What’s helpful content anyway?

Estimated read time: 6 minutes



Content strategy should always have been about creating helpful content anyway. Valuable content to the people consuming it. It’s such an important piece of strategy that Google is releasing a specific update to its search engine to devalue content that isn’t helpful and isn’t written for people’s needs first.

Let’s unpack some of the things Google addresses here, and what content creators should consider.

Article sections

What is helpful content anyway?
The elements of creating helpful content
How to ensure your site is full of helpful content?

What is helpful content anyway?

My definition of helpful content has always been content that addresses some needs of the target audience (aka personas). This content solves some problems the target audience has. That is a bit of a vague comment; what the content is solving for can vary widely. It can:

  • answer a question somebody has. How to tie a tie, for example.
  • be informational. Here’s something new in your industry.
  • for entertainment purposes. Think TikTok. Why are we scrolling through TikTok trends for hours at a time?
  • help with shopping decisions. This can include product reviews.


Helpful content is in the eye of the beholder. Did it solve their problem? Was it educational to them? To truly get this right, we have to understand:

  • who our target audience is
  • what they care about
  • how we can share that value
  • what our expertise in the area is
  • share that expertise in a way that is easily consumable and answers the question. It’s not just clickbait to download a white paper – for example

Read next: How being helpful can propel your business forward

The elements of creating helpful content

Google is pretty specific in what it considers helpful content, and following these pieces can help companies create better content. Some that stood out to me include…

Having first-hand experience

Many people now have opinions about all kinds of things they see online. They comment like their lives depend on it, and sometimes they create even more content around their half-baked idea. But there’s a difference between having an opinion and knowing something about the topic.

For example, all kinds of people have opinions about educational systems but don’t have any experience in how education works correctly for children. In other words, they can have an idea – sure – but it’s not useful to the rest of us because it doesn’t share helpful value.

Take why I’m writing about this particular Google update – and I never write about these updates. But, I’ve created my career around content that is useful. From journalism to nonprofits, healthcare, publishing, and technology, my strategies have focused on precisely that.

There certainly are ways you can become an expert. But who can be the expert at everything in a business? Some people are the experts at sharing the stories in a way that makes them consumable. And the options today seem endless and can range from:

For corporate content creators, an excellent way to get first-hand experience into our content is to interview the people in the company that have those first-hand experiences. Sometimes, we may ghostwrite the content for them, or in the case of many voices in articles, we may quote them. Think how news stories mention multiple people and tell the story that way.

Read next: Content strategy: The importance of good source materials

The key here is to interview people and not just – as Google says – “summarize what others have to say without adding much value.”

Google is also looking for clear-cut ways that you “demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge.” So you can’t just say you are the expert. You have to show it. And the easiest way to do that is by giving examples, sharing details, and being specific.

Give specific examples. As writing coaches like to say: “Show. Don’t tell.”

Read next: How to evaluate expert advice

Understanding who we are trying to reach

Typically, this should align with your company’s buyer personas, and content creators must understand them and their problems. In addition, we need to remember that we create content for them when we are creating content. That can be easily forgotten.

Several ways that I’ve seen work include:

Create a persona card

Creating a persona card and having it nearby as you are creating content is an easy way to keep the persona you are creating top of mind. Have that information at your desk, as a bookmark, or somewhere you can refer back to it.

Include who an article is for

I used to include a line like this at the top of articles:

You might find this article interesting if you are a <job title> or a <job title> or anyone else who is intersted in the <overarching topic>.

That gives the reader an idea of who the content is for, but it also can leave some people out. That’s why I like to include an “overarching topic” statement.

I also find it helpful to say a version of this concept on audio and podcast content. So people know the show is for them and the host and guest remember who they are talking to.

Have a content focus

Focusing on particular content topics also helps here. For example, I write primarily about content strategy on my blog. However, there are some older articles about fitness and travel as well. Under Google’s guidance, I should not intermingle content as it can undermine my content strategy focus.

Personal blogs might struggle with a content focus if they sometimes primarily cover what’s of interest to the creator. But for a corporate blog and content strategy, having a content focus makes total sense. For example, you would expect market research and consumer insights content when visiting the Voxpopme Market Research Blog, right?

From firsthand experience, it can be startling for an audience when a creator switches topics midstream. I’ve seen creators who are proclaimed experts in live video; oh wait, now it’s remote work; never mind, NFTs are now the latest things. That doesn’t mean creators can’t evolve with the new technologies, but it all needs to tie together.

For example, I’ve always focused on content strategy, but the specific strategies keep evolving.

Read next: Be aware of the experts who can’t do any of what they are talking about!

How to ensure your site is full of helpful content?

It certainly does start with the right strategy, mindset, and team setup. Any new content being created must follow the best practices of helpful content. Regarding existing content that doesn’t meet the threshold, Google recommends that it is just straight up removed. This update is a site-wide search signal that will look at the complete content picture. So if most of the content is crap, the site won’t rank, but if the majority of content is helpful, it can rank higher.

Consider going through older content and weighing it against the best practices. Delete what’s outdated and not helpful. Valuable pieces could also be used in other content assets as well.

Overall, I find the Google guidance and update well. We need helpful content, and companies that create it should have a leg up. After all, they are trying to be helpful and share value.



Listen to my podcast