Man versus machine is one of the best-known pairings of all time. Humans battling robots, both vying for dominance at the top of the food chain. Whether we are battling a time-traveling killer robot, a sentient AI (Artificial Intelligence) inside a simulation, or just the password reCAPTCHA, we certainly have our frustrations with technology. When it comes to content, we can get so wrapped up in optimizing for the site-crawling bots that we may forget about the human beings interacting with the content in the first place.
That’s why it turned so many heads when Google suddenly announced its “Helpful Content” update. The Helpful Content update is a change to Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) algorithm, where content not deemed “human-first,” will get dinged. Let’s look at this update, its sudden effect on our content, and how we can work with robots, instead of fighting them, to produce genuine content that is both helpful and worth a high ranking.
The Helpful Content update has one of the fastest turnaround times from its announcement to the public to its implementation. Content creators around the web may be a little surprised to see their online performance shift and are left to scramble to quickly reoptimize their content. The Helpful Content update is sitewide as well, meaning that every webpage on a site is affected, leaving potentially hundreds of pages for an individual to rework to fit these new guidelines.
The update works by sending out a new sitewide ranking signal, which is simply another factor its SEO algorithm considers when determining a site’s ranking. This signal will automatically identify any content that it deems as “unhelpful,” or “low value.” The signal only affects English websites, and while it is sitewide, some pages may still rank high even if the website doesn’t.
Google doesn’t specify any industries, topics, or niche content that are sure to get the brunt of this update, however, it is expected to be weighted model that will hit some websites harder than others. While this is unfortunately vague and leaves content creators in the dark, Google does provide a list of questions to answer to determine your content’s helpfulness.
For example, if content is created for the sole purpose of driving traffic to a sight, i.e., click-bait, then it will get marked down. Affiliate marketers need to prepare as well, if their content pulls in information from other sources but they themselves don’t offer any additional information or value, they will get marked down.
Content built strictly for better SEO performance, like articles with the exact same word count every time or content on trending topics that offer no real expertise, will be hit harder than content with a looser structure.
The reason behind this update is to sponsor better, more original content that real people can use and find helpful. Google’s content by people, for people, initiative to prioritize the human touch in the search results and is its way of making sure it can still provide the best experience for its own users.
As it did with unhelpful content, Google also offers some advice on how to draft more original content that can still rank high. A good rule of thumb is to prioritize thought leadership content rather than worrying about how the content is structured. Google prioritizes expertise and insight more than anything else, so focus on topics and trends that you can add value to realistically.
Ask the question, how would I teach someone what I know if this were a regular face-to-face conversation? When it comes to offering a product review, share your personal experience and provide examples with evidence of how a product worked for you. Don’t be afraid to be a little more open with your audience, focus on your knowledge and the value you can provide, and then think about which keyword to use.
What’s important to remember here is that we still must follow SEO best practices. That can be confusing to some, like we are getting mixed signals about how to optimize our content. The best way to move forward is to find a good balance between automation and the human element. Not everything needs to be automated. Copywriting AI like Contilt or Jasper.ai are useful tools but shouldn’t do all the heavy lifting. Content needs that human element to make it beneficial and not like it was written by a robot trying to trick us into converting off some false promise.
That said, robots are still especially useful and help us know when our content isn’t hitting the mark. Keyword analysis, SEO audits, and trend tracking can help us know what our audiences are looking for from their content and how we can better provide them with valuable information. Using technology as a tool can benefit our sites and our audience simultaneously, we just need to treat robots a little more friendly and not have them do all the content creation. That way it might not have to be humans versus robots, but instead humans and robots.