Google Helpful Content update: The algorithm change to fight AI content spam.

1 September 2022
Read time: 9 mins

GEL Studios

Written by:
GEL Studios.

During August and September 2022, Google will be rolling out a sitewide algorithm update, known as the Helpful Content Update. The purpose of this algorithm change is to prevent unoriginal, low-quality content from ranking highly on search engine results pages (SERPs).

Key points.

Here are some of the most important things we know so far:

Title: Google Helpful Content Update.

Launch Date: The roll-out began on August 25th.

Completion: It will take about two weeks for the whole roll-out to be completed.

Targets: The update looks at penalising sites that publish low-quality search engine-focused content.

Penalty: Google hasn't mentioned any specific penalties, but content created primarily for search engine traffic is likely to see a drop in SERP ranking.

Scale: This is a global algorithm update, so the whole site will be impacted, rather than singular pages.

Languages: This change will impact English searches globally at first, with a plan to expand to other languages in the future.

Impact: Google has said this update would especially improve the results related to educational and entertainment content, as well as shopping and tech-related content.

Recovery: If this update hits your site then you will need to look at your content and make adjustments. Read the advice below to see how your site can bounce back.

What do we know about the update?

On Thursday, August 18, Google Search Central published the following announcement on Twitter:

"Next week, we will launch the "helpful content update" to better ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, rather than content made primarily for search engine traffic."

This tweet was also accompanied by a blog post on Google's official news channel 'The Keyword' where you can stay up to date with all things product, technology and culture.

The post published in 'The Keyword' also links through to a more technical article listed on the Google Search Central Blog. This gives a detailed explanation of what creators can expect from the Helpful Content Update.

How will the Helpful Content Update work?

The update introduces a new ranking signal that will penalise sites that publish low-quality content deemed unhelpful for Google Search users.

The update will be an automated process that will simply be built into the machine learning algorithms that are already used in many of Google's existing processes. We expect the rollout of this change to take at least two weeks. If the update does detect any content on your site that could be considered spam or unhelpful, it will send a negative signal to the search engine algorithm. Google has explicitly stated that the process is fully automated, not manual.

What exactly is unhelpful content?

It's hard to predict exactly what Google will determine as 'unhelpful content', but many SEOs have a good idea of what they're trying to crack down on. Google wants to make sure that content written with the sole purpose of ranking well on search engines is not rewarded with a positive SERP performance.

Therefore, lazy writing stuffed with keywords is unlikely to succeed after the imminent google update.

Types of content methods that will see a drop.

Keyword stuffing.

Content that overemphasises keywords will suffer. Writing content which ignores your audience and prioritises shoving in as many keywords as possible. This type of content is called "keyword stuffing" and it's not a good look.

The content that you create should be about what matters most to your audience. You should also write with a human voice, rather than a robotic one so that people can relate to you more easily. If you're creating blog posts or articles which don't specifically answer users' search queries, you may experience a drop in organic traffic.

You need to create relevant and helpful content that provides value for users. By doing this, you'll ensure your users return again and again.

One link blog posts.

Google's algorithm update will penalise blog posts with the sole purpose of only linking out to another page on the web.

The search giant is cracking down on 'link schemes', which involves creating an article that's only meant for linking to other websites. This can be done through either internal links or external links.

Google has been penalising sites that have been caught up in link schemes since 2012, but the latest update will make it even more difficult to get away with such a thing.

AI content.

A big focus of this update will be to filter out poorly executed artificial intelligence (AI) written content. Google will be looking for obvious signs of automated writing such as unnatural language patterns and repeated phrases that aren't used by humans.

The new update is predicted to combat the growing problem of low-quality AI-generated text. Google has reportedly seen a huge increase in content created by machine learning algorithms with no focus on readability.

AI research laboratory, OpenAI is largely responsible for this increase. Founded in 2015 by Elon Musk and Sam Altman, OpenAI unveiled the most robust artificial intelligence language prediction model ever released in 2020. Known as GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3), it is a language prediction model with over 175 billion machine learning parameters. GPT-3 can create anything that has a language structure, meaning it can answer questions, write essays and summaries, translate languages, take memos, and even create computer code.

Of course, this is pretty revolutionary. GPT-3 has the ability to mimic human written text with a high degree of realism. Obviously, the SEO industry has been very excited about GPT-3 ever since its release, but the forthcoming Google Helpful Content Update could spell an end to the dominance of lazy search engine first AI content.

Google explained,

"we are looking to surface content that will be viewed as helping and adding value to the topics searched. Creators who are specifically creating content for search engines first, which include AI-based content, may be impacted."

Creating people-first content.

The Helpful Content Update is designed to reward content that meets the expectations of users. Going forward, content that doesn't meet those expectations will not achieve the required ranking factors. From now on it will be more important than ever to focus on creating first-rate content, while also employing SEO best practices to maximize search visibility.

Content that is made primarily for search engine performance generally fails to meet the expectations of human readers and as a result, will be penalised.

What steps can you take to put people first in your content?

Google still emphasises that long-standing advice and guidelines on SEO best practices continue to be relevant and essential.

However, there are a series of steps to consider when creating people first content.

Stay on track, and don't lose focus of your main topic.

Content on your site should have an existing or intended audience for your business, that audience should find your site relevant and useful.

If your business operates within a particular niche, stick to writing about that area of expertise. Often creating content for search engines can result in writing articles outside your niche, Google wants to prevent this kind of article from climbing up the results pages.

For example, American Business magazine Forbes regularly publishes articles about the best tires to buy, clearly, there are better sources of knowledge regarding tires than Forbes magazine.

Demonstrate a depth of knowledge and first-hand expertise.

With this update, Google will reward content that demonstrates first-hand expertise.

If you have experience with the product or service you're writing about, make sure to let readers know by including original photos or insights. This will demonstrate expertise and depth of knowledge.

When writing about something, make sure you're adding value by including your own thoughts on the topic or sharing your experience. Google will penalise those who are mainly publishing content which summarises what others have said previously.

Focus on a single topic when you create your site.

For a long time now Google has recommended that your website should be focused on a particular niche.

We recommend this as a best practice because it benefits both visitors and search engines trying to crawl your site.

Additionally, trying to write well-researched and engaging content on multiple topics can be time-consuming and harmful to your site.

Try to ensure your content satisfies searchers' queries.

Google considers helpful content to be that which teaches people something or helps them accomplish a task.

By efficiently answering search queries, your content is actively resolving a concern that led the user to Google and eventually your site in the first place.

Search engine first writing can often result in lots of words with very little value. Google wants to avoid rewarding content which leaves readers feeling like they need to search again to get better information from other sources.

Make sure you provide a satisfying experience.

Google expects that once a user has landed on your site, you should meet all their needs.

For example, if you're reviewing a product with first-hand expertise and user will normally expect a written evaluation, images and even a video.

The more detail you can provide the greater chance you will have of providing the satisfying user experience that Google covets so much.

Always follow Google's guidelines and stay up-to-date on other algorithm changes.

The Helpful Content Update isn't predicted to generate an immediate shift in search results.

The update will continue to roll out over the two-week period and beyond. Helpful content will play a crucial part in Google's continuous effort to improve the way that Search works.

Unlike the broad core algorithm updates such as the one we saw this May, the Helpful Content update will be optimised with a new launch every few months.

This has been corroborated by Google's Search Liason, Danny Sullivan who has stated:

"With this helpful content update, as I said before, it's part of a continuing effort. Directionally, it's what SEOs and creators should pay attention to. We'll continue to tune it, and refine it. It matters, which is why we've spent so much time talking about it."

What can I do If my site is affected?

A natural question might be, "how long will it take for my site to get back to where it was prior to the update?"

The good news is that Google believes sites that have been flagged by the Helpful Content signal can recover. The removal of "unhelpful content" is critical when it comes to improvement. If you do make the necessary changes to your site after the signal has been applied, it will take several months for rehabilitation to take place.

Even if you're not affected now, it's crucial to remove any content on your site that you feel could be 'unhelpful'. This is because the classifier for this update is supposedly always active, allowing it to monitor newly-launched sites and existing ones. If the classifier determines that unhelpful content has been removed and not returned in the long term, the classification will no longer apply.

As of right now the update isn't fully rolled out and won't be complete until late September. However, even if you aren't directly impacted by the recent Google Helpful Content Update, it's important to keep up with any important changes in the search engine industry. Changes in organic traffic could mean that your SEO strategy has become outdated or ineffective. If this happens, don't hesitate to reach out to us here at GEL Studios for advice on how to improve your website's SEO strategy moving forward.

GEL Studios

Written by:
GEL Studios.

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