Google’s “Helpful Content” Update

Google Introduces Panda Junior

A few weeks ago, in a Google Search Central blog post, Google made what many considered to be a big announcement about a major update to their search engine algorithm. Their post is here, and it describes an update meant to “better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience.” Google’s updates tend to get named, if not by Google, then by the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) community. In this case, Google didn’t wait for someone else to name their update, because they already had a very creative, very sexy name picked out. Or wait…no, they didn’t. Their anodyne name is the “Helpful Content Update.” (Yawn)

Ok, so the name is boring, but on the other hand, it seems very accurate, because this update focuses on something Google has been preaching for many years: “Focus on people-first content.” 

Although it’s less common now, In the early days of the Internet, searchers would often encounter listings ranking very high in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), that were crammed with useless text meant to “game” the search engines: to trick them into thinking that the page in question was highly relevant to a very popular — and very commercially valuable — search term. Think of someone searching for “best headache remedy” and getting a page that had “best headache remedy, good headache remedy, number one headache remedy, excellent headache remedy” in the title. 

In 2011 Google, who already had become the number one search engine for providing better quality search results than any other search engine, but whose results were still plagued with very poor web pages, introduced an innovative concept: a filter that would prevent extremely poor content from showing up high in search results. A leading SEO authority named Danny Sullivan, who since has become Google’s Search Liaison, named the update “Farmer,” because it cracked down on “content farms,” websites that created low quality articles in bulk.

Picture of two pandas to represent Google Panda update and helpful content updateVery soon the title was abandoned for a different name that Google came up with, originally for internal use: Panda.

The goal of Panda was to improve the quality of content online. Although it wasn’t perfect, it definitely achieved its goal of improvement.

I had been doing SEO for 9 years when Panda came along, and it was the year before I became a certified instructor with Search Engine Academy. Fortunately, even at that time I taught students, and applied to my own client work, a basic principle: write content for people first. It lined perfectly with Google’s emphasis, so we didn’t have to make any big changes, we just needed to apply that principle as well as we could.

After reading Google’s post on the “Helpful Content Update,” I’m struck at how it isn’t new at all. It is basically a restatement of the Panda update. Undoubtedly Google has found more effective ways of applying this update, but if you’ve been creating content for people first, you probably are already insulated from this latest iteration of one of Google’s core principles: “Create great content.”

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