Is your content helpful? Google wants to know.

Do you follow search engine optimisation (SEO) news? If you do, you may have heard of Google’s controversial Helpful Content Update (HCU). It’s got a lot of small businesses worried – but are they right to be, and how could the HCU potentially impact your website?

What is Google’s Helpful Content Update?

There’s a clue in the name! Google wants to make sure that each user receives the most helpful answer to their specific query: even if that means showing them a result from Reddit, rather than a carefully researched blog article. 

For example, the result for  “error code E04 Candy tumble dryer” looks like this:

The first page of search results directs the user to forum discussions, ‘People also ask’ questions and video clips. There will be plenty of more detailed, better-written content out there, but in this scenario a long article from an electronics expert (for example) is less helpful than a quick answer from somebody who’s had the same problem.

Google has actually been rolling out the HCU in stages since 2022, as well as implementing several other updates to its algorithm. Most of these only tend to be discussed amongst SEO geeks professionals, but the latest HCU in September 2023 resulted in lots of small business websites – particularly blogs in niche areas like travel or food – suddenly lose their rankings. 

Why? Because the HCU is cracking down on websites that have created content purely to attract search traffic – even if there’s nothing wrong with the quality of that content. 

How can I make sure Google thinks my content is helpful?

For your content to rank post-HCU, it needs to be more than just well-researched and well-written (although those are still important). It needs to be genuinely helpful to users, considering the scenario they’re in when they’re making the search. 

In other words, you need to understand user intent: what are your users really looking for? Once you understand this, you can start to align your content with these needs, and make it truly helpful.

Here are some things you can do to improve your content’s helpfulness:

Front-load the important information

One of the things that Google can view as “unhelpful” is a helpful answer buried halfway down the page. Make sure the important information is at the top of the page.

Diversify your content

It may sound contrary, but Google wants to rank websites that don’t rely on search for all of their traffic. Make sure your digital strategy also includes email marketing, social media marketing and any other relevant ways of growing your following. Building your brand visibility outside of Google will also make your business less vulnerable to changes in search rankings caused by algorithm updates.

Show why you’re an expert

In the age of mass-generated AI content, it’s more important than ever before to show Google (and users) that you’re a real person with first hand experience and expertise. Write an author bio if you don’t have one, detailing how and why you’re an expert in your subject.  We’re not saying ‘don’t use AI’, indeed, there are some great AI benefits for small businesses, but be careful just churning out lots of robotic content using the likes of ChatGPT and Google Gemini.


Still not sure if your content is helpful? Google has published a checklist for you to self-assess your content against its requirements.


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