After having launched the Helpful Content Update in 2022, Google announced this year at its I/O conference that it’ll be getting a 2023 revamp. A small revision came in September instead, along with rewrites to the original Google pages that outline this new machine-learning Helpful Content system. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s changed, the immediate impacts of this revision, and what enterprising SEOs need to know.
What Is Helpful Content Update?
First, you’ll need to know what Google’s Helpful Content Update is. First introduced in 2022, it was a refocusing mechanism designed to take attention away from content that was made to rank. Instead, people-first content that had entertaining or informative value was prioritized.
This applies across a whole site, not page-by-page like other Google updates. It’s supported by machine learning that can rank sites and divine user intention from context cues, down to the structure of a website. For example, news-seeking searches are more likely to prioritize long, dry prose articles from The Washington Post or smaller news blogs for niches. However, a search for entertainment websites will prioritize sites built to host games, like online bingo at Paddy Power, where pages are structured into sub-windows that show users the games on offer there. Online casino sites have reliably used this formula for years since it’s already people-friendly – the digital equivalent of window shopping – and now Google will be rewarding sites that have taken this approach to web design that signals the intention and user base of the site.
All websites have structural tells like this, which have become more discoverable thanks to AI technology that has come a long way in recent years. Using this, Google gets closer to its ultimate goal of nailing search intentions for its users. After the 2022 update dropped in December, it disrupted many tech and entertainment-based blogs. This is because it took aim at so-called “thin content” which was unhelpful to users.
The takeaway from this update was, and still is, that SEO enthusiasts need to prioritize quality content. We are seeing the preferences of the search engine algorithms align with visitors’, so future online content creators will be rewarded for appealing to both. It also makes good business sense, especially for spaces like e-commerce, as creating people-first content cultivates a community of clients/customers/readers. SEO thought-leaders like Hubspot have created community-building guides.
What Changed in the 2023 Helpful Content Update?
As for what changed in the 2023 version of the Helpful Content Update, there are a few pointers. First, the collar on AI-generated content has been loosened. Understandably, Google was cautious about letting machine-generated content run rampant on its search engines at first. A lot of the original verbiage in the 2022 update emphasized not just people-first content but content also “written by people.” This language has been watered down to become vaguer – “created by people.” Here’s Google’s guide on creating people-first content.
Then there were two new restrictions. The first is a crackdown on third-party content that is attached to a main site via a subdomain. This was done in hopes of trickle-down SEO, where the main site’s ranking juice supports the other, non-relevant domain. Secondly, they’re taking aim at freshness faking. This is where webmasters artificially fake an update to their webpage so that algorithms will give it a second look over, possibly ranking it again. For example, changing the date on a news piece to make it seem more recent and relevant to users than it is. Republishing content like this is officially in Google’s sights since it’s a practice that appeals solely to search engines, not the readers.
We shared earlier this year about work to better show helpful content that can often live in unexpected places:https://t.co/9qMHscl82W— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) September 14, 2023
This work is still continuing and is not part of this particular update. We’ll share more about our work in this area in the future.
Lastly, Google has also said that the September 2023 revision is not the Helpful Content Update that was promised in May’s I/O conference. It’s a revision of the 2022 update and if it’s any indication, it shows what Google will be targeting when the promised second Helpful Content Update does drop.