This week’s Ask an SEO question comes from Nicole, who writes:
“How do you think this (Helpful Content) update and the language Google is using around it will impact the SEO industry and how SEO is perceived within the marketing field?”
Thanks, Nicole – interesting question.
Understanding The ‘Helpful Content Update’
As SEO pros, we need to remember that most people don’t care what Google says, and will likely never read a word of it. This includes other marketers, C-level leadership, and other departments.
We know that the helpful content update has a goal of making sure the content cuts out the fluff and gives a solution, but Google’s guidelines don’t matter to anyone but us.
It is our job to teach what “helpful” content is and why it is important, and then reference the documentation from Google when asked where they can validate.
But chances are the person will skim through and not read in detail like you or I.
Pro-tip: I use non-SEO tools to make my case.
Using Non-SEO Tools To Prove Your Point
Mouseflow and Hotjar are great for showing revenue gains and losses, as well as increased clicks through into a conversion funnel.
By making a page more “SEO” friendly for the helpful content update, you can prove the removal of excess images, wording, etc., leads to a better UX and revenue stream for the company.
By using tools the other teams are familiar with, you make your case from their point of view vs. the SEO one. This goes a long way.
Branding Vs. SEO: Finding The Balance
Branding is still going to want to tell the story of the page, which may result in less specific wording because being direct is “off-brand.”
A branding professional likely views the branding words as “helpful” to the consumer vs. what Google and an SEO pro would consider helpful. The telling of the story could also result in using wording a consumer hasn’t heard of, but the wording is “on brand.”
There is nothing wrong with that, either. It is our job as SEO pros to have a backup plan.
Pro-tip: Assign pages meant to rank and pages not meant to rank. The helpful content update is a sitewide classifier, but don’t overthink it.
Leave the homepage to show up for your branded phrases, which it will, and let branding brand it.
By doing this, you may be able to take the categories, services, and products, and optimize those for the user and SEO. And you can let PPC use direct vs. branding language in their campaigns, which will further make your case for the main site.
Overcoming Sales And Ad Teams Handles
Branding isn’t the only obstacle we face when it comes to the helpful content update.
Sales could require a strong call to action or sales pitch in the first paragraph or two because they feel that a call with the person is helpful. It is also so they can get an answer (and a lead.)
As SEO experts, we know the page is to first provide an answer to the visitor and then go for the sales pitch and call.
By answering the user’s question first and showing we are a solution, we can turn a cold lead warm and increase the sales team’s conversions.
And as SEO pros, we need to phrase it in a way that resonates with the sales team.
Then you have the ads teams. If your website makes money through advertising or affiliate, they’ll likely want cost per thousand (CPM) and affiliate ads front and center, even if it blocks the content and solutions.
Using Third-Party SEO Tools
Pro-tip: Instead of waiting for Google to penalize the site so you can make your case, use third-party SEO tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, and Moz to show traffic drops from competitors.
Combine the drops with screenshots from the Way Back Machine and show what happened to cause the drop. For ones that recovered, you can show how the page experience changed.
The Broader Perspective: Google’s Site-Wide Evaluation
Now, the fun part: speaking other peoples’ languages.
Most people who are not SEO pros will consider SEO content a bunch of keywords stuffed into text, headers, and titles.
And they assume you have to have a certain length or word count. Neither is true, and because they will not be reading the wording around the helpful content guidelines, those guidelines won’t change their mind.
It is up to you to educate them and share that the helpful content update isn’t just about content; it’s the full site experience.
One of the biggest changes with the helpful content update is that Google is looking at your website as a whole, not each page individually.
Content Segregation: Customer Vs. Corporate
One obstacle I run into when doing SEO audits is when PR publishes each release on the blog and HR posts company announcements.
In some cases, the product team publishes weekly updates, too. Some of this can be “helpful,” but most are not.
In this situation, the “helpful” content is no longer primary, as it gets buried under things that are not important to potential customers.
It hurts your ability to do customer acquisition because the blog is less “helpful.” Someone who has not shopped with you or begun using your services does not need to know about the latest bug fixes or features launched. They’ll learn about those on your product or service pages and in your sales funnel.
And they don’t care that someone got promoted or you did a team BBQ at the company picnic. That only matters to the HR team.
For the blog to be helpful, most of the content should be interesting to new customers and informative to current ones, so they want to click through and read more.
In the situation above, we create two separate content areas.
One for current customers to get updates, and this content can exist internally within your interface. You can also set it into a folder on the blog which you block from crawling in robots.txt. Archiving works great here, too.
In order situations, I split it out and do a company blog that talks about announcements and events, and lets people share their stories with their teams and the organization internally.
We may even set up a separate URL so the corporate blog doesn’t impact the customer site. This way, it shows to the teams who are the audience and does not take away from the helpful information on the conversion site.
The “Helpful Content” Litmus Test
When explaining “helpful” content to other team members, I like to do a litmus test like the pro tip above.
If I’m in person with the client, we take the version they created and a version I create, and we see what people say after being exposed to both. Go out to a coffee shop or ask strangers who look like they match your customer profile to absorb one or both pieces.
The goal is to get an equal number of responses, so it is fair. More important is that you ask the right questions.
Here’s an example.
Take the title tag and the first paragraph or two from the content and separate them. You do this for both the non-SEO piece (make it A) and the SEO piece (make it B).
Have the stranger read the paragraphs from piece A and ask them what the title should be. If it matches what the goal of the page is, it was helpful and topically relevant enough to pass.
If they’re not sure or hesitate, the content isn’t topically relevant. And this test can be reversed.
Say the first title (non-SEO one) to the person and ask them what they’ll learn if they go to the webpage. If they don’t know, the title is not helpful enough to make them click through.
If you have position 1 in the SERPs, but position 2 speaks directly to them, some of your traffic will likely bypass your site for the next one down.
If you share both versions at the same time, have the person tell you which one will lead them to finding a solution and which they felt was more helpful to them.
If they just say “this one,” ask a follow up to get the “why.”
Many times, it turns out that the SEO content wins out because we tend to write solutions without the fluff and the pitching. We also do entity research and look at the language, tone, and jargon our potential users use.
This way, we can speak to them and at the level they absorb content in. And that is why our content is more “helpful.” Assuming you aren’t a keyword stuffer.
Changing Perceptions About “Helpful” Content
If other people would read Google’s guidelines, the wording in the helpful content update should make a nice impact. Not only on SEO but on the customer and user experience of your website as a whole.
However, non-SEO pros are busy with their teams, their channels, and their departments.
They’re not going to read it, so the new wording and guidelines won’t change their perception of what “helpful” is. It is up to you as an SEO pro to do that, and you can reference this guide as the “why” things should change.
I hope this helps answer the question, and thank you for asking it.
- Will Improving Page Speed Count For Helpful Content In Google?
- Google Concludes Rollout Of September 2023 Helpful Content Update
- Google September 2023 Helpful Content Update – Changes To The Algorithm
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