Earlier this year, Google launched the ‘helpful content update’ (HCU) across its search products. The goal? To more efficiently flag and penalise the most egregious SEO content, and discourage site owners from adopting deceptive practices in their efforts to increase organic traffic.
Search Engines vs. Circumventions
Among SEO professionals, the initial response to Alphabet’s announcement was mixed. To those more prone to pessimism, the move signalled the death knell for SEO writing as we know it; the more pragmatic, meanwhile, shrugged it off as the latest in a long line of soon-to-be-forgotten updates to the Google algorithm.
Whilst it is still early days, at the time of writing there are indications that some of the more panicked responses may have been overblown. Research by Search Engine Land indicates that—so far—only a small number of categories have been meaningfully impacted by the changes (specifically, those of “ringtones, coding and lyrics pages”).
The End of the (SEO) World As We Know It?
Despite this encouraging data, the HCU has served as a timely reminder that, as always, Google is committed to prioritising quality over quantity when it comes to web page content. If nothing else, it seems that as time goes on, those looking to write content that is SEO-friendly will have to possess an increasingly sophisticated—and increasingly technical—understanding of search engine bots, search queries, meta descriptions, and the like.
Importantly, however, by no means do these updates signal the end of SEO copywriting. Rather, they show an enhanced need to focus on quality website content. Professional SEO content writers should be looking for new methods of producing high-quality articles at scale—articles that tick the technological boxes for lead generation and page ranking, but which are first and foremost composed of insightful, rewarding, and engaging content.
The Big Questions
What, then, does quality content look like in the post-HCU world? How can we ensure that our articles are not only ‘helpful’ but also effectively SEO-optimized? What do these changes mean for the role of the SEO copywriter? What steps should brands take to adapt their existing content if they want to continue to direct traffic from organic search?
For this blog, our content marketing specialists have pulled apart Google’s new guidelines to give you an insight into the new challenges and opportunities faced by the SEO copywriting industry. Whether you’re a site owner or an SEO content writer, read on for our ‘helpful’ guide—sorry!—to staying ahead of the curve.
Google’s “Helpful” Guide to SEO Copywriting
Before we dive deep into the HCU, it’s important to remember that Google is not opposed to search engine optimization in all instances. The company has published guidelines on optimizing content for search engine results page (SERP) rankings, detailing best practices for writing content, generating appropriate headings, finding title tags, and improving page speed.
The point is, there are still plenty of legitimate methods for optimizing your website’s ranking—it’s just that, from now on, there will be an increased effort to sniff out a few of the more dubious and unscrupulous. And in truth, for expert writers and established white hat SEO content writer teams, the update will have little impact on how they prioritise SEO-friendly materials. Quality has always been the keyword when it comes to content writing for web pages; the HCU may mean tweaking the strategies employed for generating organic traffic, but it does not mean a complete overhaul.
So, what exactly is ‘helpful content’, and how do you ensure your website is compliant? Let’s take a look in more detail:
“Is the content primarily to attract people from search engines, rather than made for humans?”
For SEO writing services, this is a tricky subject. Naturally, the job of an SEO writer is to reach more customers and produce more organic traffic through website copy that ranks highly on quality SERPs. Isn’t there a fundamental contradiction here?
Yes and no. The ultimate goal is to make sure your SEO articles do not look like SEO articles to web crawlers; and it just so happens the best way to achieve this is by producing content with a specific audience and purpose in mind.
Confused? Think of it this way: you can still produce content which is produced primarily to attract people from search engines, just so long as the content itself is also made for humans. Replace “rather” in the above statement with “and”—see what we mean?
“Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?”
This is aimed at site owners who adopt a ‘throw enough mud at the wall’ content strategy. We’ve long discouraged our clients from adopting this technique, as though it may result in more web traffic in the short term, this traffic is rarely qualified and rarely converts. When it does produce genuine leads from legitimate site visitors, they’re frequently turned off by the low quality of the landing page content.
Increasingly, Google’s algorithms will be taking a holistic view of site and blog content—if it deems your blog posts and site content is too disparate, it will penalise SERP rankings across the board. It’s important to remember that the focus should be on quality over quantity when it comes to your website’s content—it’s much better to have a small number of well-written and informative long-form articles than a large number of poorly written ones.
“Are you using extensive automation to produce content on many topics?”
This is becoming a major issue for publishers and users alike, as lazy SEO writers increasingly lean on artificial intelligence for writing blog posts and articles at scale and with minimal care, effort, or attention. The result is badly written web copy, often with a great deal of inaccuracy, blatant keyphrase stuffing, copied product descriptions, irrelevant featured snippets, and little consideration—if any—paid to audience interest or search intent.
The solution for businesses is to ensure the content writer/s you utilise are transparent in their use of AI. Many expert writers rely on the technology to produce and efficiently write content, but only because they have the skill to do so without sacrificing on quality, accuracy, or human connection.
“Are you mainly summarising what others have to say without adding much value?”
Search engines are designed to surface the most innovative and original content on the web—if you’re just regurgitating other people’s ideas to attract more traffic, you’re not going to cut it with Google’s algorithms.
Naturally, if you retain the services of an external SEO content writing agency, they will have to rely on the material of other websites to produce your content. A freelance SEO writer or agency content writer won’t have your industry expertise, and you shouldn’t have to teach them the ins and outs of your business to feel confident in the material they produce.
To address this, you need to choose a content-writing service with sophisticated research skills and the ability to quickly synthesise and distil information. This means they can identify and incorporate the most innovative and valuable ideas from a variety of sources into your content, without plagiarising or regurgitating the work of others.
“Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience?”
It’s extremely tempting for SEO content writers to produce blog articles and social media posts based on whatever is currently trending. Unfortunately, this kind of opportunistic content is usually quickly forgotten about—it doesn’t do anything to establish your brand as an authority on the topic, and it offers little value to your existing audience.
Whilst there are significant opportunities to boost search rankings and organic visibility based on fresh topics, you should do so only as part of a wider content strategy. When you’re planning your site’s content, it’s important to consider how each piece will contribute to your overall goals. If an article or post doesn’t fit with your brand voice or target audience, it’s probably not worth writing (no matter how popular the topic may be in the moment).
“Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?”
Bounce rate is one of the most important metrics we use when assessing the efficacy of our clients’ SEO content. If the website traffic we direct to your landing pages and blog articles immediately head back to the SERPs that sent them there, it’s a sign that our content isn’t meeting user needs or search intent.
For this reason, we stress to site owners the importance of ensuring an article fulfils the promise of its headline—if not, a page is likely to see a high bounce rate as people click away in frustration. A good headline will accurately reflect the content of the article, piquing curiosity and offering value without over-promising.
“Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (No, we don’t).”
This is a common misconception and one that often leads to lower-quality content as writers try to hit an arbitrary word count target. Similarly, the traditional approach of stuffing a blog post with as many relevant keywords as possible is also no longer effective. Not only will this make your content difficult to read, but it will also be picked up by Google’s algorithms as keyword stuffing—a black hat SEO tactic that will result in your site being penalised.
SEO content writing should be structured around effective keyword analysis and powerful insight software that successfully investigates the impact of length, paragraphs, and number of headings on producing more traffic. Such tools are designed to structure optimized content which also results in an engaging experience for the user.
How Does a Professional SEO Content Writing Service Do It Differently?
For the record, the team at The Bank are in favour of Google’s updates. High-quality content benefits everyone, and as a content writing agency that prides itself on working with experienced writers and a professional team of SEO experts, we’re more than ready to embrace these changes for the benefit of our clients.
We don’t look towards cheap tactics for beating the system—our SEO practices are based on quality, pride, ingenuity, and collaboration. Here’s how we break it down:
We work closely with our clients to understand their goals, brand guidelines, digital marketing strategies, and existing website content. This means SEO copy ‘makes sense’ as part of the site and the brand as a whole.
We develop short- and long-form content strategies that boost marketing efforts across paid and organic channels and help clients establish a meaningful tone of voice to be leveraged across their customer-facing materials (whether for blog writing, press releases, or digital marketing copy).
When it comes to strategy, an effective approach to SEO target keyword research is a key factor for success.
This means leveraging a range of powerful software and data analytics, and—more importantly—an intuitive understanding of user intent, and the best ways to develop content that will generate leads from quality users. We believe keyword ideas are just as important as keyword analysis, and it is this belief that forms the bedrock of our content marketing.
Brands looking for SEO content writing will need to prioritise professional writers above all else for producing authoritative and rewarding material that encourages engagement and minimises bounce rates.
Our in-house SEO writing team blend productivity with quality to offer maximum value to clients. We also offer unlimited revisions to ensure they are fully happy with all the material we produce—its accuracy, its meaning, and its messaging.
The Bank leverages the most powerful SEO content marketing software to structure and optimize all the material we produce. This means our clients can be confident that their blogs, articles, web copy, and press releases are all working together to achieve improved SERP rankings.
We also work with a range of online marketing experts who help us develop and implement bespoke SEO strategies for our clients. This ensures they are getting the most out of their investment in quality content.
From on-page optimization to the building of internal links, SEO writing services need to have a technical team on hand to ensure all the right boxes are being ticked
This includes ensuring fast loading times and mobile-friendliness, as well as making sure that Google can index your site’s content without any difficulty. Meta description, title tag, and featured snippet materials will all be relevant and optimized, from the first page of your website down to the most historic blog post.
The Bank: Future-Proof SEO Content Writing Services That Maximise Visibility on the Search Engine Results Pages That Matter to You
If you’re looking to increase brand awareness, build thought leadership, or simply improve your SEO ranking, our team at The Bank can help with the entire process.
Our services are designed to produce quality content that meets the needs of both your audience and Google’s algorithms. We can help you to future-proof your website with a long-term strategy that evolves as the web does.