helpful content

What is Helpful Content? A Guide to Google’s Helpful Content Updates

You might ask yourself: “Helpful content? Who’s creating UNhelpful content?” Believe it or not, there are many websites out there designed to exploit Google’s ranking algorithms to make a quick buck.

Some good news: If you’re already concerned about keeping your website helpful, you probably don’t need to be concerned about these algorithm changes. Most established sites with dedicated SEO strategies are already generating helpful content.

Still, Google’s ongoing updates to its Helpful Content System can impact even the most helpful sites. This is why it’s so important to stay up-to-date on changing algorithms and search trends. As new algorithm updates roll out and Google’s ranking strategy continues to evolve, even the most established sites should remain focused on producing high-quality content.

Read more about Google’s Helpful Content Update below and learn how to use these updates to earn an organic boost for your website.

What is the Helpful Content Update?

In August 2022, Google rolled out its first algorithm update focused on promoting helpful content. The Helpful Content System, a suite of ranking factors Google uses to determine the “helpfulness” of content, was designed to improve the search landscape by:

  1. Elevating content that searchers find most informative, and 
  2. Flagging for penalty any content that doesn’t offer value to searchers.

An important note: Helpful content is a site-wide signal, meaning that any unhelpful content on your site can impact your entire site’s performance.

Since that first roll out, two other iterations of the Helpful Content System have been introduced, with the most recent edition coming live in September 2023. And with so much buzz around the system to this day, it seems likely that an emphasis on helpful content will remain relevant for the long term.

What is Helpful Content?

As defined by Google, helpful content is “original, helpful content created for people.” Generally, this means that your site content answers the questions that searchers are asking in Google Search and leaves a visitor feeling satisfied after visiting your site.

Experts at Search Engine Land have identified four main factors to consider when determining whether a site’s content is helpful:

  1. Content is designed with a specific purpose and audience in mind.
  2. Content relies on (and makes prominent) expertise on the topic.
  3. Content is trustworthy and credible.
  4. Content is designed to help searchers find what they’re looking for.

Keeping these factors in mind when developing new content, or auditing existing webpages, ensures that your site benefits searchers, maintains its search rankings, and drives more organic traffic.

4 Major Factors That Make for Helpful Content

Google has made it very clear that its Helpful Content System exists to meet the needs of searchers. But without clear guidance, it can be very difficult to know exactly how to judge your site’s content quality. These four criteria can help SEOs and content creators to understand exactly what that requires.

1. Designed for a Specific Audience

Optimizing a site for SEO is often a numbers game. Content marketers are always looking for high-search volume keywords to target, while remaining in a level of competition that makes sense for their brand and allows them to rank.

However, while a robust and varied content repository is important to have, sites must still be careful to “stay in their lane.” For example, if my website is about photography, I shouldn’t be writing articles about toy cars. It’s too far from the core topic of my site, and my target audience isn’t coming to my website to learn about toy cars.

Your website should have one, clear focus. Broadening your content base in that space is fine, but moving into completely different verticals can signal that your site is more focused on ranking for more keywords than helping your audience find what they’re looking for. And at the end of the day, writing content for people is most important anyways. Building winning content strategies requires a clear focus and robust supporting articles.

This is why the popular pillar page strategy is so effective. A list of target keywords is broken into distinct topic clusters, and each topic cluster is then mapped to a unique blog article designed to rank for only those keywords. Pillar pages are those pages targeting a high-search-volume topic cluster core to the site’s purpose. This strategy allows your blog to cover more ground while staying focused on its main area of expertise.

2. Utilizes Expertise

Google has always placed an emphasis on real expertise when ranking content. In the early days, this meant the .gov and .edu sites got a leg up on many searches, as they were seen as more likely to be experts in their respective spaces.

Now, search engines look for content that refers to or quotes experts. My blog article about photography shot composure could have perfectly-optimized meta tags and content, but might still struggle to rank. Including a quote from an expert photographer, or linking out to their blog, can give my content a boost in rankings.

Additionally, first-hand expertise is incredibly valuable. If my blog article includes reviews of popular cameras, including proof that I have used each of the cameras I’m reviewing, my article will likely rank prominently. Google promotes content that relies on first-hand experience, so including any mentions of this can be incredibly powerful, especially in instances of review content.

Search engines want to see that content marketers are doing their research and getting their facts from reputable sources. Featuring this expertise in your content can therefore have large payoffs.

3. Trustworthy and Credible

Similar to the use of expertise, search engines want to feature content that searchers can trust. The same blog article published by two sources can rank differently based on the source’s reputation and established credibility.

This factor is a bit more difficult to impact than the others. Moz, creator of powerful SEO tools and an SEO thought leader, developed their Domain Authority score to measure this exact factor. A site’s Domain Authority is based on the site’s overall credibility, measured mainly by the number and quality of backlinks pointing to the site.

While Domain Authority can be difficult to quickly improve, writing articles on topics that your brand is known for can be a great way to ensure you’re getting the most out of your content. High-quality, authoritative, shareable content is more likely to attract backlinks from other domains, lending a boost to your site’s Domain Authority.

4. Helping Searchers Find What They’re Looking For

This last point may seem obvious, but it represents the core of Google’s Helpful Content System. Keeping your content focused on the altruistic purpose of the internet, helping users find information based on their search query, can be the best way to make sure your content ranks well.

So how do you do this?

Write content for people, content that gives useful information concisely. Avoid burying answers to questions in paragraphs of text, and make it clear, to search engines and people, what they can expect to find on each page. Your goal is to provide users with a satisfying experience, so consider your audience’s perspective when developing copy.

Why Should You Care About Helpful Content?

In addition to helping keep the web a productive and efficient place, keeping your website full of helpful content can have plenty of performance benefits. Helpful content is more likely to rank well for its target keywords, leading to more search traffic and more conversions.

With recent announcements and advances, many are wondering how AI will revolutionize content marketing. When deciding whether or not to use AI-generated content on your website, it’s wise to keep helpful content in mind.

While Google has made no mention of how AI content may impact helpfulness, keeping these four factors in mind when producing any new content will benefit your site. As Google has stated: “If you see AI as an essential way to help you produce content that is helpful and original, it might be useful to consider. If you see AI as an inexpensive, easy way to game search engine rankings, then no [you should not use AI to generate content].”

Want to learn more about these strategies and our comprehensive SEO services? Reach out to the team at