Google's Helpful Content System: How it Impacts Your Website and SEO

Posted on Nov. 18, 2023
Google's Helpful Content System: How it Impacts Your Website and SEO

Google's mission is to provide users with the most relevant and helpful information possible. To achieve this goal, Google continuously refines its ranking algorithms. In recent updates, Google has placed a significant emphasis on what it considers "helpful content." This article explores the Google helpful content system and its latest updates, highlighting key aspects and providing insights for webmasters and content creators.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Google helpful content system rewards websites that prioritize user satisfaction and helpfulness.
  • Content quality, expertise, trustworthiness, and meeting user needs are vital for Google's definition of helpful content.
  • Page experience, including Core Web Vitals, is now considered a crucial aspect of helpful content.
  • Webmasters should regularly self-assess their content to align with Google's guidelines.

How the Helpful Content System Works

Google's helpful content system is designed to prioritize content that offers a satisfying experience for users. It operates on the principle that content that doesn't meet user expectations should not perform as well in search results. Here's how the system functions:

Site-Wide Signal Generation

The system generates a site-wide signal, which is among many other signals used in Google Search, including Discover. This signal is applied to websites based on their overall content quality and helpfulness. Websites with high levels of unhelpful content are likely to be affected by this signal.

Identification of Unhelpful Content

Google's helpful content system automatically identifies content that appears to provide little value or has low-added value. It uses machine learning to make these determinations, and the process is applied globally across all languages. Importantly, this classification is not a manual or spam action; it's an automated part of Google's ranking system.

Impact on Rankings

Websites with a significant amount of unhelpful content may experience a noticeable decline in their rankings. Google's algorithms are designed to favor websites that consistently offer helpful content. Therefore, removing unhelpful content can have a positive impact on the rankings of other content on the site.

Third-Party Content Considerations

If your website hosts third-party content that is largely independent of your site's primary purpose or produced without close supervision, it may also be included in site-wide signals related to content helpfulness. To avoid potentially negative impacts, it's advisable to block such content from being indexed by Google.

Impact on Your Site

If you consistently produce helpful content that aligns with Google's guidelines, the helpful content system is likely to benefit your site. However, if you've noticed changes in traffic that you suspect are related to this system, here's what you should do:

Self-Assessment of Content

Conduct a thorough self-assessment of your content. Identify and address any content that appears unhelpful or lacks value. Google provides a helpful guide on how to create reliable, people-first content, which includes self-assessment questions.

Timeline for Improvements

It's important to note that improvements to your site may not yield immediate results. Google's classifier runs continuously and may take several months to apply the signal to identified sites. As long as unhelpful content remains absent in the long-term, the classification will be lifted.

Refinement of the Classifier

Google periodically refines how the classifier detects unhelpful content. Updates to the classifier are shared as "helpful content updates." After an update is rolled out and if the refined classifier recognizes improved content, the previous unhelpful classification may no longer apply.

How Does Google Define “Helpful Content”?

In short, according to Google, helpful content:

  • Is created for a specific audience.
  • Features expertise.
  • Is trustworthy and credible.
  • Meets the want(s) or need(s) of the searcher.

This is important to know because your definition of “helpful content” is likely different from Google’s.

Here’s everything we know about what Google considers helpful content.

1. Is Created for a Specific Audience

  • 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 site have a primary purpose or focus?
  • 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?
  • Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?

2. Features Expertise

  • Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?
  • Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge?
  • Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?

3. Is Trustworthy and Credible

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it?
  • If you researched the site producing the content, would you come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?
  • Does the content have any easily-verified factual errors?
  • Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life?

4. Meets the Want(s) or Need(s) of the Searcher

  • 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?
  • Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?

Google has broken down search behavior into four “moments” in the past:

  • I want to know: People searching for information or inspiration.
  • I want to go: People searching for a product or service in their area.
  • I want to do: People searching for how-tos.
  • I want to buy: People who are ready to make a purchase.

One final way to think about audience intent is Avinash Kaushik’s See, Think, Do, Care framework. Though it’s not “official” Google advice specific to an algorithm update, Kaushik was Google’s Digital Marketing Evangelist when he wrote this.

Google highlights ‘helpful content’ in featured snippets. The term “helpful content” rarely shows up on Google’s documentation. But it does show up on Google’s How Search Works page, in reference to Featured Snippets.

In a recent update, Google has underscored the importance of good page experience in the realm of helpful content.

Understanding Google's Perspective

Google has introduced a new dimension to its definition of "helpful content." While helpfulness has traditionally been associated with content quality, relevance, and accuracy, Google now adds another layer to the criteria - a positive page experience.

What Constitutes Helpful Content According to Google?

According to Google, helpful content:

  • Is created with a specific audience in mind.
  • Demonstrates expertise on the subject.
  • Is trustworthy and credible.
  • Meets the searcher's wants or needs effectively.

It's important to note that while page experience is a significant aspect, it is not the sole requirement for content to be considered helpful. Google still evaluates content based on various other factors.

Page Experience in the Context of Helpful Content

Google has added a new section emphasizing the importance of providing a great page experience within its guidance on creating helpful content. Site owners are encouraged to focus on multiple aspects of page experience rather than just one or two. Google suggests referring to its 'Understanding page experience in Google Search results' page for detailed advice and resources.

Changes in Search Console Reports

Google has also made adjustments to its Search Console reports. The page experience report will be removed, while the Core Web Vitals and HTTPS reports will be retained. Additionally, the mobile-friendly testing tool will no longer be available.

Google has addressed some common questions related to these changes

  • Without the Page Experience report, how can site owners assess their page experience?
  • Is there a single "page experience signal" that Google Search uses for ranking?
  • Are Core Web Vitals still important?
  • What does this mean for the "page experience update"?
  • Is good page experience required for the "Top stories" carousel on mobile?
  • Is page experience evaluated on a site-wide or page-specific basis?
  • Does page experience factor into the helpful content system?
  • How important is page experience to ranking success?

Understanding these changes and aligning your content and page experience with Google's criteria is crucial for maintaining a strong presence in Google Search. While some tools may be retiring, adaptation remains key in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about the Google helpful content system and updates:

Q: Is page experience a requirement for content to be considered helpful?
A: No, page experience is not a strict requirement, but it is an important aspect that Google considers when evaluating helpful content. It is one of several factors that contribute to a satisfying user experience.
Q: How long does it take for site improvements to impact rankings?
A: Improvements to a site may take several months to influence rankings. Google's classifier runs continuously, and the signal is applied over time as the system observes sustained improvements in content quality.
Q: Are there specific signals that determine page experience?
A: Page experience signals include Core Web Vitals, mobile-friendliness, HTTPS usage, and avoiding intrusive interstitials. While all these aspects are important, Core Web Vitals have gained significant attention for providing a better user experience.