Googles new algorithm ‘Helpful Content’ update looks set to have a big impact on SEO across the board. The update took 14 days to roll out, starting on September 14, 2023, and ending on September 28, 2023. Overall the update is aimed at promoting content that is, well…helpful to the viewer and enhances their experience on the website including answering the questions they may have. The Helpful Content update, as it is called, is designed to reward websites that produce high-quality content.
On the other hand Google is looking to down grade sites that lack detailed information containing content that has been written with a search engine in mind rather than a person.
Content Written for a Person NOT a Search Engine
In a way there are no real suprises as Google over the last few years has looked to promote websites that cater for a human eye and not Google Spider bots crawling throught the text. Gone are the days where web content writers would stuff headers and lines of text with keywords with the hope of fooling the search engines into a higher ranking…although looking at some sites it still seems to go on. These are the types of sites that will drop down through the rankings. It won’t be pretty.
Search with Intent
More than ever the algorithm is helping promote ‘search through intent’. Search Intent (also known as ‘User Intent’) is the main goal a user has when typing a query into a search engine. Like any AI system Google is learning about the intent behind a search. To put in basic terms, satisfying Search Intent is ultimately Google’s #1 goal. Pages that clearly satisfy user search intent will rank high for that intent or if you like ‘keyword intent’.
Let’s say someone searches for “best cat food” on Google.
They’re not trying to navigate to a specific page. And they don’t want to buy a specific product either at the moment. Consumers want to do their research before making a purchase. That means the keyword has commercial intent. And a content writer can use this knowledge to adjust their content to target this keyword better, maybe including variations of the keyword and meaning behind it. Well written and high quality content will mean the targeting of keywords that align with the needs of your target audience.
Interestingly Google is now personalising searches some people make. With personalisation, you get Google search results tailored for you based on your activity. Although this doesn’t effect all search results, just some.
Expert and Niche with a Touch of Personality
When it comes to creating helpful content, it’s important to have first-hand expertise. In other words, don’t just regurgitate information you’ve read elsewhere. Instead, share your own experiences, insights and views. In other words Google now more than ever wants you to be personal and talk about aspects unique to you and your business demonstrating expertise and authority. This also includes keeping the content to the point and ‘niche down’. What I mean by that is keep the website to one niche or topic. Multiple topics within one website including blogs are in danger of falling through the rankings.
Funnily enough, I also think thats why we’re going to see an upsurge in blogging and blog articles in the coming months. Blogging on a topic you know about clearly demonstrates expertise and authority on a subject. Search engines will promote this if it is clearly seen to engage, help people, answer questions and enhance. But stay on topic, a collection of blog articles on woodworking will do better than a general and sporadic collection of blogs on woodworking, garden maintenance and roof repair. Prove you are an expert in one field and one field only.
Are You for Real?
As mentioned it’s important to make the website content personal or unique to you are demostrating expertise in a particular topic. This being the ethos behind ‘Helpful Content’. After all people do business and relate to other people, not search engines.
Make sure Google knows you are real! A person behind the brand:
- Display credential/bio prominantly. A detailed ‘About Us’ with names and bio.Talk about experience/expertise.
- Testimonials & Reviews, Social proof. This is really important and where psychology kicks-in. Social proof is commonly used in marketing to persuade consumers to make purchasing decisions, sign up for services, or take specific actions.
- Take advantage of the Socials: post on Linkedin, Twitter and build a following. Although not direct signals to Google they none the less add to the brand cedibility and make it personal.
- Limit the website to an actual topic demonstrating expertise. Detailed information on what you or your business does. Not general scant information. Limit a topic to per page and don’t go off on a tangent.
- All these trust signals working in combination show Google you are real and your business is real.
- Unique content and preferably unique photos.
Building tust and creating value with Google and any search engine is key. It gives you credability and proves your business is legitimate. A website is your chance to prove your expertise and credentials to the world and shouldn’t be wasted.
Keeping It Real as You Build Your Brand
A website needs to demonstrate there is a person, or a legitimate organisation behind the brand and not some random site setup with fake ‘about us’ for affiliate or advertising purposes. Or in other words, a site will be seen as favourable with a real person writing content as opposed to an AI generated site automated through Chat GPT and plugins.
With the rollout of the new algorithm I think a lot of sites relying on pure AI content will drop in rankings while sites with genuine, unique trustworthy content written by a person for a person will rise – well that’s the theory anyway. However, with so many people turning to AI for content creation I think unique content written by a person will be seen as more and more valuable. These sites will probably rise above sites purely generated with AI content. Google will weed out AI generated sites where there is no real evidence of the author behind the content being an authority on the subject matter.
ChatGPT and AI Content
ChatGPT and AI content is obviously here to stay and will shape content today and in the forseeable future but content creators need to be wary. With this new power comes great responsibility. If ChatGPT content is used as a starting point or referenced and is skillfully used in conjunction with text written by a person then that should work (emphasis on ‘should‘ – of course), in the land of Google nothing is guaranteed.
In fact, in the right hands ChatGPT could massively enhance a skilled author who is an authority in their field. Think of an author on AI-steroids to get the picture. With the help of this online tool less time is taken up with research and content is quicker to create with more fact based articles. Credible fact based articles, laced with personality, observations and experience published online at a far quicker pace.
However there obviously needs to be editing done regarding any AI generated content. Just relying on AI content alone means you’re probably regenerating what is already available on the internet somewhere else. What Google is obviously coming down hard on is automated filler text for websites. Sites where it’s obvious that all content has simply been AI generated and is purely factual in tone.
Google will get smarter and smarter at spotting AI content. There are tell tale signs:
- Lack of Personal Touch: AI-generated content often lacks a personal touch, anecdotes or real-life experiences, making it feel cold and robotic. Often lacking an identifiable author or attribution. Again this personal touch is what Google looks keen to promote in the latest update as oppose to content with a distinct lack of emotion or personality in the writing.
- Patterns, Repitition and Repetitive Phrases: AI models may produce repetitive content, using similar phrases or sentence structures throughout the text. Perhaps this is the most obvious point as AI-generated content is prone to repetition – words, phrases, or sentences. AI is designed to recognize patterns and replicate them as accurately as possible.
- No Gramatical Mistakes and Spelling Mistakes: AI content can actually prove to be too perfect regarding this point. AI-generated text is typically free from grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, which can actually be a sign of automation.
There also seems to be a crack down on the practice of lengthy content just for the sake of it or the content creator believing the more they write the better chance they have of that page ranking well. Google has stated over and over again page length does not determine how that content will rank. Shorter informative text that receives attention will win out every time against long filler paragraphs of text that hold no real value to the reader. This is another possible tell-tale sign the text has been AI generated as text written by AI tends to have lengthy paragraphs.
According to Google, only a website/person with “real expertise” will be able to provide the value users are looking for.
Want Something to EAT
In fact there is now an abbreviation that an author, or content creator, should now have as a mantra. Remember to EAT. You need to demonstrate you are an Expert in your field, gaining Authority while building Trustworthiness. This is the essence behind the update and sites will rise and fall by it, as well as being a cornerstone of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
Google Rolls Out Spam Update
As of 4th October 2023 Google has updated SpamBrain. An update enhancing it’s spam detection systems, promising better language coverage and cleaner search results across various spam types.
What is SpamBrain? Google has specifically developed an algorithm and AI assisted prevention and elimination of spam websites from appearing in search results. This gets updated periodically.
In the latest update there will be a crackdown on:
- Automatically generated spam content
- Sneaky redirects to other websites within links on websites
- Looks like some auto translated content could be hit as well
- User generated spam including comments and hacked sites
- Affiliate spam pages and nefarius spam linking practices
- Keyword stuffing especially engineered to increase page length.
- Annoying persistent pop ups and pop ups that take up more than one third of the screen.
Again no real surprises as Google often targets these kind of black-hat practices and the latest update will certainly penalise these kinds of things. Dubious manipulative affilate practices are also being targeted where auto generated AI content gets pumped into a site. The sites only reason for being there is to advertise affiliate links. In other words, the only reason the website exists is for advertising purposes. There’s no value to the site or content. This definitly goes against the idea of useful content.
Sites also containing those really annoying video pop-up adverts that follow you up and down the page should also be worried. The same sites also tend to be plastered in ads as well optimising for income rather than good content. Ad densities of 28% to 32%, which is well above the recommended levels.
Affiliate spam practices are especially annoying, falling under the general term click bait. Typically image based that look legitimate but the link send ths viewer to the spammers landing page. The link is generally disguised by throwaway domains, URL shorteners, or obfuscated IP addresses. The spammers tend to show or use legitimate products to instil trust but God knows where you’ll end up if you hit the link not to mention Malware.
Health & Finance
Through the Google update Health and Finance advice sites are under particular scutiny. Content creators in these fields have to prove every claim made with concrete evidence to support such claims. For example, it’s not enough to state a certain exercise will increase muscle tone, the statement will then need to be backed up by scientific evidence. Assertions need to be backed up by definite and undesputed evidence. This would fall under the proving expertise of the content and author section, per Google helpful content update guidelines. Would you trust the author by the information he has provided by means of clear sourcing or verifiable information?
Translated Language Content
I’ve heard some sites that have been auto-translated to a foreign language have been hit by the new update. This does seem to be a bit unfair.
However the translated content may not make sense in places and could fall foul of the SpamBrain update. Again, the safest (although not the quickest and cheapest option) would be to get the text translated by a person. Plug-ins used for auto translations will never be 100% accurate in the translation.
To add to this, Google Search Console also states that “text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing” is enough grounds to receive a penalty.
Just Be Helpful
Overall as long as you don’t try and play Google and avoid any of the black-hat techniques your website should remain unaffected. If the content is engaging and answers the questions people are searching for your website will be seen favourably by Google. It may even creep up the rankings being rewarded on SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).
On the other hand sites that exist for other nafarious reasons that are gulity of black-hat search engine optimisation will be down graded. This includes diluted content and content practices that are questionable will suffer because of the new algorithm update. There is room for AI generated content but watch out how it’s used and implemented.
Google says that the point of helpful content updates is to promote helpful, reliable, people-first content, and has directed affected site owners to review their help page for information on how to self-assess content if they feel negatively impacted.