Google's Helpful Content Update: Another Step Toward Better User Experience

Last updated on Dec 23rd, 2022 | 4 min

Update: Google has officially rebranded the Webmaster Guidelines as "Google Search Essentials." We've gathered everything you need to know at the bottom of the article (jump straight to it).

After releasing the Core Web Vitals in 2021, Google is now rolling out its "helpful content update" — another major step toward providing all users with a better experience.

The rollout began on August 25th, and it's expected to take up to two weeks.

John Mueller Tweet

This content update has already been compared to other algorithm updates like Penguin and Panda, which altered the way SEO experts and content creators produce and optimize content.

Barry Schwartz Tweet

This isn't just a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things. It's something that's expected to change the SERP drastically. 

Read on to learn more about the upcoming changes and how to prepare yourself for them.


What is Google's helpful content update?

Google's helpful content update will introduce a new sitewide signal that will be considered when building the SERP.

The signal will target content that has been primarily created for search engines and ranking as high as possible (also known as SEO-first content) rather than being helpful and providing people with the best information possible (people-first content). 

As Google said:

"This ranking update will help make sure that unoriginal, low-quality content doesn't rank highly in Search, and our testing has found it will especially improve results related to online education, as well as arts and entertainment, shopping, and tech-related content."

For now, the signal will impact global searches in English, but we can expect to expand to other languages as well:

"We plan to extend to other languages in the future." 


How to Produce People-First Content and Avoid Writing for Search Engines

Before we move on to the questions that will guide you in producing helpful content, we should clarify:

You shouldn't mistake applying SEO best practices for producing SEO-first content. Using popular SEO techniques is still an essential part of your content strategy. As Google suggests:

"Our advice about having a people-first approach does not invalidate following SEO best practices, such as those covered in Google's own SEO guide. SEO is a helpful activity when it's applied to people-first content."

To apply the people-first approach 100% of the time, make sure that your content checks the following boxes:

  • Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if it came directly to you?
  • Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?
  • Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
  • After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they've learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
  • Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they've had a satisfying experience?
  • Are you keeping in mind Google's guidance for core updates and for product reviews?


On top of that, you should aim to answer NO to all questions below. Otherwise, you’re focusing on satisfying search engines rather than people:

  • Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?
  • Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
  • Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?
  • Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value?
  • Are you writing about things simply because they seem to trend and not because you'd write about them otherwise for your existing audience?
  • Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?
  • Are you writing to a particular word count because you've heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (No, we don't).
  • Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you'd get search traffic?
  • Does your content promise to answer a question that actually has no answer, such as suggesting there's a release date for a product, movie, or TV show when one isn't confirmed?


Revisit these checklists whenever you work on a new content piece (or audit an existing one) to create content that Google ranks higher.


What to Do If Google Finds Your Content Unhelpful

TL;DR: You should either remove your unhelpful content or update it into a valuable resource following Google’s guidelines.

The bad news is that if Google classifies your site as one with high amounts of unhelpful content, all of it (people-first content included) might take a hit and perform worse in SERP.

I said might because, as Google said in their documentation:

"Some people-first content on sites classified as having unhelpful content could still rank well if there are other signals identifying that people-first content as helpful and relevant to a query."

Nevertheless, sites with lots of unhelpful content will notice a stronger negative effect. 

The good news is that the helpful content update is another signal that will be added to many of the others that Google uses to rank pages. It isn't a penalty, spam, or manual action. You won't see it listed in your Google Search Console. 

And more importantly - Google's classifier for this update runs continuously. This means that if you take care of your unhelpful content, the classification can be dropped in the future. 

So going back to the question at hand - the best two ways to deal with a situation where your site is classified as unhelpful is to:

  1. Remove all unhelpful content from your site (which could help the rankings of your other content)
  2. Update your unhelpful content following Google's guidelines

If you think your content has been wrongly classified as unhelpful, you can use the feedback form for this update.


Content is King, but Look Out for Your Site's UX

When the Core Web Vitals were first introduced, everyone thought they would be the new standard, and if you want your site to rank well, you need to pass them all. 

We're now in a similar situation where the upcoming update is expected to change the game entirely. 

However, a quote from John Mueller on Core Web Vitals' importance from 2020 fits today's situation perfectly:

"In general, we (Google) prioritize pages with the best information overall even if some aspects of page experience are sub-par. A good page experience doesn't override having great, relevant content."

Producing valuable and informative content will always be a rock-solid strategy for ranking well in SERP. 

However, with CWV, and the new helpful content update, Google hints at a future that belongs to those who can strike the right balance between excellent user experience and high-quality content.

And while we cannot produce content for you, NitroPack can optimize the path to better site performance and UX – easily what people struggle with the most.

Luckily, with NitroPack, everything happens automatically.

Our product will take care of your site's performance, allowing you to pass your Core Web Vitals, improve user experience, and ultimately - increase conversions. 

No coding or tech skills are required. It will take you no more than 3 minutes to add NitroPack to your site, and we take it from there! 

You can test your website with NitroPack and see the results for yourself.


New Website Tester - NitroPack


October 2022 Update: Google Webmaster Guidelines are now Google Search Essentials

Google has officially rebranded the Webmaster Guidelines as "Google Search Essentials." 

The reason behind this decision was that Google wanted to present all site owners with a "refreshed, simplified version of the Webmaster Guidelines" to give them an overview of best practices when it came to building a site:

Google Search Essentials tweet

On top of that, for the last couple of years, Google has been gradually removing "webmaster" as a term from its branding (e.g., "Google Webmaster Central" is now "Google Search Central."), saying that it's a dated term that doesn't include all content creators.

But apart from the name, what's different about Google Search Essentials?

Well, nothing has fundamentally changed. 

The whole information included in former Webmaster Guidelines has been separated into three categories:

  • Technical requirements: What Google needs from a web page to show it in Google Search.
  • Spam policies: The behaviors and tactics that can lead to lower ranking or being completely omitted from Google Search results.
  • Key best practices: The main things that can help improve how your site appears in Google Search results.

And each category includes links that redirect to Google's best practices and requirements.

But the best part is that the page's content was rewritten by Google's Search Quality team, using precise language and specific examples that are relevant in 2022.

Niko Kaleev
Web Performance Geek

Niko has 5+ years of experience turning those “it’s too technical for me” topics into “I can’t believe I get it” content pieces. He specializes in dissecting nuanced topics like Core Web Vitals, web performance metrics, and site speed optimization techniques. When he’s taking a breather from researching his next content piece, you’ll find him deep into the latest performance news.