Google releases September 2023 helpful content system update

Posted by Edith MacLeod on 17 Sep, 2023
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Google also updated a number of points in its helpful content guidance. We take a look at what's new.

Helpful Content update.

Image: BoliviaInteligente on Unsplash

Google announced last week that it was rolling out the September 2023 helpful content update, with an improved classifier. It said the rollout could take around two weeks to complete.

Helpful content aims to reward helpful, original content. It targets low quality content which is aiming to game the system with content written for search engines rather than people.  The system is automated, using a machine-learning model to identify content of little value, and is one of many systems used by Google to rank content.

in the same announcement Google said it had made a number of updates to the guidance on helpful content.

“Our help page about the helpful content system has new guidance about hosting third-party content and more explanation on what to do after a helpful content system update (perhaps you don't need to do anything, or perhaps self-assess your content).

Our help page about creating helpful, reliable, people-first content has new points to consider about removing content or changing dates.”

Hosted 3rd party content

Google says third party hosted content on your main site or subdomains may be included in site-wide signals such as the helpfulness of content. For this reason, if such content is independent of the main site’s purpose, or produced without supervision or involvement of the primary site, Google recommends that it should be blocked from being indexed.

Removing content or changing dates

Google added two points to its section on avoiding creating search engine-first content. These relate to artificial attempts to make content seem fresh by changing dates or  removing content.

  • Are you changing the date of pages to make them seem fresh when the content has not substantially changed?
  • Are you adding a lot of new content or removing a lot of older content primarily because you believe it will help your search rankings overall by somehow making your site seem "fresh?" (No, it won't)

AI-generated content

Google’s original wording around helpful content spoke about content “written by people for people”. The guidance to helpful content now talks about “original, helpful content created for people in search results”. 

Google and others are still formulating their position over the use of AI to help create content, following the emergence of generative AI systems.

The change in wording reflects the fact that Google’s main concern is the quality of the content and it being helpful, rather than whether AI played a part in producing it. Guidance issued in February gives more detail and confirms that “appropriate” use of AI is not against Google guidelines.

What to do after a helpful content update

Google has added wording to its section on what to do after a helpful content update, reinforcing that if you’re producing helpful content you don’t need to do anything.

“If you're producing helpful content, then you don't need to do anything; in fact this system may be good for your site, as it is designed to reward helpful content.”

If you do notice a change in traffic after a ranking update then you should assess your content and fix or remove any content that seems unhelpful. Google has a series of questions you can apply to your content to help you with this.

The helpful content system was released in August 2022, and the last update to it was in December 2022.

Read more about Helpful Content on Google Search Central.

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