What marketers need to know about Google’s helpful content update
I’m glad to be back writing my newsletter the week prior to sending. I took a break from the (at times tiring) process of producing fresh content each week over the summer. But rather than stray from a weekly newsletter, which I’ve done since 2008, I cued up pre-produced batched content for the summer at the end of June, and then put the schedule on auto pilot to enjoy some time at the cabin. That’s the high value placed on consistency, which is key to ensuring content marketing works over the long run. Admittedly it’s a challenge faced by many bloggers, podcasters, video publishers and newsletter authors – how so best take a break.
Good content marketing is free – and it just got more valuable!
Content marketing is the strategy of creating original, valuable, free content that your ideal customer wants to consume. Content marketing is great because it’s free – except for your time to create it, it’s evergreen – forever on the internet able to be searched and found, it creates trust and credibility – which leads to sales, its shareable – what’s not to love about third party marketing done for you?, and it comes from a place of generosity – which is magnetic, especially in the crowded space of paid ads.
Content marketing is a long term play, but incredibly worthwhile, and with the latest update by Google, it just got even more valuable. Search has always rewarded marketers who have the patience to build content and serve an audience over time. It’s just that for many in our “instant gratification driven society’, there is a lack of patience to pursue the strategy.
Well if you ever needed a reason to reconsider producing consistent, helpful, original content, as a way to market (for FREE) your business, Google just served it up to you on a patter called “the helpful content update.”
Google’s latest SEO update favors original content creators
There is a lot happening with AI right now, in particular the ability to utilize AI tools to write and produce content on mass. This, combined with the long-standing practice on many sites to key word stuff content, or only produce content for prominent page ranking, has prompted Google to make a major update to the way their algorithm works. They’re trying to get ahead of things and ensure the value of Google search remains strong. The latest update will focus on people-first content and put less value on content created primarily for search engines.
Let’s break down what that actually means, and why you should care…
Google wants to reward searchers with helpful content. For content producers, that means writing or producing videos that real people will consume and value, not just rank in search. Of course SEO and keywords still matter a lot, but only when combined with valuable content. Google classifies valuable content as something specifically created for an intended or existing audience, which clearly demonstrates first-hand experience, expertise and knowledge. The update also appears to favor not only quality but quantity – exhaustive enough that a reader or viewer would feel they’ve learned enough to achieve a goal, or have had a satisfying experience. While exhaustive content will obviously vary by topic, research shows that posts of 2,000 words out perform content of brevity. Tied to all of this on the back end is consistency too. It appears the update favors content from sites where the topic and target audience is a consistent primary focus.
Avoiding search engine first content
Google has been quick to say that basic SEO practices are still valid of course, but only when applied to people-first content. Practices that will be penalized include: using automation to produce content, producing lots of content on different topics – for different audiences – trying to game search, summarizing others thoughts without adding your own value, writing on a niche or trending topic without knowledge and experience, shallow coverage – leaving readers searching for more, or not actually delivering on the promise of the headline in your content.
The changes started to roll out the week of August 22, and will continue over a two-week period. I would expect further tweaks will take place after that. As a content producer, I would suggest doing an inventory to monitor posts, videos and site traffic during this time. Also do a Google search on topics you want to rank for and see where your content falls. Then monitor weekly shifts over the next month. For fun, Google your own name and see what shows up too. You may be surprised how things have shifted.
What changes have I noticed?
We’re only in the first week, but anecdotally, I’ve noticed a few things already. Overall, they have been extremely positive. Perhaps some of the crap ranking high in the past has already been tossed, allowing quality to surface?
- Previously ranked page one blog posts for key words are still on page one. That is the case for at least a half dozen CarryOnQueen.com posts, and in some cases the post is now #1 or #2. That’s certainly reassuring. Over at Fiveminutemarketing.com I have been less focused on key words, since the site has a different content objective. But it too appears positively impacted – likely more because of the massive body of work over the last 16 years, and quality back links.
- Published content on other sites, especially those with authority has rocketed up in search. They’ve definitely given some weight to third party endorsement. Published books – even stuff from 2010 and 2013 on Amazon are prominent now. If you’ve ever written for a national newspaper or been interviewed by media, there’s a good chance that is now ranking high too. For example, a travel article I wrote for the Vancouver Sun last year now appears as authored in the National Post, the Edmonton Journal and the Windsor Star – on page #2 of search!!. It’s a Postmedia thing to be sure, with the sharing of content, but amusing none the less since I had no idea my content was being read in those publications. Do I mind? Heck no – it’s occupying valuable and authority rich search results! Past CBC interviews as video, and older podcast interviews now show up too. Although my conclusion might be premature, this update could definitely favor actively pursuing earned media and publicity, since that external media endorsement appears to have additional weight now.
- Social media accounts always showed up in search – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, but now it appears TikTok and listed videos are part of search and placing high too. That’s new and certainly something to keep in mind if you’ve dismissed TikTok in the past. As its own video search engine, it is now being ranked on Google – somewhat curious since it competes directly with YouTube shorts, owned by Google. Overall though, it just means you should pay attention to how you show up on social accounts, in particular if you have one that is dormant – it might be showing up on page two of results!
- YouTube is a search engine more than a social platform, and since it’s owned by Google, it continues to figure prominently in search. If you have a channel, expect it to show up in page #1 or #2 of results now if it didn’t before. Also expect your videos to show up well in content search, since I suspect Google will want to favor their own channel content over TikTok in the long run, now that they are indexing TikTok content in search. I’m speculating here, but ownership has long tentacles.
- I’ve also noticed that high ranking content with embedded videos has increased video views on my YouTube channel (presumably the result of views within the post increasing) I’ve yet to see a noticeable difference in post views linked from video views first on the YouTube channel, but I will be monitoring that, since I suspect the tie will work both ways. A favorable outcome regardless.
- If you’re a podcaster, you should likely pay attention to the new trend towards videoing your podcast segments and interviews and posting them to your YouTube channel. A number of leading podcasters are doing this – and it’s an excellent way to ensure content is indexed in a general Google search, which expands the reach dramatically beyond platforms like iTunes and Spotify which function in their own ecosystem. This latest shift in search from Google to favor original, knowledgeable content, will only accelerate the effectiveness of this strategy. I’ve also seen a post-Covid trend towards filming podcast with a “live audience” online, to take questions, and provide additional value to community members.According to Google the classifier process is entirely automated using a machine-learning model, and will take several months to shake out removing unhelpful content. The classifier will also run continuously, allowing it to index new content and new sites.If you’ve been playing the content game well, this is likely all good news. If you’re tired of dumping money into Facebook and Instagram ads, or chasing an algorithm, perhaps it’s time to consider original content as a pillar strategy.
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Mary Charleson, is a marketing speaker, educator and strategist. She is the author of www.fiveminutemarketing.com blog and weekly newsletter, featuring marketing tips, served up like a personable chat with a caring friend over coffee. She has authored two books: Word of Mouth Mouse & Mobile and Five-Minute Marketing. Mary is a CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), a designation through NSA (National Speakers Association) held be fewer than 12% of speakers globally. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and the Global Speakers Federation. Subscribe to Mary’s Weekly Five-Minute Marketing Tips.