Google has always encouraged marketers to produce content for humans and not search engines; its “helpful content system” is designed to do that better than the algorithm previously did. The good news is that If you were creating human-first content all along, recent helpful content updates have likely helped you. The bad news? If you, or your outsourced marketing help, were writing for the search engines, your rankings might have taken a hit.
Here’s what lawyers need to know about the helpful content system, how to succeed on Google in 2024, and which website design features we recommend to leverage the new system.
Key features of Google’s Helpful Content System
The Helpful Content update rewards “people first” content and punishes content that was created solely for SEO.
The original Helpful Content update to Google’s algorithm was released in mid-2022. There was recently a smaller update in September 2023 that is impacting SEO, but this article will focus on the overall Helpful Content System.
What it is: “Helpful Content” is the name given to Google’s new system of ranking web pages. It uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify and reward helpful content on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
What it values: In simple terms, it values helpful, high-quality content that is immediately and clearly relevant to users. At a deeper level, the model looks for signals and predicts whether the content will be good or bad. Then, it rewards good or “helpful” content by ranking it higher on the SERP.
What has changed: Helpful content is now much more important than it was before. Previously, user experience was just one of many signals that Google used alongside link building, recency, authority, and keywords. But today, “helpful” has become a catch-all term for user-centric content. It impacts the ways in which content is developed, presented, and discovered on websites.
Why lawyers should pay attention to this update
Attorney websites rely on SEO to reach people, and this new update significantly impacts several ways in which your legal site approaches optimization and lead generation.
First of all, you need to change the way you create content.
The E-E-A-T model should guide your content creation process—and it goes far beyond the content itself. Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness are core criteria under the helpful content update. This means that your content should be driven by first-hand experience and a depth of knowledge that only an authority would possess. It should be insightful and original. Plus, expert content is written by experts. This means that your author bios should reflect your team’s expertise as well.
Secondly, you need to adjust your content strategy.
In previous iterations of the algorithm, you could create content purely for SEO purposes and the search engines would respond positively. That’s no longer the case.
Of course, you still need to create content that satisfies both search engines and people. But the tightrope is much thinner than it was before. Your topics and formatting must be useful to human beings first and foremost.
Thirdly, you need to change the way you do link building.
Links used to be a straightforward way to build your authority online. The more people linked back to your content, the more authoritative it supposedly was. But the era of link buying, link exchanging, and pure link dominance is over.
Instead, you’ll need to focus on earned links. These are harder to obtain but far more valuable under the helpful content update.
Leveraging the new system for your website
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to succeed with the new model. However, you do need a legal website that’s built to grow with you—and grow with the algorithm.
Google emphasizes user-friendly websites that load quickly. This means clear navigation and internal structure, which help users and search engines understand what you offer.
You also need a place for informative blog content, thorough attorney bios, and everything else the helpful content update demands.
You also need high-quality content written by experts and a content strategy that prioritizes users over search engines. Plan to make some adjustments to your content strategy. You may even need to remove some content that was created purely for SEO purposes.
Review and next steps
Google’s new helpful content update penalizes purely SEO-driven content and rewards content that is produced to help people.
Interpreting Google’s terminology can be tricky, but overall you should ensure that your online content is built to help real people and not only garner attention from search engines with clever keyword usage. Your content should be high-quality, recent, relevant, and produced by experts. Links should be earned and not exchanged or bought.
Algorithms change all the time. It’s the reality of our digital world. If you’re wise, you know that algorithm updates should not be ignored.
We get that these changes can be a shock to the system—but they’re also like a weathervane. If your website is experiencing reduced traffic in the face of the helpful content update, it may be time to adapt to the way the winds are blowing. Reach out for a consultation and experience digital marketing with the wind at your back.