Jonathon Roberts

Google's Helpful Content Update: What you need to know

Google has recently released a controversial update to their algorithm, which helps to improve the classification for useful content by Google’s algorithm. This has caused many websites to loose traffic to their website. But what has changed, and how can you make sure that your not affected by this update, and any future helpful content updates?

What is the Google Helpful Content Update?


Google’s Helpful Content Update has been a controversial update, and has been compared to be as bad as the Penguin update released back in 2012, as this update has caused many websites to have a large drop in organic traffic since this update was released. Google’s focus over the past few years has been user experience, and making sure that content that is ranking at the top of search results is useful to their users. This update results in many websites that have content that was ranking highly before, but Google has now classed have seen a drop in traffic due to their content being flagged by Google’s algorithm as not being useful to users.

At the time of writing (26th September 2023), Google released just under two weeks ago the September Core Algorithm update, which has caused many website owners hours of stress, as they have seen their traffic plummet overnight. With some even taking to platforms like Reddit and Twitter to stress their anger with Google for releasing this update. Some posts on Reddit have included:

“I am going to face a financial crisis as Google traffic has dropped from 15,000+ daily organic traffic to only 6,000+ daily organic traffic. US traffic dropped 85%.” –

“I am going to lay off most of the employees from the company permanently because of the September 2023 helpful content update of Google.” –

Due to all these complaints (and many more posted on the SEO subreddit, and many other platforms like Twitter), John Mueller even replied to one person saying that Google is releasing this to “spite everyone”:

To be direct, I don’t see us rolling this update back. Also, none of this was done to spite anyone – we want to *highlight* fantastic, helpful, unique, compelling, “people-first” content in search, and we will continue to work on our algorithms to move in that direction.

John Mueller (Twitter: @JohnMu)

What has changed with the latest useful content update

The latest update (at the time of writing) was released on 14th September and continues to be rolling out across the Google search landscape. The main guidance and areas that have been improved by this update have been:

  • Loosening the guidance on machine generated content
  • Hosting third-party content on subdomains (or on main domain)

But what does this mean for SEOs and website owners?

Loosening the guidance on machine generated content

OpenAI ChatGPT

With the rise of many artificial intelligence (AI) platforms like ChatGPT from OpenAI, many people have now started to use these platforms to generate content in order to manipulate search results, this has resulted in many different issues including duplicate content as these platforms don’t tell you where the facts within the content have come from.

Originally in Google’s guidelines they had a statement saying “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.” but this has now been updated to say “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.

This shows us that Google is saying that content generation tools can be used to create content, however, to make sure that the content is unique and factually correct they strongly recommend that an expert or enthusiast in the topic reviews the content and makes any amendments to make sure that the content isn’t flagged by Google as duplicate content, which will result in the content not being ranked in search results and can in the long term have a large impact on your website’s performance in Google search.

If for example you just get a platform like ChatGPT to generate content for your website and you don’t review it and then publish it on your website then this does go against Google’s terms and conditions and can result in penalties for your website. Which can take some time to fix and will result in your website getting less exposure within search results. Therefore, it’s best to have content written by an expert, or use AI platforms to generate content and then get someone who is an expert/enthusiast to review the content and to adapt it to make sure that everything is factually correct.

Hosting third-party content on subdomains or on your main site

Third Party Content

Many news outlets and other websites have hosted third-party content on subdomains or within their main site, Google is now cracking down on this, and if Google does detect third-party content on your site then this can result in drops in your website’s traffic. This has been a big trend in websites doing this. However, Google has now started to use this content to evaluate the overall usefulness of the content on your site, so you could see content that has ranked well previously had ranking depreciated due to your website having third-party content hosted on the main domain or a subdomain on your site.

Examples of third-party content include third-party credit card affiliate content, that news media websites have on their websites.

New Guidance On Recovering From Helpful Content Update

Lastly, Google have released new guidance for websites that have been affected by the helpful content update, with an update to their Search Central documentation which tells website owners/SEOs to identify unhelpful content and then either remove the content or replace it with content that is better targeted and useful for the target audience.

Jonathon Roberts

Jonathon Roberts

Jonathon has been working within the SEO and Digital Marketing industry since 2019. Jonathon started in the industry while completing his degree in Business Management & Marketing Management at the University of Chester. He's now Senior SEO Executive at Fly High Media, helping businesses to grow their presence through SEO. Previously working at other local digital marketing agencies.
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