The December HCU Has Changed SERPs As We Know It
In August 2022, Google announced the Helpful Content Update (HCU), which was suspected to be their biggest update to search in years and focused on rewarding websites in search results pages (SERPs) that had unique and helpful copy that wasn’t solely made for SEO purposes.
At the time, many marketers were worried that this update was going to have a massive impact on the websites they manage. However, this was not fully the case, and it seems as if Google felt more was needed, since a few months later in December they released an update to the Helpful Content system.
This new update finished rolling out in mid-January, and it appears this time Google got the job done, as major changes can now be seen in search results.
Let’s examine what changed and how you can improve your site for the HCU.
What Did the Latest Helpful Content Update Change?
Per Google, the December 2022 update to the HCU was centered around improving Google’s classifier for identifying helpful, and unhelpful, content. It also enabled the update to impact all languages across the globe. This graphic from Marie Haynes sums up what types of content Google now values, and in turn de-values:
[Important note: Haynes further explains that ads on your site are not the sole reason why your site might be deemed unhelpful, but you may get classified this way if the ad placement doesn’t allow the user to quickly navigate to the content they want.]
What is Unhelpful Content (in Google’s Eyes)?
In their documentation, Google notes how you can evaluate your site to see if your content meets its quality standards. Based on their list, we can derive that Google doesn’t want:
- Unoriginal content without unique research, analysis, and reporting that doesn’t go beyond the obvious and isn’t rewriting or copying other sources
- Content that has been mass-produced and is being replicated on other pages or websites
- Websites that attempt to be experts in many topics for the sake of search engines, while also showing no proof that the authors have experience or expertise
- Content that doesn’t provide substantial value to users, and includes errors factually and in its spelling and styling
- Sites that aren’t compatible with mobile devices and with ads that interfere with a user’s experience
Is the Release of HCU Related to AI?
While we all wish we could be a fly on the wall inside Google’s headquarters, we can only speculate why Google decided to release this update when it did. However, is it no secret that AI has become more popular during the same time frame as the release of the Helpful Content Updates.
Since their arrival, tools such as Chat GPT and Bing’s new AI search have been hot topics in the SEO community. Putting two and two together, it can be safe to assume the growing popularity of such AI tools has only pushed Google further to make human-made, quality content their first priority.
If you want to know more about how Google views AI-generated content, be sure to read their recently released guidance on AI.
4 Tips on How to Revise Your Pages for the Helpful Content Update
- Search for yourself – While various keyword tracking tools can show you where you rank for your key terms, they likely won’t show you the types of content that rank above you. Manually searching for your key terms and evaluating the content of competitors ranking above you lets you see firsthand what type of content Google is valuing and can help you understand how you need to pivot.
- Answer the question at hand – Put yourself in the shoes of the searcher and ensure that you are clearly answering relevant questions about the service, product, or topic. Make sure this content is front and center of your page and is easily findable by whoever lands on your site. Including relevant and specific FAQs is also a great way to ensure that the searcher will find the answer they’re looking for, and more.
- Make bio pages for authors – If you don’t have them already, make sure you create pages on your site for the authors of your content and include information that highlights their knowledge and expertise for your site’s focus. Be sure to then link to them within the page copy. This way, not only can Google digest the information, but it will also supply solid proof for users.
- Provide useful, helpful content – Even though it may be obvious to post content that’s helpful, it might not always come naturally as you write. Take a second look at what is on your pages and ask yourself questions such as:
- Does this content provide tips, advice, or the like for the topic at hand?
- Am I using my expertise to show authority in what is written?
- Is this content unique to the topic, and not something that can be applied to any topic?
If you end up having to change or update your content based on the above, be sure your updates are not only applied to the body copy, but to your headers and metadata too. If you have the time and resources, maybe even supplement with new photos, videos, or infographics.