As I write this post, Google is putting the final touches on an algorithm update that directly addresses an issue they’ve been dancing around for 10+ years. They’re calling it the Helpful Content update, and if you’ve been doing SEO right, it doesn’t change a thing.
In this article, I’ll give some background that will help you understanding the update and the one rule you need to know to win at SEO today.
The Rules of SEO Haven’t Changed
The Panda Update (2011) was one of the first algo updates that caught my attention. At the time, I was relatively new to SEO, but I had been writing content and copy for several years. And being a writer, I had already taken my stand against the black-hat SEO practices of the day.
A quick story…
We were having dinner with some friends, an entrepreneurial family who were laser focused on the new opportunities available in digital marketing.
The husband/dad was telling us about how his daughter was making a killing writing articles for sites that, in hindsight, were probably content mills. The approach: cranking out short, keyword-stuffed articles to rank on page 1 of Google.
He stopped to explain (mansplain?) search engine optimization, and when I told him I knew what it was, this was his response:
“Then why aren’t you doing it too?”
My answer, dear friends, was this: I don’t just understand the rules of SEO, I understand why they exist. And my goal is to work with search engines, not against them.
I refused to adopt the best practices of the day (keyword stuffing). So when everyone else was moaning about Google’s Panda Update, I was celebrating. My articles ranked higher after the update was released. And it’s been the same with most other algo updates since that time.
The One SEO Strategy You Need to Succeed
Search engines are a business. Their goal is to entice people to use their service over any other. To do that, they need to answer queries with the best content on the web.
The best. Not the best optimized.
That’s a far cry from the content most businesses were producing. Back in the day, marketers scraped other people’s blogs, rearranged a few paragraphs, and republished on their own blog. So when you searched for something, you’d get 10 to 20 posts that were essentially the same.
Many just repeated the keyword ad nauseum. None of them answered your query. These sites were largely focused on driving free traffic to low-quality sites that were packed with ads.
From the search engine’s point of view, that’s bad business. If a user asks a question, they should find the answer they’re looking for. Not a bunch of ads.
Each major algorithm update since then has penalized sites that were gaming the system and rewarded sites with high-quality, helpful content. Each update got closer to Google’s ultimate intention.
To win at SEO, Google is telling us, write content that’s optimized for people first, search engines second. If you only adopt this one rule, you’ll do well. Period.
Fast Forward to Today
Google’s been telling us for years what they want:
- No gaming of the system
- Original, useful content
- EAT: educational, authoritative, trustworthy content
They’ve told us every way they can that they want us to focus on people, not keywords. Yet we continue to look for shortcuts and tricks.
That’s probably why Google is getting more and more direct in their updates. This newest one in particular…
The Helpful Content Update
Google announced its helpful content update with these words:
“The helpful content update aims to better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn’t meet a visitor’s expectations won’t perform as well.”
It’s the same drum beating the same message. But they’re aiming for the heart of the matter. You must offer a good user experience. You must optimize for humans, not bots.
Said another way, if you write specifically for keyword optimization, you’re going to lose.
What Is Helpful Content?
Helpful content refers to content that is useful to your audience, helping them achieve their goals, not yours.
Here’s what Google considers helpful:
- Sites with one primary focus or purpose
- Content that demonstrates first-hand experience and in-depth knowledge
- Real, actionable information that helps people achieve their goal
- At the end of the day, satisfied readers
Here’s what they don’t want:
- Content that doesn’t serve the reader
- Content that was only written for keyword optimization
How to Create Helpful Content that Google Loves
Here it is, short and simple: Serve your audience. Stop focusing on keywords.
Think about what your readers want and need. What questions are they asking? What are they trying to accomplish? How can you help them?
Go beyond keyword research. When you develop your content strategy, research four areas:
- The top keywords for your topic
- Related topics that would round out your visitors’ knowledge
- Problems your visitors are dealing with
- Questions they’re asking
Think of keywords as a proxy for your audiences’ interests. Use them as a guide, not a list of articles you need to develop.
Then, when writing your content, don’t write for bots. That turns into flat, boring, fluffy content that no one cares about.
Your goal is to be helpful. Create unique, interesting, actionable content that answers people’s questions and helps them make good decisions. Show them how to get (real) results.
Not only will your readers love you, search engines will too.
Need help creating a content marketing strategy that satisfies your audience while also driving growth? We’ll develop a custom content strategy and branded messaging that drives growth, or partner with you to produce top-tier content to your specifications.