I mentioned earlier in the week that the “Helpful Content Update” is coming from Google. In some ways, it has already begun. Google already has the data. It is just a matter of pushing the button and rolling it out.  I have shared details on the update and the key facts from reputable industry information sources. One of the main responses to this algorithm change in our industry will be content pruning projects to get rid of the content that isn’t “helpful”.  The first question is of course…

What Content Isn’t Helpful?

There is what Google thinks is helpful and what your visitors think is helpful. There is likely a lot of overlap there, but they are two different things. Google will basically tell you what they think is helpful via some of their free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Ideally, you will use a professional for this, as there are paid tools that can do this a bit easier and also double-check some things for you. Also, keep in mind that just because a page doesn’t rank in Google doesn’t mean it isn’t useful.  You should check your Analytics to see if visitors go to these pages, even if not from rankings. If your business gets a lot of traffic from other sources like social, paid, or others, it may still be useful, but just not for SEO. You may want to just “noindex” the page as it isn’t needed to rank, but may be helpful to your users anyway.

Setting Up Google Analytics and Search Console if You Don’t Have It
You will want to have these set up on your website. If you don’t already, this “free” process may not be as helpful for you, because we will be using these free tools. I would get them set up right away.  The products will lead you through the process of setting them up, but you will need to insert code on your site, so you may need your developer’s assistance if you don’t know where to put it.

What Google Thinks is Helpful

To find out what Google already thinks is helpful, you can go to Search Console and view your pages that have had impressions and clicks recently. I would recommend at least 6 months of data, as represented in the main image on this post. You will find this view in the “Search Results” portion of the Search Console in the menu on the left side. If Google finds it helpful, you will be showing up here. You will download this list of “helpful content” from Search Console. Then the trouble is the other pages. You are looking to prune out the pages nobody has an interest in.  So far you have just found the ones Google finds interesting.

Which Pages Have Inbound Links?

Another important SEO piece of the puzzle is inbound links. These are part of the fuel to your fire that gives you ranking strength. If from reputable sources, these links tell Google your content is useful and worth linking to. You typically don’t want to get rid of pages that have generated reputable inbound links. Google Search Console is your friend here. Again for free. There are paid tools that a good SEO can use that will help get a broader scope of this, but if you are a DIYer, at least use this step. As an example, both the Moz and SEMRush link tools, both of which are respected at doing link audits, find around 1,500 inbound links to the example site, whereas Search Console presents about 1,000.  They should be mostly directionally accurate though. Again, if you are looking to do it yourself for free, this is probably the best representation. Choose Links on the left side menu in Search Console and export all of the top pages.

Search Console Inbound Links

Which Pages Are Being Used

Here is where your Google Analytics tool comes into play. If you have another tool you are using that can show which pages have traffic, that is fine too. We have seen the pages from Google Search Console which have search engine traffic, but what about all of the other page activity on the site?  Just because they don’t come through Google search doesn’t mean they aren’t being used.  Though if they aren’t being found in search, and are being used, you may want to put noindex code on them. This makes them still exist for users, but tells the Google bot to ignore it for SEO purposes. Go into your Google Analytics and take a look at “All Pages” under your “Site Content” section of “Behavior”. Again, you may want to use a good amount of time. Perhaps six months or whatever you used for your search activity, to get a good representation. Download these pages. The frustrating thing here is that though your other downloads will typically give you the full URL, as in https://www.youcanbefound.com/services/search-engine-optimization-seo/ , the analytics login will present it as /services/search-engine-optimization-seo/.  This removes the domain portion, which makes it harder to connect later on when trying to combine the data. I won’t get into that here, but a hint is that you will likely use that concatenate formula in Excel to combine the domain portion with the rest of the URL and then do vlookups to connect the data.

All Pages with Traffic in Google Analytics


Downloading All of Your URLs for Free

If your site isn’t too big, you can use a tool like “Screaming Frog” for free. This is an industry respected tool that will index and identify information about your website. You can index your site there and get a full list of your URLs, and if your site has fewer than 500 pages it is free. More than that and you will need to pay a couple of hundred dollars. There are other spiders out there to get your site information and you may find another one that does more pages for free if you search. I trust Screaming Frog enough to pay for it.  If you are getting hit by the Google Update and it is costing you traffic, it is probably worth the cost if you have a big site. Keep in mind, that Screaming Frog will download many URLs that aren’t necessarily “active”. You will want to download the response codes.  Anything starting with a 4 or 5 such as 404 is basically an error. You will want to redirect those pages, but that gets outside the scope of this exercise. Generally, 301’s are ok, but 200’s are the active pages on your site.  These are the ones you want to find out are useful or being used.

Screaming Frog Site Indexing

Remove Pages that Aren’t Useful

The unique part of this latest update is it is sitewide. Many of the early Google updates applied a score to your entire site, but in recent years most were at a page level.  We have moved back to looking at your whole site. If you have a large percentage of content that is not deemed helpful by Google on your site, they will downgrade your whole site until they see you have fixed it.

You have all of the data. The time-consuming and tedious process is cross-referencing all of these pages and coming down to the ones that have no value and then taking action. Put them all in one workbook and then look at combining them via vlookup functions in Excel (Hint: Use concatenate as referenced above if your URLs don’t match exactly in format). You can eliminate the useful pages from your initial exports from the full list you got from Screaming Frog, or whatever tool you have use.

Now that you have figured out all of your useful data by looking at the pages people visit, link to, or find in search, you can remove the rest. Follow proper SEO procedures for removing pages.  Good luck getting back on track. I know this is all a lot, and using the free tools may not be complete. If you decide you want help, we are here for you. Just give us a call!