Google announced this week the upcoming launch of what they have named the Helpful Content Update.
If you own or manage the SEO for an ecommerce website, you might be wondering how this update could affect you.
Read on for our helpful content update ecommerce assessment and predictions, as well as some considerations for how to move forward over the next few weeks as the update rolls out.
Update: the Google Helpful Content Update started rolling out today, the 25th August 2022 - as confirmed by the Google list of search ranking updates.
First, a little context:
Why is the Helpful Content Update Needed?
If you have been working in the SEO community and active on Twitter, you are probably aware of a generation of new social media influencers claiming to have achieved SEO success using spam techniques such as bulk content production with AI writing software, often posted to expired and repurchased authoritative domains.
Product searches in Google can often lead to low quality affiliate focused content sites with hundreds of links to Amazon; sites with questionable review methodologies and standards.
Google's ad-focused business model is supported by its ability to reliably surface high quality spam-free organic search results to users, so Google being dominated by lower quality results that do not provide a satisfactory experience would be a major problem - something Google's search quality teams will absolutely want to prevent by any means necessary.
Earlier this year Google launched the fourth iteration of their Product Reviews Update - a set of algorithm updates first launched in April 2021 which are designed to increase search visibility of the most helpful product reviews.
Google Search is always working to show the most useful and helpful information possible, through testing, experimenting, and review processes. From this, we know people appreciate product reviews that share in-depth research, rather than thin content that simply summarizes a bunch of products.
The Helpful Content Update can be seen in the context of Google's ongoing work to improve search results in an era where easy access to AI writing tools has led to content spam reaching levels never seen before on the web.
What is the Helpful Content Update?
The Helpful Content Update is an algorithm update from Google designed to improve search results for users by showing higher quality content.
The update makes use of a machine learning powered classifier process that provides a new site-wide signal which Google can use for ranking web pages.
The classifier identifies content that may have low value or is unhelpful to users conducting the search.
According to Google the Helpful Content Update processes run automatically and continuously, able to classify and apply the signal to new websites and content.
How will the Helpful Content Update affect Ecommerce SEO?
This ranking update will help make sure that unoriginal, low quality content doesn’t rank highly in Search, and our testing has found it will especially improve results related to online education, as well as arts and entertainment, shopping and tech-related content.More content by people, for people in Search
As per Google's blogpost - quoted above with emphasis added, ecommerce is one area where the search giant has tested the Helpful Content Update and found that it was beneficial to search experience for users.
Content quality at scale has always been a problem for ecommerce SEO.
Lots of products and product variations, short and non-existent product descriptions, and multiple sites reusing manufacturer product descriptions have been just some of the issues that have given ecommerce SEO consultants headaches.
Equally this update could be an opportunity for brands that have invested heavily in high quality and helpful site content to reap the rewards of their previous hard work and investments.
Only time will tell at this stage, as we are still only guessing at how significant the impact of the update may actually be.
What should I do next? How can we check if our content is helpful enough?
Assess & monitor impact
As the update rolls out starting the week beginning the 22nd August, it would be sensible to assess and monitor the impact of the update on your ecommerce store.
Have products, categories, or any other types of content been impacted?
What systems are available to make a reliable assessment?
Content auditing process
A content auditing process could be a sensible move for brands that want to check existing content on the site.
Google have provided a list of questions you can ask to make an initial assessment.
External auditing and user satisfaction testing could plug the gaps if you lack the resources internally.
Content production guidelines & training
If the Helpful Content Update hits your ecommerce store's SEO significantly, or you feel like this could be a good opportunity to improve the quality of your content moving forward - activities like producing a set of content production guidelines and training writers may yield results.
2022 and 2023 Additional Helpful Content Updates
Google have so far released two additional Helpful Content Updates.
In December 2022 Google released an updated classifier for the Helpful Content Update.
Then in September 2023 Google announced another iteration of the Helpful Content Update, which started on the 14th, and finished rolling out around the 28th of September.