Google is about to launch a new and large search algorithm update, called the helpful content update.
The helpful content update will target websites that have a relatively high amount of unsatisfying or unhelpful content, where the content has been written for search engines rather than humans.
This update, which will start rolling out soon, will have a meaningful impact on the search results, Google told Search Engine Land.
Google’s new helpful content update specifically targets “content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines rather than to help or inform people.”
The purpose of this algorithm update is to help searchers find “high-quality content,” Google told us. Google wants to reward better and more useful content that was written for humans and to help users.
Content written for the purpose of ranking in search engines – what you might call “search engine-first content” or “SEO content,” has been frequently written about lately and discussed across social media.
In short, searchers are getting frustrated when they land on unhelpful webpages that rank well in search because they were designed to rank well.
Google’s new algorithm aims to downgrade those types of websites while promoting more helpful websites, designed for humans, above search engines.
Google said this is an “ongoing effort to reduce low-quality content and make it easier to find content that feels authentic and useful in search.”
The update will start rolling out next week. The helpful content update will take up to two weeks to fully roll out, Google said.
We will post a new story when it begins rolling out and when it is completed here on Search Engine Land. Google will also post on its updates page when it launches and when it is done rolling out.
While these algorithms do not specifically target any specific niche, Google said these types of content may be impacted the most:
This is because content written in those areas has historically been written more for search engines than humans.
Based on Google’s analysis, those areas may be more impacted by this Google helpful content update than other areas.
I asked Google for a specific example of a search where the helpful content update would make an impact. Here’s what Google told me:
Unlike many Google algorithms that get applied on a page-by-page basis, this new helpful content update will be sitewide.
That means that if Google determines your site is producing a relatively high amount of unhelpful content, primarily written for ranking in search, then your whole site will be impacted.
This will not just impact individual pages or sections of your site, but rather, it will impact the whole site.
Google won’t say exactly what percentage of the pages on your site need to be helpful versus unhelpful to trigger this classifier but they did say it is sitewide and will impact the whole site, even if you have many pages that are helpful.
Again, if you have helpful pages but a relatively high amount of your content is unhelpful, even your helpful content or sections of your site will be hit by this update.
Google said “removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content.”
Google, like with previous updates, like the panda update, core update and product reviews update has provided a list of questions you can ask yourself about your content, in order to build content that is rewarded by the helpful content update.
Google shared these questions around building human-first content:
And when it comes to avoiding search-engine first content, Google laid out these questions:
This algorithm will run automatically, Google said. The scores or classifiers will continue to update all the time.
But if a site gets hit by this helpful content update, it can take several months for the site to recover.
A site needs to prove itself over time that it no longer publishes content with the sole reason to rank in search engines, a search engine first content experience, and that takes time.
So it seems there will be some type of waiting period – maybe a validation period – that sites need to go through, to show Google’s algorithms that the site is providing helpful content to humans first.
This validation period is automated and while Google updates the scores for its classifiers on your site on an ongoing basis, making a change today, likely won’t be reflected in Google’s rankings for several months, Sullivan told Search Engine Land.
According to Google:
Google is using a new machine learning algorithm that is able to evaluate and identify unhelpful content.
The algorithms should get better over time between the automated machine learning improvements and Google engineers tweaking and improving the overall algorithms on a regular basis.
Google said the helpful content update looks at a variety of signals about the page and site to determine the ranking of a page.
Google was not specific with us on exactly which signals are used, as you would imagine.
Google said the search company validated these new results with its quality raters and confirmed that using this system improves Google’s search quality. This is done for most, if not all, ranking and user experience improvements Google makes to search.
Again, the quality raters do not directly influence the rankings but rather help confirm to Google’s search engineers if the algorithms are making improvements to the overall search quality.
This update will initially launch for English-language searches globally.
Google plans to expand to other languages in the future.
Google told us this update targets only Google search right now. However, Google may look to cover additional products (e.g., Google Discover) in the coming months.
For many SEOs who lived through the Google panda update, of February 2012, it forever changed how SEOs recommended you write content going forward. Now Panda is built into the core update, so it is still being used today.
This update sounds a lot like the past Panda update.
I suspect, like with Panda, SEOs will look back at Google’s helpful content update and say it caused a fundamental shift in SEO content strategy. Time will tell, and we will see how large of an update this is over the course of the next few weeks.
Google’s helpful content update will likely be a significant update that SEOs will look back at as the catalyst of change in terms of the advice SEOs gives clients when building content.
Granted, it is too soon to tell how large of an impact this update will have on Google’s search results, your site or your clients’ sites.
As the update rolls out, make sure to watch your analytics and, if necessary, reevaluate your content strategy around the advice Google has provided above.
We’ll continue to report on all the latest developments around the helpful content update.