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Local Memo: All About Google’s Helpful Content Update


In this week’s update, learn about Google’s new helpful content update; the features of local pack headers; the best times to post on social media; the impact of products on local ranking; new Reels features on Instagram and Facebook; and a recent spate of Google Post removals. 


All About Google’s Helpful Content Update


Google has introduced a new site-wide ranking signal that aims to promote helpful content and demote content that is merely written to rank well in search. The update’s official name (including the lowercase treatment) is the “helpful content update”; commentators have already begun calling it HCU for short. In its official announcement, Google says they will look for signals that content on a website is providing information that leaves users feeling satisfied. 


Google says it will penalize content when it detects these indications of unhelpfulness:


  • Content that appears to be written in order to rank, rather than for humans
  • A site that covers multiple unrelated topics
  • Signs that automation is used to produce content
  • Content that merely summarizes other published sources
  • Content written to capitalize on search trends
  • Signs that users keep searching after reading a piece of content (indicating the content has not satisfied their needs)
  • Content on niche topics that does not demonstrate expertise
  • Content that answers a question that does not have an answer (such as claiming to know the release date of a movie that has no confirmed release date)


The update will begin an approximately two-week rollout this week. Google will demote an entire site if it is determined to contain too much unhelpful content, and the company warns that the penalty could remain in place for months after any updates are made to address it, in order to avoid rewarding temporary fixes. For now, the new ranking signal applies only to English-language content. Experts like Glenn Gabe are predicting that HCU will have a significant, measurable impact on site ranking, more so than the relatively mild impact of the recent Page Experience update.


Analysis Reveals Features of Local Pack Headers


I neglected to mention a post from a couple of weeks back that deserves some attention. Miriam Ellis, writing on the Moz blog, offers thoughts on a SERP feature you’ve probably seen many times but may not have paid much attention to. The feature is what Ellis refers to as the local pack header; it’s the text that appears above a local pack identifying the referenced businesses by type. Sometimes, local pack headers are self-evident, such as when you search for “Starbucks near me” and see the header “Starbucks.” But only 40% of headers match the query. As Ellis points out, unmatched headers can be counterintuitive and don’t seem to follow a clear pattern. 


She offers several examples. Searching for “desk” triggers the header “In-store Availability,” whereas “couch” triggers “Furniture Stores.” Searching for “pho” triggers “Vietnamese Restaurants” but “spaghetti” merely triggers “Spaghetti” — though the results include Italian restaurants. The patterns are difficult to discern, but Ellis points out that it’s worth becoming aware of the headers triggered by searches relevant to your business, so that you can potentially optimize for those phrases.


An image showing search results for a search for "accent chairs" on Google


An exact match local pack header for “accent chairs,” courtesy Moz


The Best Times to Post on Social Media


A study from CoSchedule looks at 37 million social media posts from 30,000 organizations to determine the best times to post on every popular social media app. These are the times when posts in the dataset received the most engagement from their target audiences. The study finds that the best times to post on social media overall are 7:00 PM, 3:15 PM, and 8:41 AM — in your target audience’s time zone — on Friday, Wednesday, and Monday. These results differ by platform; the study identifies the optimal posting days and times on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. It’s worth pointing out that optimal posting times may differ significantly from one target audience to another; companies should conduct their own research to determine when to post to gain the best engagement from their specific target audiences. 


Product Inventory Boosts Local Visibility


Back in April, Google added a passage to its help page on local ranking which told us that adding product inventory to Google Business Profiles was now a ranking signal. Now we have some apparent proof from product inventory startup Near St., whose research shows that after the introduction of product inventory, views on Google immediately increase, resulting in a lift of approximately 100% over previous results. This was the result for a single company, but Near St. claims many of its customers are “seeing significant additional exposure on SERPs” after adding products to their profiles. 



A graph showing the impact of product inventory on local visibility


Source: Near Media / Near St.


New Reels Features Added to Instagram and Facebook


Meta has launched several new features for Reels on both Instagram and Facebook. These include surveys and questions to encourage participation from viewers; an expansion of the Stars tool that helps creators take donations; new performance insights including reach, minutes viewed, and average time watched; and cross-posting from Instagram to Facebook. Included with the update is a new feature that allows users to convert previously uploaded Stories content into the Reels format automatically, a further indication that Meta is doubling down on Reels as its leading video format, part of the company’s ongoing defensive response to the growth of TikTok. 


GBP Users Frustrated by Post Removals


Following on the heels of an update to the content guidelines for Google Posts which suggests that stock photos are no longer allowed, users are complaining that posts of all kinds, including those that contain original photos, are being rejected by Google. Google is known to reject posts, either through its automated systems or its human moderation team, when they violate guidelines, but there have been instances in the past when the automated system seemed to be rampantly punishing posts that had no real violations, and this seems to be another of those times. The news echoes a problem that has been ongoing for several months whereby Google reviews are removed from publication, even though they don’t seem to contain any indicators that they violate Google’s review guidelines.

Damian Rollison

With over a decade of local search experience, Damian Rollison, SOCI's Director of Market Insights, has focused his career on discovering innovative ways to help businesses large and small get noticed online. Damian's columns appear frequently at Street Fight, Search Engine Land, and other publications, and he is a frequent speaker at industry conferences such as Localogy, Brand Innovators, State of Search, SMX, and more.

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