How to prepare for Google’s Helpful Content Update (HCU)

How to prepare for Google’s Helpful Content Update (HCU)

The rise of AI and automation tools may be churning out a sea of content all day every day, but as digital marketers know, not all content is created equal. In a bid to reward content creators with a pulse, Google has released its Helpful Content Update (HCU).  

Google has long been about content that follows its EAT (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness) philosophy. The idea is to have search engine users feeling confident that results can be trusted. Now, Google has added an extra E to its acronym, standing for Experience, which is already featured in the updated search quality rater guidelines. Creators who are able to demonstrate first-hand experience of the topic will rank highly. 

The HCU was first introduced in August 2022 and is one of the biggest, most important updates yet. While it’s still new-ish, content creators and businesses are being advised to pay attention to the guidelines in a bid to have their content rewarded, not penalised, on its search engine. 

Google themselves said the Helpful Content Update is “part of a broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results”. 

What does this mean in practice, and how can you stay on the right side of the (Google) law? Read on. 

What does the Helpful Content Update mean for creators?

Google created the HCU to put the focus on people-first content. This means rewarding content where visitors are satisfied by relevant and knowledgeable content, and penalising content that doesn’t meet a reader’s expectations. To be rewarded under HCU and have your content visible on search engines follow Google’s advice:  

  1. Showcase your knowledge and value 

Google wants you to do what writers have done since humans first picked up a stone and carved hieroglyphics on a wall: write for people. Except with some SEO thrown in. On a page with great loading times and clear design. With excellent mobile functionality.  

They want search engines to be full of content that demonstrates first-hand expertise and knowledge for the relevant audience. This is what all businesses should already be doing and if not, now’s the time to get busy writing.  

2. Avoid creating search engine-first content  

This one is a bit of a double-edged sword. Google knows that people will create content using best SEO practices (because, SEO). However, as Google’s search ranking senior staff analyst, Chris Nelson points out, “content created primarily for search engine traffic is strongly correlated with content that searchers find unsatisfying.” In other words, it falls flat with the users who matter most.  

Put simply: if you’re running a hardware company and you’re sharing content about your side passion for capybaras, your audience won’t find that helpful, and Google won’t be doing your website any favours. Writing about new products, asking customers to share reviews of their experience, or penning a thought leadership piece on steel shipping prices is the type of content your clients and prospects want to know about.   

3. Keep Google’s guidance in mind 

This one applies mainly to reviews. Ideally you want happy customers sharing glowing reviews on Google so the world can see just how fab your business is. Google’s own policy says that “contributions must be based on real experiences and information,” and uses AI-learning to remove any suspicious reviews including fake reviews by fake customers – or staff. Google can also suspend accounts that violate its policies. 

As a business owner can you ask customers to leave reviews, and more importantly, can you stop people leaving bad reviews? Yes and no. Yes: you can ask your customers to write a review for you. However, you can’t solicit reviews in bulk.

No, you are powerless to stop anyone leaving a bad review. And don’t even think of offering someone money in exchange for a great review. It is also against Google’s policies. Best marketing practice suggests responding to all reviews – good and bad – politely and transparently, which indicates value in customer feedback and maintaining loyalty. 

Will the HCU punish AI-created content?

No-one is following the histrionics surrounding the rise of AI-created content more closely than Google. They know that a tsunami of poorly executed copy created by AI is coming to crash upon the shores of search engines.  

Experts are unsure – after all, the HCU and increase in use of copy produced by tools like ChatGPT is still in its infancy. What they do know is that using AI-produced content is no substitution for investing in the services of an experienced writer with knowledge of the sector who is trained in SEO principles. 

AI is certainly changing productivity levels for content marketers, but it is not at the stage where one can enter in prompts and have a completely flawless, audience-focused piece of content that mimics a business’ exact tone and style.  

In other words, feel free to use AI as a starting point, but it’s important that content goes through a quality control process within your team to ensure it sounds on-brand, is factually correct and provides genuine insight and value.  

Need help with your SEO updates or to create meaningful content for your website? Chat to us today and we’ll see how we can help! 

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