Oct 27, 2022
On August 25, Google began implementing the Helpful Content Update, which is designed to prioritize content online that prioritizes the user’s benefit rather than promoting products and services or ranking for specific keywords.
For many SEO veterans, this presents a drastic paradigm shift in the way that content strategies are developed and implemented. Adding blogs or pages to a website can no longer be treated like a checklist activity. Instead, digging deep for real value is the new name of the game.
If you’re wondering how your agency team can best adapt to this new update, then you’ve arrived at the right place. Today, we’re going to provide you with a thorough overview of the Google Helpful Content Update so that you can offer your client the best deliverables possible in this new era of SEO content marketing.
First, let’s dive deep and explore what “people-first” content actually means.
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What is People-First Content?
The new people-first content model considers the content portfolio across an entire website; not just specific blog posts or product/service pages. It uses a machine-learning model that involves a new signal that Google can use to determine its rankings for content on the web.
As explained by Google, “people-first” content refers to content that:
Satisfies a user’s need for information or provides a high-quality answer to a question they have
Demonstrates authority and deep knowledge in a particular product category, industry, or profession
Complements your website’s primary purpose for existing
Educates the visitor on a specific topic
Thankfully, this new people-first approach to content does not throw all SEO copywriting best practices out the window. Factors like the technical health of the website, high-opportunity keywords, and proper logical content flow all still do play an instrumental role in competing for desirable organic rankings.
However, these principles are now riding shotgun to the content’s usefulness and authority to a user. For example, if someone is searching how to repair their dishwasher, the website with the best information will be considered more worthy of higher rankings by Google’s algorithms than a website that optimizes for the keyword with very little information about how to actually fix your appliance.
Prior to the Helpful Content Update, the traditional approach involved writing what appealed most to search engine algorithms. This often involved completing a checklist that satisfied specific elements like keywords, H1 headings, word counts, and links taking the focus over the substance of the text on the page.
Now with the roles reversed, Google does still care about these technical aspects, but the algorithm is now more aware of the tactics many SEO pros have used to capture its interests over time.
A central concept behind the Helpful Content Update is that if your content is considered genuinely helpful to users searching for terms relevant to your client’s business, Google will take notice of that. The algorithm has sophisticated enough discernment to separate a genuine “how-to” article from one that has a brief tutorial nestled into a blog post that largely promotes a business’s own products and services.
So, Can I Not Promote My Client on Their Own Website?
The Helpful Content Update did not erase self-promotion completely. After all, you need to be able to speak to your client’s unique value in their market or industry to drive leads and other key performance actions (KPAs) for their campaigns.
This paradigm shift toward helpful information places further emphasis on the need for a greater balance between helpful and promotional content. Of all the content on your client’s website, more than half of it should focus on providing helpful information with little-to-no promotional interest while the lesser percentage can directly highlight products and services they offer.
Let’s return to the appliance example for a minute.
Your client owns an appliance sales and repair business in your area. They want to increase the number of calls and contact form fills that they receive for their repair services.
You decide to write a blog post about repairing upper spray arms in dishwashers. This is something that an appliance repair professional can perform for you, but it is also something that someone could do on their own if they have the right parts.
Prior to the helpful content update, you may have often seen articles that have a paragraph like this:
“Attach the new spray arm into position and twist it to lock it in place. Or, if you are having difficulty with this, you can call us at XYZ Appliance Repair in Bayville, NJ to do it for you.”
Now, Google’s algorithm can determine that this traditional bait-and-switch tactic is a blatant attempt to convert leads in the middle of a piece of content that gives off an initial impression that it will provide a helpful answer to a question for the user.
Instead, here is a Helpful Content Update-friendly alternative to the example paragraph above:
“Attach the new spray arm into position and twist it counterclockwise to lock it in place. If you are having difficulty with this, start by double-checking your parts number to ensure you have the right replacement spray arm for your appliance. You may also need to try attaching it multiple times before it clicks.”
In that paragraph above, you are providing more valuable content to the user without shoehorning a promotion into the copy. If someone in your local market does not want to fix the appliance themselves, they have already decided on calling a business like the one your client owns to repair their dishwasher.
Alternatively, if your client’s business offers a solution along with the answer to the question, these can be combined for a more subtler and helpful middle ground.
Here’s a third option that combines the two approaches:
“Attach the new spray arm into position and twist it counterclockwise to lock it in place. If you are having difficulty with this, start by double-checking your parts number to ensure you have the right replacement spray arm for your appliance. If you need a different replacement spray arm, you can browse the ones we have in stock here.”
How is this different from the other two? This third version of the paragraph starts with real, useful information that the user can use independently of the business hosting the content. However, if they determine that they do need a new spray arm for their dishwasher, they can click a convenient link to another page on the same website that lists products that can be purchased from your client.
For those that decide they do want guidance for their own DIY dishwasher repair, they are still driving quality traffic to your client’s website because they have searched for terms that align with the website’s keyword strategy. This indicates to Google that their website is about appliances and appliance repair because people who are searching for these types of terms are clicking.
Obviously, though, your client would still probably like to add some level of promotion in the content they are hosting on their website. That is understandable, but it should be saved for moments where it will be most impactful.
For example, here are some tasteful ways to include self-promotion in a helpful article:
Mention your client’s business name, location, and services at the end of the conclusion section of the blog with a link to contact them.
Include an easy click-to-call or contact us button in the navigation menu of the website
List your client’s business information like address, email, phone number, and hours in the footer
Post your helpful content to your client’s Google Business Profile, which already contains most of their relevant business information
Share your client’s content on industry relevant forums and social media communities online to answer other users’ questions
Include a clickable button in the blog post with a CTA to contact the client’s business
Revisit old content and update it to be more people-friendly in its tone and scope
Merging Traditional SEO Content Strategy with Helpful Content
As we mentioned above, Google’s Helpful Content Update does not mean that you should throw away all other SEO best practices. Keywords, formatting, and backend technical health all still play important roles.
Though Google does not actually abide by preferred word counts when determining rankings for content, a general rule of thumb is often that blogs and service pages that are at least approximately 500 words or longer will offer a richer depth of information to the user.
When conducting an SEO campaign for your client, merging technical and content-driven strategies can equip their website to remain viable and competitive within their industry or local market. A two-pronged approach will ensure that every aspect of the content’s performance is considered when preparing it to go live on the website.
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To learn more about how you can position your agency for better opportunities, contact us today to schedule a 20-minute call.