What is the September 2023 Helpful Content Update?

Multiple people sitting next to each other outside on their phones

There has been a lot of chatter among SEO experts lately about Google’s most recent Helpful Content Update, which started on September 14, 2023, and completed its rollout on September 28, 2023.

It’s no wonder why. A massive number of sites – both large and small across nearly every vertical – were hit. Many SEOs have been seeing graphs like this one from Google Analytics 4:

Screenshot from Google Analytics 4 showing a decline on a graph.

And this one from Search Console:

Screenshot from Google search console showing a decline on a graph.

What We're Seeing from the September 2023 Helpful Content Update

Based on our observations, both from industry reports and data from our own clients, local businesses were largely unaffected by the September Helpful Content Update. The most impacted entities seem to be bloggers and professional SEOs who have created websites with many ads and unnatural or excessive affiliate links.

From our analysis, it seems Google’s intention with the most recent update to the Helpful Content System is to prioritize brands in the top search results rather than content creators who merely aim to profit from the content itself.

What is Google's Helpful Content System?

The Helpful Content System, initially launched by Google in August 2022, was designed to provide users with original, helpful content crafted by people for people (rather than for search engines). However, the phrase “by people” has recently been removed, likely due to the rise of generative AI and language learning models.

According to Google’s documentation, the main objective of the helpful content system is to automatically identify content that offers minimal or no added value to users, implying that merely echoing what’s already available in the search results is unhelpful. Instead, creators who produce unique, original content should rise to the top of the search results.

That being said, if a helpful content update impacts your website, it’s not a manual action or penalty. With time, your site can recover. Let’s talk about how.

What to Do if Your Site was Affected by the Sep 2023 Helpful Content Update

Read Google's documentation on creating helpful, reliable, people-first content.

Google provides excellent resources and documentation about content quality and E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) that discuss some actions you can take if you’re affected by an update like this one. 

Notably, they have curated a list of questions that you can use to self-evaluate your content and website. The questions cover a range of topics, including how to create helpful content, what people-first content looks like, how to determine and showcase your expertise, and more. 

You can work through these questions yourself or go through them with your SEO agency to determine where and how you can improve your website.

Improve your UX.

Google recently expanded its recommendations on the Google Search Central blog, highlighting the significance of page experience in creating useful content. But what does this mean, and how does it influence your rankings?

Well, according to Google, user experience isn’t a direct ranking factor. The search algorithm promotes the most helpful content, even if the page experience isn’t ideal. However, for some search queries, an abundance of helpful content is available. 

So, when comparing two websites with virtually identical content and similar levels of helpfulness, Google tends to favor the one with fewer ads, fewer pop-ups, and a more user-friendly navigation system. In essence, Google prioritizes the user’s experience on the page.

Invest in SEO Services.

In light of the Helpful Content System, securing a top spot in search engine results, particularly on Google, necessitates a careful balance between content crafted for human readers and content optimized for search engines. 

A skilled SEO expert can bridge the gap between people-first content and search-engine-optimized content and accelerate your rankings with enhanced precision. They can also assist you in navigating several other tasks on this list, such as evaluating your site, scrutinizing competitors, identifying potentially unhelpful content, and devising strategies to enhance it.

Remove unhelpful content.

Google’s documentation clearly states that a website with a lot of unhelpful content is unlikely to show in search results, even if it has valuable content that matches a searcher’s query. 

Removing your poor-quality content can result in better rankings for your website overall.

A sign that says Google attached to a wooden fence.

Showcase your experience.

With the introduction of the second E in E-E-A-T, Google emphasizes the importance of demonstrating your industry experience. For instance, if you’re writing about travel, Google wants evidence that you’ve visited the destinations you’re discussing. If you’re a local restaurant, Google expects to see proof of your physical location and authenticity.

To showcase your industry experience, consider using personal photos to put a face to your brand, showing Google that you’re a real person running a real business. Instead of only displaying images of your products or services (like your menu items, if you’re a restaurant), include pictures of you interacting with those products (perhaps eating or preparing the food).

You should also ensure your website has a physical address, contact number, and other information corroborating your authenticity to Google.

Create original content.

As mentioned above, Google’s Helpful Content System aims to reward originality, so you should do more than mirror the information found in other search results.

Take your own photographs, present your own data, and display unique information users can’t find anywhere else, and you may be rewarded.

Analyze the new search results.

What websites are ranking above yours now? Visit their site and try to understand why they’ve been promoted. 

  • Is their content more helpful than yours? 
  • Do they provide more information, data, or original ideas than you do? 
  • Do they display credentials on their site that you perhaps overlooked? 
  • Is their user experience superior to yours? 

Consider these questions in the context of Google’s self-assessment and guidelines, then determine areas where your website could improve.

Make sure your credentials are clear on your website.

One of the ‘E’s in E-E-A-T stands for expertise, so displaying your credentials on your website is crucial.

Credentials are particularly important if you’re in a YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) industry and give medical advice, financial guidance, or otherwise promote a person’s health or well-being.

If you’re an educational institution, consider adding a staff page showcasing your faculty’s qualifications and expertise. If you’re a financial advisor, include a bio on your page discussing your financial industry education.

Showcase topical authority.

Topical authority involves creating a comprehensive content strategy that covers every conceivable aspect within your specific industry. The process should start small and gradually expand to include more general knowledge.

A talented SEO professional can truly show their value here. They can outline a keyword and content strategy and craft a content calendar to optimize your website’s ranking, whether you’re a small local business or an internationally recognized brand.

Take your blog roll off of your home page.

If you currently display your blog roll or news items directly on your homepage, consider relocating it to a dedicated blog section accessible via a navigation link in your menu. By all means, maintain your blog – it remains an essential tool. But rather than having it on your homepage, create a separate blog page where visitors can delve into your news items, articles, and other helpful content.

Stay active on social media.

Companies that consistently engage on social media platforms might be more likely to appear in search results. Regular posts on Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok demonstrate that you’re not just creating content to rank on search engines but are actively engaging with your audience elsewhere.

You might even consider starting a podcast that demonstrates your industry investment. For instance, Richardson Media Group has produced the BSuite podcast that is heading into its fourth season. The podcast features other purpose-driven leaders whether they’re B Corp certified or not. Even though the podcast doesn’t always relate to our media planning and SEO services, it showcases who we are and displays our agency’s authenticity.

When Will Your Website Recover from the Helpful Content Update?

Recovering from the helpful content update (or any algorithm update, for that matter) is not an insurmountable task, but it will take time… Likely a few months of diligent effort. As you rectify and implement changes on your website, Google will continue to reassess and reclassify your site over time.

Take the Next Step and Reach Out to Our SEO Agency

If your website has experienced a drop in rankings due to an algorithm update, Richardson Media Group is here to help. We’d be happy to analyze your site and help unravel what may have prompted the shift in rankings and traffic. After our analysis, we can develop a comprehensive content and SEO strategy to restore your site’s performance. Contact Richardson Media Group today!

Anne Richardson

Anne Richardson is the owner and media director of Richardson Media Group, an agency specializing in media planning and buying, advertising campaign management, and SEO.


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In addition to her role as owner and media director here at RMG, Anne authors the majority of our blog posts and hosts our BSuite podcast. Favorite topics for both platforms include the entrepreneurial journey, sustainability + social responsibility, media planning, media buying, and forming productive agency partnerships.