Super Helpful written in neon

How to be helpful online

September 2023 saw search engine giant Google tweak its Helpful Content Update, making it now more important than ever to adopt best practice for online success.

As the digital landscape continues to shift, what do these changes mean for marketers and how can we make sure we’re maximising our content to be as ‘helpful’ as possible? According to Google, the aim is to create “helpful, reliable, people-first content”. This means stepping away from trying to manipulate search engines and being rewarded for designing content that is above all else useful to the audience.

It can be summed up by the words of internet entrepreneur Wendy Piersall, who said: “Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first.”

Hands typing on a keyboard

Topics instead of keywords

For a long time, keywords have been prioritised in SEO. While carefully researched and applied keywords are still relevant, your content strategy should now be focusing on topics. It is here that Google will find the true value of your content and rank it accordingly.

To ensure that topics are working well for you, they need to be properly organised. That means applying a topic taxonomy. Topic categories and subtopics should be laid out hierarchically across your content with title tags and subheadings signposting both users and search engines to the most relevant points.

One of the easiest mistakes a marketer can make is to go off-topic in their content. That’s because of the desire to be comprehensive when writing about a subject, but sliding into a parallel topic can cause low rankings. Instead of diluting the content, it’s best to write a separate article on a related (but not directly relevant) topic and link the two.

Search intent

When analysing keyword phrases, what you should be looking for is search intent. After all, the user has typed their query into Google to elicit a response and trying to meet that desire with the most relevant answer will improve your helpfulness and in turn your rankings.

If your competitors are already addressing the search intent, you need to find alternative ways to top what’s already available. The first thing to do is conduct a keyword search on Google to see what’s out there. By simulating the role of the user, you can see the results they’re receiving.

This will allow you to see what’s working, but don’t just simulate what you find. The key is to improve on the posts being returned for relevant search queries. If listicles are performing well, this approach could make sense for you, but ensure the content is more in-depth, better researched or includes a unique point of view.

Be sure to highlight how you’ve differentiated your content from others in your title and subtitles. Demonstrating that you’ve invested more time and effort into your content will make it harder to be outranked by your competitors. Promote it across social media and receive more backlinks to help it perform even better.