Google Helpful Content Update September 2023: What You Need To Know


Google Helpful Content Update September 2023: What You Need To Know

James Norquay

James Norquay

09 Oct 2023

Google’s September update has finished rolling out and Google is doubling down on Helpful Content. 

Everyone should be aware of how this update works as there are site-wide implications. Those that aren’t may see their content downgraded, while those that are will benefit the most. 

Read on to find out more about how the update works and how Google wants you to create ‘Helpful Content’. 

What is the Helpful Content Update?

Google launched their first Helpful Content update in August 2022. The update is designed to reward original, helpful content created for people rather than ranking in search engines. 

This is all part of Google’s push to find high-quality content. The higher the quality of content, the better experience users of Google will have. 

Increasingly, sites have used search engine optimisation tactics to rank their content high. While there isn’t an issue with this, it becomes an issue if the content quality is low but the ranking is high. 

When users find these pages they bounce and it causes a bad user experience which is a problem for Google. 

The Helpful Content update was released to demote these types of websites and to promote websites that are genuinely helpful. The way Google wants creators to look at it is: write for humans, not robots. 

What’s Different in this Latest Update?

This latest update was rolled out from September 14 to 28 and improves upon how Google classifies helpful content. 

While most of the changes go on behind the scenes, the following changes were added to the Helpful Content Page and their page on SEO Fundamentals

Third-Party Content: If your website hosts third-party content, this content may be included in the helpful content signals. 

“Fresh” Content: Avoid falsely updating the dates of pages or adding/removing content that hasn’t been substantially changed. 

Created FOR People: Google also changed the wording on these pages from “written by people” to “helpful content created for people in search results.”

What You Need To Know

Most people don’t have time to go through Google Search Central every time Google releases an algorithm update. To save time we’ve found what you need to know and translated it from Google to Regular English. 

After every algorithm update, we ask ourselves two questions: 

  1. What do we know for certain about this update?
  2. How might this look moving forward?

To be able to answer the second question we first need to establish the first. 

Site-Wide Algorithm

The Helpful Content update will be applied on a site-wide basis rather than a page-by-page basis. 

For example, if Google deems your website to have a high number of pages with ‘unhelpful content’ then it will hurt your whole website, not just the individual pages. 

This means that even if the other pages on your site are high quality, there’s a chance that this update will affect the ranking of those pages as well. 

Exactly how Google determines the threshold for this remains a mystery. However, if your site has been negatively affected then this is one of the first places to look. 

Google recommends removing unhelpful content from your site which in turn could help the rankings of your other content. 

Types of Content

It’s safe to assume that pretty much every type of content will be crawled with these new guidelines. Whatever niche or industry your website is in it will have to adhere to the Helpful Content guidelines if it wants the best chance at succeeding. 

However, we want to draw special attention to tutorial and review-type content. This type of content makes up a large part of the internet and incentives such as affiliate marketing and display advertising have only increased that. Google has hinted that the often low-quality nature of this content in particular is the reason why this update has become so important. 

If your site has published genuine, well-written content that adds something to the SERPs then you have nothing to worry about. If not, you might find that this update comes knocking on the door of your website first. 

AI Content

One interesting amendment that this update brought about was Google changing the wording “written by people” to “content created for people”. 

Reading between the lines it seems like Google is adapting the way it talks about AI-generated content. It doesn’t matter exactly how the content is created, what matters more is the output. 

Content from AI writers tends to be generic as it’s writing about what has already been written. Under the new Helpful Content update guidelines, this type of content would be considered low quality. 

Machine Learning Algorithm

To help evaluate content, Google is using a new machine learning algorithm. This makes it seem like it’s a more significant change and Google has said that there’s a variety of quality signals that they use. These algorithms can take a bit of time to learn and get things right.

What to Look For

The obvious answer is a drop in organic traffic but the first place that you will be able to see this is in Google Search Console. If your site starts getting fewer impressions it means that you’re likely dropping down the search results. This is what’s going to translate into a drop in organic traffic. 

SEO tools such as Ahrefs can give you more granular data on individual keyword rankings. Monitoring movements can not only show you if you’ve been downgraded but can also show you if your competitors have been rewarded. 

What Happens if Your Site Has Been Hit?

If you’ve noticed a drop in the performance of your site that coincides with the rollout of this update avoid hitting panic station just yet. Algorithm updates can often cause dips (or spikes) in performance that rectify themselves in a few weeks. 

Because of this, you should avoid any snap decisions and instead monitor progress on a daily basis. If things don’t start to improve after two to four weeks then it’s likely that your site has been affected by the update. 

The next step is to assess your content to try and find any low-quality content that might be the cause. Remove or de-index any content that doesn’t pass your assessment. 

Once you’ve done that all you can do is wait for the classifier from your site to be removed. There’s no exact time frame for this but it could take several months. 

What Makes Helpful Content?

Google Search Central has posted a series of questions along with this update so you can assess existing and new content. 

This should be combined with the principles of E-E-A-T in order to give your content the best chance of ranking. This will become even more important as future updates rollout. 

Google also wants creators to avoid creating search engine-first content. This doesn’t mean SEO has become less valuable, it means that the difference between average and good SEO is widening. 

Those who haven’t put the necessary effort into their content and SEO strategy, or have used spam tactics, will see diminishing returns. While those who know what they’re doing, or hire those who do, will reap the rewards. 

Tips for Assessing Your Content

If you have a lot of content on your website, pinpointing what’s causing the issue can be difficult. The best solution is to get some help from experienced SEO professionals who have the time and resources to dig deep into problems. 

Send our team a message if you want us to take a look. We’ve helped clients to not only bounce back from algorithm updates but also to make the most of them. 

If that’s not an option then consider using ChatGPT to help you out. We first saw this from Steve Toth and it uses the Access Link plugin for ChatGPT4.

When you have the plugin installed you can use the following prompt:

Please compare this article [link] to the Google Helpful Content Guidelines and offer suggestions on how the content can be improved to meet the guidelines.

ChatGPT will then compare your content against the guidelines and provide details of where you fall short. Bear in mind that this is AI and its suggestions aren’t a replacement for human experience. But, it can help you to assess things at speed and provide a different viewpoint to consider. 

James Norquay

James Norquay founded Prosperity Media in 2012 after working in the SEO & Content Marketing space for over 10 years. Prosperity works on Small to Large eCommerce, Marketplace and many other projects in Australia and the US markets.