Google September 2023 Helpful Content Update Rolling Out With Improved Classifier

Sep 15, 2023 - 7:51 am 227 by
Filed Under Google Updates

Google Helpful Content Update

Last night at about 4:20 pm ET, Google began to roll out an update to the Helpful content system - the Google September 2023 Helpful Content Update. What is new is not the part about finding hidden gems (that will come later) but a new "improved classifier."

Google wrote on X, The September 2023 helpful content update is rolling out with an improved classifier." Google said, like most other updates, that "it will take about two weeks to complete." Google also updated its official helpful content page with some new advice, which I will document below.

As a reminder, the Google helpful content update looks to weed out content written for the purpose of ranking in search engines that do not help or inform people. Google said this update will "tackle content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines." The update will "help make sure that unoriginal, low-quality content doesn't rank highly in Search," Google added. So if you are writing content to drive search engine visibility and traffic, you might be hit by this type of update, and non-English sites are no longer safe from this update.

The last Helpful content update we had was the December 2022 helpful content update - that update took this update global.

September 2023 Google Helpful Content Update Quick Facts

Here are the most important things that we know right now in short form:

  • Name: Google September 2023 Helpful content update
  • Launch Date: September 14 at 4:20 pm ET
  • Rollout: It will take about two weeks to fully roll out
  • Targets: It looks at content that was created to rank well in search over help humans
  • Search Only: This currently impacts Google Search and Google Discover.
  • Penalty: Google did not mention penalty but this update does seem to feel like a penalty for sites that will be hit by it
  • Promotes: This update promotes helpful content but soon will also demote unhelp content.
  • Sitewide: This is a sitewide algorithm, so the whole site will be impacted by this update
  • Not a core update: Many are going to say this is a core update, it is not.
  • Global and all languages: This is no longer just for English-language content, it is now all languages and global.
  • Impact: Google would not tell me what percentage of queries or searches were impacted by this update but Google did tell me it would be "meaningful." Also, Google said this will be felt more for online-educational materials, entertainment, shopping, and tech-related content.
  • Recover: If you were hit by this, then you will need to look at your content and see if you can do better with Google's advice below
  • Refreshes: Google updates the scores constantly here but there is a timeout period, and a validation period and it can take several months to recover from this update.

Updates to Helpful Content Update Document

Google made a few changes to its official helpful content page including:

Written By People: But there is more, in the previous version Google wrote in the first paragraph this system is to "better ensure people see original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results." Google removed the words "written by people" and just wrote "helpful content created for people in search results." So yea, maybe AI or machines can write the content that would be helpful.

Here is a before and after screenshot (click to enlarge):

Before After

Third-Party Content: Google added this section, as noted above,"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."

Gary Illyes from Google added more details on LinkedIn about this saying, "We've heard (and also noticed) that some sites "rent out" their subdomains or sometimes even subdirectories to third-parties, typically without any oversight over the content that's hosted on those new, generally low quality micro-sites that have nothing to do with the parent site. In fact the micro-sites are rarely ever linked from the parent sites, which don't actually want to endorse these often questionable sites. The only reason the owners of these shady (?) micro-sites rent the sub-spaces is to manipulate search results."

"Those of you who let us know about this, sent us plenty examples, and even blogged about it: thank you, it helped us tons! Those of you who rent out sub-spaces of your sites to third-parties with no oversight of the content, please have a read," he said.

To be clear, this is not new, Google specifically called out third party hosted content in 2019 in these tweets:

What To Do - Self Assess:Google also added these lines, "If you're producing helpful content, then you don't need to do anything; in fact this system may be good for your site, as it is designed to reward helpful content." And this one too, "If you've 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." This self-assess advice was from earlier this week, as an FYI.

Reviewed by Expert: Google updated the creating helpful content document to add "or reviewed" to this line of text "Is this content written or reviewed by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?" under the experise questions section.

Changing Dates: Google added this line "Are you changing the date of pages to make them seem fresh when the content has not substantially changed?" under the avoid creating search engine-first content section.

Adding/Removing: Google also added this line to that section "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)"

Search Quality Raters Note: Google added this note for clarification purposes to the page, "Search raters have no control over how pages rank. Rater data is not used directly in our ranking algorithms. Rather, we use them as a restaurant might get feedback cards from diners. The feedback helps us know if our systems seem to be working."

What It Is Not - Yet...

We were all expecting the next helpful content update to be able to dig deeper into the web and find hidden gems and surface those in Google Search. This version did not do that, Google said. Google wrote, "This work is still continuing and is not part of this particular update. We’ll share more about our work in this area in the future."

Previous Helpful Content Update Impact

Here is the list of the previous Google helpful content updates:

SEO Chatter

Here is some of the chatter I found that hints at some of the early impact on this update (or maybe the unconfirmed update from earlier this week?). So far, I do not see much renewed chatter around ranking changes specific to this update.

It's coming up to UK 18.00 time with traffic today having been consistent however very low in volume.

Yes. We are finally seeing the business end of the August update.

big drop over night. Again about 50%. That makes a total of -82% since this update ( that is not over again or is now beeing adjusted ) And again low content sites are gaining rankings.

Of course, John Mueller of Google making sure he was off the BrightonSEO stage by the time the update was announced was perfectly calculated - his reaction at a dinner there was priceless:

Google Search Rank Tracking Tools

So far, as of this morning, the tools are showing what the chatter is telling us - this thing really did not kick into gear just yet. So hang tight...


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Advanced Web Rankings:

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Cognitive SEO:

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I hope all your helpful content is rewarded with this updated helpful content system!

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld, Black Hat World and Twitter.


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