How can I write helpful content on my website for users?

Published on September 1, 2022 by Alex Eade

Google has always advised website owners to ‘focus on the user and all else will follow’. This is especially true of content, and the latest update to their algorithms tackling spammy content, or content written for search engines not people, began launching this week. It’s called the ‘helpful content update’ and in light of this, we thought we’d pull together our most helpful tips for creating content that is, well, helpful! 

A brief summary of the Helpful Content Update from Head of Search, Chris Ainsworth

  • It’s rolling out this week (w/c 30th August) 
  • It will (probably) take around two weeks to fully roll-out
  • It impacts English content globally
  • It’s a site-wide ranking signal (i.e. it can impact the performance of the entire website, not just specific low-quality webpages) 
  • It targets content created for search engines first rather than humans (goodbye AI content!?)
  • If you are hit by the update you cannot recover quickly – you’ll need to work hard to create quality content and it can take months for the classification to change. 
  • Google tests/simulations indicate that certain types of content seem to be impacted more than others (though they are not specifically targeted by the update):
    • Online education materials
    • Arts and entertainment websites
    • Shopping websites
    • Tech-related content
  • Low-quality content on your website can be noindexed, but the preference is to remove (or work considerably hard to improve) content that you don’t think is currently very helpful. 
  • Low-quality content could be moved to a subdomain to avoid impact on the “main” website, but this is not a bulletproof solution – it’s far better to invest the time to create a website that will really benefit your users. 

What does people-first or user-first content mean? 

People or user-first content simply means creating content for real people, not for search engines. 

In the past, black hat SEO techniques were used to create content that would rank really well, but read really poorly. Keyword stuffing (using lots of the same word on a page so it would rank for that word), thin or poorly written copy, duplicating copy across pages, including irrelevant content on a page – these are all examples of what not to do. 

People-first content should be written with your user in mind. Put yourself in their shoes and think about:

  • The questions they need answered
  • How they need those questions answered 
  • What language/words they need the answer written in 

The how is as important as the what. For example, if you are a recipe website, keep your recipe pages short, snappy and informational – users will need to refer back to your recipe multiple times whilst trying not to burn whatever it is they’re making, so the copy needs to be simple to understand and well spaced out. 

When thinking about language for your readers, always use words and phrases you know they will understand. For example, if you’re a travel website aimed at people travelling to the UK who might have limited English, make sure not to use colloquialisms or idioms. (better yet, get your copy translated for them!) If you’re in an industry that uses technical language or jargon, try to keep that to a minimum – and ensure that when you do have to use jargon, it is explained.

What is helpful content?

Content is helpful if it answers the question in a way that is easy to understand and retain. Simple. 

Unhelpful content is:

  • Vague (sort of answers the question but not really)  
  • Skimmed from another website and rehashed (this adds nothing and just makes users angry that they’ve re-read something)
  • Inaccurate (an obvious one – don’t lie or make things up) 
  • Alienating (too much jargon, creates more questions than it answers, makes the reader feel stupid) 
  • Inaccessible (see Steve’s blog on accessibility here) 
  • Indigestible (too long, too wordy, not chunked into paragraphs or bullets) 

How do I know what questions my users want answered?

Well, they’ve probably already told you. If you receive emails from customers asking you questions about products/services etc, then write up the answers to these on your website for other users to see. If you get questions or queries in your testimonials or on your social media accounts, then do the same. Make sure that you collate all of your customer queries, wherever you receive them, and work out a way to answer these questions on your website. 

You could also send out a customer survey to your email database to find out what they want you to talk about, or set up a pop up on your website asking for your customers’ burning questions. You can do this on social media too (e.g. Instagram stories). 

Ask your sales and customer service team what questions they get asked when they talk to customers. They will be a goldmine of information! 

If you’re still having trouble, then using websites such as Answer the Public will help you to determine what questions are being asked online – then you simply have to add answering them to your content strategy. 

Should I write long answers or keep them short and snappy?

Use as many words as it takes to answer the question – no more, no less. If it’s a really complex question that requires a whole paragraph, page, or blog – give it the space it needs. If it’s a quick one, stick it on an FAQs page. 

If you’re answering a question that is about a practical task, then consider adding a video or clear step-by-step photos (with ALT Tags). Just make sure that if you use video content, it’s transcribed.