By Hannah Millist – Twogether Digital
Have you ever wondered how Google decides to order websites when you type a query into its search engine?
Many of us Google every day, making dozens of searches – ranging from product searches to queries such as “how to bake banana loaf cake” (one of my most frequent searches).
Google uses a sophisticated algorithm to decide which order websites should appear when you type in your query (called a “keyword”). The position your company’s website appears in can have massive implications for how many potential clients or customers land on your site.
Business owners need to take notice of how well their website is ranking if they want to generate leads this way.
Google’s new algorithm change
On August 25th Google released a new update to the algorithm it uses to rank websites on its result page. It’s called the “Helpful Content Update”.
According to Google the update is designed to “better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience”. The search engine behemoth wants to reward content creators who “create content for people, not for search engines”, whilst acknowledging that “SEO is a helpful activity when it’s applied to people-first content”.
Why has this update been released by Google?
You might be forgiven for thinking that the Helpful Content Update sounds unnecessary. Surely, any good content writer is aiming to add value to their users when they land on their site?
But some clever folks have learned that writing content for keywords that have a high search volume can improve their website’s ranking, even if that content is on a topic that has nothing to do with the industry their website is aligned with.
How would this work in practice? Well, a website for a commercial cleaning company could write an article on “how many teaspoons in a tablespoon?” (a search query that has 14,800 searches per month in the UK by the way) to try and gain some of the traffic from this keyword. They could gain up to 14,800 new visitors that way!
However, how many teaspoons in a tablespoon has virtually nothing to do with the cleaning industry at all. Their prospects are not going to be looking for that kind of information on their website. But in including the content on their site, they would increase their own website’s position on the results pages due to all the traffic it would generate.
There are also sites out there that use this technique to write about a jumble of topics, with the sole aim to sell advertising space.
Whilst this practice is not the worst SEO cheat, it is certainly against the spirit of Google’s guidelines. There are some huge publications using this strategy to maintain their prominence in the search results. It is this practice that Google wants to stop.
Whilst the content creators at major online publications might be baulking at the thought of all their hard work being undone, there are those of us who manage more humble websites jumping for joy.
Our own conviction has always been to put the user’s experience at the forefront of any website we design or piece of content we release. We believe that Google’s Helpful Content Update is a welcome improvement for small and medium businesses for several reasons.
- It rewards those who know their target audience
So many companies who throw up websites full of articles that have nothing to do with their niche are doing it to monetise them. These websites are often choc-full of adverts that interrupt the user in spectacular ways. They have no care for their target audience, but simply seek to get eyes on the page.
Legitimate businesses, who care about their clients and seek provide products and services that add real value to their lives are generally those companies who spend the time building a strong understanding of their target audience.
The new update will reward their effort to write content that answers the questions that their target audience has. Ultimately, those who know their target audience best, could make big gains in the digital marketplace once the Helpful Content Update has been rolled out.
- It rewards human-written content
Google does talk about how websites who use AI content (that is, content written by computers, not humans) will be negatively affected by the new update. It says “extensive automation” should be a sign that you are taking a search engine-first approach.
Some are suggesting that any use of AI on your site could lead to it being penalised. But we think this is not strictly true. Google’s inclusion of the term “extensive” suggests that AI can be used effectively is small doses, so long as a human copywriter edits it thoroughly.
Websites who are churning out thousands of AI articles should feel the pinch. It should be SMEs who write their content directly from their own experiences within their niche, who feel the benefit.
- It rewards those who have expertise in their niche
The new update should also favour business owners who write insightful thought leadership pieces that demonstrate their industry expertise.
For example, an electrician writing a detailed, high-quality piece of content about the importance of Residual Current Devices (a safety device within fuse boards in case you’re not in the know!) should in theory feel the benefit of the update and rank higher, bringing in more traffic and therefore more leads.
- It should bring equitability
SMEs often have a very limited budget for content marketing. Websites that can afford to write thousands of articles about high volume keywords that don’t have anything to do with their website’s niche have made it almost impossible for small companies to make significant progress in their Search Engine Ranking Position on the results pages.
Whilst those with large budgets will still be able to produce more content and fund large paid ad campaigns, the fact that they cannot mine keywords that could be more relevant to other industries and smaller businesses should make things fairer.
If the keywords are relevant for your niche, you should have a chance at being able to rank for them.
The Helpful Content update should level things up
Google’s latest update is designed to put the user at the centre of the search experience. It should, in theory, act as a form of levelling up. Smaller businesses should be able to rank for things that they have expertise in, rather than being constantly outstripped by companies with bigger marketing budgets.
We think that it is a welcome addition to Google’s search algorithm, and we are hopeful that SMEs will feel the benefit going forward. Now let’s see if the update delivers on its promises!