Google has unveiled their September 2023 Helpful Content Update, slated to complete its rollout within the next two weeks. This update confirms a more permissive approach towards machine-generated content while sounding a cautionary note about the presence of third-party content on websites or their subdomains. Further, Google has expanded its guidance within the Helpful Content System documentation, providing fresh insights on how to address traffic loss for websites following a Helpful Content update.
What is Google’s Helpful Content System?
The Google Helpful Content System, often shrouded in mystery, is the guiding force behind what we see on our search engine results pages. In essence, it’s Google’s way of sifting through the digital noise to bring users the most relevant, valuable, and informative content possible. Imagine it as a digital librarian, tirelessly organizing the shelves of the internet, ensuring that users find precisely what they’re looking for. But how does it work?
At its core, the Google Helpful Content System employs a complex set of algorithms that scrutinize web content with a discerning eye. It’s mission is to identify content that not only answers users’ queries but does so in a way that goes above and beyond, leaving them more informed and satisfied. This system places a premium on user experience, rewarding websites that serve up insightful, well-structured, and engaging information. So, when you see that neatly ranked list of search results, you can know Google’s Helpful Content System played a significant role in putting it together. It’s not just about keywords and backlinks; it’s about creating content that genuinely helps and informs.
Unpacking the September Update
Google has updated their Helpful Content System documentation to provide direction on three areas:
1. Loosening the guidance on machine generated content
Google’s earlier advice regarding machine-generated content highlighted the system’s preference for content generated by humans. However, Google replaced ‘written by people, for people‘ with ‘created for people in search results‘. This indicates a shift in Google’s stance towards AI-generated content.
“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 updated its guidance on AI-generated content earlier this year. It is safe to say that door is now firmly open and we can peer a little further down the hall. Which, with Google, is meaningful. Businesses that opt to shift more of their marketing budget towards AI-generated content can do so knowing near-term updates won’t neutralize the effort anytime soon.
2. Hosting third-party content on subdomains
For some time, it’s been common practice to host third-party content either on a website’s main section or a separate subdomain. Take, for instance, news websites that often use subdomains to host third-party credit card affiliate content. The idea behind this approach is to leverage the main site’s authority to boost the visibility of content on the subdomain. However, Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content update has brought in changes that could potentially harm websites hosting third-party content anywhere on their site.
3. Guidance for sites that lose traffic from a Helpful Content update
Finally, Google has included fresh advice in its guidelines for recovering from the impact of a Helpful Content Update. The new section suggests a strategy: identifying unhelpful content and either removing it or substituting it with more relevant material.
“If you’ve noticed a change in traffic you suspect may be related to this system (such as after a publicly-posted ranking update to the system), then you should self-assess your content and fix or remove any that seems unhelpful. Our help page on how to create helpful, reliable people-first content has questions that you can use to self-assess your content to be successful with the helpful content system.”
In their guidelines for creating search-engine first content, Google added:
“Are you changing the date of pages to make them seem fresh when the content has not substantially changed?”
Back in 2021, Google’s John Mueller advised that changing publishing dates on web pages will not improve search rankings if no significant changes were made. So that they have effectively doubled down is notable because date shuffling has been a relatively common SEO practice for some time now.
Online change is constant, and Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update is a testament to that fact. It reminds us that staying relevant and providing valuable content is paramount. This update’s approach to machine-generated and third-party content encourages us all to focus on quality. By following Google’s guidance and adapting to these changes, we can ensure our online presence not only survives but thrives. So, let’s see this update as an opportunity to strengthen our digital strategies and continue delivering valuable content to our audience.