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What Google’s Helpful Content Update Means for Your Organization

It may have started to roll out a year ago, but many websites are just starting to see the effects post the final update in September 2023. Learn how to prevent “faking freshness” and other missteps that have the potential to damage your site’s organic visibility.

MC Google Update

By Emily Rubio

Google’s search algorithm is both a guiding star and an ongoing frustration for many content marketers. Effective search engine optimization (SEO) is often a cornerstone of content strategies, but sudden updates can turn content that used to follow best practices into negative ranking factors fast. In a survey conducted by Search Engine Land, 58% of marketers said rankings were negatively impacted after the 2019 Core Algorithm update.

After the latest Helpful Content update rolled out in September 2023, Google announced the search algorithm now focuses on human-centric content. In other words, it measures the effectiveness of content in increasing user experience and satisfaction, versus keyword stuffing or third-party content on a website. The resulting algorithm is shaking up content strategies and putting site rankings at risk.

Here are three factors that may be hurting your website based on this new SEO landscape.

1. Faking Freshness

Repackaging or refreshing content can increase exposure, drive engagement and increase your content output without straining your resources. When done well, a thoughtful 2022 trend piece can be updated for 2024 without losing its search value. But content creators beware: After the Helpful Content update, low-effort content refreshes won’t only fail to improve performance, but they could also actively hurt your website overall.

Quick fixes like updating publish dates without substantial content changes or adding or deleting large portions of content for the express purpose of making your website seem fresh will not boost your site’s rankings. Google’s recommended self-assessment asks:

  • “Are you changing the date of pages to make them seem fresh when the content has not substantially changed?”
  • “Are you adding a lot of new content or removing a lot of older content primarily because you believe it will help your search rankings overall by somehow making your site seem ‘fresh?’”

All content, but especially medical, legal or financial pieces, needs to display some level of authority. Content should be written or reviewed by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic.

2. Fudging Authority

Google has been pushing for experience, expertise, authority and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) since the 2018 Medic Update, which required extra levels of care when writing about topics including medicine, news, finance and law. In many ways, it makes sense. In the real world, you would seek out an accountant to answer questions about taxes. Online, you should expect a similar level of authority.

All content, but especially medical, legal or financial pieces, needs to display some level of authority. Content should be written or reviewed by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic. And that authorship should be clearly evident on your website. Thorough author bios and clear attribution can go a long way to establish authority under the scrutiny of the new guidelines.

Additionally, the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab compiled 10 guidelines for building web credibility based on three years’ worth of research with over 4,500 participants.

  1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.
  2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site.
  3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.
  4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.
  5. Make it easy to contact you.
  6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).
  7. Make your site easy to use — and useful.
  8. Update your site’s content often (or at least show it’s been reviewed recently).
  9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).
  10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.

3. Writing for Robots

Seemingly from the dawn of Google, marketers have been trying to work the algorithm. And while that’s still important, the search giant is trying to stop us. At its core, the Helpful Content update promotes a user-first content model. Humans don’t need you to repeat keywords, they need information and answers to their questions. When content is written for people rather than the algorithm, value is the priority.

Write content to answer questions, entertain or share expertise with your target audience. Some quick questions to ask yourself before posting content are:

  • Is the content aligned with my site and my target audience?
  • Does the content actually answer the question it promises to answer?
  • Will someone feel like they’ve learned enough to achieve their goal after reading my content?
  • Does the content provide original information, analysis or research?

If you can answer these real questions with honest, human answers, then your content strategy is in good shape and your website rankings likely are, too.

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Emily Rubio Yellow
Emily Rubio Editor

Emily has nearly a decade of writing and editing experience across industries and formats. She has managed content marketing programs for global brands, financial institutions and mom-and-pop retailers. A Boston University grad, she works to connect the right language to the right audiences without sacrificing editorial quality. Prior to her work in marketing, Emily was a writer and editor for publications including the Boston Globe and the Associated Press.

At home in Richmond, Emily can be found enjoying takeout, television adaptations of fantasy novels (when available) and the company of her two tiny dogs.

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