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Google is notorious for regularly releasing changes, but the impending update to its search ranking algorithm is set to be the biggest seen in years.
Dubbed the “helpful content update”, this latest change is expected to be the most significant one seen in more than a decade. And if you have content on your website that’s been written for search engines rather than a human audience, you could be hit hard - and targeted first.
For many years, Google has been emphasising the importance of delivering quality content and penalising those who publish thin, spam-filled or weak content on their website.
The helpful content update goes one step further and actively punishes those sites where the content appears to have been solely targeted to the search engines.
The goal of this latest algorithm update is to root out poor quality, boosting high quality sites while downvoting sites with weak content.
Pages which have been written primarily with SEO as their focus rather than delivering meaningful content to the audience will be heavily penalised by the helpful content update. While SEO is a useful tool, it should only ever be implemented as part of an overall content plan where the audience is put front and centre.
Any site which is identified as having SEO content which is only designed to rank well rather than to be of genuine use to a customer will be penalised by the helpful content update.
Google has said that it’s aiming to promote sites which have “authentic” content and are genuinely useful, making them easier to find for the audience.
The helpful content update hasn’t been released in order to focus on any particular niche or subject. Nevertheless, there are some areas which naturally have attracted more SEO content which prioritises ranking above being of legitimate use to an audience.
Some of the areas likely to be the most affected are:
These are not areas which are being targeted, but are expected to be more heavily affected than others. This is because historically these subjects have been the centre of SEO campaigns where ranking has been prioritised over useful content for audiences.
Google has expanded further on the subject of “useful content”. A site doesn’t have to be particularly low in quality to be affected by the roll-out, if a lot of its content is simply regurgitated from elsewhere.
This isn’t about plagiarism, but rather genuinely unique content which isn’t just a basic rewrite from other sites. Google is looking for more than just a different presentation of the same information that can be found elsewhere.
If your site contains unique information, you’ll benefit from the helpful content algorithm.
Many Google algorithms are applied on a page-by-page basis, meaning that only those pages which are affected will be penalised. This won’t be the case here, the new algorithm takes a view on the whole site.
In other words, if certain pages are assessed as being low in quality or unhelpful, it will impact on your whole website, not just the individual pages. This will be the case even if you have other pages which are high in quality and helpful.
Google have so far been reticent about revealing the exact ratios of helpful/unhelpful content required to be hit by the new algorithm.
Google have offered some suggestions about how to avoid being penalised by the helpful content update:
If you are affected by the latest algorithm, a fix may not be quick. Google has warned that any site penalised by the helpful content update may take many months to recover from a hit.
Although the algorithm will be running in the background all of the time, any site will need to be able to demonstrate that all of its content is being curated for its audience and not SEO purposes. It takes time for any website to adequately prove that it has changed tack permanently. This is why recovery will take so long after being hit by the helpful content update.
From the start, only English-speaking sites will be affected at first but it will expand to cover other languages eventually.
The algorithm will be based on machine learning which is expected to improve the longer it’s left running. This is because engineers will be able to tweak parameters in the background, making adjustments as more experience is gained.
Make no mistake, this roll-out is expected to herald huge changes. If you had to shepherd your website through the changes that Google Panda brought in 2012, you’ll know what it takes. It’s expected that this latest algorithm will have the same seismic result.
As it’s possible for low quality content to win out any positives from high quality pages, it’s essential to keep a close eye on your analytics. If there are any signs that your content doesn’t meet the standards set out above, you might want to seriously consider an overhaul before you find yourself dumped at the bottom of the ranking results.