What Does Google’s ‘Helpful Content’ Update Mean For Scientific Content?

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Have you heard about Google’s Helpful Content update, but not sure what it means? I take a look and break it down.

What Does The Update Say?

If you are involved in content production in any way, I recommend you take 5 minutes of your time to read the full post.

But to summarise, Google is keen to ensure that its search engines users find content that is original, helpful and provides a people-first focus.

There are two key points you should takeaway from the post:

  1. Focus on people-first content
  2. Avoid creating content for search engines first

In reaction to this, Google is releasing this Google Search update – starting next week (22nd August onwards) – that will introduce a new site-wide signal that becomes part of the Google Search algorithm.

This update started around the 25th August (2022) and was estimated to be full rolled out worldwide within a fortnight, although this was not confirmed. If you are reading this now, you can expect the update to be fully implemented.

What Has Prompted This Update?

For Google to make money as a business, it relies heavily on people using its search engine. With millions of people now using as a search engine, businesses from all sectors have learnt the value of SEO and how they can generate leads and sales with a content-focused SEO strategy.

Unfortunately, for many years, this has led some businesses to abuse SEO best practices, which has resulted in low quality content, with many users claiming that Google search quality has declined.

It is likely that Google knows this / strives to continually improve, and they are making a concerted effort to provide the best quality search results from the best content available on the internet.

With that in mind, Google is making a public effort to remove or demote content shown on its search results pages, and encouraging content writers, SEO teams and website teams to comply with Google’s intentions.

When it comes to ‘low quality’ content, you can consider some of the following examples:

Re-Spun Content

Re-spun content refers to using other content verbatim, or making marginal changes that add no value to existing content.

This is like me taking the blog post that Google published, and simply copying and pasting it here.

Although it can be tempting to produce a piece of content purely to target certain keywords, you should not be doing so if this is not somehow related to your business, services or products, or you simply don’t have the expertise or credentials to be doing so.

Generally speaking, if you are producing content that is basically a summary of other content available elsewhere, or writing something that you don’t really know much about, then this might be at your detriment.

Programmatic Content

There is a field of SEO called ‘programmatic SEO’. This is where you can use automation to quickly produce many pages of similar content for the purposes of ranking for as many keywords as possible.

For example, I could publish multiple versions of my services page, which uses the same content with slight modifications, such as the following:

  • Digital Marketing Services for Diagnostic Manufacturers
  • Digital Marketing Services for Pharmaceuticals
  • Digital Marketing Services for Biotech
  • Digital Marketing Services for Medical Devices
  • Digital Marketing Services for Biopharmacy
  • etc

If you are interested in learning more about this approach, I suggest you read this article about general programmatic SEO.

This is more of a concern for businesses that use programmatic SEO for vast ecommerce platforms. Although it can be implemented in a way that adds real value, it can be easily abused for negative results.

AI Content

If you are a content producer, you’ve probably seen the vast number of tools now available that offer written content by AI, tools such as ChatGPT, Jasper and CopyAI for example. This means you can give these tools a subject or keyword and receive words quicker than a human could write them.

Fortunately, I don’t come across much scientific content written by AI, so this is probably less of a concern for scientific content producers.

If you have used a strategy that uses one or more of the above tactics, you may want to quickly assess the quality of your content.

How To Assess The Quality Of Your Content

To try and understand the quality of your own content, the Google post recommends that you assess your website’s content by the following points:

  • 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?
  • 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 our guidance for core updates and for product reviews?

In addition to this, Google recommends that you reevaluate your SEO-focused content to help you determine whether your SEO approach correlates with a people-first approach:

  • 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 trending 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?

If you answer yes to some or all questions, you may find that your website content has already been impacted, but even if not, you should spend some time going back and reviewing your existing content.

Some Best Practices Moving Forward

Prior to the update being rolled out, I recommend that content marketers use the following points as a framework to plan your life science content marketing efforts:

  • Review your existing content using tools such as Google Search Console and Google Analytics
  • Update content that you identify as adding little to no value, otherwise delete it completely
  • Write new content primarily for your audience first, then focus on SEO optimisations second
  • Write new content about sectors you work or serve in only
  • Demonstrate your credentials as an author – reference your past experience and qualifications – inline with EAT principles
  • Where you can’t demonstrate your credentials, find experts or sources that you can reference (correctly)
  • Or find expert life science writers to help you!

After seeing very little impact in the way of this update, the suggested actions above are what I continue to recommend.

If you think that you may be negatively impacted by the update – or you already have been – then you should spend time to properly assess your scientific content strategy, using the above guidance. It may be a case that you consider removing, or updating content so that it complies with these best practices.

Although this is the first update to be announced, it is likely that Google will continue to focus on content-intent, whether they announce specific algorithm updates in the future or not.

If you are looking to create new content with an SEO focus, you should spend additional time really assessing the quality and impact that your content will have on your audience. It doesn’t mean that you need to deprioritise SEO any time soon, but focus on quality over quantity always.

If you are still confused, and don’t know what this update means, or how it’s affecting your content, or you need some scientific content that conforms to Google guidelines, get in contact with me and I am happy to help out where possible.