Toward the end of September 2023, Google finished rolling out its “helpful content” changes to target blogs as a whole. And over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed some major decreases in traffic. So, what can we do to fix this issue?
First, we’ll need to understand what Google deems as “helpful content” today.
Essentially, Google identifies helpful content as that which leaves visitors feeling satisfied. Did you answer all of their questions or fully cover the topic?
In a nutshell, Google rewards sites that provide the highest quality of content based on the topics they cover. If you have too many posts that are deemed unhelpful, you will see a significant drop in overall traffic.
That’s because this newest update reflects your website as a whole.
The Impact On My Blogs for Not Being Helpful
Out of the four primary blogs I own, three saw a dip in traffic from the Helpful update. I am assuming that’s because a lot of them have opinion-centered and trivial posts without a lot of meatiness – according to Google, anyway.
One of my biggest issues is that I simply have so much on my plate that I can’t give any one site my full attention. If there is one piece of advice I could give anyone when it comes to blogging it is to focus on one at a time.
Well, unless you can afford to pay or can have someone help you create quality content.
Despite helping hundreds of writers throughout the years, apparently, I’m not being helpful enough for Google.
Overall, nearly 47% of the posts on this blog are not indexed. However, a lot of those are relatively new or extremely old.
That’s one of the reasons why you’d want to keep a consistent publishing schedule.
Then there’s the fact that I wrote a lot of blog posts that really didn’t serve a purpose other than engaging followers, which really didn’t perform well considering most have fewer than 10 views.
CrossingColorado is a bit of a special case. It was decimated in 2018 by the YMYL/Medic Update (your money or your life) and was lumped in with scamming sites despite always citing scientific research.
After the changes in helpful content for blogs, I only saw a decrease of 32.6% in traffic. That’s the difference between 251 and 169 visitors per week. So, it wasn’t all that bad considering the site was already having issues.
I already know what needs to be fixed on CrossingColorado as it has a LOT of blog posts that are merely one-offs or articles that really don’t have a lot of meat to them.
The ColoradoPlays blog has been steadily losing traffic for quite some time. Mostly, this is due to the fact that we really don’t write much on the site or update its content.
There are a lot of outdated tutorials on the site.
This is one of the blogs I use to help drive donations to various charities. For instance, 30% of anything the site makes from AdSense goes directly to Extra Life, a charity organization that helps out the Children’s Miracle Network.
I am confident that regular content and sweeping updates would make a world of difference for the blog. It has very few posts that don’t center around tutorials or reviews.
The newest blog, TubeArcunam, is an experimental website I use for tutorials on WriterSanctuary’s YouTube channel. It’s essentially a blog about using YouTube, which includes tutorials and whatnot.
Since the final roll-out of the Helpful Content algorithm change, TubeArcamun increased traffic by more than 177%! But when you look at the exact numbers, that’s the difference between 6 and 15 views per week.
Since it only has a few articles, I wasn’t expecting a lot of attention.
Nonetheless, it goes to show that Google is prioritizing TubeArcanum’s content as being helpful. That’s probably because there are very few opinion-centric posts on the site.
How Do We Make Blogs More Helpful for Google?
Most experts agree (as well as Google) that to improve rankings in search, you need to focus on the human perspective. Are you fully answering someone’s need when searching for specific keyphrases and words?
Instead of merely trying to appease search engines, it’s more about providing quality to your readers. Sure, SEO still matters in terms of words and phrases. But are you using them efficiently for the human element?
At the end of the day, it all comes down to making sure your content enriches people’s lives for the better.
Start with “Currently Not Indexed” Pages
There are a lot of reasons why certain pages are not indexed by Google. Of those reasons, irrelevant or unhelpful content is among them.
Also, recently published posts may be in this list depending on how often Google crawls your content. I’ve found that blogs that publish three times per week only take a few days before posts are indexed.
In any case, look through the “currently not indexed” lists to find articles that should be in a search result.
- Are they older without an update?
- Are they newer?
- Do they have enough helpful material?
- Should some of the unhelpful articles be deleted?
Although the rest of the lists of how Google indexes your pages are important, posts that are not cutting the mustard (so to speak) should be the first place we check for content that might need some sprucing up.
Remove Posts That Are “Unhelpful”
The Google “Helpful Content” change is site-wide. This means that if you have a lot of unhelpful content, it can hurt your site as a whole and decrease the performance of helpful posts.
Take a look at the content you have published and decide if certain posts are worth keeping around.
Prior to the algorithm roll-out, I was in the process of removing unhelpful posts from CrossingColorado. That may be part of why it lost the fewest visitors compared to the other websites.
Does this mean you should delete all unhelpful content? Not necessarily, especially if you have opinion or journal-type articles that are performing well comparatively.
I’d suggest starting with the oldest and weakest pieces that have received the fewest views overall. These are the articles that are simply going nowhere.
Drop Ad Density
A lot of bloggers rely on ad-sharing networks such as Google AdSense or Mediavine. Contrary to the belief of some, saturating your site with ad placements can hurt your rankings.
Of course, this has been a point of contention for quite some time. That’s because ads rely on third-party servers. It takes time to retrieve the ad network’s assets, which will impact website speed.
Not to mention that pages that are saturated with ads are not providing a high-quality experience.
The bottom line is that no one wants to visit a website if it’s covered in ads. Truth be told, I often bail on sites if they’re saturated with advertisements, as do many others.
Address Core Web Vitals in Search Console
One of the biggest pains to address when building your blog is the Core Web Vitals section of Search Console. Mostly, this includes CLS and LCP problems that occur on your site during Google’s crawl.
What makes these problems so difficult to address is the fact that you’re not given precise problems to fix. This is especially true when PageSpeed Insights has different data than Search Console.
Search Console will say that your CLS time is 0.69 seconds, which is too slow for Google. However, PageSpeed Insights will tell you the CLS is 0.087 seconds, which is well below Google’s threshold.
Now, PageSpeed Insights will give you a few tips to improve your score. But overall, many of them might either be too unrealistic for your site or incredibly vague.
Or, you might receive a bad score if your theme is developed a certain way or has elements Google doesn’t like.
According to Google’s own performance tool, I am well within the CLS threshold. But Search Console is recording it at nearly 8x as slow.
Although Core Web Vitals is a pain to fix, it’s still worth the effort of exploring your options. It all comes down to building a functional and fast website.
Write from a Unique Perspective
When delivering helpful content from your blogs, Google doesn’t merely want you regurgitating the same information only worded differently. That is a massive problem online, especially for those who create “Best of” lists.
For instance, what if someone created a list of the “Best Video Cameras for YouTube?” A vast majority of them are simply using ratings and information based on the experience of other reviewers.
In fact, I’ve seen a lot of YouTube videos of experts showing you how to do this.
Currently, the best listicles are the ones that are written from a unique perspective and based on actual experience. And if you don’t have expertise or authority according to Google regarding those topics, your posts won’t perform as well.
Overall, Google wants unique content that provides the best answer to searches. The last thing you want to do is simply rewrite what everyone else has already published.
Write for Human Readers
When writing content, you want to focus on human readers and less on trying to make the algorithm happy. Are your friends and family able to read the article and understand what you’re trying to convey?
Don’t get me wrong, things like keywords for SEO are still important. People wouldn’t be able to find your content, otherwise. However, some bloggers try to structure an article perfectly for search engines instead of delivering a good reading experience to visitors.
For instance, one of my rules of thumb for my writers is to write so that someone in their 60s can understand the piece. If my dad can follow the instructions, then it’s good.
Spend less time on SEO “tricks” and more time on simply creating an enjoyable or fulfilling piece of content.
Answer Questions to the Fullest
Another one of the biggest contributing factors to the Helpful update is to make sure blogs are fully answering a query. When someone visits your post, are they looking elsewhere to find additional information?
Sometimes, this means writing a 6,000-word article to make sure all of the bases are covered for any given topic. And sometimes, you can answer a search query with less than 400 words.
The point is that you want your post to be the last stop anyone needs for a specific topic.
This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why I update older articles. Sometimes, I’ll remember a critical piece of information or discover something new that could help the reader.
Include Images in Your Posts!
Prior to the Helpful update, posts with images got 94% more views than blogs without. Despite the data being from 2012, Google has also recently mentioned that images are important within content.
In fact, all of the top 50 posts on this site have at least three images. Even the well-written blog posts without images perform worse overall.
This isn’t just centered on WriterSanctuary. All of the top-performing posts on all of my blogs have more than three images.
Images are especially valuable when creating tutorials or writing up reviews. People want to see the content as well as read it.
Update for Greater Value
I’ve been a proponent of planning revisions for years. That’s because I’ve witnessed first-hand the difference that polishing up an old article can have on traffic from Google.
Keep in mind that Google is always looking for “fresh” content. This doesn’t mean rewriting a single sentence and calling it good, though. You might need a complete rewrite.
The idea here is to make sure your content is still relevant, easy to read, and full of vital information especially if that information is not available anywhere else.
As I mentioned above, go through the pages that are not currently indexed first. Perhaps rewriting some of the older pieces will get them into search.
Just don’t forget to tell Google to index them manually. Otherwise, it could take months before Google crawls that page.
Always Cite Your Claims
Part of demonstrating quality and authority is by citing your claims by linking them to a credible source.
For example, earlier I said how 94% of posts with images get more traffic than without. Then, I linked to a credible source of where I received that information – in that case, Hubspot.
Technically, it was a guest post by Neil Patel on Hubspots blog, who is an expert in SEO. And if you want to go further, Neil is citing an article from Jeff Bullas, who is also an expert in online content.
The point is that you need to cite your claims while using sources that are experts in their field or by using irrefutable scientific data sheets. You want to share factual information that isn’t easily debunkable.
In other words, don’t link to Joe Blow’s blog if he’s making claims that have no basis in reality.
Word Count Doesn’t Always Matter
The number of words in a blog post isn’t necessarily a ranking factor. Sure, there are studies out there that demonstrate posts over 2,000 words perform better in search. And there are some lists and tutorials that are well beyond 10,000 words.
However, the success of those posts is not because of the length.
The truth is that those longer blog posts perform better because they are rife with information. They are highly detailed and answer as many questions about the topic as possible.
This is why some blog posts will take over the number one position in search for a term at only 300 words.
If you can succinctly answer the topic to its fullest, a shorter blog post will beat out a longer one that is full of fluff and filler.
Avoid Filler and Fluff
Speaking of which, don’t add a lot of content to a blog post if it has nothing to do with the topic. Or, if you’re repeating the same content only worded differently.
This is something I came across a lot in the early days of being a professional editor. And yes, I’d make the author rewrite the piece if he was being repetitive.
Every sentence in your blog post should serve a purpose for the topic. Now, does this mean you should cut out anecdotal comments or lines you add for comedic effect? Not necessarily. After all, you still want to engage the reader.
However, filling the post with too much text that has no real bearing on being helpful for the topic can easily sink blogs.
A prime example of this is how some recipe sites add a historical reference to make it appear the blog post has more content. Although it may be indirectly relevant to the recipe, it’s not relevant to why someone is searching for how to make it.
In that example, the purpose of the post is to show someone how to make something, not a history lesson.
The About Page for Authorship
The About page plays a huge part in authority and expertise. And this is going beyond the About page for the blog. The author page needs to highlight why anyone should trust him or her for the content.
You want to highlight background experience, awards, degrees, accomplishments, and anything else that denotes the author as a credible source.
These “about” pages need to be easily found by the reader as well as Google. And, they should be updated regularly to include anything new that can help highlight that expertise.
How Long Will It Take to Get Traffic Back?
According to Google, it can take months before you’ll start to see a significant difference after fixing your content. Then again, this is true with just about every algorithm update.
A few years ago, I demonstrated that it can take four to eight months before a well-written blog post can appear on Google. Yes, that was several algorithm updates ago, but I find it still rings true today even for my clients.
It’s rare that any updated or published content will rank within the first few weeks of going live.
The amount of time it takes to get traffic back after the Helpful Content update depends on how active you are in creating helpful blogs. One or two posts and updates per week may not be enough to satiate Google.
Especially if your site consists of more than 30% “unhelpful” posts.
Time Frame Spreadsheet
Just for fun, I’ve decided to track the progress of my four primary blogs mentioned above. The idea is to see how long it takes to regain some of the traffic I’ve lost due to the Helpful update.
Initially, I was keeping track to see how long it would take me to get a blog to receive 10,000 visits per month. Although that is still the goal, now we’re just trying to get the sites back to where they were prior to September 2023.
In this spreadsheet, I am keeping track of weekly progress. All four of the blogs are in the tabs at the bottom and consist of how many posts I’ve published as well as how many were updated or deleted.
The weeks in yellow are the ones that have been recorded thus far.
Using the information I laid out above, let’s see just how long it takes to get back to the initial traffic numbers from the first week in the spreadsheet.
What About Personal Blogs?
Most personal blogs are less focused on SEO and more on interaction. They rely heavily on accumulating an audience who just wants to share the experiences of the author.
Sometimes, these experiences can entangle with SEO, especially if you’re reviewing something or creating a tutorial.
For instance, I follow a few blogs that are far less likely to show in a Google search. They write mostly about their day-to-day lives. In reality, these were “vloggers” before YouTube and TikTok were so popular, only in text form.
Anyway, when you build a personal blog, you’re not intently focused on search engine results. Instead, you’d focus more on marketing the site on social media, forums, and anywhere else you’d find people who might like your content or share your experiences.
Personal blogs are less likely to worry about being helpful and are geared more toward being entertaining. I’ve seen many personal blogs that generate a great deal of traffic because of how interesting the creator is in their daily lives.
Creating Helpful Blogs is Time-Consuming
Creating a successful blog is all about playing the long game. You can’t bank on any given article to go viral and drive tons of traffic to your site. And building blogs that are deemed helpful can take considerably longer.
Of course, this really depends on the niche of your site, your audience, and the topics you cover.
If you’re targeting Google’s search results, put in the extra effort to make something amazing. You don’t want people leaving your site to find a better answer.
- Days from Breaking Annual Traffic Record, How Did I Do It? - December 1, 2023
- What is Reedsy Discovery and Will it Help Publish Your Book? - November 9, 2023
- Are You a Pantser or a Plotter (Planner)? Does it Really Matter? - October 27, 2023