What Does Google’s Helpful Content Update Means for Medical SEO in 2023?

Posted by Surgeon’s Advisor

Doctor holding a laptop writing an medical article because he's an expert in medical content.

What Changed With September 2023’s Helpful Content Update?

Google’s current classifier process is now centered on user-first content over low-quality content that is meant to “look good for SEO”, they even created a list of questions you should ask yourself about your content in order to know if your site’s traffic will be hit by this update. There are many questions in that document but they all revolve around: “Are you creating content that is meant to be read by real people and fully answer their queries?”

But about the most important points that this Helpful Content Update has can be synthesized as:

  1. AI-generated content is ok now, as long as it is useful to your target audience.
  2. Your content strategy must revolve around being useful to real people and not just to increase search traffic.
  3. Make sure to let users (and Google) know that your content was made by (or at least reviewed by) someone with actual expertise on the subject.
  4. Keep your content fresh and updated but don’t “force it” (changing the date of pages and removing lots of content just because it was old).
  5. Disavow Third-party content on your site or remove it altogether.

AI-Written Content Doesn’t Mean Unhelpful Content

This is one of the biggest changes in this core update. The use of artificial intelligence is something that worried people before because AI was related to the mass creation of unnatural “robotic-looking” text in lots of trash pages meant to rank in search engines and little more, which fairly speaking, is something Google looks down upon. But after September 14, Google’s guidance on machine-generated content changed and now doesn’t really care about using Chat GPT (or any other AI-driven content tool) as long as it is useful to the users or adds value to the page. So using AI is fine as long as you create something that will help users reach their goals with it.

Doctor and robot shaking hands meaning that AI-generated content is now acceptable for Google as long as it is useful for users.
Doctor and robot shaking hands meaning that AI-generated content is now acceptable for Google as long as it is useful for users.

What is Considered Helpful Content for Google’s Algorithm Now?

With useful “high-quality” content, Google means content that is not meant to get clicks or high search rankings on SERPs but to answer queries from users. Think about inverting the incentives of SEO: is not about “creating good search engine-first content to appear on top so people will look at your page first and read from you” Instead, now it’s more like “creating content that is worth reading by people so Google will position you on top and they can get it”. Before, the focus was on content creators and marketers using Google as a reach-out tool, now the focus is on the users using Google as a tool to get useful answers.

Prioritize a Satisfying Experience for Your Audience Over Google Search Results

There was a big push for creating content aimed to satisfy users instead of search engines in this helpful content update. Google now seems to look down on content creators who create lots of content tailored for visibility in SERPs instead of user experience and usefulness. This doesn’t mean ditching SEO altogether, Google even has a guide for you to optimize your content ethically, and doing so is always the better choice. But it does mean that even when optimizing your content for search engines, think about the value of your content for other people.

The Biggest SEO Question of 2023

Before publishing a page or blog post, ask yourself the following: why would somebody want to read the exact same generic, rewritten piece of content about some topic on YOUR page when they could read it on a more authoritative site? what is so special about your website that a random user should consider reading from you and not from an already established authority in the industry?

For example, if Webmd already answers all the main questions about blepharoplasty, your blepharoplasty page (or blog post) should not only answer the question in place but also have something else that you can’t find in Webmd. You could do some keyword research and find out that nobody really answers a specific question about the pricing of rhinoplasty in your area (even though there are many pages talking about it), well, that’s a great opportunity for you to not only answer it (directly) but to add more to it by including information about how insurance could cover part of the procedure which can be of great value for users looking for that answer.

The main idea is to create valuable content that leaves users with the feeling that they know everything they need to know about that topic so they can now decide on whatever they’re pursuing. If your page or article didn’t fully answer their questions about the topic, then you should double your content creation efforts to create pages that fully satisfy your target audience and leave no loose ends.

So, if somebody enters your page looking to know about the “price of rhinoplasty in New Jersey,” they should end up knowing everything about the price of rhinoplasty in New Jersey, the factors that affect it, the numbers, whether or not you can cover part of it with insurance and when, everything, not just a loose idea of how we would price it for their specific case without telling any number. So even if the user leaves your site after reading that page, they will know everything they need to know about the specific topic they came to know about.

Make Sure You Showcase Your (or Someone else’s) First-Hand Expertise On The Subject

Combined, niche expertise and trustworthiness hold 20% of the weight in Google’s last month’s algorithm update, so is no surprise that showcasing real expertise in the subject your site covers is a big part of this Helpful Content Update.

A Blog With Fresh High-Quality Content is Good but Cheating the System Isn’t

One of Google’s new ranking factors is content freshness, however, people think that modifying the date of publishing of an article or deleting large amounts of old posts will somehow make the entire site look more “fresh” in the eyes of Google which isn’t necessary a good thing (especially with Evergreen content). But the reality is that Google now only cares about the usefulness of the content not so much about the time it was originally published, so as long as your content is up to date and peer-reviewed, your “old pages” should be good in this regard.

Third-Party Content May Affect Your Site’s Ranking on Google

The more focused your website is on one particular topic, the better. If you host a different “micro-site” on your website to manipulate search results, Google now sees this as a shady technique that you should avoid. Either block them from being indexed by Google or just simply don’t host them at all.

How to Recover from the Helpful Content Update (If You Got Hit)

Young people leaning in a wall browsing the internet with their phones because Google's Helpful Content Update prioritizes them over SEO content.
Young people leaning in a wall browsing the internet with their phones because Google’s Helpful Content Update prioritizes them over SEO content.

Depending on your assessment of your own site and the insights you gained from it, there are many corrective measures you can apply in order to recover from this HCU. In general, focusing on creating new engaging content every week or every month is the best thing you can do even if you weren’t hit by the algorithm. A high frequency of posting engaging content that is fresh and backed by experts is the most important ranking factor in 2023, but if you noticed that your site decreased in position, impressions, or clicks, you can:

  1. Update the old content (that can be updated).
  2. Make sure that your pages close all knowledge gaps in the niche topic you cover.
  3. Remove all mentions or claims that can be falsifiable by recent knowledge.
  4. Delete only the content that is hopelessly not relevant anymore.

If you work with Evergreen content this shouldn’t be much of an issue, but if your sector sees constant development in technological support, techniques, or even scientific knowledge, then take a look at your pages/blog posts and make sure that all your content reflects the current reality of the industry.

Do not change the date of posting or frivolously remove lots of old content just for the sake of looking like a “newly-launched site”, instead, overhaul your old content, and add an “updated on…” segment at the bottom. Also, if you are a proven expert in your field and there’s no reference of your authorship, try adding a small bio block or at least a “written by…” segment that includes a link to your about page. Anything that lets users (and Google) know that the content writer has expertise in the subject adds to your SEO efforts.

Improve Your Content Strategy by Working With an Expert

Navigating the complexities of SEO, especially after significant updates like Google’s Helpful Content Update, can be overwhelming. Your primary role is to provide top-notch medical care to your patients, be it in plastic surgery, ENT, or dentistry. This is where the value of partnering with a digital marketing expert comes into play. By delegating your online marketing needs to professionals, you free up valuable time and resources to focus on patient care, research, and staying updated on medical advancements.

When it comes to entrusting someone with your online presence, experience matters. Surgeon’s Advisor has been at the forefront of medical marketing for over 20 years. We’ve had the privilege of working with numerous physicians across a range of specialties, including but not limited to plastic surgery, ENT, neurosurgery, reconstructive surgery, and dentistry. Our deep industry know-how ensures that your practice will not just navigate, but thrive, in the ever-changing landscape of SEO. Make the decision to work with a partner who understands both the art of medicine and the science of SEO. Reach out to Surgeon’s Advisor today.

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