What does the Google Helpful Content Update really mean for SEO?

Written by Nikki Kettell

You might have seen that Google recently published their Helpful Content Update (if not, you can read about it here), but what does it actually mean? Well, it is basically Google saying stop creating lazy content, focus on what your customer wants to read, and what’s going to really help them. In short, don’t write for search engines, don’t use automation tools, and don’t write for ‘keyword density’ or keyword stuff. 

Any SEO who made it through the great Panda (and Penguin) Updates of 2011 / 2012 (and especially those working agency side at the time and witnessed the widespread impact), really should know better than to be chancing it with lazy, spammy SEO tactics. Even so, you’ll always find those who spend more energy trying to find shortcuts than it would have taken to just do the job properly in the first place. 

Seasoned SEOs – we’re talking those who have been around the block, can remember YouTube before it was bought by Google, had one of the first MySpace pages and remember when Amazon just sold books – don’t tend to get phased by Google updates. We’ve been talking about the Quality Rating Guidelines and E.A.T value content (that’s the Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness values) for years. 

“How do you anticipate your customers’ wants and needs? You guessed it – Data!”

So what’s Google’s idea of ‘helpful’ content? 

Put simply, the aim is to create good quality content that will not only answer your customers’ questions but also questions they hadn’t thought to ask yet. Use your content to just not get them to the next phase of the buying cycle but through the whole thing: a customer came to your site just wanting to understand the difference between a king and queen bed but by the time they’re leaving you, they’ve been through the checkout and one of your top notch beds is winging its way to them complete with some matching bedside tables! 

You can do all this because you’ve got content that answers their question, then the next one, and the next one, because you know what your customer values. So, how do you anticipate your customers’ wants and needs? You guessed it – Data! You know what they want to know: you’ve checked with your CS team, you’ve set up your social listening, you’ve read the feedback in the reviews. 

And what about the other Google updates that have been going on?

Whilst Google brains have been busy working on the Helpful Content update, they’ve also rolled out a few Product Review updates. As of July 22, we’re currently on the 4th version of this update which first rolled into the algorithm in April 2021. 

And what is a Product Review update? It’s pretty straightforward, Google wants to see websites publishing high quality product reviews (see their full advice here). It wants to see reviews that can “guide shoppers between competing products, helping shoppers pick the best make or model for their needs and budget.”

If you fall into the ethical side of digital marketing you might be thinking that you always encourage your customers to leave the best reviews they can. Maybe you offer a discount code off their next purchase if they leave a photo with their review (careful with this – incentivising reviews can swing between a grey area and flat out rule breaking). Perhaps you make sure you always reply to your reviews, thanking those who left five stars and promising to work on the feedback of those who suggested room for improvement. Some take it one step further and pull out hero reviews, those who actually offer real insight, and display them more prominently, or work with their influencer and outreach team to turn a great review into a social promotion or blog post. 

UGC (User-Generated Content) has long been a powerful tool when it comes to SEO content, Google just wants to reward those making the effort. 

“Google wants websites to publish content that will be helpful to their traffic. It wants to reward websites that use reviews to help inform”

If you’re one of those aforementioned short cut seekers, you might be muttering about how unfair it is that you can’t use a paid bot service to generate loads of fake reviews. But let’s be honest, if you’ve made a living out of publishing fake reviews, there’s a special place in hell for you right next to people who choose the door of the supermarket to have a nice long chat and people who don’t pick up after their dog! 

Can you spot a pattern?

Google wants websites to publish content that will be helpful to their traffic. It wants to reward websites that use reviews to help inform. Are you still using your keyword gap analysis or keyword research to structure your content strategy? Have you thought about using your review data instead or at least as well as? 

So, why use it? What can reviews tell you that you don’t already know? Well:

  • If your customers are talking about how awesome your competitors’ delivery team is, do you need to make sure your delivery service is hitting the mark? 
  • If your low star customers think your assembly instructions suck, why not put some videos together with a step by step walk through on constructing the more challenging items. 
  • If there are lots of people complaining the sizing isn’t right, are you telling your customer how to take accurate measurements?  

By analysing your n-grams (single most frequently repeating keywords), bi-gram (most frequently repeating two keywords) and tri-grams (three keywords) you’re not only making sure your quality reviews are always front of mind for optimisation, but you’re kicking your content strategy off on Google’s right foot.

Review data can seem like a mountain of content to wade through, but there are a range of specialist tools that help analyse and segment your reviews, for example, Vuzo’s very own ReviewLab. Using NLP, the tool uses your data to offer actionable insights that can immediately have a positive impact on your ROAS, CPC and ad budgets.

We are so confident in our ReviewLab tool that we guarantee improved ROI on your ad spend within 14 days or a full refund

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