Google’s Helpful Content Update Sucks: What Should You Do?

With Google’s Helpful Content Update, the ability to produce high-quality content has become a distinguishing factor for successful websites. Here, we’ll dissect the crucial elements that define quality in digital content.

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Essentials of High-Quality Content

High-quality content is characterized by relevance, accuracy, and (E-E-A-T) experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. Google’s quality rater guidelines emphasize that content must be beneficial to readers and not just created for SEO. It should address the user’s intent, answer questions thoroughly, and provide actionable insights. Useful content is more likely to be rewarded, and this entails:

  • Experience: Actually doing the thing and knowing it with your own perspective
  • Expertise: Knowledgeable insights or skillful analysis.
  • Authority: Recognition as a reliable source.
  • Trustworthiness: Transparent attribution and factually correct information.

Incorporating First-Hand Experience

Google gives weight to content crafted from direct first-hand experience. Anecdotal reports from Reddit and other community sites illustrate a shift; larger entities often overtake independent publishers who offer unique personal insights. These larger publishers present data-backed, comprehensive resources that resonate with Google‘s preference for depth and originality over breadth. Evidence of this can be seen in:

  1. Increased rankings for content with verified data or tested hypotheses.
  2. Anecdotes and forums like Reddit are losing visibility to more authoritative guides or news articles.

The Role of AI Content

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AI-generated content has been a hot topic in light of Google’s updates. The September 2023 Helpful Content Update is critical of content designed primarily to attract search engine traffic, which has traditionally included AI-generated articles. However, AI can be a valuable tool to support human expertise. Considerations for employing AI include:

  • Ensuring AI content is reviewed and complemented by human experts.
  • Prioritizing the value and usability of content over volume.

The Shift Towards User Experience


Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update tilted the online playing field, intensifying the emphasis on user experience. This shift has profound implications for both the potency of content strategies and the competitive landscape that web publishers navigate.

Focusing on the Intended Audience

The update prioritizes content that resonates with the intended audience, aiming to deliver more meaningful and relevant results. Content creators now must have a solid understanding of their niche and audience needs to stand out. Independent publishers who fail to align closely with their audience may experience diminished visibility in search results, while those who do may find new growth opportunities.

Navigating the Helpful Content System

The Helpful Content System strives to reward content that satisfies users, but evidence suggests a nuanced shift. Independent publishers, often lacking the resources of larger entities, have reported challenges in maintaining their visibility post-update. Conversely, major publishers with more extensive resources manage to adapt more effectively, leading to what some call a ‘wealth shift’ in the digital space.

The changes introduced by the Helpful Content Update have had unexpected ramifications. Statistics reveal a tilt towards larger publishers, with many independents seeing a decline in their search rankings. On platforms like Reddit, discussions about the update unravel anecdotes of small-scale publishers witnessing a significant drop in traffic, whereas larger publishers appear to sustain or even improve their reach.

Navigating Post-Update Search Results

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In the wake of Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update, there’s been a notable redistribution of visibility within search engine results, impacting publishers of various sizes.

Post-update, a pattern emerged where independent publishers experienced a drop in their standard rankings, often resulting in significant traffic loss. While specific data points are proprietary, anecdotal evidence within publisher communities indicates a downturn.

In contrast, larger publishers, especially those with robust infrastructures, appear to have weathered these changes with less detriment and in some cases, enhanced visibility. This observation aligns with historical search engine algorithm adjustments, where well-established entities tend to have the resources to adapt and recover quickly.

Adjusting to Sitewide Signals

The update strongly emphasized sitewide signals, prompting webmasters to scrutinize and adjust their content strategies accordingly. Sitewide signals include elements such as the overall user experience, the presence of comprehensive, valuable, and original content, as well as mobile-friendliness. To align with these criteria, an analysis and restructuring of on-site content have become imperative tasks for those aiming to regain or improve their positions in search engine results.

An illustrative example of the wealth shift can be observed on platforms like Reddit, where the sprawling network of subreddits serves as microcosms for content variety. Pre-update, smaller, niche sections of the site might have gained prominence for unique, targeted content. However, traffic analysis post-update suggests that the larger, more generalized subreddits have cemented their dominance in search results, thus drawing in a wider audience.

The global impact of this update is not to be understated. While the top tier of publishers may absorb and even capitalize on these search shifts, the majority, especially the independent and smaller content creators who rely on search visibility for livelihood, face starker realities. This underreported “wealth shift” demonstrates the disproportionate effects algorithm changes can have on the broad ecosystem of online content providers, hinting at a misalignment with the burgeoning ethos of internet equality.

Addressing the Technical Aspects

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In the wake of Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update, technical choices around website structure have shifted in importance. URL and domain factors, as well as the use of subdomains and micro-sites, are now critical elements in content valuation.

The Importance of URL and Domain Factors

The URL’s structure and the domain’s reputation are pivotal in how content is assessed for its helpfulness. Here are key technical considerations:

  • URL Simplicity and Descriptiveness: Clear and concise URLs aligned with content topics can facilitate better indexing and user understanding.
  • Domain Authority: Established domains with a track record of producing helpful content are often seen as more trustworthy by Google’s algorithms.

This emphasis on technical aspects has had noticeable implications for publishers. Large publishers with well-structured URLs and authoritative domains benefit significantly, as seen in the consistent indexing and high ranking of their content post-update.

Subdomains and Micro-Sites Consideration

Independent publishers’ reliance on subdomains and micro-sites has been affected differently:

  • Subdomains: The content on subdomains is now closely scrutinized for its standalone value, as Google’s algorithms have improved in distinguishing between main domains and subdomains.
  • Micro-Sites: They may face challenges if seen as attempting to game the system by targeting niche keywords without contributing meaningful information or value.

Large publishers with resources to manage comprehensive domains and subdomains have thus gained an advantage, often at the expense of smaller publishers who cannot compete at scale. Data and statistics are reflecting a consolidation of visibility in search results, favoring entities with the means to invest in domain fortification.

Managing Content Strategy for Businesses

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The recent Google Helpful Content Update has necessitated an adaptive content strategy for businesses, particularly focusing on the creation of valuable content and the implications for product reviews.

Strategic Approaches for Organizations

Businesses must now navigate a digital landscape where Google has emphasized the importance of value in content creation. The September 2023 update has tilted the playing field, rewarding companies that invest in substantial, quality content. Key strategies involve:

  • Prioritizing User Experience: Ensuring that content fulfills user intent and provides a genuinely informative experience.
  • Investing in Originality: Encouraging the use of original photos and videos, which contribute to a more authentic user engagement.
  • Maintaining Relevance: Keeping content updated and pertinent to current user queries and interests.

This strategic pivot has downsides, particularly for independent publishers with limited resources. Large publishers have seen a boon, as their established infrastructures allow for producing the original, comprehensive content that Google’s update favors.

Content Considerations for Product Reviews

For product reviews, the Helpful Content Update has introduced specific criteria that emphasize:

  1. In-Depth Knowledge: Reviews should demonstrate a deep understanding of the products, often requiring first-hand experience or usage.
  2. Original Multimedia: Incorporating original photos and videos can significantly enhance the credibility of reviews.
  3. Beneficial Information: Going beyond manufacturer details by offering unique insight and applicable advice.

The update’s impact is evident in how product reviews are now evaluated. Businesses are under pressure to generate high-quality reviews that offer real value to consumers rather than simply aiming for SEO visibility.

Reddit, a platform known for community-driven content, is a testament to this shift. Post-update, discussions and recommendations on the site that meet the new standards have gained visibility, illustrating the shift towards content that serves user needs.

Statistics from various analytics firms show that web pages with thin, low-effort content or that serve solely to manipulate search rankings have seen a notable decrease in traffic since the update. Meanwhile, sites that have embraced the value-first approach have experienced increased engagement rates and visibility.

This phenomenon reflects a global impact, as most content creators who fail to meet the substantial standards set by Google find themselves outpaced by the few larger entities that can. The shift has incited a “wealth shift” within the realm of digital content, consolidating value and influence among those with the capacity to produce and maintain a higher caliber of content.

Analyzing the Update’s Impact on Different Content Types

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The September 2023 Google Helpful Content Update reshaped the digital landscape, revealing discernible patterns in how different types of content were affected. This focused analysis will dissect the update’s impact on affiliate content and third-party or automated material.

Affiliate Content Scrutiny

The update placed a magnifying glass on affiliate content, particularly where it failed to deliver substantive value beyond the affiliate links themselves. Content crafted with the primary purpose of driving affiliate sales, rather than informing or helping the reader, saw a notable decline in visibility. Independent publishers who had previously enjoyed high rankings through keyword-rich but low-value affiliate articles felt a sting as their content was deprioritized.

For instance, a review site that previously surfaced as a featured snippet for high-competition product queries may have experienced a shift, potentially replaced by content from publishers with a direct tie to the retail or manufacturing sector. This occurrence tilted the playing field towards larger entities capable of producing expansive, original, and user-centric content.

Effects on Third-party and Automated Content

Content largely generated through third-party sources or automated means encountered similar challenges post-update. Google sharpened its algorithms to favor content with a clear demonstration of expertise and hands-on experience, sidelining articles that simply echoed information available across the web.

Subreddits, known for aggregating third-party content and discussions, may offer an illustrative example. While still a treasure trove of user-generated insights, posts heavily reliant on external sources without additional context or user engagement saw less prominence in search results. In contrast, fewer, substantive contributors are more likely to gain ground in SERPs with in-depth analyses and original content.

Moreover, automated content — articles generated by AI or templated responses — struggled to maintain the same search presence if they could not measure up to the update’s new quality benchmarks. Content that could not consistently feature the elements of helpfulness and user focus experienced a downturn in ranking, pushing creators to adapt swiftly or face obscurity online.

What’s Wrong With Content

In the wake of the September 2023 Helpful Content Update, a discernible wealth shift has been observed within the online publishing landscape. SEO strategies have undergone a significant transformation, pivoting towards human-centric content creation. Independent publishers, previously thriving by catering to search algorithms, have experienced significant downscaling in visibility and traffic.

Conversely, sizeable publishers, exemplified by trusted news outlets and information platforms, have reaped the benefits. They leveraged their authoritative and trustworthy backgrounds to align with Google’s revised criteria, emphasizing expertise and genuinely informative material. These entities have effectively solidified their digital market positions, creating a more polarized online ecosystem.

Reddit, a popular network where varied content creators congregate, serves as a microcosm of this trend. Once buoyed by amateur but passionate contributions, community-focused areas witness a dampening in reach. Meanwhile, pages managed by organizations with more substantial data-driven and analytical resources have seen an uptick, drawing a more extensive user base to their well-researched discussions and analyses.

Statistics indicate that while the update purports to enhance user experience, it inadvertently supports a consolidation of wealth to those with established prestige and resources. Small-scale publishers face a continuous struggle to maintain relevance and financial stability. This dynamic inadvertently parallels broader societal patterns of wealth disparity, reiterating the need for thoughtful discourse on technological influence and social equity.

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