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Understanding Google’s Helpful Content Update (2024): Optimizing Your SEO Strategy

Every business must continue updating its services to offer the best user experience. 

This is common with both offline and online services. For instance, developers usually update their applications to improve app performance and features, fix bugs, and offer improved user experience.

The same thing happens with Google, but many site owners are bearing the brunt of this helpful content update. This is not the first Google update, but a very significant one.

We’ll analyze the reasons behind this update, its significance, and possible things to do if hit by the update.

Let’s go!

The Impact of AI Popularity on This Update

On August 18, 2022, Google released an algorithm update, tagged as the helpful content update. This update focused on improving search results quality by rewarding content that users find helpful. 

In the same 2022, OpenAI launched chatGPT in November, which distracted many content creators. They felt relieved and started sacrificing quality for productivity. At this point, many business owners also laid off writers, thinking they’ve gotten opportunities to cut content production costs.

The noise across the internet revealed the joy of many tired creatives who found chatGPT to be a lifesaver.


Here we are a few years later (2024)

  • The SERP is filled with much less helpful content, and users must scroll and click many pages before getting satisfied.
  • Most creators have mastered the habit of copy-paste from chatGPT to their CMS.

Remember that Google forewarned site owners about its priority for useful and helpful content before the launch of chatGPT.

This leaves us with an open question: Should we say that the unscrutinized usage of chatGPT contributed to the SERP mess right now?

Highlighting Google’s Goal for the Helpful Content Update

In its document, Google mentioned that they are improving the Search to display only helpful information across the web. Here’s why:

“Every day, people turn to Search to find the best of what the web has to offer. We’ve long had policies and automated systems to fight against spammers, and we work to address emerging tactics that look to game our results with low-quality content. We regularly update those policies and systems to effectively tackle these trends so we can continue delivering useful content and connecting people with high-quality websites.”

Here are vital changes Google is making to improve the quality of Search and the helpfulness of Search results:

  1. Improved quality ranking
  2. New and improved spam policies

Industry Experts’ Thoughts on This Update

According to Lily Ray, sites impacted by this update are similar, almost doing the same thing. This doesn’t necessarily mean these sites are in the same niche. However, they appear to be different niche websites following the same SEO practices. 

Many of these sites make money through ads and affiliate links; their web pages follow the same structure and content format.

She says Google trained its systems to look for unhelpful content based on certain set signals. When these signals match Google’s expected unhelpful content signal on a site, the site feels the impact more. In this case, a website might practice white-hat SEO and still fall victim if there is a certain percentage of unhelpful content on it.

Despite losing rankings and traffic due to this update, many websites are doing well. Some sites are getting higher rankings because of the positions lost by impacted sites.

Also, Silvia, in her analysis of the impact of Google’s core update on some niche websites, found out that some niche websites weren’t hit by the March Core and Spam update. Here are key findings with the unimpacted websites:

1. Their images are non-stock images. Most even seem to appear in the pictures, especially travel blog sites, and have very personalized captions (see image below)

2. Most of these sites have the Author’s name, bio, and sometimes even a headshot

3. The content….and this is the big one…is written in a way that shows this person isn’t just regurgitating what’s online from other sites but has actually visited the destinations. It’s clearly written from first-hand experience.

4. No aggressive ads or pop-ups

It’s hard to specifically say that all affected websites engage in poor SEO practices, as many quality sites have also been affected. However, it’s worth investigating your website to understand what may happen. Sometimes, it could be that a site is wrongfully flagged and punished due to issues with cybersecurity practices.

What to Do If Your Site Is Affected With The HCU

If this update has hit your website, you’re lost in the ocean of what to do.

You can do the following:

  • Use Google Search Console and Google Analytics to understand traffic share among your web pages. Spot pages are receiving less traffic or experiencing traffic loss starting from the update rollout. Filter the date range to 30 days before and after the HCU.
  • Conduct an on-page user experience check on your web pages. Review your website’s Content and page experience, answering important on-page experience questions and content questions.
  • If you think intrusive ads are the culprit, remove them.
  • Having identified poor content pages, no index them to remove them from Google’s library. 
  • Are you in the Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) website niche? Try to inculcate EEAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) on your pages.

What to Do If Your Site Is Not Affected With This Update

If, by now, your website hasn’t been affected by the update, follow the tips below.

  1. Continue monitoring your website performance on Google Search Console.
  2. Avoid following the same pattern of optimization or marketing practices done by others. Always add your unique insights to help users have a satisfying moment on your website.
  3. Make sure your website continues offering a good user experience. Have a good page experience and avoid using intrusive ads or pop-ups. Have a good Core Web Vitals score. Have a good website layout.
  4. Avoid relying on only one source of traffic.

Final Thought

Remember that you’ve created your website for humans and not search engines. Do everything possible to help your site visitors feel comfortable whenever they visit your website. 

  • Focus on quality, helpful content that resonates with them and solves their problems immediately. 
  • Maintain an excellent page experience and 
  • build trust by showcasing your expertise and experience.

Yes, search engines need to be able to access your website to present it to humans. But they are not the main reason for you having a brand. SEO is one of many ways to get traffic to your site. Leverage other channels like social media, email marketing, content marketing, paid ads, and more, especially where you know your audiences are.

Don’t sacrifice your site visitors’ satisfaction for search engine satisfaction. People first, then search engine!