Google’s Helpful Content Update

Date: September 6, 2022

We’ve got to stop meeting like this. 

We last spoke about algorithm updates in early June when Google released a broad core update. I figured we wouldn’t be seeing another large update until late Fall or early Winter. We’re now getting a new update only two months later, and this one looks to be major.

What Is The Helpful Content Update?

The Helpful Content Update is a new organic search algorithm update from Google, and many are saying it’s going to be the most impactful update released since “Panda” way back in 2011. For reference, Panda was an update designed to reduce the rankings for low-quality sites and shook up almost 12% of all queries. That may not seem like a lot but keep in mind that it’s estimated Google handles 5.6 billion queries a day, so that percentage is nothing to sneeze at.  

What Is The Purpose Of The Helpful Content Update and Who Will Be Impacted?

Many in the SEO community have been reading the tea leaves about this for a few months now. Google has made mention that AI-written content shouldn’t be outpacing content written by people. What’s more, content written with the intent for people shouldn’t be outpaced by content written to game the system by way of structuring said content solely by what they think a search algorithm wants. How Googlebot will decipher what is written by a person and what is AI-written has yet to be seen. In the past, we’ve seen certain search updates impact specific industries and, with the context of this update’s stated purpose, I expect sites classified as YMYL (Your Money Or Your Life) to see the most impact. Google updated its quality rater guidelines last month to refine what constitutes YMYL. This timing looks to be more than just a coincidence. 

How Does The Helpful Content Update Differ From The Usual Search Algorithm Updates?

The big takeaway here is that this update will impact sites as a whole rather than specific pages of a site. So, if you have a website with three pages of great, original content and a thousand pages of canned content that’s more-or-less filler, expect to feel some shockwaves from this update. With entities impacted site-wide, the update covers a wider range of page placements in search queries and thus a larger shakeup in search result placements. 

When Is It Being Rolled Out?

At the time of this publication – right now. Google announced it properly began deploying the Helpful Content Update on Thursday, August 25th, and as with most updates this is projected to be a two-week rollout. Google has a dedicated page that keeps tabs on when updates are released and finalized. 

Should You Be Concerned?

With any substantial search algorithm update, you should always have an ear to the ground. Once it’s fully rolled out, there will be evident winners and losers. If you have a site (or multiple sites) that follows Google’s best practices with unique content with the intent to serve the reader, there shouldn’t be much worry. 

What Can You Do?

Continue to have a focused content strategy that isolates specific topics to specific pages. Don’t slam a bunch of ideas into one page. Use proper internal linking to connect related pages; do it with logic and don’t assign random pieces of unrelated text to be the anchor text. Wait until the search update has fully rolled out to evaluate the aftermath. You may even come out ahead in the rankings. 

There will be winners and losers but so long as you’re engaged and actively monitoring your site’s performance during and after this update, you will be able to pivot where necessary. Again, this update will be affecting things site-wide, so if you were impacted, you’ll know it. Google’s announcement of the update dictates that marking unhelpful content on the web will be an initiative that they’ll monitor and refine in the coming months, so be prepared to play the long game.