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Understanding the Helpful Content Update. Are You and Your Content Helpful?

Aug 29, 2022   |   Google Update, SEO
Understanding the Helpful Content Update

By Erik Newton, VP of Marketing, Milestone Inc.

If you are just asking yourself this question now, the answer may be no. If you have been using generic or curated content or using your blog to publish too many product and company selfies, the answer may be no.

Are you answering customer and prospect questions, providing guidance, and solving problems? If yes, then that’s helpful.

I have said many times that Google is not changing what it is doing, it is getting closer to the goal it has always been promising: to connect high-quality content with searcher intent.

Rolling out now is the Helpful Content Update or HCU, and it could be a major one.

So what is helpful content? It is content that answers the reader’s question or solves the reader’s problem. Remember, every search query is a question and every search listing is an answer. Be the best answer, and Google will send traffic your way.

Helpful content is:

  • Written for humans first. Google has been stipulating this for years. Do what is best for the reader and Google will usually reward you for it. Writing for humans means you spend some time listening to the people and understanding what questions they have. This is outside-in marketing and keyword research. The search query volume indicates what the readers are asking Google to help them find. Examples of writing for the search bot instead of the human include all the no-nos that have been addressed in the major named algorithms that thwarted keyword stuffing and duplicate or borrowed content. Use your human empathy to understand the reader’s questions and problems; machines can’t do that yet.
  • Created for a specific audience. This means you have a reader persona in mind that you are trying to help with most of the content you produce. This could be home renter, a small business, a car buyer, a software engineer, an SEO practitioner, or digital marketer. Google is indicating that it has the ability to understand the focus and consistency of content on the page and on adjacent entities and pages.
  • Features expertise and experience with the topic, offers original information or research or findings. Use your most well-known and authoritative executives and subject matter experts as writing personas and bylines. Consider adding a blurb about the author at the end of the article also. See my byline above and my blurb below.
  • Using a headline that correctly describes the article without being misleading or sensational. No one likes clickbait; or does everyone like it? I sometimes boycott clickbaity headlines even though I want to see the amazing thing I won’t believe that comes next. It turns out I won’t be able to believe how many pages of ads I will have to see to find out what my favorite childhood actor looks like now.
  • Provides content that answers questions and leaves the reader more informed and capable of reaching their goal. Milestone’s research department tracks the proportion of SERPs that FAQ Rich Results and sees it playing a significant and consistent role at 12-14% of SERPs.
  • Is comprehensive for the topics and entities that Google deems as most important. Google has its own proprietary methods for collecting data and classifying that data into entities and topics. These clues are released through Google search results and partner data sources. Your site should be including these same topics and entities.
  • Is unique. Right before Google released information on the Google Helpful Content update, their team also released important notes and information in regard to Content Gain scores. This is a measurement of how much unique content your site has in comparison to competitors.  This is on the basis that the more helpful AND unique your content is the more value it will have for users.
  • Is factually accurate. Ensure that your essential facts and data points align with resources with higher page value. Resource: Google Patent for Fact Checking source articles: (

It may be useful to look at what Google considers unhelpful content:

  • Covering too many and unrelated topics.
  • Overusing machine-generated text
  • Shallow explanations that would make users search again
  • Covering trends because they are hot and not part of what you normally cover
  • Writing on topics where you have no real expertise

As a point of reference featured snippets typically highlight helpful content, so look at the content that is featured there and emulate the content and approach. Milestone sees Featured Snippets on about 3% of SERPs.

So where does that leave marketers planning to create content? Make sure your content contributes something new, unqiue, and very useful.

  • If your writer is a subject matter expert, they are likely part of the target persona, so guide your calendar and brief planning by having them write something they want to read.
  • Do some research or a survey or at a minimum curate content that helps your reader understand the topic. Everyone talks about experiments and A/B testing. Do a few on your website or social before you write your piece and share the findings with the audience.
  • Use the question and answer format. Embed the questions and answers in the content pages and add schema markup.
  • Develop a how-to or multi-step framework and add the HowTo schemas to that section of the article.
  • Custom images and graphics are way more helpful than stock photos. It takes more time but will help your content stand out.
  • Do your internal and external linking to be even more helpful to the reader finding more helpful content.
  • Rich media, pictures, videos, and graphics are helpful to understanding. Add the rich media schemas and get better visibility with rich results in the SERPs.

Answering searcher questions is undoubtedly helpful. To enable companies to deploy an effective FAQ content strategy, Milestone offers FAQ Manager, a breakthrough product solution for curating questions, organizing the best answers, and distributing those consistent answers across multiple points of contact, like the website, chatbots, and voice assistants.

Voice Search Optimization and FAQ Manager

Customers that use an effective FAQ strategy, see a significant lift in rank, CTR, FAQ impressions and traffic and lift in engagement and revenue.

Creating clarity on existing content will help the search engines understand the helpfulness and utility of the content. Using schemas is helpful because it disambiguates content and entities, and Google rewards that effort with visibility in Top Stories, Recipes, HowTos, Images, Featured Snippets, FAQ Rich Results, and more.

Research shows a 20-30% lift in traffic, especially for rich media, with an effective deployment of schemas.

Milestone Schema Manager enables companies to efficiently tag, deploy, and maintain schemas with a no-code platform. It offers a unique tracking solution to measure and report the impact and return on schema markup efforts. See a partial list of our successful schema case study deployments.

Advanced Website Schema Markup for Search Presence

Milestone POV: If you have been using white hat best practices to plan, create, and deploy your content, this updaet will not impact you that much. Make sure any machine-assisted content generation is fully integrated by a human editor. Review existing content and improve weaker material or 301 redirect it to a more helpful page. Understand your users’ questions and needs and write to answer them.

Milestone increases acquisition by enhancing digital experience and increasing content visibility. Contact us at [email protected] or call us at 408-200-2211

Erik Newton has been working in SEO and digital marketing since 1999. He is a frequent webinar and podcast speaker and published more than 165 blogs and 12 research reports on SEO.

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