Affiliate Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links, if you click a link and make a purchase I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.
Hey Reader — it’s Joe (Niche Campus)
Heads up: This article was a newsletter that originally went to my email list, long before it ever shows up on this blog.
You can join 2,636 other folks in getting my newsletter content every week and before you'll find it here! Subscribe today 👇
Google’s “helpful” content update (HCU) has worked its magic.
We’re now in the middle of a spam update and a core update, simultaneously.
Most post-HCU impact has already been felt for bloggers and site owners.
It was pretty harsh for a lot of us.
There has been plenty of talk and opinions about what Google is actually considering from this latest update.
Now that the dust has settled…
I think it’s a good time to tell you what I think are the three key discoveries to learn from.
1️⃣ “Helpful” discovery 1: Poor content pulls down your overall rank
The first and probably most important realization is that a few pieces of crap content could really harm your overall ranking potential.
Google has effectively been saying the same this year and it’s one of the few things I think we should actually be listening to (from Google).
Essentially having just a few pages that are notably poor quality and unhelpful could be harming your entire site.
I’ve noticed this first-hand for myself and it’s why I’ve been working so hard this year to update hundreds of articles on my own site to ensure they are actually useful.
It makes a lot of sense, too, in the AI content landscape.
Bloggers can now publish hundreds, even thousands, or articles in a fraction of the time as before.
AI content has the potential to be very cleverly manufactured with on-page SEO and keywords that makes it have a boost of initial rankings.
But that could obviously mean that content which is still poor is ranking and giving a bad user experience to Googlers.
Page experience, time on page, and user happiness are all good indicators to Google to help them rank the page better (higher or lower) but they aren’t the only metrics to identify what is worth ranking.
While this isn’t proven in any way; it makes me consider if a user having a poor experience with one of your crappy (AI or not) pages is what is going to equal a degraded ranking potential for every other page on a site.
This is one of the ways they are handling AI mass sites. It’s fine if they are helpful pages, but as soon as some are not; Google will degrade your site to clean up search faster.
Google makes it appear that they scan the quality of written content of pages and analyze it for “helpfulness”—but a lot of SEOs argue that this is simply impossible to consider processing costs of billions of pages on the web.
But what Google CAN and DOES constantly monitor is simpler metrics like how much time a user is on a page without bouncing and when they do bounce are they clicking on other Google results or making new searches.
Ergo… did your page give them what they want and answer all their questions/wonderings without having to go anywhere else? And did you entertain them enough to hang on the page while doing it?
Maybe that’s all it takes for a page to be considered helpful.
And if it doesn’t do those things well, then it isn’t helpful.
And there’s your negative flag applied by Google: this one page isn’t very helpful therefore the rest of your site probably can’t be trusted as being helpful.
My theory is that Google pulls together the metrics of each page to decide if it’s helpful. One unhelpful page could have a negative effect and several or many of them adds a multiplier to that effect.
So what do you do about it?
Well, find out which of your pages are the most unhelpful. And then make them helpful.
There are many ways of considering/deciding what those pages are, and here are a few to research on your own site:
- Time on page, per page
- Bounce rate per page
- Which pages have the lowest amount of impressions in the last 3 months (GSC)
- Which pages aren’t getting clicks and have a lower avg position for its main keywords in the last 3 months (GSC)
- Old pages that haven’t been updated in a long while
I’d say start with lowest impressions and do what you can to improve those pages.
Google already doesn’t like to show them much and you might even have indexing issues appearing.
2️⃣ “Helpful” discovery 2: Spammy affiliate and ads use causes problems
While there may be more correlation than exact causation, there is a commonality amongst blogs that were suffering from the HCU.
That includes sites I have personally reviewed of my own, friends, and clients.
The thing I keep seeing is an overuse of either ad placements or affiliate links.
Sometimes, the affiliate links use was a total spam parade.
It’s perfectly fine to talk about a product and then make an intentional CTA with an affiliate link button.
Because it makes sense to be there and it’s clear to the user where they are going if they click the button.
But hiding affiliate links in contextual anchor text links can be almost like a spam-tactic; trying to get a click just to get your Amazon cookie set.
That isn’t pleasant for the user and it surely has some impact from a Google analysis POV. It’s not helping the user, it’s irritating them.
The other thing is the ads.
A lot of sites these days use ads to an overwhelming degree.
A lot of the time, that’s because bloggers don’t have full control over their ads or the technical skills to clean things up.
And other times, it’s pure complacency.
The key is to review your own site regularly from an incognito browser and while using a VPN if you need to. View it from desktop and from mobile.
Get comfortable with understanding the experience of your site/blog.
I can’t tell you how many sites I’ve reviewed that have ads running on homepages, about pages, privacy policies, category archives, etc—it’s mind-blowing!
If there’s ads literally on every single page of your website even when it makes no sense, surely that’s another spam issue? It isn’t helpful whatsoever.
I don’t believe that “lots of ads” equals a HCU hit like some have suggested, but I certainly don’t think it doesn’t play some small part in understanding a site’s overall usefulness to the user.
3️⃣ “Helpful” discovery 3: Off-page entities still matter the most
With all the obsession over “EEAT” and “helpful content”, Google is giggling happily.
They want everyone to believe what they say is pure SEO gold and how all site owners should act in creating content.
And the Twitterverse/X-sphere has been talking non-stop about these two factors for more than a year. Especially as soon as the HCU update came in and people’s sites were dropping 40-70%.
The reality of SEO is often different from Google’s virtue-signalling documentation.
Off-page entities are still the most important piece of SEO.
And what does that mean?
It means links.
But it also means “mentions”.
And related entity matching.
So let’s say your name is Jessica Poodle. And you run a blog named Doggie Delights. It’s about raw dog treats.
Having backlinks to your site is important. Of course. Writing great content to attract natural links and also working on some PR to get in front of journalists/notable bloggers also helps to get the links.
But mentions about your personal name as well as your brand name are also going to play a part.
Because Google knows that doggiedelights.com (your domain name) is the same as “Doggie Delights” the brand.
And it also understands that “Jessica Poodle” is the same as author of the brand.
Or does it? Well, only if you give Google a reason to.
You have to get your brand referenced around the internet and your author name, too, also will help.
So when reddituser98 starts talking about the raw turkey treat they read about on a blog called Doggie Delights, Google will know they’re talking about you.
And when Newsweek quotes your blog and mentions Doggie Delights as a source (but doesn’t give you a link, because Newsweek rarely does like many big sites); Google knows they’re talking about your brand.
When you’ve created something so unique that is blows up on social media and your brand gets talked about, Google knows it’s about you.
If you’ve ever experimented with social media and had something ‘pop off’ you’ll have noticed how it quickly has a positive effect on Google rankings.
You need to imagine Google’s brain as similar to the web of the internet.
And Google’s brain uses a similar connection pattern-matching web-like structure.
It is making links (or, threads between the web) between entities. Objects of meaning spread out over the web.
And the more those entities/objects are mentioned/references, the more important/bigger they become. The easier you can see them amongst the web and the more Google can give you automatic trust.
When SEOs are now talking about “be a brand” what they often don’t realize is they are saying “get talked about on the internet.”
If you are unique, original, interesting, entertaining, engaging, inspiring… you invariably win the trust of real people who want to talk about you and reference you.
This is more than a backlink. It’s being a brand worth discussing because you offer something significant.
Google knows when people are talking about you.
And THAT is why YouTube-ing, podcasting, interviewing, and generally entertaining or uniquely informing the internet works (“being a brand”)—signals are being sent to Google like crazy town!
Reminder, I’m offering discovery calls where you can tell me about your site and what you’re struggling with and get free actionable advice with no obligations…