By now, you’re probably aware of Google’s November 2023 and March 2024 Helpful Content Updates. The first one evolved its algorithms to reward what it perceived as webpages that had helpful content while striking down pages that it deemed lacking in this characteristic. The second one incorporated the November update to Google’s Core algorithms, making its effects even more impactful and widespread.

How bad was it for some? How about losing anywhere from 40% to 90% of your organic traffic? Websites that kept big libraries of long-form content assets were slapped particularly hard, especially those in the YMYL spaces. After years of raking in free, massive traffic from Google, the music suddenly stopped for many big content publishers just because the Big G had a change of heart on the kind of content that it views as worthy of top billing.

Direct, engaging and people-oriented content is the name of the game these days. While traditional ranking signals stumylkated by technical SEO and link building still matter, Google has finally shown that it means businesses when it said that Experience, Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) were the hallmarks of  webpages that are deserving of top rankings. In this post, we’ll discuss what helpful content actually means (‘cause all SEOs think their content is helpf) as far as Google is concerned, what qualities it possesses and what you can do to improve the perceived helpfulness of your content.

Helpful Content Defined

As Google puts it, helpful content refers to material designed primarily to benefit the reader, rather than to attract search engine traffic. In the past, SEOs followed the simple formula of researching keywords, creating hyper-optimized content in a landing page, then building backlinks en route to high rankings.  While this can still work, Google’s algorithms now have the ability to dig a little deeper and see other dimensions of a content piece that it previously couldn’t.

These days, Google looks for signs of engagement, ease of use and legitimacy. As such, Google’s own documents suggest that helpful content:

  • Addresses User Needs. It provides valuable information, answers questions, or solves problems that the audience is experiencing. It’s usually loaded with facts, proof, logic and examples that will convince the reader of the information’s validity.
  • Is Original and Unique. It offers new insights, perspectives, or information that can’t be found elsewhere. It avoids fluff and adds to the topic’s current discourse. It doesn’t parrot other people’s contributions. Rather, it adds new angles, information and insights to the existing body of literature.
  • Is Created with Expertise. Authored by individuals or entities with significant knowledge and experience in the subject matter. The content piece is both convincing and compelling thanks to who wrote it and his credentials.
  • Engages and Satisfies. It keeps readers engaged through clear, accessible language and meets their expectations, leaving them satisfied. This satisfaction is measurable through proven metrics such as dwell times, scroll action, bounce rates, conversion rates and more.
  • Does Not Mislead. Helpful content is not designed to be clickbait. Its title and headline reflects a summary of the content that a user can find on the page. It does not rely on hyperbole and chicanery to earn page views.

In the context of SEO, helpful content aligns with Google’s focus on “people-first” content, which is assessed based on its ability to provide real value to users, ensuring that it ranks higher in search results. This approach helps to build trust and authority, leading to better user retention and engagement.

Qualities of Helpful Content

Creating helpful content involves several key qualities that ensure it’s valuable and effective for your audience:

  • Relevance. Content should be directly related to the interests and needs of your target audience. It should address their specific questions and concerns.
  • Comprehensiveness. Thoroughly cover the topic to provide a complete answer or solution. Avoid superficial content that leaves readers with more questions. Essentially, don’t expect the Filipino high school trick of padding essays with fluff to get good marks. Unlike your teacher, Google can actually see through that.
  • Originality. Offer unique insights, perspectives, or information that distinguishes your content from others. First-hand information, fresh analysis, self-created media assets and empirical studies are some of the most original content assets one can publish.
  • Accuracy and Reliability. Use credible sources and provide accurate, up-to-date information. Fact-check all claims and data. Better yet, link back to reputable sources. If the information comes from you first hand, provide evidence that will confirm the veracity of your claims.
  • Engagement. Make the content interesting and engaging. Use storytelling, examples, and a conversational tone to keep readers invested. Adding human interest elements when applicable is always good practice. Think of writing styles similar to Dave Barry’s or Collin Cowherd.
  • Accessibility. A Ensure the content is easy to read and understand. Use clear language, headings, bullet points, and visuals to enhance readability. Use jump links for easy navigation. The easier the content is to skim, the better. Google wants to promote websites that make it quick and easy for readers to find the information they need.
  • Actionability. Provide practical advice or steps that readers can take based on the information you provide. The faster your information can start helping people out, the better its chances are of prospering in Google’s SERPs.

By focusing on these qualities, you can create content that not only ranks well in search engines but also genuinely helps and satisfies your audience.

How to Create Helpful Content

Creating helpful content involves several steps to ensure it meets user needs and SEO requirements:

a. Know Your Audience

Understanding your audience is critical. Conduct focus group discussions with your organization’s marketing leadership to identify target audience personas that you want to go after. Analyze demographic data, behavior patterns, and feedback to tailor content that resonates with them.

 

For instance, use Google Analytics to find that your audience consists mainly of young professionals interested in tech gadgets. Tailor content to address their needs and interests.

b. Identify Keywords Where Helpful Content is Needed

Conduct keyword research to find gaps where valuable content can rank. Focus on long-tail keywords and questions users frequently search for.

Use tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush to discover long-tail keywords such as “best productivity apps for remote work” and create content around them. These tools also provide data on questions related to keywords, which will give you strong hints on your audience’s interests and needs.

c. Understand Reader Pain Points

Identify common problems and questions your audience faces. Use forums, social media, and direct feedback to gain insights.

Browse Reddit threads and Quora questions to find that many users struggle with managing remote teams effectively. You can also check the “People Also Ask” section of Google’s search results.

 Create a guide addressing these challenges. The advanbtage you will have over Quora and Reddit is that you’ll be doing it from a position of expertise and authority. When your content piece is competing against random internet posters with little to no credibility, you stand a good chance of ranking despite the massive sizes of those discussion platforms.

d. Load Up on Useful Information

Gather information from various reliable sources:

    • From Authoritative Sources. Refer to trusted and credible sources in your industry. For example, cite data from Gartner or Forrester in your content on technology trends.
    • From Your Own Expertise. Share your knowledge and experiences to add unique value. As a marketing expert, for instance, you can share insights on branding strategies that you learned from marketing graduate school and later used successfully in real-life campaigns.
    • From Your Own Experience. Provide personal anecdotes and practical examples on things that you personally went through. For example, sharing a story about coping with chronic neck pain will be helpful for other people suffering from the same condition. You may not be an expert like a doctor who specializes in pain management, but your thoughts on the matter will still be relevant since you lived through the ordeal. I wrote extensively about Experience in content here.
    • From Original Research. Conduct and share your research findings. An example would be publishing the results of a survey you conducted on Gen-Z color preferences for summer clothing would be interesting and useful for a wide range of people.
    • From Case Studies. Use real-world examples to illustrate points. For instance, a case study on a website’s organic traffic recovery from the November Google HCU Update would be a must-read for other webmasters who are still trying to figure out how to get out of this predicament.
    • From Interviews.  Even when you don’t have the expertise or the experience to write about a topic single-handedly, someone else is bound to have that in spades. Interviewing industry experts is a great way to add highly credible information to a content piece. For instance, interviewing a  well-respected cardiovascular surgeon is a bulletproof way to add legitimacy to a content piece about heart disease in your website.
    • From Surveys: Use survey data to support your content.

f. Write Comprehensively

Cover the topic in depth to ensure the reader leaves with a complete understanding. Avoid superficial treatment of subjects. Make the answers to key questions easy to find, but also make it a point to discuss everything important there is to know about a topic.

For example, it’s good to mention that site speed is important in a blog post about technical SEO, but it would be even better if you add specific information on how to measure page load times and what areas webmasters should look at when trying to optimize for site speed.

g. Make Your Content Skimmable

Use headings, subheadings, bullet points, and short paragraphs to enhance readability. Highlight key points to facilitate quick scanning. In some cases, you can highlight important questions and answers, or put them in a highly visible box to give readers an easier time. For longer content pieces, consider adding a Table of Contents section at the top similar to what Wikipedia does.

Best practices include breaking up a long article on healthy eating into sections with headers like “Benefits of Healthy Eating,” “Meal Planning Tips,” and “Healthy Recipes.”

h. Optimize for Mobile Devices

Ensure your content is mobile-friendly, as a large  portion of users access content via smartphones. As a matter of fact, Google has stopped indexing webpages that aren’t mobile-frendly recently. Use responsive design and test on multiple devices to make sure the experience is well suited to smaller, vertically-oriented screens.

i. Optimize for Page Load Speed

Fast-loading pages improve user experience and SEO. Optimize images, leverage browser caching, and minimize HTML, CSS, and JavaScript – among other best practices.

k. Clear Navigation Pathways

Create intuitive navigation to help users find related content easily. Use internal linking to guide readers through your site’s content. Add links to related articles within your content and ensure your website’s menu is both logical and intuitive to navigate.

m. Keep the Content Fresh

Regularly update your content to keep it relevant and accurate. Refreshing old content can boost SEO and user engagement.

For instance, update an old post titled “The Ultimate Technical SEO Guide for 2021” with tips and techniques that move the SEO needle in 2024. Don’t forget to update the title to this year or the next year.

n. Avoid Clickbaiting

Ensure your titles and descriptions accurately reflect the content. Misleading titles can damage credibility and increase bounce rates.

Instead of using a sensational title like “SEO Secrets We Don’t Usually Talk About,” use a straightforward title like “Effective SEO Strategies for 2024.”