So far in 2022 Google has made two updates that effect rankings based on content quality.
- A Core Update which had a big impact based on content which happened at the end of May.
- A second one explicitly targeting content called the August 2022 Helpful Content Update.
We have seen some dramatic effects from both, good and bad. If it didn’t effect your site at the end of May you may have seen some effect in August. These updates are an application of guidance about content quality that google has given for a long time.
As with any changes in search rankings the impact in your site was relative to the other websites with the same type of content. If your website’s content quality is about the same as your competitors you probably didn’t see must change. If there is disparity then you may have seen some change one way or the other.
This update effects specific pages on a website but google has said that the rankings of websites with a lot of poor quality content could be effected as a whole.
Both of these updates seem to be intended to reward content that is “created for people first” and penalize content that is “created for search engines first”.
This is only speculation on my part but I think these updates for content quality have been motivated by two trends I have seen in the SEO world.
1. AI generated content. AI content isn’t usually fully created by the software. The process is guided by a human. When used well, this type of content can can read as naturally as human written. The AI software is pulling blurbs from the web that it “thinks” is relevant and rewording it into unique copy. The problem comes when the person guiding it doesn’t really know the topic well and isn’t able to correct errors of ad any insights. When used by someone who is knowledgeable on the topic it can actually produce good results for users and google.
2. Because of the ability to create a lot of content quickly and at a very low cost using AI tools, many SEOs have been stuffing their website with hundreds of AI generated posts, each based on one target keyword. The post really only needs to be a couple paragraphs but is extended with fluff. The result is a lot of posts that are very similar with over lapping content. The content on each of these posts should really be on a longer form page that is more comprehensive on the higher level topic.
How to Tell if Your Website was Impacted
Below are 6 month report graphs from google search console. The purple line is impressions and the blue line is clicks. You can see the changes occurring at the same time periods as the updates.
Site that appears to have benefited from the August update.
Website dramatically effected by the Core Update in May
Website effected by the August update (but also a bit by the May update)
What are Googles Guidelines for Helpful Content?
Here is exactly what google’s guidelines are for helpful content. Following these guidelines can assure that future updates will benefit your SEO instead of hurting it.
- Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
- Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?
- Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
- After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
- Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
- Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
- Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
- Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
- Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?
- Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?
- Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
- Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (No, we don’t).
- Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic?
- Does your content promise to answer a question that actually has no answer, such as suggesting there’s a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn’t confirmed?
What to do if you were negatively impacted
The first step is to identify the posts or pages that have been impacted negativly by the update. I like to use google search console for this. Once you know what content google doesn’t like you have a couple options.
- You can simply remove the poor quality content. You may want to create a redirect if the page/post still gets site visits but I think it best to scrub the site if the whole matter and not do a redirect.
- You can improve the content by applying the guidelines above. This can be done by updating the individual page/post or in some instances combining multiple page/posts into one and tweaking.
And of course apply these guidelines to any future content.
Be the Third Little Pig
It’s simple. Google is clear about what it wants to provide it’s searches. They want to help people find useful quality information based on the intent of their search.
Trying to game the system with poor quality content that is only keyword search driven may get clicks in the short term but eventually google will make updates that will wipe out your work.
This goes for all google SEO best practices, not just useful content. Build your website’s SEO in a way that will last. It may take longer and cost more, but it will prevail over time.