In the constantly evolving landscape of search engine optimization (SEO), staying on top of the latest updates is crucial. One recent update that the SEO community has our eyes on is the Google September 2023 Helpful Content Update. This update brings more changes to the way websites are ranked, with a focus on AI-generated content, third-party content, and updates to content freshness recommendations.
Understanding the Helpful Content System
Google employs a system known as the Helpful Content System — as its name implies, this system is designed to promote helpful content. Content that isn’t deemed high-quality and helpful to users is demoted, and websites featuring large amounts of unhelpful content are less likely to perform well.
Google’s guidance on creating helpful content is to focus on people-first content and not to create content solely for search engines. Helpful content is deemed as content that is related to the purpose of your website, contains in-depth expertise, and answers a reader’s questions, leaving them feeling satisfied.
This system operates in conjunction with other ranking algorithms to determine a site’s position in search results and is automated, using a machine-learning model.
Updated Guidance on Machine Generated Content
One of the most notable changes in this update is the relaxation of guidelines concerning AI-generated content. In the past, Google placed a strong emphasis on favoring content created by humans. However, this stance has evolved as the prevalence of AI-generated content has increased.
The original guidance emphasized the importance of human-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.”
In the updated guidance, we observe a subtle yet significant shift:
“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 change indicates a more accommodating attitude towards AI-generated content, emphasizing the importance of delivering helpful content regardless of the content creator’s nature.
Third-Party Content on Main Websites or Subdomains
Another noteworthy aspect of the September 2023 update is its stance on third-party content hosted on main websites or subdomains. Historically, many websites have engaged in the practice of hosting third-party content, often with the assumption that it would enhance their ranking potential.
However, the update introduces a significant shift that may impact websites hosting third-party content. According to the new guidance, hosting such content may lead to the inclusion of this content in site-wide signals generated by Google. This includes assessments of content helpfulness.
It’s advised that third-party content hosted on main websites or subdomains should be closely supervised, relevant to the main site’s purpose, and aligned with the site’s overall goals. Failing to meet these criteria could lead to the content being blocked from Google indexing, potentially affecting a site’s visibility in search results.
What to Do If You’re Affected By the Helpful Content Update
Google also provided guidance on how websites can recover in the event of a traffic drop following a Helpful Content Update. The key recommendation is to conduct a self-assessment of content to identify and rectify any unhelpful or irrelevant material.
In addition to existing helpful content guidelines, Google also added the following guidance:
- Expertise and Review: Content should be written or reviewed by experts or enthusiasts who demonstrate a deep understanding of the topic.
- Avoiding Content Manipulation: Websites are discouraged from altering the date of pages to create the illusion of freshness when the content remains largely unchanged.
- Freshness vs. Quality: Websites should avoid adding excessive new content or removing substantial older content solely for the purpose of appearing “fresh.” Google emphasizes that freshness alone does not guarantee improved search rankings.
The Google September 2023 Helpful Content Update marks a change in the SEO landscape, particularly in how AI-generated and third-party content are treated. To thrive in this environment, businesses and SEO professionals must adapt their strategies to align with Google’s evolving criteria for helpful and relevant content.