Google’s helpful content update is one of the systems that works to rank websites, by determining helpful from unhelpful content. The system is designed to look at elements of quality within the content that determines ‘helpful’ from ‘unhelpful’ content
Google announced updates to their new Helpful Content Update on the 14th of September 2023. The rollout took about two weeks to complete, and was finalised late last week on the 28th September 2023.
Google has made some slight changes to the way in which their guidelines are worded. While this might not seem like it has a massive impact at first glance, when looking between the lines these changes have a deeper meaning.
Initially Google’s Helpful Content Guidelines stated that content should be created “by people, for people” – however, this line now simply states that content should be “created for people”. This seems to hint at the increase in AI generated content that has been surfacing of late, meaning that Google has made accommodations for this content – as long as the end goal remains the same.
A similar change has been made in regards to content that is classed as having expertise in their E-E-A-T guidelines. Initially, the guidelines stated that the content must be “written by an expert” – but this new update has added a simple word that again makes quite major changes to the statement: “written or reviewed by an expert”. Again this is Google’s move to make accommodations for AI generated content – i.e. AI content can be classed as ‘expert’ as long as it has been reviewed by one.
“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.”
This addition to the guidelines references websites that rent out subdomains, but have no oversight of the content posted on these sites. Sometimes websites do this in an attempt to game the SEO system. Google warns that content posted on any subdomains can impact your main website – therefore not having oversight of this content can cause issues further down the line.
Google’s Helpful Content Self Assessment Guidance
Google have also made some changes to their Helpful Content Self Assessment Guidelines:
Changing dates: one of the first additions discusses when webpages change the dates of their articles, without changing the content on that webpage, in an attempt to ‘fake the freshness’ of the webpage information. Google states that this will not do anything to help with your website rankings, and so suggests not to do this.
Mass content changes: Google has stated that mass changes in content – such as adding loads of new content without thought, or removing mass amounts of old content with the intention of making your website seem ‘fresh’ – again does not help with your website rankings.
The wording in September’s update to Google’s Helpful Content Guidelines seems to have changed to accommodate AI generated content. There is also a greater emphasis on things that people do to try and game their SEO strategy – such as subletting domains to third party websites, or making unnecessary changes to fake freshness.