Mar 21, 2024

How to Get Rewarded in Search with Original, Helpful Content

Billions of people search to find the best of what’s out there on the web every day. They want to find helpful, informative, and well-written

Billions of people search to find the best of what’s out there on the web every day. They want to find helpful, informative, and well-written content that provides the research and confidence to take action or make a purchase. The search engines continuously update their core systems to deliver helpful content and connect people with high-quality websites.

Throughout the years, Google has launched algorithm updates and systems to combat low-quality content and websites that use poor SEO practices such as thin content, link farming, and keyword stuffing to rank. The Helpful Content Update (HCU) – roiled out in late August 2022 - was an iteration that focused on demoting low-value content and rewarding helpful, people-first, relevant content.

In recent months, there has been a noticeable increase in AI-generated content optimized for SEO, aiming for higher Google rankings. This spike can be attributed to the accessibility and ease of AI tools capable of producing content that aligns with Google’s ranking guidelines.

Google is now cracking down on AI generated, SEO content and will start delisting them from its search results. Google’s new core update and algorithmic changes aim to further improve the quality and helpfulness of search results and reduce unoriginal content. The update also includes improved spam policies to keep the lowest-quality content out of Search, including expired websites repurposed as repositories by new owners.

Looking Back on Google’s Helpful Content Update  

Google’s Helpful Content Update aims to enhance user satisfaction and deliver valuable search experiences by prioritizing authentic, user-centric content. It demotes content written for search engines and rewards sites that demonstrate unique expertise, first-hand experience, and originality. With 57.8% of internet users using search to find information, websites that offer “helpful” content will be rewarded with visibility, more clicks and organic traffic.  

What characterizes helpful content?  

Google’s Helpful Content Update rewards content that demonstrates unique expertise and first-hand experience, which is considered especially helpful. Here is a checklist to follow:

  • Covers comprehensive information about a topic

  • Delivers on the body what you promised in the headline and meta title

  • Creates content people would like to bookmark, share and link to

  • Links to useful information on your own website and other authoritative sites

  • Focuses on people first content  

  • Meets user/audience expectations and intent

  • Provided an overall positive user experience, including content length, formatting, accessibility, and website usability, which are ranking factors.  

Google’s New Update Rewards Helpful, High-quality Content

Google continues to fine tune its ranking systems to reward original, people first content and reduce unhelpful content. The March 2024 update helps better understand if webpages are unhelpful, have a poor user experience or feel like they were created for search engines instead of people. The updates are expected to reduce low-quality content on search by 40% and send more traffic to helpful, high-quality sites.

  1. Reduce scaled content abuse: With AI and scaled content creation techniques more sophisticated, Google has strengthened its policy against using automation to generate low-quality or unoriginal content at scale to manipulate search rankings — whether automation, humans or both. Google will punish content with little to no value, like pages that pretend to have answers to popular searches but fail to deliver.  

  1. Keeping spam out of results: Google’s advanced spam fighting systems prevent the lowest-quality content from appearing in search results. The new spam policy updates better address new and evolving practices that lead to unoriginal, low-quality content showing up and allows a more targeted action.  

  1. Reduce site reputation abuse: Sometimes, websites host low-quality content provided by third parties with the goal of capitalizing on the hosting site's strong reputation. Such content ranking highly on Search can confuse or mislead visitors who may have different expectations. Google will now consider very low-value, third-party content produced primarily for ranking and without close oversight to be spam. This policy will be enforced starting May 5th and site owners are encouraged to make the needed changes.  

  1. Expired domain abuse: Expired domains purchased and repurposed with the intention of boosting the search ranking of low-quality content are considered spam.  

8 Steps to Creating Helpful Content in 2024

As search engines continue to work at showing information created to help people, your content and design strategy should focus on the user experience first. Businesses should seek to produce high-value content that seeks to inform, help, entertain, and match their audience's intent.

While people come first, Google’s search quality rater guidelines indicates that to rank well, your content must demonstrate a mix of experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) factors, which help Google identify content that is useful and trustworthy. Write for people first - the search engines will surface you and your audience will connect confidently with your business.

Here is an 8-step checklist to creating user-first content;

1. Create “User-First” Content

According to Google’s helpful content guide, content should sufficiently answer a user’s query, be written for people, not search engines, and be valuable and relevant to your audience.  

Here’s a checklist of what the Google Helpful Content Update considers to be people-first content:

  • Targeted towards a specific audience that will find it helpful

  • Demonstrates first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge

  • Has a primary focus and intent

  • Offers satisfactory information about a topic to help searchers achieve their goal

  • Establishes experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T)

  • Provides a rich user experience – organized topical text, images, graphics, etc.  

Creating user-first content is essential for improving your search ranking, but it’s also an opportunity to enhance your brand’s connection with people and earn loyal customers.  

2. Don’t Get Hung up on Keywords

While keywords are a necessary element of SEO, don’t force too many into your content. Your content should be a resource to provide helpful, relevant, and accurate information for users – not search engines.

Focus on a primary keyword that captures the topic well and incorporate it naturally throughout the page. Develop a topic cluster (secondary and tertiary terms) that supports the comprehensive subject and purpose of the content and guides the user journey. FAQs are an excellent way to add conversational content that answers related topics and can help surface in a generative search.  

3. Show Your Expertise and Experience

Delivering a consistent, valuable experience is the most effective way of attracting and retaining users. Stick to a niche and offer helpful information to show yourself as an authoritative voice that users will come back to.

Make sure to include subject matter expertise, real-life experiences, and authors (the who) to establish both expertise and trust. Reviews, videos, and FAQs with concise expert answers enhance the depth of knowledge conveyed and establish your content as an authority in the space.

4. Check the Facts for Accuracy

Misinformation spreads like wildfire on the Web and social media. That is why fact-checking your content, especially AI-generated content, must be an essential part of the content process.  

Users take the credibility of the brands and businesses they intend to purchase from seriously. In fact, 65% of consumers switch brand loyalties due to broken trust. Producing accurate, informative, and current content is key to gaining and retaining the trust of your users.

Misinformation not only hurts your reputation and user-first content efforts but may also have legal and ethical repercussions. Always verify the accuracy of the information you present using tools like Google’s Fact Check Explorer, as well as citing your sources, experts, and authors.

5. Demonstrate Authority with First-Hand Knowledge

The Google Helpful Content Update checklist emphasizes the importance of “unique perspective” and “first-hand expertise” as key indicators of people-first content. Producing a distinctive viewpoint and original data is the easiest way of showing your expertise, which ultimately leads to higher trust, loyalty, and search ranking. 

Enriching your content with insights derived from personal experiences helps you stand out from the competition and AI-generated information. Whether you’re selling a product or building educational awareness, consumers choose to spend their time and money on businesses that demonstrate their unique subject matter expertise.

6. Target Topic Clusters That Relate to the Page Intent

Internet users have short attention spans and prefer concise, easy-to-read, user-first content that addresses their queries. Target a single topic and closely related terms on a webpage or blog, and sufficiently answer the query with clarity, purpose, and meaning.  

If you have multiple topics batched together on the same page, your users may get confused or lose trust in you as a reliable source of information. Always cover tangential topics on different pages to enhance the user experience and make your content helpful, according to Google.

7. Satisfy the Search Query and Your Audience

Your content should provide the most relevant answers to users’ queries, covered in a sufficient manner. This means steering away from clickbait titles, vague answers, thin content, and unnecessarily lengthy content.  

Create customer personas and understand your audience’s intent to craft compelling content that directly addresses their search queries. According to Hubspot research, developing personas allows you to create content and messaging that appeals to your target audience.

8. Enhance the User Experience with Organized Content Elements

User experience – the first E in E-E-A-T - is critical in creating people-first content. Make sure your content is well organized, easily readable, scannable, and has proper formatting with bold H1s and H2s, paragraph breaks, bullet points, and checklists, to make it helpful for Google Search. Enrich the text with images, graphics, videos, and infographics to enhance your audience’s reading experience and boost your organic visibility in entity searches.

When building a website, make sure it’s mobile responsive, fast, accessible, and has a clear navigation and user flow. Mobile users are 5 times more likely to abandon your website if it’s not mobile friendly.

Aligning Your Content Strategy for Your Audience and Google

With a market share of over 91%, Google dominates the search engine landscape and will continue to refine its helpful content algorithm to present quality user-first content. Content creators and marketers need to adapt a people-first content strategy to align with Google’s evolving changes and remain relevant and visible in search results.

Navigating it all can be a challenge. You’ll have to excel at understanding your audience, crafting user-centric content, optimizing your website, tracking performance, and analyzing data to enhance your performance.  

Your 2024 content strategy should start with what your audience is looking for and problems your business can solve. Your content should be helpful, easy to experience, and focus on the three pillars – users, brand, and search discoverability. When you write for people, delivering helpful, original, and purpose-driven content, you are also meeting the search engine’s ranking criteria.  

About The Shed Creative

The Shed Creative is a boutique design and content marketing agency that energizes businesses and brands with creative strategies, visual design, and performance-driven content. With offices on two US coasts, our team helps brands get discovered, boost visibility, surface in search, connect with audiences, and stand out.  

Meet The Shed Creative team and see how we can help your business generate purpose-driven content that goes beyond AI and SEO—It echoes your brand message and connects with your audience on a deeper level.  

If you’re ready to implement helpful content for your business and get results, contact us for a strategy review. For more information on our design and content services, please contact Mike Speiran, Head of Business Development, at

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