In late August, Google rolled out a new search update called the “helpful content update.” Per Google, this update is meant to “tackle content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines rather than to help or inform people.” It’s a broad statement and one that could mean any number of penalizations to content creators and sites looking to increase their ranking on Google Search.
As of September 9, 2022, Google posted that the rollout of the helpful content update has been completed and followed that announcement up with another broad core update on September 12. As websites start to see the results of these updates, Google pointed to a quick guide on what content creators can do to avoid decreased rankings.
In this article, we will break down the top 10 ways you can avoid Google’s ire and improve your chances on search engine results pages (SERPs) in a post-helpful content update world.
Top 10 Ways to Create Authentic Content
1. Keyword Research: Thin Intent, Rather than Demand — It’s easy to find a nice, juicy keyword with plenty of monthly searches. The problem with heavily searched keywords is that often they’re too broad. Take the word “shoes” for example. Google Keyword Planner will tell us that roughly 1.5 million people search for shoes monthly. That’s great, but are these searches for men’s or women’s shoes? Are these shoes name brand, or are searchers shopping for a discount brand? Is the intention of these users to purchase shoes, or are they looking for tips on how to customize or repair shoes? When you dig into the smaller monthly searches gravitating around that big keyword, you will find phrases or questions that more closely match an intention. That intent is key in developing authentic content.
The more granular your keyword research, the more targeted and specific you can tailor your content. With specificity comes distinction and authenticity. Gone are the overarching generalizations aimed at broad keywords. Instead, you’ll naturally align toward writing content tailored to very specific subsets of users who are searching for information with intent and purpose.
2. Your Voice Is Your Brand: Write in Your Own Words — A tempting habit of creators looking to rank is to check out the competition and “borrow” a format, verbiage, or pieces of a competitor’s page, sometimes verbatim. In worst-case scenarios, this is straight-up plagiarism, and in best-case scenarios, this may lead to inauthentic, cookie-cutter content that search engines recognize as as unoriginal or low quality.
Competitor research is fundamental to SEO, and the best way to incorporate competitor research is to take inspiration and simultaneously borrow as little as possible. Why? Because your voice is your brand and authenticity. Your content should follow what you, as a potential reader of your own site, would want to see. In turn, the writing should come across as your brand’s voice. If your company’s style is to add emojis in blog posts, go for it. If your brand voice is all business all the time, that’s OK, too. The more your content feels like your brand’s unique voice, the more authentic searchers and search engines will consider it.
3. Competitor Research: Add Something New — This tip works in tandem with the previous point. When looking at competitors, keep a keen eye on what’s missing or what could be added. As a reader, is there something you wish this competitor’s article talked about? Are there any updates since the article was written that would benefit future readers?
There’s always a new angle to bring to a topic, and finding it is a sure-fire way to make your content stand out, read as unique, be more helpful, and possibly rank on a less-searched, long-tail keyword your competitors aren’t thinking about.
WARNING: It’s easy to add content that’s “kinda, sorta” related to a topic (but not really). When adding something new, make sure that new content stays close to your main topic. Google will flag content that’s a little too far-reaching from the main topic as unhelpful or more SEO-focused and less concerned with reader/user intent.
4. Copyedit Your Content: Spelling & Grammar Matter — Bad spelling and grammar can have the negative effect of making content appear hastily written or of poor quality, even if all the right information is in place. It can also make readers view a site as untrustworthy, which can potentially damage a site’s reputation if too many pages suffer from bad spelling and grammar. Google tells us this in its guide on content creation.
This is why Grammarly exists. There are both free and paid versions of the Grammarly plug-in, but the free version will flag glaring spelling errors, redundancies, and big mistakes that can lead to a poor user experience. Performing a quick copyedit of your content with the plug-in can improve your credibility as an authentic and reliable source of information.
5. Define Purpose: What Does Your Brand Offer That No One Else Does? — It’s easy to get caught up in the SERPs and adapt what we find on Google. However, we all have something unique to offer, though it might not be initially obvious to us. When writing content, consider asking yourself these questions:
- How does your brand/company/product impact the user?
- Is its impact big or small (meaning — can it extend beyond the individual and impact communities or the planet)?
- Is there a goal, charity, or mission statement associated with your brand/company/product?
- Can you provide a first-hand experience or personal anecdote to make your brand/company/product come across as more human?
6. Add FAQs: The Resourceful “Frequently Asked Questions” Section — Remember those granular, long-tail keywords we mentioned at the start of this list? Are any of those keywords actually questions that can be answered? Depending on the topic, you may find it helpful to list and answer related frequently asked questions. It’s a great tool for covering different angles of a topic in a short amount of time. In addition, by breaking up your article with an FAQ section of easily digestible questions and answers, it can enhance the user experience of your page, which can improve its helpfulness.
If you’re in need of questions and don’t see any on Google Keyword Planner, the “People Also Ask” box on Google’s search results is a great resource. Simply search for your keywords and see what questions populate in the box. When all else fails, AnswerThePublic.com can be a decent resource for questions (though users are limited to 2 free searches per day).
7. Improve User Experience: Let Your Text Breathe — There’s nothing scarier than navigating to a page and bearing witness to gigantic paragraphs of text, unprofessional font styles or colors, or a page with zero images and videos. No matter how authoritative or well-researched the content is, users aren’t likely to stick around and find out, and that can hurt how “helpful” Google will consider that page.
Improved user experience often means a better visual presentation. Text needs to be spaced out into smaller, bite-sized paragraphs. Images should be peppered throughout, and it’s always a great idea to include at least one video that pertains to the topic at hand. When there are no images or videos available, break-out boxes, pull-quotes, and bulleted lists can be a creator’s friend. Using these will help break up a long column of paragraphs and create an experience that’s more visually appealing than straight text.
PRO TIP: Don’t just dump words on a page; finesse them into a format that’s aesthetically pleasing.
8. Know Your Target Audience: Speak Their Language — Not everyone will dig your content. That’s a cold truth. Just like everything you read on the Internet doesn’t work for you, your content won’t work for everyone else. However, there’s a core audience out there that will absolutely love everything about you. You need to find these people and know what it is about your content that is speaking to them.
Perhaps it’s the eco-friendly mission statement or the percentage of proceeds going to a particular charity. If so, why not talk more about why that mission statement exists or why that charity is important to you?
If you’re in the business of making Western gear, your audience might like it if you add a little cowboy flair to your writing or lean into Western theming. Consider switching up your verbiage to use Western-specific terms and slang words.
For a company that sells skateboarding equipment, it’s beneficial to adopt skateboarding slogans, lingo, and references to skateboarding lifestyles and ethos. Incorporating audience language could even take the form of quoting niche celebrities/influencers within your audience’s community to lend some authority to your article, or writing in-depth tutorials or guides for related activities your audience engages in. For example, how-to guides with tips and tricks could foster authenticity for a company looking to sell skateboard gear.
The end goal is, Google wants “people-first content,” and speaking and engaging with an audience’s community or values is the best way to truly put people first. It also helps parachuters to both find and follow your site.
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Consolidate Your Content — In the old days of the Internet, content aggregators focused on quantity over quality. They would bombard denizens of the web with a multitude of short pieces of content, often designed around summarizing news articles and press releases or adding one new paragraph and linking elsewhere for readers to “learn more.”
This type of content is low quality, and it can negatively impact a site, as well as frustrate users. These days, content consolidation is viewed as a viable alternative to the scattershot content machine of yesteryear. If you have a bunch of smaller, related pieces of content that inform each other, why not merge them into one mega article? The logic fueling content consolidation is that the more helpful and informative your mega article is, the higher quality it will convey, which can, in turn, improve its ranking. With Google’s helpful content update and subsequent core update, this logic is worth putting into practice. Just don’t forget to redirect any old URLs to your mega article’s URL.
10. Ask Yourself, “Would I Find This Meaningful?” — Before finishing a piece of content, it’s important to ask yourself if you would find that content meaningful. If you can’t convince yourself of your content’s importance, how can you convince everyone else?
Following these 10 tips for creating authentic content can improve the search engines’ perception of your site. Especially in the era of Google’s helpful content update and the broad core algorithm updates, authentic content is more important than ever. It’s also worth checking that you’ve followed basic SEO 101 principles, too.