Recently, Google rolled out its latest Helpful Content Update (HCU) with an improved classifier, which began on September 14 and ended on September 28.
According to Google, the HCU classifier is used to help web pages get ranked accordingly in search results. It takes into account several factors, including:
- The quality of the content
- The relevance of the content to the user’s query
- The originality of the content
- The usefulness of the content
Using various machine learning techniques classifier assesses the helpfulness of the web pages. Now, a web page will rank higher in search engines only when a web page is deemed to be helpful. If a web page is deemed to be unhelpful, it will be ranked lower in search results.
The consensus is that this HCU update was more impactful than the previous HCU updates in August 2022 and December 2022.
Changes to Helpful Content Guidance
Several sites with AI-generated and programmatic content that churned out pages en masse were hit hard. Other highly affected categories included gaming, reviews, lyrics, travel, downloads, translation, and calculation-type sites. Some of the how-to recipe sites were also hit badly.
Several important updates were also made to Google Search’s helpful content system and your website guidance document.
Earlier, Google mentioned that content has to be written by people. But the new documentation now reads:
“Google Search’s helpful content system generates a signal used by our automated ranking systems to better ensure people see original, helpful content created for people in search results.”
To address the issue of sites hosting third-party content, a new section has been added that reads:
“If you host third-party content on your main site or in your subdomains, understand that such content may be included in site-wide signals we generate, such as the helpfulness of content. For this reason, if that content is largely independent of the main site’s purpose or produced without close supervision or the involvement of the primary site, we recommend that it should be blocked from being indexed by Google.”
They also updated the self-assessment guidance by adding “or reviewed” in this statement:
“Is this content written or reviewed by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?”
They also mentioned about faking an update to a page:
“Are you changing the date of pages to make them seem fresh when the content has not substantially changed?”
They even mentioned about faking freshness:
“Are you adding a lot of new content or removing a lot of older content primarily because you believe it will help your search rankings overall by somehow making your site seem “fresh?” (No, it won’t)”
Google also added new guidance on recovering from an HCU:
“If you have noticed a change in traffic you suspect may be related to this system (such as after a publicly posted ranking update to the system), then you should self-assess your content and fix or remove any that seems unhelpful.
Our help page on how to create helpful, reliable, people-first content has questions that you can use to self-assess your content to be successful with the helpful content system.”