What Does Google’s ‘Helpful Content Update’ Mean for NZ Businesses?

Succeeding as a modern business in New Zealand is about getting on Google’s good side.

The reasons are simple: when a potential customer is looking for a product or service that you offer, they’ll start their search online. And boasting well over 90% of the market share in New Zealand, Google will inevitably be that search engine.

Fun fact: by far the most popular search term on Bing, New Zealand’s second-most popular search engine, is ‘Google’.

Getting to the top of Google’s search engine results page (SERP) for relevant search queries is a game of pleasing the Google algorithm – the calculation that decides how to rank billions of results of which your website is just one. The Google algorithm is a closely guarded secret, though search engine optimisation (SEO) experts use trial and error to understand what is most important to it.

Google also drops hints from time to time, usually when an important update to the algorithm is made. And in mid-August 2022, such an update, and subsequent hints about algorithm changes, were announced.

In this article we’ll take a close look at what Google calls the ‘Helpful Content Update’: what it is, how it changes things, and what Kiwi business owners need to do to make the most of it.

Building content for search engines, not people

Google has one goal above all others: to be the search engine of choice for the world. To do this it must offer users the best, most relevant results possible. That sounds simple enough, but unfortunately for Google, its success has in some ways become its Achilles heel.

Because Google is really the only search engine that matters, many websites are designed around what people think Google wants, not what visitors want. In an ideal world what Google and your target audience wants, will be one and the same, but in practice, they can actually be quite different.

Take ‘rich results’: the featured content snippets that often sit at the top of the SERP, the ‘People Also Ask’ section that sits halfway down the page, the Wikipedia box that is sometimes found on the right-hand side. This is valuable SERP real estate, so many websites have been designed in a way that increases the likelihood of being featured as one of these rich results.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always enhance the experience of actually visiting said website. The content can feel clunky because it’s essentially designed for bots instead of people.

Google has recognised this problem and developed a solution: the Helpful Content Update.

What is Google’s Helpful Content Update?

On 18 August 2022, Google announced the introduction of what it called the ‘Helpful Content Update’: an effort to refocus websites on content that visitors, not bots, will find interesting and useful.

“We work hard to make sure the pages we show on Search are as helpful and relevant as possible,” Google said in a blog post. “We know people don’t find content helpful if it seems like it was designed to attract clicks rather than inform readers. So starting next week for English users globally, we’re rolling out a series of improvements to Search to make it easier for people to find helpful content made by, and for, people.”

The update has been designed to deal with content that has been created with the explicit intent of ranking in search engines.

Google offers an example: say a new movie has piqued your interest, so you Google it to find out what it’s about and whether it’s worth seeing. Before the Helpful Content Update, you probably would’ve been served a lot of articles that aggregated reviews, but offered no new insights or perspectives. After the update you’re now more likely to be directed to new, authentic and interesting reviews from people who offer unique perspectives on the film.

How will the Helpful Content Update affect NZ business owners?

What does this update mean for website owners in New Zealand? If you’ve been crafting content with search engines in mind, you should adjust your process to focus more on appealing to your target audience.

An example from us at Traction Marketing: we usually use an SEO tool to guide the creation of our on-site content, like our blog. It suggests keywords, headings, links and other elements that it feels Google would like to see included in the blog or article based on the topic we’re focusing on. But for the article you’re reading right now, we’ve completely done away with the tool, focusing instead on what we feel you, the reader, will find most valuable.

Based on the hints that Google has so far dropped about the update, here are a few tips on how to create more helpful content for your audience:

1. Lean on areas of expertise

As a business owner, you will have expertise in your field, industry or vertical – knowledge that many potential customers will find valuable. The key to attracting visitors to your website is leaning on this expertise. Focus on creating high-quality content that deals with subjects that sit within your niche.

Demonstrate that you have first-hand experience in the topic you’re covering. Offer real-world examples, complete with images and videos wherever possible.

Coming up with content ideas can be surprisingly simple. What are your customers’ most frequently asked questions? Create a list of the topics your customers are most intrigued about, then develop content that answers their questions.

2. Offer unique perspectives

Further to concentrating on your areas of expertise, don’t be shy about sharing perspectives and opinions. If you genuinely feel as though your product or service is far superior to other offerings on the market, say so, and back your claims up with evidence.

Users are looking for unique content that tells them something that they didn’t know before. You can give them exactly that by offering your take. Add value that only you can add.

3. Aim to cover a topic completely

Don’t leave visitors looking for more information elsewhere – aim to create content that is a ‘one-stop shop’ for information on the topic at hand. You want your content to cover the subject matter completely, including sub-topics and associated questions that organically arise, though you don’t want to stray from your area of expertise.

Before you publish content, read it carefully and ask yourself:

  • Will my audience need to conduct another search to find more or better information on the topic from another source?
  • Am I trying to write a certain number of words because I believe Google wants me to?

Google doesn’t demand that you hit a predetermined word count. It instead analyses the content to see whether the subject has been covered adequately and in a way that will please users.

Top tips to avoid getting penalised

Every bit as important as knowing what to do is knowing what not to do. To produce truly helpful content you should:

1. Be wary of AI content creation

You may have heard about artificially intelligent content creation tools that can write thousands of words in seconds. It’s probably no coincidence that the Helpful Content Update has been released just as these tools are beginning to reach the mass market.

There are two main problems with using AI content creation tools after the release of the update:

  • They aren’t that good (yet): AI simply isn’t that great at producing high-quality content. There’s a long way to go before a mass-market tool can write as well as a human.
  • They are incapable of unique thought: AI gathers all available information together and then repackages it into a new piece of content. It is incapable of offering up the expertise and unique perspectives that Google and its users are looking for.

If you do choose to use an AI content creation tool, you’ll need to edit the content heavily to focus its intent, to make it more human and to add your expertise.

2. Don’t give an answer if there isn’t one

Some questions don’t yet have answers. If there’s an unanswerable question in a topic that you’re covering, you need to be upfront about that fact. Sure, you can offer an opinion informed by your expertise, but you need to make it clear that you’re theorising. Opinions and perspectives are only valuable if they are based on facts.

A simple example: you’re writing an article about an upcoming movie. A release date is yet to be announced, but as a movie expert, you can look at the post-production schedule and historical trends to offer up an educated guess on when it might hit cinemas. If you do, you need to make it clear to your audience that it’s a guess.

3. Avoid generic content

You may feel like you need to cover the same topics as your competitors, but you should avoid publishing content that has been covered ad nauseum unless you can add something new.

Take our industry as an example. Every digital marketing agency – including us – feels compelled to write an article titled ‘What is SEO?’ or something similar. That’s fine, as long as the piece of content is written for our specific target audience, not for the Google algorithm, as doing the latter will mean we’re competing with thousands if not millions of other articles, and that the content has less chance of reaching the eyes of our potential customers.

4. Avoid topics that lay beyond your niche

If you develop content for Google, not users, you’ll find yourself straying from your field of expertise as you blindly chase high-volume keyword opportunities. It could be that content built around these keywords attracts plenty of visitors to your site… the problem is that they won’t be your target audience.

Let’s say you have a small candle business. Because you feature a lot of herbs, spices and fruit extracts in your products, your SEO tool tells you that food recipe content will offer you a wealth of high-volume keyword opportunities. But chefs and home cooks aren’t your target audience – they’ll visit your site, look at the recipe, then leave.

Keep your content focused on your niche to ensure you attract an audience that is interested in what you offer.

Get help from the experts

Google’s Helpful Content Update is really saying a single, simple thing: ignore us and focus on your audience

But this is easier in theory than it is in practice. Which is where we come in.

At Traction Marketing we make digital marketing simple. We help you to identify your audience, understand your niche, and create content that will attract and convert.

Our expert team brings a deep knowledge of the intricacies of search engines and content which we use to turbocharge the growth of Kiwi businesses.

Ready to create content that your audience finds truly helpful? We’re ready to help. Get in touch with our friendly team today.

About the Author: Chris Clarke

Chris leads our team of developers to deliver mobile apps and websites on time and on budget. No brand is too big or too small, having worked with the likes of British Gas, UK Police, Capgemini and some of our homegrown success stories like Streamliners and Ryman Healthcare. He thrives under pressure and loves a big hairy technical challenge.

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