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Google Raises the Bar for Content Quality
An AI writing assistant can be a great tool when it's used to supplement the skills of a talented, knowledgeable writer. Such tools can help you generate ideas, rework old pieces, and give you a foundation to build an article on.
Unfortunately, these programs are most often used to churn out lots of low-effort, low-quality content in the hopes of getting a better Google search ranking. In response to these attempts to game the system, Google has released a “Helpful Content Update.”
This update, which defines “helpful” and “unhelpful” content, is an attempt to raise the bar for content quality across the whole of the internet. And it’s not just a set of guidelines websites can choose to follow. This update will change the way Google ranks websites by analyzing whether a website contains helpful content created with a “people-first” focus or unhelpful content produced just to achieve a higher search ranking.
In Google’s words, the goal of this update is “to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.” In order to be a successful search engine, Google has to be consistently pointing people to the most appropriate answers to their questions. If there’s a lot of unhelpful stuff showing up in searches simply because it exploits the SEO algorithm, Google is not providing the best service it can to its users. Obviously this isn’t out of a sense of altruism. Google wants its users to be satisfied with the results their search engine gives them. If they’re not satisfied, they just might move to a different search engine.
When users are directed to sites that value SEO above creating helpful content, they often leave unsatisfied. Privileging SEO may bump you up in the search results, but users aren’t sticking around to actually buy anything. And let’s face it: people who spend enough time online know when an article has been written to be actually helpful and when it has been written to just turn up in a search result. It can not only turn people away; it can frustrate them and make them actively hostile to your brand.
Part of this problem is that we’ve decided to think about everything on the internet in terms of “content.” The word “content” itself reduces articles, blog posts, product reviews and descriptions, and written information in general to just stuff to fill up a page and show up in search engines, like so much bread used to fill out a meatloaf. Consumers will show up expecting a juicy meatloaf, but when they see nothing but unhelpful, semi-coherent “content” made for SEO purposes, they’ll leave just as quickly as they arrived, wondering where the actual meat is. So Google’s advice is to create “people-first content”: content that focuses first on being satisfying, with SEO as a secondary concern.
Putting People First
Under this new system, there will be less of an incentive to put SEO concerns before helping people find what they are looking for, as Google will derank content deemed unhelpful and boost content deemed helpful.
The best way to create helpful content is to think not in terms of page views, search rankings, and high-value SEO keywords, but to see your business as one person trying to communicate with another. SEO can drive traffic to your page, but are you getting the right kind of traffic? Are you bringing in people who want to be there? People can buy their jewelry anywhere, but they will choose you if you build a rapport with them.
You do this by creating content, first of all, that is authentic. Authentic content is written in the voice of your brand, speaking directly to the types of consumers you know will love what you’re offering. Your content demonstrates what you’re interested in, where your expertise lies, and how all of that benefits the consumer.
If you do this, the right customers will find you. They’re already out there looking for you; there’s no reason to stuff your content with unhelpful keywords just because they’ve been identified as popular. You certainly can use SEO to figure out exactly how to phrase certain things, or to gain insight on how consumers are finding brands or products like yours. The goal is to approach content creation not as “stuff” to fill out a website and check some SEO boxes but as an opportunity to connect and communicate. That is the power of the written word. You’re doing a disservice to yourself and your business if you’re not producing content honestly and authentically.
None of this is to say that SEO itself is bad, wrong, or unethical. Just like AI writing tools, how you use it determines its ethicality. After reading over the Google SEO best practices, can you say that you are creating content that benefits human beings or content for search engines?