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6 Types of Unhelpful Content You Might Not Know You Have, and How To Improve Them

Woman in orange sweater on purple background - 6 Types of Unhelpful Content You Might Not Know You Have, and How To Improve Them - Boom Online Marketing

In August 2022 Google announced their helpful content update. Just about everyone who produces online content started to wonder how ‘helpful’ their output actually was. And what about all the guides and blog posts you created months or even years ago? Many websites have an abundance of older content that might not be up to scratch. 

In this post, I’m going to examine some popular blog post types that might not be working well for you. But first, let’s recap on what makes content helpful. 

What is the helpful content update?

Google’s helpful content update is an algorithm update released to help improve the quality of content in their search results. Search engines use a sitewide signal so websites with high amounts of unhelpful content may suffer. 

See the full helpful content guidelines

You’ll only perform well in search if your content is helpful. And since you’ve heard about the update, I’m sure you’ve been making extra efforts with your content. But have you considered past content? Even if it was posted years ago, anything that’s still live on your site will be feeding the algorithm. It’s time to review everything, especially if you’ve seen a drop in traffic recently. You can find out more about how to do a content audit here

What are search engines looking for?

The essence of the guidelines suggests that content written for people, by people will benefit. There was an obvious move to downgrade content that was written only to generate search traffic and AI-generated content. But that doesn’t mean your site is safe if you haven’t worked in this way.

What concerns me, especially for small to medium businesses, is older content that could be deemed ‘unhelpful’ by today’s standards. With this update, it won’t just be that piece of content that suffers, it might be the whole website if you have an array of less helpful content lurking somewhere on your site.   

Where could unhelpful content be found?

Whilst unhelpful content can be found anywhere on a website, I’ve found that blogs often house a lot of content written in the past that gets forgotten about. 

Over the past year, I’ve completed a lot of content audits. One of the most interesting things I’ve discovered is just how quickly content can mount up – and how easily it can be ignored or forgotten! Staff change, roles change, and you might take on a content management role and have very little awareness of what someone else had created years ago. But it still matters.

Something that was published to fulfil a need 3, 4 or even 5 years ago may be completely irrelevant now. It might have dated or even covered things that aren’t aligned with your current business objectives. It could easily be lacking accuracy, relevance or depth compared with the standards of today. 

I’ve found some common types of blog content that many companies produce, and whilst these aren’t purely written to capture search engine traffic they are often low-quality content. Here are some of the types of content that could be causing your website a ranking problem directly affecting traffic and revenue without you even realising it.    

The Press Release

You’ve been working hard on a press release, and you decide to post it on your blog as well. But have you thought about how that content is serving your readers? And what about the search implications?

Why this can be unhelpful

Press releases are usually objective, factual and written in the third person. They have a different tone and voice as their primary role is to communicate an announcement or statement. Blog posts are often more personal, insightful and opinion-based. A blog post is usually a person-to-person communication with a lighter, friendlier tone. 

Sometimes, busy journalists will simply publish your press release too. This can lead to duplicate content across the web which isn’t ideal from a search perspective, either. 

How to improve it

Write a unique blog that supports your press release rather than duplicating it. Add a more personal touch, additional information or new insight. This works really well in a variety of ways. 

Firstly, you’ll provide publications with a further resource that they can link to when they publish your story, adding value for the reader. This makes it more likely that you secure a valuable backlink rather than just a brand mention. The findings of a 2022 study on digital PR back this up. 

Secondly, your blog content will resonate with your existing or intended audience, adding value to your website as well. 

A great example of this is Rated People’s Home Improvement Trends Report:

They create a short blog to discuss the report:

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Then issue different press releases tailored to different audiences:

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Leading to coverage in different publications:

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This is a much better way to use blogs and press releases to complement each other. 

The Staff Event Post

Getting an insight into a company can be helpful for building your brand and attracting employees. But detailed accounts of staff events, birthdays or Christmas parties can quickly sap resources and provide very little benefit.  

Why this can be unhelpful

Most people won’t be interested in reading a detailed account of the fuddle you had in 2014, 8 years after the event. These blogs will have little traffic, won’t be discovered by potential employees and can detract from what your company actually does.

Whilst this type of content isn’t against any of Google’s ‘helpful content’ guidelines, is it really serving an audience? Are they getting something useful out of it? Quite often the answer is ‘no’.  

How to improve it

Consider adjusting your strategy. Post updates about such events on social media rather than on your blog. If you have some great photographs or any particularly noteworthy events, mention these on your careers pages instead of your blog. This way, people who are considering employment with you can get a flavour of the benefits they may get without having to read a blow-by-blow account of what flavour cake Mary had for her birthday or how much John enjoyed the entertainment at the summer party! 

If you want to publish important updates like details of new starters or what a specific role is actually like, make sure these are accessible from your careers page. You’ll also need to keep on top of reviewing these and retiring them if they are no longer useful or relevant.  

Take a look at this great careers page from Onfido that contains relevant blog content as well as further details about their culture. 

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The Industry Round-Up

Producing a round-up of industry news and interesting articles can seem like a quick way to produce content. This can be genuinely helpful and provide value if it’s done well. But all too often I see old ‘round-up’ posts that have a very low word count, just containing a list of links with little insight into why this article is a good read for the website’s audience. 

Why this can be unhelpful

Basic round-up posts serve little purpose for users. Very few people will bother to read through a list of links without a compelling reason to do so.

This can easily fall into the bracket of thin content in terms of search too, especially if you give little thought to the posts you’re including and why. 

How to improve it

Having said that, round-up posts can be great. They can be really helpful for building trust with a busy audience, who learn over time that you will bring them a plethora of useful resources at the time they need them.

They can also build up relationships with other experts in your industry, get your website noticed and help you to acquire links.

The key to creating a genuinely helpful round-up is to consider how it provides value. Do you carefully collate the resources you genuinely think are worth reading once a month, or quarterly for example? Do you explain why they are such valuable resources? Do you have any extra insight into this that nobody else can provide? After all, the visitor is on your site so probably trusts your opinion and wants to know what you think.

Here’s a really cool round-up from Aleyda Solis covering the top resources featured in her popular SEO newsletter based on her own unique data gathered over the course of a year. 

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The data-led approach is a nice twist, helping busy SEOs to find popular resources that they might have missed. There’s a genuine reason for this post, and a real audience it’s helpful to.

The Data Dump

Data can be really interesting. Perhaps a statistic published in your industry has caught your eye, or some internal data you’ve uncovered would be useful to your audience. But data rarely means anything in isolation.

Blog posts about data are only helpful if they give your readers a way to use that data.

Why this can be unhelpful

Publishing figures with little context is just producing content for the sake of it. Again, you might end up with thin content or posts that turn readers away because they can’t see value in what you’re providing. 

How to improve it

Carefully consider how the data you want to discuss can actually help your customers or audience. What can they gain from it? Are you providing an answer to a query or do you have insight or an opinion on what these statistics actually mean for an industry or a specific group of people?

Make sure you go into detail. Visualise the data in a way that enhances it (which is a skill in itself) and make sure you’re telling a story, not just publishing a stat. 

This UK retail market update from Retail Economics provides just enough data to be interesting and useful, whilst also including plenty of opportunities to download their full, paid report for further insight.

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All Too Technical Guides

Whilst it’s ideal if you can demonstrate first-hand expertise in your topic area, it’s important to consider your audience. There’s no point in producing content that’s too technical for your intended readers or search engine bots to follow. 

This is a particular pitfall in tech-related content. A subject matter expert writes the content due to their extensive knowledge and it gets published as it is. But frequently I’ve found it is too technical and doesn’t translate into something the audience can understand. 

Why is this unhelpful

If your average reader doesn’t understand the content, they will quickly leave your site and look elsewhere for information shared in a way they can digest. 

Search engines often have trouble interpreting complex and technical writing too, so your piece might not rank as well as you expect it to. 

How to improve it

Make sure someone with less experience in the field reads and reviews technical content before it’s published. Work through any gaps in their understanding and try to clarify in language that’s easy to understand.

Review the readability score using a free tool like the Hemingway Editor and simplify complex sentences where you can.

A good example is this technical guide by GeoSLAM discusses a niche technical subject in a way that makes it easy to grasp even with very basic knowledge:

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The Out-of-Date Advice Post

In some industries (like digital marketing for example), content can date really quickly. Things move fast, and even good advice that was written 12 months ago might not hold up today.

Why is this unhelpful

If your advice is out of date, you could be misinforming your audience. Your content won’t be providing much value and in the worst-case scenario, you could mislead readers. 

Search engines want to avoid this too, which is one of the reasons they might rank more recent guides or advice more favourably than older ones in some cases. 

How to  improve it

Be objective about the content. If it’s really out of date, or no longer representative of your business, it might be worth retiring. Removing unhelpful content could benefit your site as a whole, which is one of the most interesting things I picked out of the helpful content update guidelines:

Any content — not just unhelpful content — on sites determined to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall is less likely to perform well in Search, assuming there is other content elsewhere from the web that’s better to display. For this reason, removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content.

Google Search Central

If the topic is still relevant today, the best way to improve it is to thoroughly review and update your advice to match today’s standards. Add your own insight, as you have probably learned a lot since the outdated content was produced, too!

Working in digital marketing, things move fast and we find this happens a lot. Something that was very relevant or cutting edge when you wrote it can quickly become dated, so it’s important to review your online educational materials frequently. Adding an ‘updated on’ or ‘last updated’ date helps to demonstrate to your existing audience that content they may be familiar with has been updated to include current advice. 

Freshness is a ranking factor, and up-to-date, useful content is important. Just look at the last updated date on this post by AHrefs, 14th Feb 2022:

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And look at what happened to the estimated percentage of clicks the page will get based on the terms it ranks for (also known as search visibility) shortly after:

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Review Your Content, Keep it Helpful 

If you take one thing away from this post, remember to review your content. Things move and change. The only way to keep on top of your content inventory is to assess it on a regular basis. If you’ve never done a content audit before, you might be surprised at what you find. You can take a look at some of the metrics you should track in an SEO audit to assess how well your content is performing. 

Ask yourself and others if a piece of content is helpful, and if the answer is no, decide how to act on that. Is it worth improving? What can you do to make it more valuable to your readers? Keeping your content up to date is a huge job but it’s certainly worthwhile, and the results are really satisfying!

Content audits are incredibly time-consuming, but they’re also very revealing. There’s never been a better time to review your content and make some changes for the better. Don’t forget that we’re always here if you need help auditing your content. If you’re not sure where to start, why not give us a call to see how we could help you?

Claire Brain

Claire Brain

Claire gained her varied digital marketing experience through leading the online marketing for an ecommerce start-up, and joined Boom in 2014 to specialise in SEO. In her time as an account manager, she has managed a variety of SEO accounts for both B2C and B2B clients. She leads the SEO Copywriting team.View Author posts

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