What Is Helpful Content? (And How to Create it)

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Hannah O'neill SEO Copywriter

Google is the world’s largest search engine, catering to the needs of people every day. It’s hard to imagine a time without it. Sure, we had Ask Jeeves, Lycos and Yahoo, but Google changed how people find and share information online.

Its sophisticated algorithm and ability to adapt to web spam and manipulation attempts from people trying to rank content mean it quickly became the world’s most popular search engine.

According to Statista, Google managed to maintain a search engine market share of at least 83% between 2015 and 2023, with Bing maintaining second place, with a top percentage of 9.92% in October 2022.

The fact is, if you want to drive more organic traffic and connect with your target audience, ensuring your content ranks on Google is essential. However, with the many algorithm updates, many brands find it challenging to conquer the SERPs.

Google’s helpful content update is changing the way we create content and ensuring consumers get the quality and relevance they deserve. But how do you create it?

Well, we’re about to reveal everything you need to know about Google’s helpful content update and what it means for your content marketing efforts.

Short on time? Here are the key takeaways:

  1. Google’s helpful content update could help you expand your audience through consistently delivering quality content that dives deep into the topic area. However, it can also be a bad thing if you’re unsure of what helpful content means.
  2. The update prioritises content written for humans that offers genuine value. If people find your content valuable and original, it doesn’t matter how long it is.
  3. Aligning your digital marketing strategy to Google’s helpful content update means you can gradually increase your search rankings and look forward to growth.

What is the helpful content update?

Google began as an experiment, but its creators quickly saw the potential in what they’d created. Since its introduction to its current reign as the king of all search engines, many components of Google make it unique – including its algorithms.

Understanding how the various algorithms work is crucial in ensuring your content ranks high on the SERPs and serves its intended purpose. Unfortunately, the many changes can leave even the most seasoned SEO professionals scratching their heads.

Google’s many algorithm updates consistently change how we create content. The 2022 helpful content update was further refined in September 2023 to improve search engine result quality and reward websites that create content that offers actual value to readers.

In simple terms, the 2023 update means Google’s algorithms take a range of factors into account when ranking content. They include:

  • Content quality
  • Author expertise
  • Whether the content serves a purpose
  • Audience engagement

How does Google measure helpful content?

So, Google uses its helpful content algorithms to measure quality, expertise, purpose and engagement—but we can break each down into further criteria. For example, content quality is a broad term, but certain elements separate great content from the rest.

With that in mind, let’s look at what Google’s helpful content guidelines really mean.

The content is created for a specific audience

Whether for entertainment, reviews or products and services, your content should be for a specific audience. For example, a women’s clothing website should focus its content on fashion advice and other niche-relevant topics.

Discussing a completely different topic can confuse Google, but it also damages relationships with your audience. Some people might write about a subject because it’s trending, but if there’s no relevance to your target audience, your content will serve no purpose.

The key to creating content for your existing or intended audience is considering what they’ll find helpful and whether it aligns with your product or services.

It demonstrates expertise

It’s no longer enough to create something great because Google now wants to know whether the author demonstrates first-hand expertise. One key area the update looks at is whether the creator has clear expertise or enthusiasm on their topic, which can cause problems.

Expertise also means creating original, helpful content that doesn’t just rewrite information from other sources but offers original perspectives.

However, an essential thing to remember here is that expertise can also count if you’ve used a service and product or visited a place, so you don’t necessarily need to be an industry expert.

Trustworthiness and credibility

Another critical area of helpful content is whether the information shows credibility and if readers can trust it. For example, content without quality sources and links to high-authority pages might provide a lot of information, but it doesn’t necessarily instil a sense of trust in readers.

Google recommends using images and videos to highlight important points, with HubSpot revealing that video and image formats have the highest ROIs, with blog posts coming in third place.

Most importantly, content should be well formatted and free of any spelling or grammar issues. These things might seem small, but Real Business reports that 59% of British consumers wouldn’t trust a website with poor spelling or grammar errors.

Aligning with the searchers wants

Google set itself apart with its ability to give searchers relevant results without trawling through loads of websites. Naturally, it wants to continue doing that – and that’s where your content can sink or swim.

If a user goes away from your website feeling they’ve had a satisfying experience and got the answers to their specific question, your content matches their intent.

However, making false promises or failing to deliver answers means the searcher will go elsewhere, and Google will inevitably punish you.

Another point to consider is how your content adapts to different devices, with 48% of consumers saying a lack of responsive features makes them feel the brand doesn’t care about them (Google).

Responsive websites are a necessity if you want to ensure visitors have no problems when reading your content.

Top tips for succeeding with Google’s helpful content update

Now you know what Google cares about when ranking content, it’s time to answer the most important question: how to create helpful content that delivers on all bases.

Google’s priorities have changed, meaning brands and content creators must adapt. It might seem tricky, but we all want the same thing: to write helpful content that delivers value to our target audiences.

With all of the above in mind, it’s time to reveal how to create high-quality content and enjoy your reward, securing a top spot in the search results.

Know (and love) your niche

It’s tempting to create content when you discover an exciting topic, but Google wants people to focus on their niche. Instead of diversifying your content, it’s time to niche down and ensure every piece you create is relevant to your industry and target audience.

The algorithm doesn’t want Jacks and Janes of all trades but content creators with genuine expertise in their industry.

Here’s how to niche down:

  • Review content: Whether you’re a business owner or marketing manager, you’ll know your website’s niche, so it’s possible to get a professional to write your content and verify that you’ve reviewed it.
  • Keep It Simple: Consider why your visitors are on your website and pick topics that serve a distinct purpose.
  • Quality First: A benefit of niching down is that you can cover each topic in more detail. Answering questions on one subject at a time can help you create valuable content.
  • Demonstrate Expertise: Tell readers who you are, and show them why they should trust your content (this also ties into reviewing content from writers you hire).

Search intent is everything

Any content you create should align with the user’s search intent. There are four main types of search intent to be aware of:

Informational

Users are searching for information related to their questions. For example, they might want to know about a specific location or receive instructions to perform an action. Most creators use question-based terms to ensure they align content to informational searches, including:

  • How to
  • What is
  • Why is
  • Where did

Navigational

Navigational searches take users to a specific website when they don’t remember the address. Users might want to find a particular product, service or blog, and they can use keywords. For example, SEMrush blog and LinkedIn Learning are examples of navigational search intent.

Transactional

Transactional searches are usually towards the end of the buyer’s journey, where they’re looking for a particular product or service. For example, typing “order pizza London” or “buy Nike trainers” will lead searchers to a website where they can make their purchases.

Commercial

Users can explore products or services and compare them without any real intent to make a purchase initially. Review websites are often geared toward commercial searches, but it’s also a good opportunity for brands to provide valuable information to readers without trying to sell.

Write for humans, ditch the bots

One of the main reasons for Google’s helpful content update was to prevent people from creating content solely to rank on the SERPs. In the late 1990s and even early 2000s, keyword stuffing was a common practice for content creators, but Google’s spam policies stopped it.

Unfortunately, people still create unhelpful content designed to get search traffic instead of offering value to human readers.

The 2023 update further emphasises the importance of adding value to your content, or it won’t perform well in search. So, instead of thinking about how to make sure your content ranks, focus on ensuring the content is helpful and offers original perspectives.

Ensure value

The good news is your opinions now matter, so don’t be afraid to share them. Whether it’s your personal experiences or an original perspective on a topic, anything that adds value to readers will help you when creating helpful content.

Collaborate with AI

Google released information about artificial intelligence to marketers, saying it rewards valuable content, regardless of how it’s produced. However, letting AI tools write your content means you won’t deliver any value for readers, as it relies on pre-existing data.

Instead, use AI as a collaborative tool to help you with research and outlines, but remember to add those human elements.

Refine your SEO strategy

Search engine optimisation will play a huge role in Google’s helpful content system, as the update can result in side-wide errors. If your website has unhelpful content, it can impact other web pages, regardless of quality.

Simply put, any pre-existing content created before the update will still count as unhelpful, so you need to look at all your content and either remove it or update it to ensure it meets the criteria.

Regular maintenance is central to user experience, and professional SEO services can monitor your website, ensuring it doesn’t cause any issues.

Ensuring site-wide responsiveness also promotes user experience, which enables all visitors to interact with your content.

Keep it real

Last but not least, don’t focus on tricks that you feel might help your content move up the SERPs. As specified by Google, helpful content is about offering readers a great experience and genuine value from their visit to your website.

Two popular tricks used to be popular, but they’re no longer essential to your content strategy. Let’s take a look at them.

Content length

Yes, the time-old bigger is better misconception. As Google says in its helpful content guidelines: 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.)

Your content can be 5,000 words long, but it won’t matter if there’s no value to readers. So, instead of focusing on length, consistently produce content that delivers on experience. That’s where you can make a massive difference to your rankings.

No fake promises

If you’re creating content, promise only things that you can deliver. For example, if you say you’ll reveal a secret nobody knows, you’ve got to do it. If you’re offering practical tips, make sure you cover all bases, and the reader goes away feeling like you’ve solved their issue.

Clickbait headlines or any statements that your readers would find misleading don’t count as helpful content, and they could also turn off your existing audience.

In summary, you can ensure you avoid the unhelpful content trap by:

  • Create content that offers substantial value to readers. Go the extra mile instead of settling for OK.
  • Avoid extensive automation and use technology as a support, not a writer.
  • Conduct your own original research to impress readers and offer a unique perspective.
  • Outsource your content marketing needs to professionals, ensuring you get high-quality, relevant content.
  • Align your content to meet the searcher’s intent and solve their pain points.
  • Make sure your website is fully responsive.
  • Link to high-authority sources.
  • Include images and videos to improve user experience and engagement rates.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t live up to.

Final thoughts

Google search is constantly improving and updating its algorithms to provide a better experience for users, but creating helpful content that’s written for humans can help you successfully navigate these changes.

Yes, there’s a lot of time and effort that goes into the process, but they do reward content that delivers on all bases. These changes ultimately raise competition amongst site owners and content creators, but if we’re all going out of our way to offer value, they’re worth it.

For more information about Helpful Content or SEO, get in touch with our friendly team today.

Hannah O'neill

Hannah O'neill SEO Copywriter