While everyone else was still out on vacation or busy getting kids ready for school, Google Search last week announced a big update called the “helpful content update.”
The announcement comes just in time for back to school, when English teachers everywhere set out to convince students that writing matters. It’s an argument that’s increasingly harder to make in a world where AI writing and editing platforms a plenty promise to “Create Amazing Content In Seconds!” and produce “killer content, effortlessly.”
But while those platforms can indeed improve sentence structure, flow and grammar, they’re not capable of creating compelling content that keeps site visitors on the page. They can’t tell authentic stories that move and empower people. And they certainly can’t generate subject matter expertise that's particular to the leaders of an organization.
Bottom line: good writing matters. It always will.
I’m happy to add to my pile of evidence that writing is the most important skill my kids can learn to prepare them for a world we can’t even imagine. But many marketers on Twitter are in a tizzy over the impending update.
Others are confident that “helpful content” is always what mattered, and this update is just more of the same. Databox’s John Bonini said on LinkedIn, “You don’t need an algorithm update to tell you this is the right thing to do. As technology and especially AI continue to advance, my guess is the SEO tactics we’ve used in the past will matter less. Keywords, summarizing other high ranking content, other gimmicky on page tactics—these will feel like relics of the past. The best optimization tactic is (and always has been) making the content good to begin with.”
Or, for a more entertaining explanation, here’s John’s take:
Orbit Media’s Andy Crestodina is similarly convinced that this update isn’t earth-shattering news. “My input on the topic of Google changes is this: Rankings don't really change a lot over time. But changes to clickthrough rate are massive.” Andy gives a detailed explanation here of how search has changed dramatically on Google over time, even if page ranking is slow to shift.
Great content that matters to your readers can withstand algorithm updates
The truth is that the goal of Google’s new update should align with every content creator’s goal: write content that your people want to read. Do this consistently well over time, and your audience will be able to continue finding your little corner of the web.
Google Search basically states this as their goal: “to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.”
Here’s what Google says creators can expect:
Cool it with the SEO hacking and instead focus on people-first content. This is because the helpful content update will favor content where visitors stick around to actually read. Content that doesn't meet visitors' expectations, where visitors quickly bounce away, won't perform as well.
SEO still matters. According to Google Search, “Our advice about having a people-first approach does not invalidate following SEO best practices, such as those covered in Google's own SEO guide. SEO is a helpful activity when it's applied to people-first content. However, content created primarily for search engine traffic is strongly correlated with content that searchers find unsatisfying.” Duh.
Sites with both helpful content and unhelpful content can get dinged by the weaker content. Clean up your site or risk affecting the whole site’s overall ranking.
Here are a few of the questions Google offers to help you determine if your website content passes the helpful content test. These are solid questions for any content creator, especially in the healthcare sector. Answering yes means you're probably on the right track:
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?
Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge?
Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they've learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they've had a satisfying experience?
The good news for healthcare websites
Passing the helpful content test shouldn’t be hard for healthcare organizations. It means knowing your audience and featuring your subject matter experts. It also means sharing expertise in a compelling way so that readers stay on the site long enough to read what they’re seeking.
Here’s the SSEE formula I recommend for every healthcare blog:
Story + SEO + Excellent Writing + Empathy
A good writer includes all four elements in every piece of content. Here’s how I recommend making this happen:
Know your target audience
Healthcare organizations are filled with people who know your target audience deeply. The problem is that these folks are rarely interviewed by the content marketing team. Reach out to the social workers, the admissions team and the nurse triage staff to find out what are the frequently asked questions they're hearing. They all will easily name the challenges, concerns and questions that are top of mind for your audience.
Create a culture of storytelling
Healthcare stories among staff and patients happen all the time. Gathering them is the hard part. One way to make this easier is to build storytelling into your daily or weekly practice. Take turns starting staff meetings off with a powerful story of making a difference. Consider introducing a platform like Wambi, a patient review and peer-to-peer healthcare employee recognition tool, to the team. Do this diligently, and you'll improve work culture as well.
SEO is always the easy part. It’s a formula that anyone with Google Search Engine training can master. The key is that it remains a factor in the overall quality of the content and not the main driver of what your audience needs.
Hire excellent writers
Whether you keep writers in house or work with a network of contractors, writers who hone their craft can ghost write compelling and engaging content for your audience. An experienced healthcare writer knows what questions to ask and can break down complicated medical jargon for your audience. A great writer can even express empathy for the worries and concerns that readers of healthcare content carry.
As technology continues to evolve with time and competition, great content is your best bet to ensure your audience can find the answers they need from your healthcare organization.
For help with creating great content that balances writing excellence, SEO, story and empathy, let's talk!