By Jeff Walter, Senior Editor

Everybody knows that search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial to 21st-century businesses vying for online market share, but it shouldn’t take precedence over the customer experience.

That last part is the main takeaway of Google’s new search algorithm, which it has dubbed the “helpful content update.” This change, the technology giant says, is “part of a broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.” The update, announced August 18, was set to begin rolling out last week.

In a nutshell, the new system works by deploying a signal that detects and penalizes sites with high amounts of unhelpful content. Even helpful content will be less likely to perform well if other content on the same site is not helpful. This emphasis on quality over quantity means some businesses would be advised to remove website content that falls short of the standard. 

What distinguishes helpful content from its evil twin?

To Google, it’s a matter of whether it was created primarily for people (and by people) or for search engines. Would the intended audience find the content useful, or feel let down by “click bait”? Does it demonstrate firsthand expertise, or is it simply others’ recycled wisdom with no value added? Will readers learn anything from it? Will they have a satisfying experience?

While analytics, traffic monitoring and website scanning can help organizations assess how they are faring with the new algorithm, a bit of soul-searching is also in order: What is the real purpose of the content we’re providing?  At Hammock, we’ve long preached the gospel of “help not hype.” That means taking time to get to know the audience and what kind of information is likely to engage them, and then delivering it. Data, perhaps? How-to guides? Informed predictions about coming trends?  

If you haven’t been providing helpful content, it’s not too late to change your ways. The pressure is on to share what you know!

Image: Getty Images


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By Rex Hammock

For the first few years after college, I worked in public relations. One of my earliest lessons was taught by a client who expected to be mentioned in every newspaper article even remotely connected to his industry.

“But what about last Sunday’s newspaper feature about you on the front page of the business section?” I’d ask. The answer would always be a version of the question, “But what have you done for me lately?” I quickly learned how to use clipping services and press releases to small-town newspapers to supply a steady stream of client-centric news to his inbox.