Google announced yesterday that they have rolled out an update to the helpful content system that began last December 5, and is expected to complete rolling out in two weeks' time. It is said to aim to improve their classifier and works across content globally, in all languages.
Just a run through, The helpful content system is a Google automated ranking system that aims to better ensure that people see original, helpful content, that are written by people, for people. The system generates a site-wide signal that Google considers when ranking pages. Since it is an automated system, it automatically identifies content that are low or no value to people doing searches.
Take note that any content, not just those that are deemed unhelpful, on sites that are determined to have relatively high amounts of unhelpful content overall, is less likely to perform well in search. This means that if your site has been tagged by the system to have a lot of low or no-value content, then other pages on your site, even though they are “helpful”, will be affected. The classifier process is entirely automated, using a machine-learning model and as mentioned in Google’s announcement, this December update has to do with their classifier system of what is helpful and what is not.
In Google’s documentation, it does mention that some people-first content on sites classified as having unhelpful content could still rank well, if there are other signals identifying that content as helpful and relevant to a query. The unhelpful signal is also weighted and sites with lots of unhelpful content may notice a stronger effect.
Even though they mentioned that, it looks like it is very important to have content that are “helpful” as “unhelpful” content can pull down those otherwise “helpful” ones.
If you have experienced drops during a helpful content update, then it means that the automated system may be classifying your site as “unhelpful” and it would be crucial to do a content audit on your site and remove any content that does not provide value to users.
What is helpful content, anyway?
According to Google’s documentation, helpful content are content that are helpful, reliable, and are people-first content. They are written by people for people and not to game search engines for higher rank. Questions to ask yourself include:
Check out this documentation for a full list of questions to ask yourself with regards to your content and what Google is searching for when it comes to “helpful” content.
If you have been hit by the update, you may be asking yourself, how long will it take for my site to do better, after making all the content changes? According to Google, sites identified by the helpful content system may find the “unhelpful content” signal applied to them over a period of months. Their classifier runs continuously which allows it to monitor newly launched sites and existing ones. As the system determines that the unhelpful content has not returned in the long term, the classification will no longer apply.
Google also refines their helpful content classifier periodically and when updates are notable, they announce a “helpful content update”. When the update finishes rolling out and the classifier sees that content has improved on your site, then the unhelpful classification from a previous classifier may no longer apply.
The last helpful content update was in August 25, 2022 and if you were hit by that update and made improvements to your site and content, then it is possible that you would see improvements on this update.
If you are hit by this update, it is high-time for a content audit, which can be a lengthy and a hard process to partake, especially if you have a lot of content on your site. Best to do one now, make changes to your site and content, and hopefully in a few months, you would be able to see improvements on your rank.