What you need to know about Google’s helpful content update

Tyler Scionti

  | Published on  

September 29, 2023

Get ready marketers, founders, and webmasters we’ve got a mid-summer core update and it is a doozy.

Hope you’re ready to cut that vacation short.

Just kidding.

Any time Google announces a core update, it’s easy to start panicking and updating your website as quickly as possible. First off, take a deep breath. These rollouts generally take time and they are aimed at websites following bad practices. If you are creating original content and are genuinely trying to help your audience you will be fine.

In fact, you might get a rankings boost.

What is the Google helpful content update?

The Google “helpful content” update is one of a long line of Google algorithm updates.

Google has made several updates over the years in an effort to continuously evolve and improve how they crawl and index pages on the web. We’ve covered Penguin and Panda before and the helpful content update will be similar (minus the fun animal name).

Google makes minor updates throughout the year though that fly under the radar, but “named” updates like this tend to generate more fanfare.

This update in particular takes aim at low-effort or auto-generated content. You know the typical keyword-stuffed SEO drivel that manages to rank because it is propped up with backlinks or AI-generated GPT-3 nonsense.

Google is oversaturated with content, and as creating content becomes easier they are trying to stifle shortcuts in an effort to ensure the top ranking pages are unique and high-quality.

Why is Google making this change

Why does Google make any change?

Google was not the first search engine, but they are on a mission to be the best. Google’s on a mission to be the best question and answer machine on the internet. Through constant changes to their algorithm they’ve marched to steady search engine dominance.

As auto-generated content becomes more popular among marketers and as Google watches Tik Tok pass them by in certain demographics, it seems Google has had enough and is trying to do something big to change things.

This means improving the quality of search results and that means rooting out low-quality content in favor of pages that actually solve searcher problems.

When will Google’s helpful content update go live?

This update is scheduled to start rolling out the week of August 22nd and will take around two weeks to fully roll out. It will take aim at websites with a large percentage of low-effort or unhelpful content, so if you are relying on AI for your blog… your entire website may see a dip in rankings.

For now, this will just impact English searches as this is an automated process from Google with a new machine learning model, as this evolves they do plan to adapt it to other languages.

What changes with the Google helpful content update?

First and foremost, Google claims that this update will take aim at low-effort, generic content. It’s a not so subtle dig at poor (or AI generated) content propped up by backlinks. Google's wording on their blog post is intentionally vague (they love to do that, it gives them wiggle room) so we could be in store for minor updates or a major shakeup to search results.

While the effort is admirable, actually being able to tell what content is human-generated and high-value and what isn’t is a difficult task. Even people have difficulty telling the difference between ai generated text, images, and art from what’s “real”.

If the human mind, one of the most miraculously complex computers in existence, can’t distinguish between ai and human generated work, how can we expect Google to?

We can’t.

But we can bet that Google is going to try hard, and will take a fine toothed comb at targeting generic content or content that fits the mold of GPT3 and the like.

Here’s a completely unsubstantiated take: in a sea of blog posts that all say more or less the same thing, Google is going to heavily favor the ones that say something different. Google won’t automagically target content they think is AI generated, they’re just going to favor content that is especially unique.

Again I have no proof of this, we'll need to see what actually happens. But it's a hunch, and one potentially biased by our focus on helping our clients build unique and creative strategies to stand out in search.

Your site is at risk if…

As we’ve been saying in this article, this is an effort from Google to crack down on low-effort content to improve its search results.

If your website is relying on low-effort content (say copy-and-pasting other pieces of content or relying on AI to write content) we won’t mince words: you might be in trouble. Google lays out a few risk factors in the updates, if you make the following a common practice I’d recommend rethinking your content process and changing things up going forward:

  • Writing content for search engines instead of people
  • Writing narrow-content that does not comprehensively cover a topic
  • Relying on automation and auto-generated content
  • Summarizing top ranking content instead of writing something new or of value
  • Writing surface-level content that doesn’t really educate the reader
  • Writing content for a specific word count

If the above sounds familiar and you’re getting a bit nervous, take a deep breath.

A lot of websites out there make use of these practices (and frankly, many SEOs recommend them). Now is an excellent opportunity to prioritize uniqueness, creative, and value in your content over “best practices”.

It will take time for Google to roll this algorithm out, and even more time for it to perfect before they move to other languages. I expect volatility in search in the coming months, and that if you’ve been doing the right things and have been trying to help your readers then you will do just fine.

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