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Everything you need to know about the September Helpful Content Update

Everything you need to know about the September Helpful Content Update

Google has released its biggest update since the Penguin algorithm of 2012. This month’s Helpful Content Update has affected a lot of websites, but why has it had such an effect, and what can you do to make sure you’re not penalised?

What is the Helpful Content Update?

Google’s Helpful Content Update was released this month, and focuses on improving the results for content flagged by Google as being helpful and of high quality.

The three main areas this new update has changed are:

1. Loosening the guidance on machine generated content (AI)

2. Hosting third-party content on subdomains (or on your main domain)

3. Offering additional guidance if your website loses traffic from this update.

What industries have been affected by this update?

From analysing forums like Reddit, two particular industries that appear to be struggling since this update was rolled out on 14th September are finance, and health and fitness. Of course, they’re not alone – many other industries have been affected by this update, especially if they have non-unique content.

At Engage Web, we have a few clients in the financial sector who we write regular content for, but they have yet to see any notable downturns in traffic. All content written on our clients’ sites comes from our expert team of writers. Many websites have seen decreases due to their reliance on content from third parties, or content that isn’t unique or helpful; for example, websites that have used AI to generate content without reviewing it to check whether it’s of any value to the reader.

One company owner has even taken to Reddit to post:

“I am going to lay off most of the employees from the company permanently because of the September 2023 helpful content update of Google.”

Why have some websites been badly affected by the update?

There has been a trend over the past few years of hosting third-party content on websites, both on companies’ main websites and subdomains of their main website. For example, some news media websites have hosted third-party credit card affiliate content.

This new update may negatively impact websites doing this, and the usefulness of this content will be considered when Google looks at site-wide signals to learn whether it meets the E.E.A.T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) principles.

Updated guidance on AI written content

With this new update, Google has also updated its documentation about useful content, which originally read “helpful content written by people, for people, in search results”. This has now been changed to “helpful content created for people in search results”, which is a clear sign that Google isn’t saying you can’t use AI to write content for your website. However, you still should make sure that the content has been reviewed by an expert or enthusiast of the subject of the content.

You also will need to check that the content is unique, as AI platforms like ChatGPT are known to use other sources for the information they generated, often without giving any reference to where the content has come from. Therefore, it’s still best to either use AI and adapt the content, or just use a writer to write the content, and make sure that the content is unique using platforms like Copyscape.

Is there more to come?

Yes, Google confirmed back in May that the Helpful Content Update would be released this year, saying that it is:

“…improving how we rank results in search overall, with a greater focus on content with unique expertise and experience.”

However, when this update was released on 14th September, Google said:

“This work is still continuing and is not part of this particular update.”

This tells us that more updates are due, and that websites need to be aware that traffic could be affected even more.

Has Google released any guidance if you’ve been affected?

Yes, Google has had guidance for a while for making sure your content is useful, which has been updated since this new update was released. You can find this guide available within Google Search Central.

If you’ve been affected by the new algorithm update, and are looking to have content written by people instead of AI tools, get in touch with Engage Web to discuss how our search engine optimisation (SEO) and content writing services can help your business to grow.

Jonathon Roberts

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