Those who rely on search for our traffic know that the phrase “Content is King” in search is a lie. The crown doesn’t go to content but to something Google claims doesn’t exist – domain authority. We know that big brands always get away with thin, poor-quality content, while smaller brands with better articles rank lower. This ranking advantage for big brands has increased recently rather than getting better. Now that Google is rolling out its new “Helpful Content Update”, will it finally fix the problem?
Poor Quality Content Can Rank Really Well Right Now
A while back, I had a discussion on Twitter about how Google counts backlinks more than content:
We’ve all seen that established brands get away with piss-poor content, effortlessly outranking smaller competitors with better-quality articles and guides. As you can see from the response to the above tweet, this expectation is so ingrained that many people have difficulty even imagining that things can be different.
Google Announces the”Helpful Content Update”
Last week, Google announced that its latest update will address the problem of automated or “unhelpful” content. The focus appears to be content written specifically to perform well in search engines rather than written for human beings. This will target some pages that over-optimize their content but also attacks the latest trend of using AI to write tons of content.
But what interests me is the impact this can have on big brands.
Will Big Brands No Longer Rank for Irrelevant Garbage?
For example, big brand sites like Buzzfeed have no specific expertise or niche. No one goes directly to Buzzfeed to search for a topic. Instead, Buzzfeed leverages its huge branding to write (and rank well) about everything under the sun. According to Google’s quote, niche sites that dedicate themselves to specific areas will perform better in the rankings than those with no focus. Here’s the quote:
Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
And here’s another relevant quote:
Are you producing lots of content on different topics in hopes that some of it might perform well in search results?
The above quotes appear to be targeting sites that write about everything under the sun without focusing on specific niches or building expertise. For example, here on the NameHero blog, we write about web hosting, tips for managing your website, and – as is evident – SEO stuff tailored towards small business owners who manage their websites. That is our audience. We’re not going to suddenly write about pets or music. Hopefully, Google’s update will punish sites that don’t have a similar focus.
But Fingers Crossed – Things Could Get Worse
Maybe I’ve just been scarred too often, but Google’s updates over the past year have done nothing to convince me that they want to penalize big brands for exploitative content. John Mueller, for example, openly believes that “random affiliate sites” shouldn’t rank well (he doesn’t mention what “random” means exactly, but my guess is that it’s code for “small”). Here’s the tweet:
It’s good that Mueller doesn’t have any special insight into Google Search, so maybe – just maybe – this helpful content update is coming because the search team decided that enough is enough, and it’s time to stop letting junk content rank well just because of high domain authority. That’s the dream, anyway. We’ll have to wait for the rollout to see whether it delivers on its promise.
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!