September 2023 Helpful Content Update, Completed + Impact

The September 2023 Helpful Content Update has completed roll-out, with effects being felt by those in the SEO industry more than the average site owner.
Marie Aquino
October 5, 2023

Google has announced that the September 2023 helpful content update was completed last September 28. The first helpful content update for this year, which was released last September 14 took exactly 13 days and 11 hours to complete, according to the Google Search Status Dashboard.

It has been a couple of days since the update and a lot of SEOs have reported that they were hit. According to SERoundtable, this particular update went after SEO-first content.

The September 2023 Helpful Content Update is the third helpful content update since it first launched in August 2022, followed by the 2nd on December 2022. The first two updates’ impact was not as felt, compared to this particular update.

The September update rolled out with an improved classifier which seems to be more effective and targeted towards what the helpful content system really aims to reward – content that is original and helpful, that is created for people and not search engines (queue in SEO content).

In a Search Off The Record episode last August 2022, the search team talked all about ranking updates. One of the topics they have discussed is the predominance of SEO content and how in the past year or two, people have been saying that they don’t like all the SEO content that they have been encountering in search. For an ordinary person to say that they see the SEO does not necessarily mean that they see the SEO as much as they are using the euphemism of, “This content really wasn’t designed for me, it was designed just to rank in a search engine.”

The team mentioned that to be successful in SEO, you want to make sure that you are producing content that an ordinary person would be satisfied with and not think that it was just designed to rank for search engines.

Read more about the episode and the golden nuggets we’ve gained in this article – What to Do During A Google Search Algorithm Update

Looking back at that episode and the discussion on SEO content, it seems to have been a foreshadowing of what is to come, with this update targeting content designed to rank well in search engines. Due to this, those in the SEO industry were able to feel more of the effects than the average website owner. Search Engine Land reports that thousands of publishers reported traffic drops from 10% – 70%. The effects were so dire that some companies even publicly commented that they would have to lay-off employees.

If you were hit by this update, it is time to rethink your content and to check out Google’s documentation on creating helpful, reliable, people-first content. They have recently updated their documentation to add new points to consider when it comes to removing content and changing dates, new guidance on hosting third-party content, and what to do after a helpful content system update.

With regards to how it takes for a 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.