Lessons Learnt from Google’s Recent Helpful Content Update

It was confirmed on the 28th September 2023 that Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update had finished being rolled out.

This has been an algorithm change fraught with controversy in the SEO community, with John Mueller spending PLENTY of time on X talking to disgruntled SEOs – maybe even more than normal!

In truth, the algorithm change just seems like natural progression for Google search. Google have explained their reasoning behind helpful content, E-E-A-T and page experience so much by now.

However, here are four key lessons I’ve learnt over the last two weeks;

1. SEO-First Content is Dead

The Helpful Content Update seems to be the final death knell for SEO-first content.

Writing content purely for search engine purposes just will not cut it anymore, and the HCU shows us that first-hand experience and healthy, balanced debate is the way forward for websites.

A notable beneficiary of this shift is Quora, a platform that has seen a staggering increase in traffic and rankings since the Helpful Content Update began rolling out.

According to AHRefs, Quora’s average daily traffic has surged by an average 30 million daily visits when comparing August to September.

Their daily users climbed from 85 million to an impressive 113 million. This remarkable growth underlines the importance of focusing on user-centric content rather than chasing SEO algorithms.

Quora's traffic over time, according to AHRefs "Average Estimated Traffic" score.
Quora has seen a big increase in visitors over the last couple of weeks.

2. … but Google Accepts AI

One of the most intriguing changes brought by this update is Google’s embrace of AI in content evaluation.

Barry Schwartz was quick to notice a subtle yet significant alteration in Google’s Helpful Content guidelines. The phrase “by people, for people” was trimmed down to a simpler “for people.”

This adjustment signifies Google’s recognition of AI’s increasing role in content creation and curation. However, it should also act as a reminder to website owners that quality and relevance to users should take precedence over keyword optimisation or plain backlink generation.

Google’s updated guidelines: https://developers.google.com/search/updates/helpful-content-update

3. Updated Guidance on “Unhelpful” Content

Google has also expanded its guidelines on identifying and addressing “unhelpful” content.

They recommend that website owners carefully self-assess content that could be flagged as unhelpful by their search quality rater guidelines.

Users are advised to either replace or remove such content. Moreover, Google has emphasised the importance of fully understanding their search quality rater guidelines to align your content with “Helpful Content Update” standards.

Additionally, Google discourages the practice of merely updating article dates without making substantial changes to that article.

This change reflects Google’s commitment to delivering fresh and valuable content to its users, discouraging content manipulation.

4. Google’s Ongoing Journey

Despite widespread drops in website traffic and the perceived favouring of larger websites, such as Quora, John Mueller has indicated on X that there will be no rollback of this update.

However, JM also suggests that there is still more work to be done in fine-tuning the algorithm to balance the playing field for websites of all sizes.

Read more about John Mueller’s comments on SE Round Table: https://www.seroundtable.com/google-helpful-content-update-staying-36102.html

Helpful content can’t JUST come from huge websites, however, as frustrating as it is in the short term, it’s understandable that the Helpful Content Update has picked up high engagement communities as the authority.

Let’s hope that Google ensures there is some space at the table for the little guys, but let’s learn from the September 2023 Helpful Content Update. Don’t just “write for SEO”, assess your content and ask yourself “HOW, WHY and WHO” for each page.

  • “How” was the content created by the author?
  • “Why” was it created in the first place – is it helpful?
  • “Who” wrote the piece, and why should the reader listen to them?

If you’ve been impacted by this update or you’d like to know more about SEO, why not contact us?

We’ve worked on many successful SEO campaigns, and have experienced our fair share of algorithm updates. We’ve even won awards for our work! Give us a call on 01473 934050 to speak to our team immediately.