Google’s new helpful content update is meant to reward content that is written for humans.
So how exactly does Googe define “helpful content”?
In short, according to Google, helpful content:
- Is created for a specific audience.
- Features expertise.
- Is trustworthy and credible.
- Meets the want(s) or need(s) of the searcher.
This is important to know because your definition of “helpful content” is likely different from Google’s.
Here’s everything we know about what Google considers helpful content.
What is helpful content?
Google’s guidance around helpful content generally breaks down into four areas. Helpful content:
1. Is created for a specific audience
- Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you? (HCU)
- Does your site have a primary purpose or focus? (HCU)
- Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans? (HCU)
- Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results? (HCU)
- Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics? (HCU)
- Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines? (CU)
- Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience? (HCU)
- 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). (HCU)
- Evaluate the product from a user’s perspective. (PRU)
2. Features expertise
- Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well? (CU)
- 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)? (HCU)
- Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious? (CU)
- If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality? (CU)
- Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care? (CU)
- Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results? (CU)
- Are you mainly summarizing what others have to say without adding much value? (HCU)
- Did you decide to enter some niche topic area without any real expertise, but instead mainly because you thought you’d get search traffic? (HCU)
- Demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about the products reviewed – show you are an expert. (PRU)
- Discuss the benefits and drawbacks of a particular product, based on your own original research. (PRU)
- Describe how a product has evolved from previous models or releases to provide improvements, address issues, or otherwise help users in making a purchase decision. (PRU)
- Identify key decision-making factors for the product’s category and how the product performs in those areas (for example, a car review might determine that fuel economy, safety, and handling are key decision-making factors and rate performance in those areas). (PRU)
- Describe key choices in how a product has been designed and their effect on the users beyond what the manufacturer says. (PRU)
- When recommending a product as the best overall or the best for a certain purpose, include why you consider that product the best, with first-hand supporting evidence. (PRU)
3. Is trustworthy and credible
- Would you trust the information presented in this article? (PU)
- Does the content present information in a way that makes you want to trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the expertise involved, background about the author or the site that publishes it, such as through links to an author page or a site’s About page? (CU)
- If you researched the site producing the content, would you come away with an impression that it is well-trusted or widely-recognized as an authority on its topic?
- Does the content have any easily-verified factual errors? (CU)
- Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to your money or your life? (CU)
- Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis? (CU)
- Does the content provide a substantial, complete or comprehensive description of the topic? (CU)
- Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content? (CU)
- Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerating or shocking in nature? (CU)
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? (CU)
- Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book? (CU)
- Does the content have any spelling or stylistic issues? (CU)
- Was the content produced well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced? (CU)
- Does the content have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content? (CU)
- Provide evidence such as visuals, audio, or other links of your own experience with the product, to support your expertise and reinforce the authenticity of your review. (PRU)
- Share quantitative measurements about how a product measures up in various categories of performance. (PRU)
- Explain what sets a product apart from its competitors. (PRU)
- Cover comparable products to consider, or explain which products might be best for certain uses or circumstances. (PRU)
- Include links to other useful resources (your own or from other sites) to help a reader make a decision. (PRU)
- Consider including links to multiple sellers to give the reader the option to purchase from their merchant of choice. (PRU)
4. Meets the want(s) or need(s) of the searcher
- After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal? (HCU)
- Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience? (HCU)
- Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources? (HCU)
- 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? (HCU)
- Does content display well for mobile devices when viewed on them? (CU)
- Ensure there is enough useful content in your ranked lists for them to stand on their own, even if you choose to write separate in-depth single product reviews for each recommended product. (PRU)
- Would users complain when they see pages from this site? (PU)
Digging deeper into intent
There are the classic search intents you likely know (informational, navigational, transactional), but also several micro-intents you should think about when creating content.
Google has broken down search behavior into four “moments” in the past:
- I want to know. People searching for information or inspiration.
- I want to go. People searching for a product or service in their area.
- I want to do. People searching for how-tos.
- I want to buy. People who are ready to make a purchase
The QRG breaks down user intent into these categories:
- Know query: To find information on a topic. Some of which are Know Simple queries (i.e., queries that have a specific answer, like a fact, diagram, etc.)
- Do query: When the user is trying to accomplish a goal or engage in an activity.
- Website query: When the user is looking for a specific website or webpage
- Visit-in-person query: Some of which are looking for a specific business or organization, some of which are looking for a category of businesses.
Additionally, search behavior is driven by six needs, according to a 2019 Think With Google article:
- Surprise Me: Search is fun and entertaining. It is extensive with many unique iterations.
- Thrill Me: Search is a quick adventure to find new things. It is brief, with just a few words and minimal back-button use.
- Impress Me: Search is about influencing and winning. It is laser-focused, using specific phrases.
- Educate Me: Search is about competence and control. It is thorough: reviews, ratings, comparisons, etc.
- Reassure Me: Search is about simplicity, comfort, and trust. It is uncomplicated and more likely to include questions.
- Help Me: Search is about connecting and practicality. It is to-the-point, and more likely to mention family or location.
One final way to think about audience intent is Avinash Kaushik’s See, Think, Do, Care framework. Though it’s not “official” Google advice specific to an algorithm update, Kaushik was Google’s Digital Marketing Evangelist when he wrote this.
Google highlights ‘helpful content’ in featured snippets
The term “helpful content” rarely shows up on Google’s documentation. But it does show up on Google’s How Search Works page, in reference to Featured Snippets:
“Featured snippets are where we prominently display a page’s description — what we call a snippet. We use this format when our systems determine it might help people more easily discover what they’re seeking, both from the description and when they click on the link to read the page itself. It’s especially helpful for those on mobile or searching by voice.”
Google wants to help searchers find the answer or information they are looking for as quickly as possible – sometimes without ever leaving the search results page.
Your content should be the best answer that someone is searching for.
In short: helpful content should be the best answer – and provide that answer as quickly as possible.