How will Google’s helpful content update affect enterprise eCommerce?


Google has said that the helpful content update will especially improve results related to online shopping. So what do enterprise eCommerce marketers need to know now to avoid dips in performance?

You’ve probably heard already; Google has finished rolling out the helpful content update.

So what’s changed?

Do eCommerce marketers need to call an emergency meeting with their dev teams?

Are we all doomed for site-wide performance crashes?

Before we reach for the alarm bell, let’s first take a step back.

Let’s look at what helpful content update means in the context of eCommerce.

What is Google's helpful content update?

According to Google, the update looks at websites as a whole and penalises those “that seem to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines rather than to help or inform people.”

The helpful content update rewards websites that provide users with a satisfying experience. These websites give users what they’re searching for and display content exactly how they expect to find it.

Pages should be relevant, not swimming with an overwhelming amount of keyword-stuffed content and deliver an experience that delights users.

Those with a large amount of content that does not help users will be penalised. These eCommerce websites display products contrary to how users search and what they search for. It’s looking for websites built for search engines, not people.

Here’s what Google has to say about the update:

"People-first content creators focus on creating satisfying content, while also utilising SEO best practices to bring searchers additional value."

What it’s saying is relevance comes first, and SEO principles come second.

Google has confirmed that the helpful content update process runs automatically and continuously.

As John Mueller Tweeted:

"You decide what you write. And whether it's low effort or not. Go and make truly awesome things that bring value to the web. That said, if you're giving financial advice on a beauty blog, I suspect users are – probably rightly – going to find that a bit sus."

If we translate this into an eCommerce context (because most of the industry commentary seems to be centred around long-form content), what he’s saying is to use your common sense. If you veer too far away from your niche of, say, organic cosmetics, or used European cars, it won’t sit favourably with Google.

So how do you quantify the helpfulness of content?

That’s largely for Google to know and for us to find out.

*Spoiler alert* it’s all subjective.

It all comes down to having an honest conversation with yourself and your team. 

And that’s coming from Google.

Ask yourselves:

· Do your product landing pages (PLPs) deliver on the promise of search? Will your target audience find what products they’re looking for easily?

· Do product(s) on the page clearly reflect their search term? Is it easy to browse?

· Does your eCommerce site demonstrate a clear and consistent message throughout? (Broad messaging can come across to Google as if you’re trying to capture a broad audience, not a niche).

· Will users feel like they’ve had a satisfying experience? Or will they have to bounce back to Google in search of more relevant pages?

There’s a whole day’s workshop in the above bullets. 

What do eCommerce marketers need to know now?

Google has said that the ranking update will especially improve results related to online shopping. 

But delivering on the promise of search at scale is an area where many enterprise eCommerce marketers have struggled to refine.

With thousands of product SKUs, product variations and search-friendly product descriptors, site-wide user experience has unsurprisingly not been a significant priority for many.   

For this reason, the helpful content update could be more a blessing than a curse. But only for those businesses that have invested heavily in UX. They could now begin to see the fruits of their labour. 

I’m not talking about the companies that stuffed keywords into their duplicate product descriptions or ticked every box on the “Metadata for Dummies” checklist. 

Google has already stated it won’t reward sites built for search engines.  

I’m talking about the companies that leveraged unique platform tech that enabled them to scale their site UX and inject relevance into their PLPs. These guys, aware that an update like this was inevitable, leapt ahead of the curve and opted for scaleability. They launched pages that reflect how people search.

What does this mean for big site SEO?

It’s still early days; the update only finished rolling out on the 9th of September. No one knows the significance and scale of these changes. 

Commentators like Barry Schwartz of SEO Roundtable call it a “dud of an update”.

But Search Liaison at Google, Danny Sullivan, maintains that the update is part of a continuing effort and that eCommerce marketers should consider the SEO guidance given. These comments are echoed by John Mueller. 

Because it’s a site-wide signal, the challenge big sites will face with this update is ensuring all content on the site is helpful, not just some of it. It’s simply not enough for a portion of your site to be helpful. For sites with thousands of PLPs, this can feel near impossible to manage, without scalability.

Contact Longtail UX to find out how to optimise your site’s content and create truly helpful PLPs at scale for the long tail of search. 


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