Evie Barrett
Aug 24, 2022

Is Google's helpful content update helpful to PR?

The search engine change will prioritise results that provide ‘unique, authentic information’ to readers over SEO-optimised content.

Is Google's helpful content update helpful to PR?

Last week, the technology company announced a 'helpful content update', noting: “We know people don’t find content helpful if it seems like it was designed to attract clicks rather than inform readers. So starting next week for English users globally, we’re rolling out a series of improvements to Search to make it easier for people to find helpful content made by, and for, people.”

The update aims to “make sure that unoriginal, low-quality content doesn’t rank highly in Search”.

This announcement has been welcomed by some PR practitioners, including Nigel Sarbutts, founder of The PR Cavalry, who wrote on LinkedIn: “Looks like the PR sector should be sending Mr Google a big thank you card.”

Sarbutts explains to PRWeek: “This move is good for the PR sector because it favours authentic, well-written and original content that is relevant to an audience, and penalises cynical content designed purely to game the algorithm for higher rankings.”

Search engine optimisation

Those PR agencies claiming to specialise in search engine optimisation (SEO) may feel threatened by Google’s latest move. However, in a Google Search Central blog post, the company clarifies: “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.”

“PR and SEO are completely intertwined,” says Sarbutts, “but there is a risk of PR campaigns being designed around the tactical pursuit of links rather than serving an audience, and one of Google’s aims is to downscore content where there is no obvious link between the content and the intended audience, or where it looks like a brand has jumped on a trend just for clicks.”

Rise at Seven, which describes itself as “the search-first creative agency”, is one of an increasing number of marcomms businesses priding themselves on delivering SEO-tailored content, but the agency’s PR director, Will Hobson, remains positive about Google’s plans to “devalue sites which have content written primarily for SEO purposes”.

“At Rise at Seven, our ‘search everywhere’ proposition ensures that every element of the user search experience is seamless across platforms, and is always audience-first. Every update that Google rolls out is intended to improve the quality of user experience and this is no different.

“This is what we’ve been talking about for years – it’s all about relevancy. Your campaign pages need to be super-relevant to the brand, but also offer something of actual use.”

‘Unoriginal’ content

Some of those responding to Sarbutts expressed concerns about this update’s impact on more traditional PR practices too, fearing that information from press releases being published by multiple news outlets could lead to Google deeming the content ‘unoriginal’.

In response, Sarbutts tells PRWeek: “The comments about press releases being duplicate content are missing the point somewhat – this update is chiefly about what brands publish on their own site, rather than the content of a press release. If a publisher ran a random story just for clicks rather than because it was relevant to their audience, then they deserve all they get. It would be like PRWeek doing a Love Island special. Instant bounce in clicks from that audience, but immediate damage to your brand.”

James Meredith, head of external relations at tech PR agency Liberty Comms, also sees Google’s latest move as a benefit to most of the PR industry.

“I think it’s interesting to consider this update from the perspective of thought leadership content when it comes to PR campaigns,” he says.

Particularly for media relations professionals trying to position clients as industry spokespeople in the press, Meredith says successful proposals to journalists “must be newsworthy and inform readers” anyway, thus aligning with Google’s goal and helping “good quality thought leadership content thrive”.

‘Don’t panic’

In the current circumstances, Adam Driver, founder of Authentic Comms Strategic Consultancy, offers PR pros one key piece of advice: “Don’t panic.”

In a LinkedIn post, he says: “If you’re doing things right, then this should help your content and traffic for your website.”

He advises those who are apprehensive to consider the following questions: “Are you mainly summarising what others have to say without adding much value? Are you writing about things simply because they seem trending and not because you’d write about them otherwise for your existing audience? Does your content leave readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources?”

Liberty Comms’ Meredith concludes: “The ‘test’ for PR professionals will be to ensure that what they are delivering for clients really is legitimately informative – but then that should be the starting point from the outset, regardless of what Google is doing in the background.”


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