What Google’s Helpful Content Update Means for Architecture Firms

Google introduced the Helpful Content update in late August to encourage website owners to produce more content that is both original and directly related to their business. In this post, we explore what the update means for architecture websites and how they can use the update as an opportunity to gain an advantage over competitors.

What “Google Update” Means

Google’s search engine is powered primarily by The Algorithm. In most basic terms, The Algorithm is the secret formula that governs how websites will be analyzed, ranked, and displayed in search engines. The Algorithm is never, ever revealed. By keeping the Algorithm a secret, no one can game it and gain an unfair advantage. From time to time, Google will update The Algorithm.

There are “behind-the-scenes” updates, which happen when Google changes The Algorithm in some way but doesn’t disclose what that change was. With this type of update, Google may not even confirm that an update was done. Instead, the SEO community shares data to validate the existence of the update and the impact it has on sites.

The other kind of updates are “public” updates, in which Google announces that there will be an update, gives an estimated date for when it will be completed, and tells website owners and developers what the goal(s) of the update are so appropriate action can be taken.

The Helpful Content update is a “public” update.

What the Helpful Content Update Does

Google introduced the Helpful Content update in late August to encourage website owners to produce more content that is both original and directly related to their business.

In Google’s own words, “The helpful content update aims to better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn’t meet a visitor’s expectations won’t perform as well.”

Put another way, this update is intended as an incentive to curb the use of content that is deceptive, written primarily for search engines and not human, spammy, or simply regurgitated from other sites.

Google is careful to point out that sites without “helpful content” won’t be penalized – per se. The reality is that there are only ten organic search results displayed per page. If someone else’s site has been rewarded by improved rankings, your site’s rankings will likely drop accordingly. Whether you consider that a penalty or not, it’s still an undesirable outcome.

The update will “reward” sites that consistently post helpful content. For architecture firms, this likely means content like:

● Original project descriptions

● Case studies

● Original bios that explain what each person brings to the practice

● Detailed descriptions of services and project types

● News/blog articles that are relevant to the firm

● Informative text that accompanies drawings or sketches

Being helpful includes not only the subject matter, but also the way in which the content is written. Straightforward, succinct web copy written for non-architects will be rewarded more than copy that is written for other architects or academics (unless those audiences are who your firm serves).

If your site has more unhelpful content than helpful content, over time your search engine rankings can drop and your online visibility will suffer. All of the work that you put into designing and developing your website will be wasted if no one can find it.

These types of content would not be considered helpful:

● Content that is unrelated to your business. For example, a page about the history of the telephone would be considered unhelpful on an architecture firm website. Even though it’s benign content, it’s not why people come to your site.

● Content that is copied and pasted from other sites. Why isn’t this helpful? Because the person coming to your site may have already seen it somewhere else, or could go to that other site to get it. You’re not adding anything new to the internet.

● Content that is riddled with typos and grammatical errors. It’s not that you’ll be dinged, it’s that Google won’t necessarily be able to crawl or understand what you’ve written.

The Importance of Original, On-Point Content

It’s important to remember that AI with every-evolving machine learning will be assessing whether content is helpful – not human beings. This means that the decision criteria will likely be more rudimentary and literal than if a human were evaluating it, because AI is not yet at a place to understand things like emotion, sarcasm, irony, or nuance.

It is also possible that the same standards will be applied to industries that seem similar but have very different audiences and views of what is “helpful” information. For example,

prospective clients of a residential architecture firm will be looking for different kinds of information than prospective clients of a firm that designs municipal buildings. Even more broadly, it could be that architecture firms, engineering firms, concrete manufacturers, residential leasing companies, and electricians are all grouped together.

Because we don’t know exactly how the helpful content test is going to be applied to each industry and business, trying to “write for the update” would be a mistake. While Google might not yet be able to clearly define what’s helpful for every single industry niche, it is very good at detecting content that isn’t. Trying to game out the update will backfire.

It’s better to focus on your actual human audience. If your prospective clients find your content helpful, they are on a path to becoming signed clients.

Patience Jones