In September 2023, Google revealed a significant update to its algorithm, aptly titled the “Helpful Content” Update. Scheduled to be fully implemented in a fortnight, this update seems to introduce more leniency towards content produced by automated systems, while simultaneously cautioning against the use of third-party content on websites or their associated subdomains.
Supplementing this update, Google has also updated their Helpful Content System documentation. In a new section, they provide insightful advice for site operators who have experienced a decrease in web traffic following a Helpful Content update.
Google Helpful Content System and Your Website
Google’s Helpful Content System is an algorithm they’ve engineered to encourage high-quality content while curbing the visibility of content deemed unhelpful.
This system operates in harmony with a myriad of other mechanisms employed by Google, all of which work in unison to influence website ranking.
At the heart of this system lies its prowess in pinpointing quality signals that align significantly with content that is beneficial to users.
Understanding the September 2023 Helpful Content Update: What Changes?
In an effort to continually refine its user experience, Google has recently augmented their Helpful Content System guidelines, introducing valuable insights in three critical sectors:
- Relaxation of the policies for machine-generated content
- Implementation guidance for hosting third-party content on subdomains
- Provision of detailed instructions for damage control in the event your website experiences traffic reduction due to a Helpful Content update
Google Provides Flexibility on Machine-Generated Content
Google has previously underscored that its Helpful Content feature leans more towards content produced by human users.
However, this specific aspect of guidance is absent in recent updates. This omission signifies a shift in Google’s stance on AI-derived content, thereby bringing it in line with other seemingly inconsistent advice related to AI-produced material.
“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.”
Exploring the Updated Guidelines:
“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.”
Subdomains Versus Main Website: Where to Place Third-Party Content
Webowners have traditionally leveraged the tactic of positioning third-party content centrally on their sites or subdomains for many years.
A common illustration of this is prevalent on news media platforms that integrate affiliate credit card promotions on their subdomains.
Pivotal to these methodologies is the presumption that the primary site’s ranking potency could potentially offer a ranking boost to the content housed on subdomains.
However, Google’s Helpful Content update rolled out in September 2023 poses a significant alteration that may adversely impact sites hosting third-party content anywhere on their digital presence.
The Helpful Content guidance now includes a new section:
“If you host third-party content on your main site or in your subdomains, understand that such content may be included in site-wide signals we generate, such as the helpfulness of content.
For this reason, if that content is largely independent of the main site’s purpose or produced without close supervision or the involvement of the primary site, we recommend that it should be blocked from being indexed by Google.”
Guest post publishers should heed this advice, especially ensuring the content relevance to the main site’s purpose and its supervised creation.
How will changes impact website rankings?
Google’s September 2023 algorithm update will significantly affect website rankings. These updates aim to enhance the relevance and quality of search results. Websites following the updated algorithm’s guidelines may see ranking improvements, and those that don’t might notice a decrease.
User experience is being emphasized in this update. Websites with fast load times, mobile friendliness, easy navigation, and quality content will likely rank higher. Those with slow speeds, poor mobile compatibility, confusing navigation or low-grade content could see ranking drops.
The algorithm update reinforces the importance of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T). Websites demonstrating their knowledge, having a solid reputation, and considered trustworthy will rank higher. Websites with potential credibility issues or lack of expertise can expect ranking drops.
The algorithm will also favour websites having relevant, comprehensive content. Websites offering deep, valuable information will likely rank better than those with shallow content, keyword stuffing, or irrelevant content. Investing in quality, engaging content that fulfills user search intent could lead to improved rankings.
Websites providing a secure browsing experience will also be prioritized. Websites using SSL certificates and HTTPS encryption will benefit more than those that do not, as Google wishes to promote safety and security for users. Websites without appropriate security might see ranking decreases.
Note that Google does not publicize specific algorithm update details. They keep the exact algorithms and their weightings secret. It’s crucial for website owners and SEO professionals to stay updated with industry developments, adhere to Google’s guidelines, and continuously monitor their site’s performance to adjust their strategies as needed.
Recovering From Content Update
Google provided new guidelines on recovering from the impact of a Helpful Content Update.
The updated documentation advises identifying and either removing or changing the unhelpful content.
Google’s updated directions:
“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.”
Steps businesses Can take to adapt to the algorithm changes and optimize their online presence?
1. Stay updated: Businesses should stay informed about the latest updates to Google’s algorithm. This can be done by regularly checking Google’s official announcements, following reputable SEO blogs, and participating in industry forums. By staying updated, businesses can understand the changes and take appropriate actions to optimize their online presence.
2. Focus on high-quality content: Google’s algorithm updates often prioritize high-quality content that provides value to users. Businesses should focus on creating informative, engaging, and relevant content that meets the needs of their target audience. This includes using proper keyword research, optimizing meta tags, and ensuring the content is well-structured and easy to navigate.
4. Enhance user experience: User experience plays a significant role in Google’s algorithm. Businesses should focus on providing a seamless and intuitive user experience by improving website navigation, reducing bounce rates, and enhancing page load times. They should also prioritize mobile optimization, as more users are accessing the internet through mobile devices.
5. Build high-quality backlinks: Backlinks from reputable and relevant websites are still an important ranking factor. Businesses should focus on building high-quality backlinks through guest posting, influencer collaborations, and creating shareable content. However, it is crucial to avoid spammy or low-quality backlinks, as they can negatively impact search rankings.
6. Utilize structured data: Implementing structured data markup can help businesses enhance their search engine visibility. By using schema markup, businesses can provide additional context to search engines about their content, leading to improved visibility in search results and potential rich snippets.
7. Monitor and analyze performance: Businesses should regularly monitor their website’s performance using tools like Google Analytics. By analyzing key metrics such as organic traffic, bounce rates, and conversion rates, businesses can identify areas for improvement and make data-driven decisions to optimize their online presence.
8. Adapt to new search features: Google often introduces new search features, such as featured snippets, knowledge panels, and local packs. Businesses should adapt their strategies to leverage these features and increase their visibility. This may involve optimizing content for featured snippets, claiming and optimizing Google My Business listings, and providing structured data for knowledge panels.
9. Engage with social media: Social media signals are becoming increasingly important in Google’s algorithm. Businesses should actively engage with their audience on social media platforms, share their content, and encourage social sharing. This can help increase brand visibility, drive traffic to their website, and potentially improve search rankings.
10. Seek professional assistance: Adapting to algorithm changes and optimizing online presence can be complex. Businesses may consider seeking professional assistance from SEO experts or digital marketing agencies. These professionals can provide valuable insights, conduct audits, and develop tailored strategies to help businesses adapt and thrive in the evolving search landscape.
Resources to Understand Business Algorithm Changes?
Google’s Webmaster Central is an essential platform for understanding algorithm changes. It updates regularly with information on new changes and website optimization methods, which includes SEO techniques, quality content tips, and mobile optimization.
Google’s Search Console is another beneficial tool, providing data on how Google interacts with websites. This tool allows businesses to monitor website visibility, identify ranking issues, and receive updates on algorithm changes.
Third-party platforms like Moz, SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Majestic also offer valuable insights. These tools lend a detailed outlook on website performance, keyword standings, backlink profiles, and more, aiding in strategic business decisions.
Finally, staying current with SEO community blogs can provide unique insights into algorithm changes. Blogs like Search Engine Journal, Moz Blog, Huge thinkers and Search Engine Land provide reliable and authoritative perspectives.
Check out Google’s Helpful Content System guide: