ROI·DNA’s Head of SEO Weighs in on Google’s Helpful Content Update

August 21, 2022
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Last week Google announced an upcoming algorithm update around rankings for “helpful content.”  While some in the industry may be rethinking their SEO strategy this week, the ROI·DNA SEO team is confident in running with our current strategies for our clients and partners. Why, you ask?

Because Our B2B Content Strategy Has Always Followed These Recommendations

What are the foundations of a solid B2B SEO Content Strategy?

  • Establish depth and breadth of content in your areas of expertise
  • Link expert articles together with clear information architecture and robust internal linking strategies
  • Ensure that the overall number of pages visible to Google are high-quality landing pages for users
  • Match content to the intent of the user who lands on the page; better yet, match it to your ABM target persona and the intended action you want them to take
  • Write for people, not robots

The latest recommendations from Google reinforce and underscore this strategy.  

Panda 2: The AI Sequel

This update reminds me of the 2011 Panda update, also known as the “Farmer update,” back in the day for the old-school nerds like me to address sub-optimal content generated by content farms.

In case you weren’t on the internet in 2011, and don’t remember content farms – the idea was that broad, general topic sites paid writers pennies to generate lower-quality, inexpert search-engine-optimized content on general websites serving ad impressions.  

I wrote for content farms – it’s actually where I learned how to write web content – and though some of the articles produced were truly written by experts, they were mostly the internet equivalent of the homework you banged out at midnight the night before it was due — sub-optimal.

Since the advent of machine learning and AI, which can generate large amounts of unique content with very few inputs from users, we are seeing another rise in machine-generated articles returning that same C-minus kind of work, and this helpful content update was deployed to fix it.

Every Search Term Entered is a Question: Answer it.

Meeting user intent has been the #1 way to rank in the organic search results for a while.  If you answer the user’s question well and answer it completely, you can rank a single page without any backlinks or other ranking signals.  I don’t think that’s changed.  

It’s even easier to do that ranking if you’re also answering questions that your authors and your websites are established experts in the topic. Again, that hasn’t changed. 

The content that this update is going after does not try to answer the user’s question. It’s just trying to rank in search results.  The “unhelpful” content is usually obviously computer-generated and not written by humans.  If you’re not spooling up machine-generated pages to gain search traffic just for the sake of search traffic, you’re probably fine. 

For all that is Good in the World, Please Stop Counting Keywords

The sophisticated machine learning processing power that Google uses to analyze and rank pages in the index isn’t available to most of us mere mortals.  Because of that, smaller, less sophisticated tools have evolved to approximate understanding user intent and what “answering a user’s question completely” looks like. 

The way these machines do this is to count terms in the top 10 ranking pages in the search results.  They indirectly suggest the idea that “all of the top 10 ranking pages use X keyword nine times, so you can only rank if you use it nine times, too.”  You can’t get a “green light” or a “good grade” on your article unless you wordsmith your way around these exact phrases. 

When machines are generating “unhelpful” content, this is how they are producing it.

I routinely tell our clients to ignore all of those things.  It’s a machine reading the specific things machines can read to approximate content topic coverage. It’s not actually looking at topic coverage

With natural language processing continually evolving at Google, the AI capacity there is far closer to approximating what the topic is being covered, and whether you’re answering the question. Google’s not looking at keyword density, and neither should you. 

If you’re writing on a topic you are an expert in with a user’s specific question in mind, you’re going to cover the topic clearly and completely.  If you’re not shoehorning in all the terms for a green light, you’re probably not going to get clipped by this update.

How do I know if my site has gotten “hit” by this update?

A few things we know from Barry Schwartz about this update are that it will be sitewide, not page-by-page.  That means that if you get hit, you’ll know it. There won’t be any “maybe?” or “kinda?” about it.  

Your rankings and organic search traffic numbers will resemble a cliff – there will be a clear and upsetting vertical line on the days associated with the rollout. (In GA4, look at Users in Traffic Acquisition from Organic Search)

Another good thing to know is that it’s rolling out to English-language searches first, and will roll out globally later.  By checking your site’s global rankings and traffic, especially if you have HREFLANG implemented, you should be able to see a distinct difference. 

The final takeaway from Barry’s interview that I want to call out is the areas of content that are likely to be impacted. Those are:

  • Online educational materials
  • Arts and Entertainment
  • Shopping
  • Tech-related

Of course, that’s a very broad set of topics!  

We will, of course, be watching our clients for signs of danger in the coming weeks – particularly those in these spaces. 

What is the Impact of This Update on Other Marketing Channels?

It’s early to say much, but this information will likely be used over the long term to help calculate quality scores for SEM landing pages. Even if they aren’t indexed, it pays to keep an eye on optimizing your landing pages for user intent just like you would an organic search page. 

The team has heard me say many times (probably too many) that good UX is good SEO.  If you’ve got navigation, site architecture issues, or pages that search engines find less than useful, you may want to consider how your UX impacts your site. 

Social signals are an underrated way to prove to Google that your content is helpful, so don’t forget to boost new articles with social channels. Curious about how to successfully navigate Google’s helpful content update? Hit that contact us button at the top of this page!  


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