Google "Helpful" Update Potential Impact On Real Estate Websites

There is a pretty significant update coming to Google in the coming weeks that may impact millions of websites. The “Google Helpful Update”.

For those of you who don’t know, a major update is when Google changes/implements new features so meaningful, that they can dramatically change the landscape of search.

What is the purpose of the Google Helpful Update?

Google is trying to get rid of spam content.

In this case, they want to remove any content that is not “helpful” to users.

Typically this means content that was constructed specifically for search engine rankings but does not bring any real value to the consumer themselves.

Personally, I’m quite excited for this update as it will hopefully remove a lot of spam and scraper sites from the equation.

How this might impact real estate websites:

If you wrote scripts to "auto-generate content:

You might be (and should be) in big trouble. Canned / auto-generate content is NOT a recommended SEO strategy at Real Estate Webmasters and our product does not do this in any way by default.

Some people however have programmers or staff basically copy-paste canned content across all pages to quickly populate hundred or thousands of pages. (They think this helps them rank, but it doesn’t).

If you did this, you should scramble to delete those pages before this update hits or you might be in the doghouse.

IDX websites and Google Helpful Update:

By their very nature, IDX pages are duplicative since compliance regulations do not allow for the modification of the fact-based content as it relates to listings details.

There are techniques you can use to display content in different ways but they are limited. As such it is VERY POSSIBLE that this update may impact IDX websites.

How much impact and in which ways remains to be seen. But this is the most obvious first potential pitfall of this update to real estate websites.

Agent sub-domains and Google Helpful Update:

Every agent “should” be adding unique (and helpful) content to their sub-domains, but let’s fact it, a lot of agents receive the “Default content” from their broker and never change it. This creates several duplicate content pages across many subdomains.

It is not yet known how the “Helpful” update will impact real estate sub-domains, but again this particular element is highly likely in my opinion to be impacted by this update.

What can be done? (How might you fix it if you get hit?)

In the case of agent sub-domains, the best solution is to make it mandatory that your agents populate unique, helpful content before turning on their websites. It’s best to avoid installing too many default pages with duplicate content.

If you must have duplicate content (because you don’t care about sub-domains rankings, and you just want the agents to have consistent content, then you can work with your webmaster to block spiders from your sub-domains, and treat them as canonical or put no index on their pages.

To be honest, agents rarely put in enough work for sub-domains to rank anyways, so this really is not that impactful of a step and could avoid a serious domain-wide penalty.

In the case of IDX pages - rarely does the agent, team or brokerage have the ability to customize or affect the outcome of IDX pages (those who use REW would be the exception).

We’re hoping that this update does not hit IDX details pages, but if it does, similar concepts can be applied (robots.txt blocking of listings pages, no indeed on the pages themselves etc.

The logic is, if in fact Google no longer is willing to rank details pages, you might as well remove them from the index so they don’t harm the rest of your domain since Google has confirmed, that this algorithm update WILL impact their opinion of your entire site (not just the pages that are unhelpful)

There are far more elegant and creative solutions of course, especially when it comes to “your own” listings.

Since your own listings are generally not subject to compliance in the same way, you could code your site so that “your” listings were do-follow and indexed, but all other listings were not.

For your own listings, you could demonstrate extra value by augmenting your listing descriptions, adding extra media, and changing your writeups specifically on your site to ensure they are quite different than everyone else’s (I can think of many more things to do here)

All we know right now (for sure) is - this update is going to happen!

And so we do need to wait and find out how much this might hard your sites (if at all)

Hopefully, you have already been focused on high-quality, unique content and have worked to differentiate your listings pages from everyone else’s

Some final notes on the Google Helpful Search update:

  • Timeline to release: (the next few weeks)
  • Sites targetted (those with content SEO’d for search engines, not humans)
  • Google search only (for now) and only English. Though they may expand this
  • How to recover? Undo all the stuff they don’t like. Get rid of any canned or unhelpful content
  • Timeline to recover: Many experts and indeed Google themselves have said that it can take many months of hard work to recover from any impact of this update. Not only do they want to see you make the changes needed, but they want to give it time for you to demonstrate that you will continue with your new “quality” ways and not revert back to lazy, unhelpful tactics.

Keep an eye on your analytics and search console for the next few weeks. I recommend you take a snapshot right now of your rankings, that way you can do a comparison before and after.

Feel free to bookmark this thread for updates and to learn more.

My advice is don’t wait to get hit. If you know you have any issues related to content that is autogenerated or unhelpful, go deal with them now before it’s too late.

If you do get hit, you will probably need professional help.

We’re here to help guide you if you need it.