September 13 2022


The Impact of Google’s Helpful Content Update

With a variety of updates just in the past year, such as the recent product reviews update in July or the broad core update just announced, Google has recently launched a large algorithm update focused on the content of websites. This update is likely to produce significant changes in what we see on the results pages of Google.

Previously, we told you about the Helpful Content update and what we understood it to be. However, we wanted to expand upon what this change will mean for you in the future, including answering important questions about what this update means for SEO and the work we do at TopSpot.

Generally, when Google has announced or confirmed larger-scale updates to their algorithm, they pointed to this document on how to prepare and optimize your website for these algorithm updates. Though a few years old, it is a still fantastic resource. However, this time around Google provided a new document to guide us.

So, how does TopSpot see the Helpful Content update impacting search engine results?

Brief Context of Google’s Algorithm Updates

To answer that question, it is important to have some context. Over the past several years, Google has gone through the process of gradually updating its search platform to move away from the standard list type format historically associated with search engines. As a result, search landscapes began to evolve.

This image shows the standard list format versus a more robust, feature-heavy search result page.

Put simply, search features are additional components of the search landscape. The purpose of these features is to make the information presented on websites more accessible to the Google user. This purpose is directly in line with Google’s mission to make information “universally accessible.”

Beyond accessibility, Google is making a shift to prioritize only helpful content or information in their search results. More likely than not, with the new update, we should see a decrease in search feature appearances for websites that are deemed “not helpful”. This would ideally produce a wider variety of results in the search features with overall higher quality content.

How Does Google Decide What is “Helpful Content”?

As we mentioned in our previous blog, the new algorithm update will be a sitewide signal – meaning it will impact your site as a whole. However, the analysis itself will be run on a page-by-page basis.

Google has indicated that the helpful content “classifier process” is entirely automated and will run continuously on websites. Therefore, if you update your content over time, the “unhelpful” classification should eventually be lifted granted you are taking the right steps.

This is similar to the Core Web Vitals update, with one key difference: Core Web Vitals are run on each page, not on a sitewide basis like the Helpful Content update.

What Does This Mean?

Primarily, this means it is a possibility that websites with the “helpful” classification will appear in search features more often such as those that are featured at the top of the search landscape. Examples include the Featured Snippet, Knowledge Panel, and People Also Ask search features.

Here is a Visual Guide to Understanding Google’s Organic Search Features.

If we take Google’s own guidance on how to interpret search landscapes from their Quality Rater Guidelines, these features are intended to showcase the “most helpful type of result”:

Another area Google specifically addresses in its announcement is how the focus and scope of a website are relevant to the new update. Writing or generating content that strays far from your usual subject into completely new industries, products, or services, without having a clear reason for doing so could potentially signal your site as “unhelpful,” which could then result in noticeable organic traffic loss. In general, it is best to avoid deviating from your lane of expertise.

Example: Let’s say you operate a stainless steel fabrication company. In looking at keyword search data, you see an opportunity to write a related blog. While the blog post alone may have helpful content, users coming to a stainless steel fabrication website are not looking to read about software.

Because of this, we are likely to see a decline in the number of blog results from companies that do not specialize in those specific areas.

How Can We Track the Impact of Google’s Helpful Content Update?

Although we have not seen an enormous amount of change yet, the full onset of ramifications could take months. Even so, there are certain areas we can identify now that may be an indication of poor performance as a result of the update. The following tools/platforms can help:

  • Google Search Console. This allows us to view page-specific performance. We can also view the number of times we have been seen and clicked on organically on Google.  
  • Keyword tracking tools for page-specific keyword rankings, especially keeping an eye on search features. Widespread changes and new appearances here can be an indication of either positive or negative results from the algorithm update. In some cases, increases in traffic and clicks can be a direct result of placement in a search feature, so it is important to look out for these as well.
  • Google Analytics for traffic metrics. Similarly, it is important to identify any widespread decline in organic traffic. The key here is widespread. Because the Helpful Content Update is a sitewide signal, any negative change would be seen across each page on the website. If there are more isolated incidents of traffic loss, we can assume that your site has not received the “unhelpful” classification. Beyond this, focusing on more user-centric metrics like pages per session and time on page is more important now than before. Thinking about helpful content from a user perspective is exactly what Google wants us to work towards.

That being said, the B-SMART Method® we utilize to develop our strategies and content closely aligns with what Google is looking for in this new update. Our goal has always been to provide content that both enriches users and increases website performance.

What Does This Mean for You?

There is no question as to whether this algorithm update will result in changes to the search results we are currently seeing. The full extent and severity of these changes are yet to be determined. However, we can make estimates on what results will be included in search landscapes in the future. From Google’s recent updates to the Search Quality Evaluator guidelines and other postings, we can expect that this update will:

  • Reduce the number of unfocused, low-quality results in the search landscape that are written only with the intent to perform well and not to inform the user.
  • Crackdown on the prevalence of low-quality AI-generated content.
  • Increase the quality of results in search features like the People Also Ask, Featured Snippets, and Knowledge Panels.
  • Reward users for content within their established area of expertise (such as a nickel fabrication company writing about different alloys).

Ultimately, this will not radically change our day-to-day strategies at TopSpot. “The Search Defines the User” has always been a TopSpot mantra. The content we develop will continue to prioritize the user. We will continue to closely monitor keyword rankings, page-specific performance, and user-centric metrics and adjust as needed.

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