Are you writing for Google instead of Gail or Greg? The new Google algorithm update may be bad news for you.
Google updates its algorithm thousands of times a year, but they rarely announce them, let alone give advanced notice – so, when they do, webmasters need to pay attention.
Google provided an early announcement of this “helpful content update” on August 18,offering guidance to prepare, and started its two-week rollout on August 25.
This algorithm update focuses on websites that have been incorrectly prioritizing search engines above people. The update seeks to prioritize helpful original content made by people for people, rather than content made primarily to gain organic search traffic.
This is part of Google’s larger effort to feature more authentic and unique information in their search results. Meeting user expectations is buried in the core of this update.
To prepare, Google offers the following checklist for website owners to ensure success following this update (slightly paraphrased for length below). If you find yourself nodding as you read it, you’re likely already creating content for people.
- Did you build a high-quality site?
- Do you fulfill the Google Webmaster guidelines?
- Would your audience find your content useful if they came directly to you?
- Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge?
- Does your site have a primary focus?
- After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough to help achieve their goal?
- Will they leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
- Are you following Google guidance for core updates and product reviews?
They also provide a list of “don’ts” – signs that you might have a search-engine-first approach (again, paraphrased):
- Is your content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans to read?
- Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
- Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
- Are you summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?
- Are you writing about things because they seem trendy, not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?
- Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
- Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count?
- Did you decide to enter a niche topic area without expertise, mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic?
- Does your content promise to answer a question that actually has no answer, such as suggesting a release date for a product when one isn’t confirmed?
While major branded and unbranded sites will be largely unaffected, the SEO space will experience a noticeable impact in online education, especially in how-to-content, arts, entertainment, shopping, and tech. But the fact that Google didn’t mention healthcare does not mean they’ve relaxed efforts to improve those search results.
Three action steps for healthcare brands:
- Demonstrate first-hand experience and depth of knowledge with patient testimonials and content from key opinion leaders.
- Create disease education that’s unique, not just summarizing other reputable sources.
- Continuously, proactively improve your content, rather than reacting to updates like these – the impact can take months to recover from.
This update is a reminder that, across all industries, it’s critical that delivering valuable content to the user is at the heart of website strategy, design, and offerings.