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Topics: SEO

What is the Helpful Content Update?

It’s no secret that a majority of content on the web is made for the sole purpose of driving traffic to the writers’ websites. 

Google is constantly fighting to keep the results within SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) as relevant as possible, with algorithms such as Panda (which punishes poor quality or thin content) and Penguin (designed to root out and punish websites with poor quality or manipulated backlinks) being released and updated regularly. The newest tool in this battle against poor quality content is the Helpful Content Update, which launched on the 25th of August 2022.

The Helpful Content Update is, as its name suggests, a way of rewarding websites who create high quality content designed to answer readers’ questions and solve their problems, rather than writing purely to rank within search engines. 

Recent times have seen a huge rise in poor quality, mass produced content; be it companies desperately trying to rank for their target keywords, or churn-and-burn websites publishing fully automated content en-masse in the hope that some of it will stick. Whilst most of these poor quality pages will never rank successfully, some will inevitably slip through the cracks and end up being served, even though it provides little to no value to the end user.

We have also seen a rise in AI generated content, which by itself cannot add unique value or expert insight in the way a writer with experience within a sector can provide.

Unlike many other algorithms which review, rank and reward content quality on a page-by-page basis, the Helpful Content Audit takes a much broader approach. A website with a high volume of poor quality, unhelpful content will have their rankings affected sitewide, rather than just the low-quality pages themselves. The effects of this update can scale up proportionally to the volume or percentage of the website's content deemed to be of low quality. This not only means that it is far less likely for a spam site to rank highly within SERPs, but also that many companies will be encouraged to clear up their existing content, leaving only the high-quality posts behind.

An AI hand guiding a content writer

How can I avoid being penalised by the Helpful Content Update?

For most businesses, creating content to answer their readers' questions and solve their problems is already standard practice. If this is the case you’ll likely see little to no effect on your website’s traffic and rankings following this update (and may even see an improvement). If you do suspect you’ve been affected however, Google has provided a helpful list of dos and don’ts to get you back on the right track.


  • Write useful content for your existing audience

When creating new content, you should always write for the audience you already have. Creating Buyer Personas is a practical way to do this. Ask yourself what questions they may have and what pain-points they would want addressed. In short; how can you provide them with content that fulfils their needs and leaves them satisfied.

  • Demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge 

The best advice will always come from those who have first hand experience of the topic they’re discussing. When creating content for your website, you should make sure that the information is being drawn directly from the experience you and your colleagues have accrued over your time within the industry. 

Expertise, Authority and Trust are major factors within Google’s quality rater guidelines, so it’s a fairly safe bet to assume they’re equally large ranking factors within the algorithms that decide positions within SERPs. It is far more difficult to demonstrate expertise if you are simply repeating information from other companies or experts, rather than drawing upon your own knowledge, so carefully choosing topics you can confidently discuss and provide unique value to is key.

A simple and effective way to display this expertise is with pages dedicated to your authors, showing their industry experience and publishing history at a glance.

  • Have a website with a primary purpose or focus

The old phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” can be relevant to your website as well. If you’re trying to cover a wide variety of different topics at once, you’re far less likely to have a deep, comprehensive understanding of each when compared to those who specialise in just one area. 

You can better serve your users interests, and are more likely to encourage them to return, by keeping to your website's primary focus and offering true value, rather than trying to be too many things at once.

  • Leave the reader feeling like they have learned enough about their topic to achieve their goal

When a user arrives on your website from SERPs, they’ll have a specific goal in mind to achieve, be it research, a purchase or the acquisition of knowledge. If that user then leaves your page to continue their search elsewhere, you have failed in meeting their needs and helping them to achieve their goal. 

Your content should be comprehensive and written with your buyer personas and their goals in mind at all times, not just the final sale. Think carefully about not just what they want to learn or achieve from your website, but also why they want to achieve it. By doing this, you can speak to their needs directly and provide them with the information or service they are seeking in a simple, easily accessible and painless way.

  • Leave the reader feeling like they have had a satisfying experience

If you’ve done all of the above, you’ll have provided your users with the tools and information they need to simply and effectively complete their goals. You’ll have used first-hand knowledge and expertise and discussed topics you know are within your existing audiences interests.

User experience goes beyond just the content itself; if your website layout is confusing, doesn't render correctly on mobile or is simply full of ads, it's unlikely your readers will want to return even if they find the information they're looking for.

The end goal is to meet your readers' needs and make sure they have no need to go elsewhere for further information. If you can do this, they’ll remember your name and keep coming back to the company they trust. 


  • Don’t create content for search engines, rather than people

There has been a long history of companies creating content purely to rank for specific keywords and giving little to no thought to the people that will read your content. With constant advances in AI, Google is getting ever better at understanding the tone and intent of your content without the need to tick boxes or cram in keywords for SEO sake. You should focus on providing your readers with what they need above all else, leaving refinement for search as the final step, not the core purpose.

  • Don’t produce large amounts of content in the hopes that some will perform well

The Helpful Content Update is a little different from many of the algorithms that have come before, in that it can affect the rankings of your entire website, not just specific pages, if it deems that enough of your content is low quality. Companies that take a scattergun approach with content are likely to see themselves heavily affected, whereas those that carefully plan and execute their content are not.

This isn’t to say that producing a lot of content is inherently a bad thing, rather that quality should always come before quantity.

  • Don’t use extensive automation to produce content across many topics

AI has advanced hugely within the last few years, with uses ranging from predicting machine failure to creating new and unique art, and anything in between. It’s little wonder then that many businesses are turning to AI to help with content creation.

As with any technological advance, AI can be used when writing content in a number of ways, some far more useful than others. Researching user trends and patterns or offering suggestions on related topics can be an incredibly useful way to apply AI, as it supports a human writer rather than replacing them. It can also be misused; such as populating websites with entirely AI created content and no human intervention. Automatically generated content offers no new value, but merely analyses existing posts, amalgamates and rewrites this second-hand information. 

Even automated research should be used sparingly; it can assist you in finding new ideas or new angles that you may not have thought of, but should not tempt creators to stray too far from their area of first hand expertise simply because the metrics look appetising. 

  • Don’t summarise what others say and add no value

Any content you create should have its own unique value that sets it apart from your competitors. This can come in a number of ways; be it unique research and statistics, first-hand experiences or simply expanding on commonly discussed topics with your own insights to make it easier to digest.

The value you add to a topic should always include new information or a different viewpoint that may not be immediately obvious to your reader, rather than simple commentary that teaches your reader nothing.

  • Don’t leave readers needing to go elsewhere for more information

As we mentioned above, your content should have one purpose above all else: to achieve the goal of your reader. If your page is incomplete or laid out in a confusing manner (which is often the case when writing for search engines, rather than for users), then they are far more likely to simply abandon your website and go somewhere more helpful.

  • Don’t write to a word count

There is a common misconception that Google rewards specific word count within its rankings. This has led to many companies (and even SEO tools) working to quotas for content length. This often leads to pages being filled with low quality content in an attempt to pad out the post and hit these arbitrary benchmarks. 

The perfect word count of a post is always the same: enough to solve your readers problem. If they are looking for fully comprehensive information and detailed information, your posts may be thousands of words in length. If all your user is looking for is a simple tutorial, you may be looking at a couple of paragraphs and a video.

Reviewing your competitors' content to see if there are common trends can be helpful to understand the depth your users may be looking for, and to see how you can better meet user needs than your competitors, but it should never force you to write more or less than you otherwise would.

  • Don’t write about topics you have no first-hand expertise on

The reasons for this are twofold: firstly, without first hand experience, you’re unlikely to have the depth of understanding required to explain a topic clearly and concisely to the reader. Secondly, without first hand experiences to draw upon, the information you provide will be the same information already in circulation, with no new value to add. 

This doesn’t necessarily need to be the writer's first-hand experience (as chances are the experts within your team are too busy to write the posts themselves). Most professional copywriters are also skilled interviewers and can extract this knowledge directly from your in-house experts. This means you can still provide the same unique value, without needing your experts to also become writers. 

It can be incredibly tempting to jump on a content bandwagon if you see it gaining traction, especially if you see your competitors joining in, but if the topic being discussed doesn’t relate to your experience (either directly or by taking a unique angle using your field of expertise) then more often than not it’s best to just let it pass by entirely.

  • Don’t write for search traffic only

Posts that are written for the sole purpose of ranking for target keywords often stand out like a sore thumb. They’re stuffed full of keywords and have no real value, as the reader and their goals barely factor into the writing process. Every single one of your posts should exist to help your readers above all else, not to try and rank for target terms.  

  • Don’t promise to answer a question there is no answer to

Your content should be clear and up-front about what it aims to do from a single glance. Your header should always show exactly what your content has to offer to your reader in a clear and concise manner, without being confusing, inaccurate or clickbait. Misleading or click-bait results within SERPs are incredibly frustrating and lead to a poor user experience, as they’ll then need to go elsewhere to find the information they were seeking. 

Google's AI is becoming increasingly more proficient at identifying and penalising false information, so any data or claims you make should always be factual in nature and easy to verify through other trustworthy sources.

A laptop with several floating icons and the word SEO highlighted

What should I do if the Helpful Content Update has affected my website?

If you think the Helpful Content Update has affected your website's performance, the first thing you should do is to audit your content. It’s easy to fall into the trap of letting old, low quality content build up rather than reviewing it regularly and addressing areas of poor performance. 

When auditing content for a client, there are several key questions we ask for each page:

  • Does this content have a clear and unique goal

Each page on your website should have its own unique purpose or problem to solve. If we find a page with no clear goal, we either suggest the page content be repurposed to be more helpful, or that the page is deleted entirely.

  • Does this content overlap with/ cannibalise similar content

If you have two or more pages on your website that serve identical niches, or seek to solve the same goal, then these pages can directly interfere with one another, harming the potential rankings of both. We call this “content cannibalisation”. When we find instances of this within a client's website, we combine the relevant content from each into one, stronger page.

  • Is this content clear and accessible

The quality of writing is almost as important as the quality of the content itself. Even if you have unique, first-hand information that will be of use to your readers, it amounts to little if it is written in either amateur or hard-to-digest way. A balance needs to be struck to match the knowledge level of your readers, without alienating them. This is where a professional copywriter can help.

  • Is this content still relevant

The digital age has brought an endless string of advances, which also means our data and processes can become obsolete quicker than ever before. Content which was incredibly useful a year, or even a few months ago, can quickly become dated and inaccurate. It is important to continue revisiting old content, even if the pages themselves are performing well, to ensure we are not providing outdated and misleading information.

  • Is this page performing well

Whilst we always strive to write the most useful content for our audience, there will always be posts which underperform. When we identify posts whose performance has either dropped off over time, or simply never picked up to begin with, we suggest either updating them with new and fresh information or simply deleting them entirely.

Deciding what to do with each underperforming post is a decision to be made on a case-by-case basis depending on historical performance, relevance to your company and offering, saturation of the market and how difficult it would be to create a new and potentially better performing piece.

Once you have identified and removed all of the unhelpful and underperforming content on your website, you should look to see a slow recovery over a few months.


Whilst this was a large update, it hasn’t caused the same huge waves that we’re used to seeing from algorithms such as Panda and Penguin. Fortunately, most of the websites hit the hardest are those who have been mass-producing content for areas outside of their direct expertise.

The Helpful Content Update is the latest in a continuous drive to focus on the customer and their needs first, rather than trying to play the algorithms for personal gain. If you abide by this simple philosophy, you are effectively future-proofing your website against not only this update, but future updates and algorithms too. 

An potential example of what the future holds can be gleaned via a patent held by Google for an Information Gain score, a concept which will prioritise pages that provide new and unique information over and above that of pages the user read previously. If this concept is added to their main ranking algorithms, this would be another huge boon to websites with original, first-hand knowledge or experience that sets them apart from their competitors.

It’s Google's hope that this continued drive for quality and expertise will help fill search results with new, fresh and unique information, of actual value to users, rather than the same few points repeated thousands of times in search of traffic. 

If you think your website may have been impacted by the Helpful Content Update, or are concerned about the quality of your content, please feel free to contact us for a content audit.