By Andy Cullwick, head of marketing at Legal Futures Associate First4Laywers
Know the release date for Line of Duty season 7? No, me neither.
But type the question into Google and numerous websites promising all the details pop up.
On closer inspection – spoiler alert – there is no season 7. At least not yet anyway. Just quotes from the cast confirming their interest should one ever be on the cards.
It’s clickbait, pure and simple, but maybe not for much longer after Google launched a new search algorithm update to clamp down on such “unsatisfying” articles and prioritise “original, helpful content written by people, for people.”
Content: Good v. bad
“The helpful content update” – not quite as jazzy a name as its predecessors who have ranged from Penguin and Panda to Big Daddy – aims to improve the user experience by rewarding content that answers their questions and adds value.
Google defines helpful content as that which demonstrates “first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge” which leave readers “feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal.”
By contrast, unhelpful or unsatisfying content could be “summarising what others have to say without adding much value” or written simply because a topic is trending rather than it being of genuine use to the reader. Sites guilty of this tend to be those that use a greater degree of automation and produce “lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results.”
The update is, in itself, an admission by Google that more needs to be done to seed out the spam, which has often borrowed heavily from another source but ends up ranking higher than the original author.
This is not a new practice: Last year, The Sun and Mail Online complained that rival titles repeating their exclusives were appearing higher up the search results (I know, boohoo, but it’s just one example).
Content that exists purely as clickbait has long been frowned upon and until now, Google has responded by downranking that page or piece of content. This update goes one step further – it will penalise the entire site.
Why now? My own view is that Google needs to see off the likes of TikTok and Reddit, which people who’ve had a less than satisfactory experience are now starting to turn to and use as search engines.
It won’t wipe unhelpful sites off the top of search results immediately or completely and I don’t think there will be any big winners, but – particularly given Google has already confirmed that further, similar updates are in the pipeline – gains may be small but incremental.
It’s certainly worth monitoring your keyword rankings to see whether there has been any movement. So too where you’re advertising to make sure it’s not on a heavily penalised site. Businesses can often be naïve about where their adverts appear, but there are enough tools now available to help you keep track.
While significant, this update should hold no fear for the majority of firms who are producing original and useful content. Law firms are an excellent example – it doesn’t pay to draw people in then not answer their question as they will just go somewhere else that will.
The answer is simply to keep doing what you’ve been doing and producing quality content that gives people the information they want in a way that is easy and quick to digest.
It has been a long game, but hopefully now those whose focus is on the consumer rather than where they rank are finally starting to emerge as winners.