actively take you looking and removing old content, because it could be hindering some really good new content where you’ve changed your style and actually providing really interesting, engaging content. That old content might now be holding you back. So that is an interesting change that they’ve kind of implemented there.

Steve Bailey: It could be time to look at all your archived content. Anything written from back in the day, but no one ever visits. It might just be time to take that down.

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