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Helpful Content Update: Not just another Google algorithm update

Ryan Rakover, September 7, 2022


  • The update process is automated using a machine-learning model. 
  • The goal is to help וsers discover rich, valuable people-first content 
  • People-first content can still rank high from low-quality sites (unhelpful content)
  • The signal is weighted, meaning some sites get hit harder than others.
  • Only English searches will be impacted, to begin with.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Staying up to date with Google updates requires commitment. Google is continuously working on all aspects of its products, and for those navigating the delicate balancing act of digital media, Google doesn’t let you rest on your laurels. Veteran publishers will remember learning the lessons of not correctly adjusting for the Panda update in 2011. At that time, Google announced that the update would help differentiate low-quality sites. Learning to adapt to those new signals set publishers in different directions.

A little over ten years later, we are seeing Google again taking a more earnest position on defining the quality of content. The ‘Helpful Content Update’ supports “People First Content” –  content that answers questions and satisfies the reader. This update goes further into the user journey, beyond the ‘search results’ experience, and looks at where the user journey leads to answer the question: will those top results successfully connect users to valued content?   

Google released a statement about this latest update, saying it  will “tackle content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines.” It aims to boost content written for people and devalue content based primarily on SEO best practices.

If you have been busy building your content department with passionate writers writing on topics that engage your users, you’re off to a good start. Google is saying that your writers should not only be subject experts but have also experienced the topic(s) of choice. The editorial team needs to work on blending the collected voices of your writers to best amplify the mission statement that supports your domain(s). The user is the audience for your uniquely crafted content, not the SEO gods. 

How to change from a search engine-first approach?

Users are frustrated with low-value content at the top of searches because of high attention to SEO rules and best practices. The reader is left going back from one of the top results to redefine their query to better identify the content they are searching for.

To make the switch from an SEO-focused strategy, you must put your readers first. When users visit your site(s), they’re there to understand what you (or your brand) have to say. They’re not looking for redirection to somewhere else or someone else’s content cleverly retitled with key takeaways added below the headline. 

What does it mean to create people-first content? Publishers and content creators should be asking themselves the following questions: 

  • Does your site have a primary purpose or focus? Or are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
  • Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise?
  • Are you mainly summarizing what others have already said?
  • Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines rather than made for human consumption?
  • Will a user leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience? Or will they need to search again to get better information from other sources?

No to content for content’s sake…please!

The helpful content update points out that not all content is in fact helpful.  Along the way, while building the open web, publishers became focused on trying to understand the impact of SEO and developed strategies to infuse content with SEO best practices. The result has created a style of content that doesn’t necessarily meet the user’s needs or answer their questions. Search results are inundated with redundant results that don’t add much value. 

Google has long been committed to quality and, through updates, is steadily guiding publishers and content creators in this direction. Below we can see a timeline highlighting some of the Google updates that helped focus publishers and creators on how to best publish their content to get seen by users.  People-first content is valuable, offering users helpful content to answer their queries. With so much information available within each search, connecting users to the right results becomes harder and harder. The goal of this update is to identify those high- and low-quality sites that aim to enrich all participants: publisher, advertiser, and user alike.  

Google updates timeline

Also good to know:

  • “Sites identified by this update may find the signal applied to them for months,” revealed Google.
  • Google won’t tell you which URLs or pages are considered not helpful
  • The update affects English searches worldwide and will expand to other languages in the future.
  • There is a validation period for Google to trust that you are committed to updating your content and not just making a quick fix. Google will then re-rank the domain(s). 
  • Google needs you to prove, over several months (no clearly defined timeline yet, but it will require commitment), that your content is actually helpful and written for a person-first audience.
  • This is an algorithm update, not a core page signal update. Google is waiting to see how the rollout goes. Based on the rollout, the weight of the overall page signal ranking may change, but not for now. 

Have any questions about this or any of Google’s updates? Want to discuss what it means to create people-first content for your site(s)?

About the author: Ryan Rakover is the head of our Trust and Safety efforts at Total Media Solutions. One of the things Ryan enjoys the most in his role as a publisher’s strategic partner is the challenge of bringing policy from a place of rules and standards to delivering solutions to clients to improve their client’s bottom line. Find Ryan on LinkedIn.