When Google initially announced the helpful content update on 18 August, the reaction of the SEO community was that we were expecting an update with a large impact, similar to the Google Panda Update, which launched way back in late 2011. Both of the algorithm updates have similar aims, targeting low-quality content such as content farms and AI-generated or spun content (which was in its infancy in 2011 and is far more advanced now).
When the Panda update launched, low-quality content was rampant on the internet, so the update had a huge impact on sites that generated traffic from articles that were often poorly spun content that had been reused from other websites and tweaked slightly.
Since those days, the general quality of articles shown in Google search results is much better (most of the time), but that has started to change recently with new tools for writing content using AI such as GPT-3, which can generate whole articles from a prompt. These articles are often readable and make sense to both humans and Google’s algorithm but fall apart upon close inspection and are often full of information that is simply not true.
The point of the helpful content update is to provide users with content that is truthful and helpful to their search query, rather than generated or low-quality content that might misinform the user.
What impact has the helpful content update had?
The helpful content update finished rolling out on 9 September, and so far, it seems to have had minimal impact. Tools that track fluctuations in search results show a pattern that is consistent with normal fluctuations (as shown by blue and green bars in the chart below), with larger fluctuations only showing towards the end of the update. It is believed that these larger fluctuations towards the end of the update (shown by the red bars in the chart on 8 and 9 September) are nothing to do with the helpful content update as many of the impacted search queries were on non-English language sites, and therefore should not be affected by the helpful content update, which is only targeting English language sites. Furthermore, with most Google updates, you normally see the bulk of changes right at the beginning of the update rolling out, not towards the end.
Figure 1 - Chart from RankRanger showing search result fluctuations by date. Blue and green bars show normal fluctuation. Orange and red bars show higher than normal fluctuation.
How do I know if my site has been impacted?
If your site has been impacted, you should see a drop in traffic that happened sometime between 25 August and 9 September with no recovery afterwards. This is only likely to happen if you have lots of low-quality content on your website that is not helpful to users, though often with Google updates many sites that didn’t do anything wrong are often caught in the crossfire (but would usually see things picking back up over time).
How can I recover from the helpful content update?
If you have been affected by the helpful content update, the best way to recover is to carry out a full content audit of your website (including blogs) and improve or delete the low-quality content. This can be a huge undertaking for some websites, especially if you have lots of older blog posts from several years ago. We recommend using Screaming Frog SEO Spider to get a full list of pages on your site. This can be linked to Google Analytics so that you can see which pages are still getting traffic to make sure that you don’t remove pages that are still getting visitors. It could take several months to recover from this update as Google says that there is a timeout period and a validation period between the penalty being applied and removed.
If you need help recovering from the helpful content update, please get in touch with us at email@example.com or 0117 325 0200 and we can carry out a content audit to see what steps need to be taken to help your website to recover from the update.