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Google’s Helpful Content Update – September 2023

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Google has just launched its latest “major algorithm update”, the Google Helpful Content Update of September 2023 and some of you may be concerned about the impact it’s likely to have on your site. Well, let’s dive into it and find out what it’s all about and why it’s important. 

We’ll sift through the documentation for you and cover what the update is focused on and how it might affect your rankings, traffic and overall user experience!

Key points

  • AI content is getting an easier ride
  • There is to be a harsher view of third-party content that is hosted in subdomains and your main site
  • Warnings for those who try to fake page freshness

So how will the helpful content update affect my site?

Well, we can’t tell you exactly what it will do, all we can say is that you need to be watching your rankings, traffic and other important metrics in order to stay reactive and make sure that you’re able to make any changes necessary when the time is right.

But, let’s have a further look at what’s changed and how the update could have an impact and go from there.

As you may imagine, Google is always trying to better the experience of its users, this means making sure that the content, service pages and product pages that they serve to a user are all high-quality and make sense for them to be there. With that in mind, it’s all about making sure that when a user is on your site “they’ve had a satisfying experience” as opposed to trolling through lots of irrelevant content that’s going to help them.

This means that if the content you have on your site is well-written, concise and is going to be helpful for the user, you’re likely to see a rise in rankings as others start to fall. Whether it is written by AI, humans or a combination of both.

AI seems to be getting an easier ride

AI content has been a huge part of our focus, not just at Imaginaire but across the world, the potential applications are endless and it‘s likely to be a part of our professional and personal lives for the foreseeable future. 

As SEOs, content specialists or business owners, you should be using AI on a regular basis to aid in your content efforts. I’m sure you are already but if not here are a few guides to integrating AI into your SEO strategies.

In the Helpful Content documentation, Google has rewritten a line that used to read:

“Helpful content written by people, for people, in search results”

This would lead us to believe that Google isn’t yet a fan of the AI content that some have been putting out, but it could have been that they’ve not reacted to the fact that AI content is here to say and can, in fact, help writers to be more accurate with thor content. Whatever the case, the documentation has been updated to read:

“Helpful content written for people in search results”

This minor change to the documentation might have been something you missed but it’s not without its importance. The fact that Google’s documentation now reads with less specificity on how the content has been written would suggest that they’re more lenient with AI-generated content and happier for us to feature it in our content.

That’s not to say that you should run over to ChatGPT, Bard or any other kind of AI luggage model and just copy the content it produces into your latest blog. Instead, make sure that you’re reviewing and editing any content that these AI language models throw at you. 

I’d advise that you use them as more of a helping hand as opposed to a content specialist. 

Cracking down on third-party content

It would appear that one of the main focuses of Google’s helpful content update is a harsher view of the way in which we host third-party content on our sites, or more precisely, the type of third-party content that we’re hosting. 

I think the point Google is trying to make is that if you’re taking on a guest post that has a very loose relevance to your site then it’s likely to not be very helpful for the type of user that you’re trying to attract. 

The documentation doesn’t state that you have to stop doing this, however. They’ve just mentioned that it would be best if this kind of content is blocked from being indexed by Google.

If the third-party content you’re hosting has great topical relevance and you’ve had close involvement in the production of the content it would appear that you’ll be okay.

A digital marketing team discussing a website

Faking page freshness

Faking page freshness in the context refers to the act of updating the dates on your content to simply make it look like it’s new and improved. This might be in the case of changing your title from “SEO trends 2022” to “SEO trends 2023”. You may have just changed the date on a blog post to a different day closer to the current date. All of these things are a bit grey-hat-SEO at best and you shouldn’t have done that in the first place but now, with the Helpful Content Update, you’re more likely to get caught doing it.

As a part of your SEO strategy, you should be making sure that you’re revisiting your content at least twice in 6 months to ensure that this is still relevant and makes sense in the current climate. Remember that ranking factors can often change for individual keywords and changes in the type of content that a search engine like Google is looking for. 

In other words, every time you want to make your content “appear” fresher, you need to ensure you complete a content update or a content refresh. You don’t need to write a completely new article, but go over it and ensure any statistics are up-to-date and the content meets any new search intent for the keywords you are targeting.

This is going to help keep your content fresh and relevant which is what Google seems to be looking for. 

If you’re struggling with the process of refreshing your content there are so many guides out there from Google’s own self-assessment documentation to tools like SEO Testing offering content refresh SOPs.

Okay, so what do I do now?

So now you have the facts of what’s happened you’re going to be asking ‘what do I do with them?’. Taking the information that we’ve presented you with and applying it to your own site is the first step. Asking yourself if your content is actually relevant and going to help your users is the key thing here.

Google has offered some guidance on how to tackle this update head-on and make sure that the impact the update has on your site is positive. They’ve given us a self-assessment document that outlines some of the key questions you need to answer. 

One thing to keep in mind is that while you might be hyperfocused on improving the ranking of one keyword, you should be looking further than the single page that targets it. Google has made it clear in the documentation that they are looking at a number of ranking factors and take the entire site into consideration. This means that while you might have the perfect content targeting one keyword/phrase, you might find that there are areas of your site that aren’t up to scratch and it is those areas that are hindering the ranking you’re hyperfocused on.

I write about all things marketing and love to focus on data. You'll see topics from SEO and PPC to web design and CRO.

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