Understanding Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update

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Google has officially completed the roll-out of the September 2023 helpful content update. The 14-day update process, which began on September 14, 2023, concluded today, on September 28. The confirmation provided by Google primarily emphasized their effort to improve content quality across the internet, focusing on rewarding content that is not only user-centric but also informative and enriching.

Purpose of the Update

This update targets content seemingly designed for higher search engine rankings instead of delivering value, information, or assistance to users. The purpose is to ensure that users receive high-quality content that is created to assist, inform, and provide value to them, subsequently penalizing content that doesn’t meet these criteria.

Functioning of the Helpful Content System

The helpful content system, operating through an automated classifier process and employing a machine-learning model, generates a site-wide signal considered crucial among various other signals for use in Google Search. This system is designed to assess the helpfulness of content across languages globally, with no manual or spam actions involved.

Sites hosting content that does not align with user expectations will notice a decline in their performance. Google’s algorithm automatically distinguishes low-value, unhelpful, or minimally additive content, affecting overall site rankings. It is, therefore, beneficial for sites to remove such content to enhance the rankings of their more valuable content.

Impact on Various Sectors

Reports, including those from experts like Casey Markee and Lily Ray, have highlighted the significant impacts on recipe and lifestyle websites, with many experiencing substantial losses in Google traffic. The affected sites often lacked brand context on homepages, and some were overloaded with ads, impairing user experience and leading to lower rankings.

Particularly, sites incorporating unsubstantiated health claims in recipes, lengthy and unnecessary content, and those focusing on multiple topics without providing value or depth have seen declines. The update has also affected the arrangement of search results, prioritizing People-Also-Ask results and corporate sites over niche-specific sites, altering the visibility of gluten-free and dietary-specific sites.

AI and Third-Party Content

Google’s stance on content created by AI has also evolved, shifting focus from the content creator to the value and originality of the content. The importance is now on ensuring that users get original, helpful content regardless of whether it is created by humans or AI.

Additionally, the update has addressed the utilization of subdomains to host third-party content, a strategy previously known but not penalized by Google. Sites with subdomains hosting relevant, quality content in alignment with the main website’s purpose need not worry, but they should monitor their rankings and adjust as needed.

Guidance and Recommendations

Website owners hosting third-party content, especially content largely independent of the main site’s purpose, should understand that such content will be considered in site-wide signals. Google recommends blocking such content from being indexed if it is produced without the involvement or close supervision of the main site.

For content creators and website owners, this update serves as a reminder to prioritize user needs, providing content that is relevant, value-driven, and adheres to quality standards. The focus should be on creating enriching experiences for users rather than just aiming for higher search engine rankings.

Conclusion

Google’s September 2023 helpful content update is a step towards enhancing user experience by promoting high-quality, valuable content and penalizing content created solely for ranking purposes. It emphasizes the importance of user-centric, informative, and valuable content across all sectors, impacting various types of sites, especially those in the recipe and lifestyle domain.

The alteration in guidelines around AI-generated content and the focus on third-party content within subdomains highlight Google’s commitment to delivering more relevant and original content to users. Website owners and content creators should align their strategies with these updates to ensure better performance in Google Search, keeping user satisfaction and value delivery at the core of their content creation efforts.

For further insights and live discussions on this update, please refer to the ongoing conversations on Twitter.

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