Last Thursday (14 September), Google began rolling out its September 2023 helpful content update, the first one since last December.
I definitely think there can be too much focus on algorithm updates. Small tweaks and improvements are being made all the time, and often changes to your rankings can be wrongfully attributed to these updates, when actually they were caused by anything from the weather, to changes from your competitors, to a rise or fall in demand.
That said, I do think there are a couple of interesting changes to this update worth knowing about, but first, a little context.
What is Google’s helpful content system update?
The helpful content update was introduced about a year ago, targeting “content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines rather than to help or inform people.”
This could be anything from awful, keyword stuffed drivel, to click-bait headlines, or endless waffle optimised around a high volume keyword. We’ve all seen enough of it online!
What’s the new update targeting?
This update will continue to reward better and more useful content that was written for humans and to help users, over content written solely for the purpose of ranking in search engines.
There are a few specific changes to the guidelines that are quite interesting.
Changing dates to try and game the system
Google added a couple of additions to its guidelines:
- “Are you changing the date of pages to make them seem fresh when the content has not substantially changed?”
- “Are you adding a lot of new content or removing a lot of older content primarily because you believe it will help your search rankings overall by somehow making your site seem “fresh?” (No, it won’t)”
This is a really welcome update. It seems mad that in the year 2023 someone can change the date of an article and game the system, but it does occasionally work, so I’m glad Google’s pulling its finger out.
(As a side note, I’d also advise against killing off content just because it’s ‘old’ regardless of this new update!)
Clarification on AI content
Google seems to be suggesting that it’s ok to use machine generated content if the quality and relevance are strong (I can see the LinkedIn posts already). It changed the phrase “written by people” to “helpful content created for people”:
- “Google Search’s helpful content system generates a signal used by our automated ranking systems to better ensure people see original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.”
- “Google Search’s helpful content system generates a signal used by our automated ranking systems to better ensure people see original, helpful content created for people in search results.”
Google added new guidance about hosting third-party content.
The following was added to the guidelines:
- “If you host third-party content on your main site or in your subdomains, understand that such content may be included in site-wide signals we generate, such as the helpfulness of content. For this reason, if that content is largely independent of the main site’s purpose or produced without close supervision or the involvement of the primary site, we recommend that it should be blocked from being indexed by Google.”
Should I panic?
Probably not. The new update will take a couple of weeks to roll out so try and refrain from making any assumptions too early. These aren’t major changes and are designed to reward good quality content, so as long as you’re doing the right things you should have a problem.