In September, Google initiated the rollout of its latest tweaks to its search algorithm, dubbed the Helpful Content Update. The second update of its kind this year, this rollout cemented Google’s commitment to ‘people first’ content.
As with all Google updates, some sites notice giant leaps forward, while others appear to be penalised. And if you are one of those site owners wondering why your positions are suddenly tanking, the latter could apply to you.
What is helpful content?
Google’s helpful content system aims to “better ensure people see original, helpful content created for people in search results”. Helpful content provides visitors with the information they need, rather than low-value content that fails to meet a visitor’s expectations.
We see this as a positive move. We’ve all landed on a website that we’ve found on Google only to be bombarded with “SEO content”, that makes absolutely no sense. The helpful content system targets this type of content that is generated purely for ranking well in search engines.
Instead, the helpful content system aims to increase the chances of you being able to find a sensible, knowledgeable resource that improves a visitor’s experience.
What exactly did Google update?
As part of the September rollout, Google made three adjustments to the helpful content system, which included:
- Loosening guidance around machine-generated content
- Hosting third-party content
- Warning about content ‘freshness’
Loosening guidance around machine-generated content
Perhaps the most significant shift in this update, is a shift in Google’s position around AI-generated content. Up until the September roll out, Google was very much advocating that content should be written ‘by people, for people’.
As long as your website is genuinely helpful, valuable and accurate, Google is no longer discriminating against AI-generated content. However, before you go all in on AI-generated gems for your website, be mindful of its issues with regards to accuracy and originality.
When applying Google’s E-E-A-T search quality guidelines, the search engine is seeking content that showcases Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. And while AI can aid the process, it isn’t quite at the point where it is able to fully demonstrate a subject expert’s unique skills on their behalf.
Hosting third-party content
In instances where a website is hosting third-party content that is unrelated to the main site’s purpose, Google now advises that this content is blocked from being indexed. We don’t see this practice a lot locally, however, it is a common SEO practice to host third-party content on subdomains.
Website owners who participate in this practice should be aware that there are now risks involved in doing this.
Warning about content ‘freshness’
Keeping your content fresh and relevant is a key function of SEO, as well as ensuring your website visitors get the latest information.
However, Google is now going to be cracking down on those that change the date of the content to make it appear fresh. So, for example if you are simply updating the publishing date of the blog or adding the current year to the blog title, Google is on to you.
Website owners also need to be more cautious about what editing they make to older content to bring it up to date.
To be clear, going back and updating old content with the latest information or data, is a great thing to do. As it is updating the content because you have found a better way to support your website’s visitors.
Where things get a little bit tricky, is if you are simply adding or removing content to make it appear fresh. Instead, you need to be confident that the content you are updating are worthwhile to your website visitors.
What should you do if your rankings have dropped?
If you have noticed that your website rankings have dropped since September, then it’s time to revisit your website content. Take a look at how helpful your website is to those visiting and whether you are contributing to their experience.
If you want to learn more about supporting your search presence and improving your customers’ experience through content written for humans, we can help. Take a look at our SEO services.