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Google Helpful Content Update: Impact on Your Site’s Survival

Google’s recent Helpful Content Update (HCU), first released in 2022, is perhaps the most influential update since Hummingbird in 2013 because it’s a complete rewrite of the Google algorithm as the search giant continues its quest to better understand search terms.

What is the new update, and how will it affect search going forward.? More importantly, what will site owners need to do to ensure they continue to attract that all-important and lucrative search result traffic? Find out in our latest article.

According to Google, what is the Helpful Content System? 

The Helpful Content Update is the latest attempt by Google Search to enhance the quality and relevance of the search results.

If the algorithm works as intended, content that exhibits expertise and delivers informative “helpful” information will win the top spots in the search results. 

High-quality content primarily written for people rather than search engines should now get the most love from Google. 

Unlike many other algorithm updates, the HCU penalizes sites focused on gaming the system by writing for a cold and calculating algorithm rather than a curious human searching for reliable, actionable information that will improve their life or get them out of a jam. 

So, the aim of the game is to focus on content that genuinely helps your readers and improves the overall user experience. Of course, this will also help establish Google as a reliable source of information, so it’s a win-win situation. Use these tips to ensure your site keeps the HCU algo happy:

Create for a Specific Audience

The Help Content Google update is designed to reward sites that tailor content for a specific audience. For example, say you are in the mood for a movie, specifically a new release currently playing in cinemas.

Before HCU, you would most likely be presented with information that aggregated reviews from other sites but did not add new perspectives. The lack of originality often proved frustrating for users looking for fresh insights.

The HCU update will mean it’s more likely your search results will be filled with sites offering unique and valuable information and original perspectives. An in-depth analysis can help you decide if a movie is worth the ticket price or if you should wait for the streaming version. 


The reader’s life is improved in some small way, and Google is satisfied that the site delivers quality content, making it worthy of its front page result in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page).

In short, the HCU will promote content meant for humans, which can elevate the quality and relevance of the search results and ultimately enhance the user experience.

Feature Expertise and Real-World Experience

Displaying expertise and real-world experience in your content will become more critical as the HCU attempts to weed out content written by people without it.

Inspire Trust and Credibility

This feature of the HCU will place more importance on content primarily created by experts or enthusiasts who can demonstrate extensive knowledge in a topic. Authors must substantiate claims with evidence, research, or real-life insights. Expertise and experience will be particularly important for Your Money Your Life content (YMYL), such as health or financial sites. 

Meet the Wants and Needs of the Searcher

Google has advised content creators to avoid creating specifically for the search engines while ignoring the user’s needs. This type of content often produces sites that don’t align with the user’s intent, ultimately leading to an unsatisfying experience. 

Validation Period and Continuous Monitoring

Sites flagged as having unhelpful content may undergo a validation period. During this time, they will be required to demonstrate an ability to deliver helpful content created for humans first. It’s a sophisticated process that you think would require a human moderator.

But no, it’s an entirely automated system powered by a machine-learning model that watches newly launched and existing sites to ensure they produce the type of content Google knows their audience loves.  

Niches Most Affected by Google’s Helpful Content Update

According to this post by Google, the niches that will be most affected by the HCU include:

  • Arts and entertainment
  • Shopping
  • Tech-related content
  • Educational materials

However, the update has impacted various industries across the board, further emphasizing Google’s commitment to rewarding content written for humans rather than designed primarily to attract clicks. 

How Can You Recognize Unhelpful Content?

Complying with the Helpful Content core update could mean learning to better recognize unhelpful content on your site. Here’s a quick rundown on recognizing unhelpful content.

Evaluate each piece of content to determine if it’s specific, actionable, up-to-date, and relatable, according to the terms outlined in Google’s HCU guidelines. Is the content automatically generated, purely AI, created for monetization, or does it lack expertise and trustworthiness?

Is the content attracting backlinks? A page that attracts many backlinks from reputable sites is an excellent indicator of quality, as these sites are linking to your content to deliver more value to their readers. 

Is the site generating organic traffic, site visitors, or new leads? Do an honest valuation of the page’s potential to attract organic traffic. If you were searching for the phrases you target in the article, would you be satisfied with the information you provided?

Social shares are another quality indicator. Low-quality social posts are unlikely to achieve any traction on social media platforms. 

Check the technical aspects of your posts. Are any set to noindex or blocked by robots.txt? Can the search engines render the information as it will appear to visitors, and does the site structure follow a logical hierarchy? A technical SEO audit can reveal the answers to these questions and more.

How is the targeting? Many articles are trying to answer questions your audience isn’t asking, which could mean you are wasting a lot of energy on SEO that fails to attract new leads and prospects through organic results. 

HCU Survival Tips

The HCU promises to emerge as a pivotal force, reshaping the search results as Google continuously fine-tunes the algorithm to weed out rubbish content. The update has shaken up the search results and forced content creators to rethink how they approach content creation.

Google has been very forthcoming with this update, letting us know what they are looking for, primarily pages that help searchers. So, what adjustments do you need to make to ensure your website’s or business’s survival, and how should you produce new content moving forward?

Focus on Keyword Research that Addresses Search Intent

Keyword research will continue to be integral to producing content and ensuring it matches the searcher’s intent. This means going beyond identifying high-volume keywords and creating any old content to attract those clicks. Content creators must explore the core motivation behind a searcher using a particular query. 

When you understand why a searcher is using a particular phrase, you will be better able to craft content that will address their needs and provide solutions. 

Don’t Recycle Content

Many sites exist primarily to rehash content that everyone else is covering. Sure, it’s technically unique, but it brings nothing new to the discussion. These sites are sitting ducks waiting to get smashed into oblivion with the HCU. To avoid a penalty, create content that describes an independent viewpoint. 

AI is proving to be a disruptive force in the content creation industry. With the price of writing an article reduced to almost zero, many will be tempted to increase publishing schedules and flood their site with tons of content,

While Google has specified that AI Content is not their enemy, most AI content is uninspired prose rehashed from the billions of articles already published online. Feel free to use AI as a research assistant, but we don’t recommend using it as your primary copywriter.

If you go the AI route, scrutinize each article, fact check, and add some human insight to ensure it’s unique and brings value to the web. We’re pretty sure that’s what Google means when they refer to AI content being okay to publish. 

Get Rid of No Answer Content

It’s frustrating when you click on a headline promising to answer a burning question, such as “When is the Switch Pro Coming Out?” You will understand my pain if you are a gaming enthusiast like me. For years, we’ve been putting up with clickbait titles leading to articles that are pure speculation based on rumors with no substance. If you have pages on your site that fall into this category, get rid of them. 

Delete Bulk Pages

SEO gurus have led us down the garden path, telling us that capturing a broader audience meant casting a wide net through bulk content to ensure you covered every possible keyword combination. This strategy often led to hundreds of similar articles or thin pages with nothing valuable to say, littering your site and diminishing its potential.

Good examples are pages for a service, such as plumbing, where you create a separate page for every city or suburb where your business provides a service. These pages are created purely to capture search traffic, which conflicts with the HCU guidelines. Delete these pages and focus on creating a single, high-value page that describes your service in detail. 

Stay Relevant to Your Niche

If you wrote an in-depth guide to building an attractive timber bookcase, should you publish it on a site about plumbing? While many people will say yes because helpful content is valuable regardless, we err on the side of caution and say stick to your lane and focus on plumbing topics.

This way, you will stay firmly within the guidelines of the HCU, which heavily focuses on EEAT (Expertise, Experience, Authority, and Trust). Plus, you will be less likely to confuse your visitors. 

Enhance the User Experience

Write content for people, but ensure your site is easy to use and navigate. Use Google’s Page Speed Insights tool to test your site and find areas for improvement. Test your site’s mobile responsiveness, or switch to a design that works and looks good on all devices. 

Update or Remove Old Content

It’s not surprising that Neil Patel’s SEO team would be all over the HCU and crunching the numbers to determine its impact on search. The team discovered that even big, well-respected sites like Moz and Search Engine Journal are not immune to its influence.

For example, Moz experienced an 11.1% drop, while Search Engine Journal experienced an 11.97% drop in search traffic after it went live. 

After an in-depth examination, Neil’s team surmised that the negative impact was due to old content. These sites are prolific publishers and report on many trends that may not be as relevant today as they were two or three years ago.

A huge repository of legacy content could be hurting your organic traffic. The answer is to update your old content to increase its relevance in today’s market or redirect it to newer articles featuring fresh information.  

Helpful Content Update Impact on e-Commerce

e-Commerce content often bears the brunt of algorithm updates as it’s difficult to create in-depth articles for all products. If you are a small business with an e-commerce presence and you sell hundreds or even thousands of products, it’s understandable that you may be anxious about the impact of the Helpful Content Update on your SEO efforts and sales. 

In the past, an algo update could screw results for e-commerce through: 

  • Not being mobile-responsive
  • Slow page loading times
  • adding irrelevant search terms to product pages
  • Using poor website design

Staying ahead of the HCU curve in e-commerce will mean:

  • Avoiding keyword stuffing or overusing keywords
  • Creating more reviews that deliver expert knowledge and authenticity about the products
  • Ensuring product descriptions accurately reflect the products
  • Improving the online shopping experience by optimizing images, improving navigation, and improving page loading speeds

Align Your Content with the HCU and Futureproof Your Business

The HCU is a significant Google update that will change the face of the web for the better. By understanding what Google needs and your visitors want, you will be able to meet all the requirements of the HCU and avoid penalties that could hurt your site’s rankings. Changes you make to existing content and how you approach content creation in the future will significantly impact your results, make sure you are helping rather than hindering your site.

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