Helpful Content Update 2023 ❘ How to Survive Google Updates

If your blog traffic dropped after the Google Helpful Content Update (HCU) of September 2023, this post will help you understand what this Google update means for bloggers, and offer actionable tips to recover your lost traffic.

A MacBook Air on a white marble table displaying Google's homepage, perhaps with a focus on the Helpful Content Update 2023. A potted plant wrapped in brown paper is placed to the left of the laptop.

If you’ve been scratching your head wondering why your blog traffic has taken a nosedive recently, you’re not alone. Google’s Helpful Content Update that rolled out in September 2023 has left so many bloggers in a similar situation with their blog traffic taking a big hit. 

But don’t worry, you can recover your lost traffic and survive this Google Update by reading this post. I will break down the changes in Google’s algorithm and share actionable tips to get you back on track. 

But before we get started, let me clarify a couple of things.

Although I have worked as a lawyer specializing in International and EU Law (LLB, LLM, PhD) for over 15 years and helped more than 30,000 bloggers and online entrepreneurs create their blog legal pages and policies with my plug-and-play legal templates, free legal templates, online courses, an affordable legal bundle for bloggers, and an affordable legal bundle for online business owners, this article is meant for informational and educational purposes only. 

It does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. I will not be held liable for any damages or losses caused by acting or failing to act on the grounds of the content of this article. Should your circumstances require, I encourage you to seek legal advice through other avenues. Please read my full disclaimer for further information.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information. If not otherwise stated, all prices are intended in US$.

If you’re in a rush at the moment, don’t sweat it! You can always download this post as a PDF and come back to these tips on surviving Google updates later.


Recent Google Updates

The good news is what you will learn in this post will help you recover from all the latest Google updates. 

In fact, the Helpful Content Update is only one of the recent Google updates. First, we had the August 2023 core update shaking things up. But then, just when we thought we had a grip on things, along comes the September Helpful Content Update. 

The rollout of this update started on September 14th and was completed on September 28th with thousands of bloggers being affected losing blog traffic and blogging income. 

But just when you think you can catch your breath, October rolls around with not one, but two updates—a core update and a spam update. 

So, what can we do to survive these updates?

What are the steps we can take as bloggers to regain any lost traffic after the Helpful Content Update and rank well on Google?

You know, if you want to come out on top, you’ve got to know what you’re up against. So, let’s dive into what this content update is, and after that, I’ll spill the beans on every step you should take to get those page views and Google rank back on track.

Let’s dive in!

What is the Helpful Content Update?

First things first, what is the Helpful Content Update?

For the past few years, Google has been using a system known as the Helpful Content System to promote quality, people-first content and reduce the visibility of content considered unhelpful. 

The September 2023 Helpful Content Update has basically brought some key changes to this Helpful Content System to make sure that search results display original, helpful content created for people and not for search engines. 

Google’s ranking algorithm consists of a complex mix of hundreds of factors like backlinks, website speed, core web vitals,  domain authority, content relevance, user experience to figure out which content deserves the top spots in search results. 

With the Helpful Content Update, a new variable comes into play: whether your content is actually helpful. Once the Google algorithm finds content that’s relevant to a search query, it then goes a step further to pick out the ones that are the most helpful. 

Helpful Content System & E-E-A-T

So, how does Google determine whether the content of your blog is helpful or not?

This system is based on a combination of factors which are  Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness — basically what is also known as E-E-A-T.

And this is especially true for content that falls under the category of ‘Your Money or Your Life’ topics (YMYL), it’s content that could significantly impact an individual’s health, financial stability, or safety. In these instances, content that strongly aligns with the E-E-A-T principles is given additional weight in ranking.

A text graphic titled "How to Survive Google Updates (including the 2023 Helpful Content Update)" over a close-up image of a keyboard.

How the Helpful Content Update Works

Now, among these elements, trust is the most critical. While the other factors contribute to establishing trust, your content doesn’t need to have all of them to be considered helpful.

For instance, some content may be deemed helpful because it shows first-hand experience. And that’s one of the reasons why after these recent Google updates, you will find lots of pages from Reddit, Quora, other forums, and user-generated content and even reviews, now rank on the first page of Google. 

On the other hand, some content might shine because it’s packed with expert advice and shows expertise.

Plus, for content to be helpful, you can’t just rewrite what’s already been said in other blog posts, your content, as per Google guidelines, must provide substantial additional value and originality.

But there is a but!

The Helpful Content Update doesn’t just evaluate individual blog posts on your site; it assesses the quality of your website as a whole.

If a large portion of the content on your blog isn’t great, it could drag down the ranking of individual blog posts that are actually pretty good. So even if you’ve got a few star articles that should be ranking well, if the rest of your website is filled with content that Google deems ‘unhelpful,’ those great blog posts could take a hit too. 

The good news is that this classifier, the system that will judge whether your content is helpful or not, is entirely automated and runs non-stop to allow Google to monitor newly launched sites and existing ones. It uses a machine-learning model and works across all languages around the world. This means that websites will be assessed again and again on a continuous basis and they can recover if they fix or remove content that is deemed unhelpful.

What Can You Do to Recover?

If you’ve noticed a dip in your traffic, and if you’re here with me today, I suspect you did notice a big dip in your traffic, you need to audit your content and self-assess your content against Google guidelines and fix or remove content that seems unhelpful.

Google actually provided some questions to help self-assess your content. You can check that out here.

And now I will also share my top actionable tips to fix your content if your blog has been hit by the September 2023 Helpful Content Updated.

Tip #1: Assess Your Content

The first tip is to take the time to audit your blog and investigate. Go on Google Analytics and Google Search Console and identify the pages that have been most impacted and the types of searches that are affected.

Evaluate these pages in the context of the questions provided by Google to assess whether your content is helpful and trustworthy. Be honest with yourself and answer these questions: Is this the sort of blog post you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? Does your blog post offer value compared to the other blog posts in search results?

You can use Google’s guidelines as a checklist to grade your content. If the score is too low just get rid of this unhelpful content because as I mentioned earlier, the Helpful Content Update works site-wide so if you have unhelpful content on your site, it will affect the ranking of your helpful content too.

If the score is not too bad, make necessary changes to align your content with Google’s guidelines following my tips.

Tip #2: Update Your Content in a Genuine Way

The next tip I have for you when it comes to fixing your content to recover from the Helpful Content Update, focus on genuinely updating your content to provide the most current and helpful information to your readers.

Google now advises against changing the date on pages and blog posts to make them appear fresh when the content hasn’t changed substantially. They also advise against adding a lot of new content or removing a lot of older content just to make your blog seem “fresh?”.

So, when you update your blog posts make sure you’re actually adding new, substantial, and valuable content, and only then change the date of your blog post.

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Tip #3: Showcase First Hand Experience

Back to the next tip. Show your E-E-A-T as much as possible. One of the most effective ways to showcase this is through first-hand experience. For instance, if you’re a travel blogger, don’t write about places you’ve never visited. Instead, focus on writing about destinations you’ve actually visited. Incorporate personal stories and include original photos you’ve taken yourself to enrich your content.

In my case for example, when I talk about blogging, my content can be seen as both authentic and valuable because I do have a few blogs myself and I have been a 6 figure blogger for the past four years. So, create content about things you know well and have tested yourself and to show your first-hand experience.  

Include in your blog posts original photos and embed videos, preferably YouTube videos as Google and YouTube are the same company.

Tip #4: Showcase Your Expertise

Next, build trust and show your expertise. Again this is important to bolster your E-E-A-T, You need to show that there’s a real person behind the content. Make sure it’s clear to your readers who wrote the article by including a byline at the top of your blog post.

But don’t stop there—make that byline clickable so that it will be a gateway to more information about you. Link from your byline to the author archive or even better to the About page. Also, include in all your blog posts a short author bio. it’s a powerful tool for establishing trust and showcasing your expertise. Your bio should give background on your expertise, credentials, and the topics you cover.

Try to get featured on prominent media outlets through platforms like HARO, or on podcasts, and be sure to mention that. Better yet, start your own podcast or write a book, that’s another layer of credibility. 

Tip #5: Review Your AI Content

Moving on to the next tip, don’t get rid of your AI-Generated content. The Helpful Content Update has brought some changes in Google guidelines about Machine-Generated Content. And guess what? AI content isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for Google.

Previously, Google’s Helpful Content System gave priority to content created by humans over machine-generated content. But, the new update has loosened this restriction.

There are two big changes in Google’s guidelines. One is the shift from “helpful content created by people” to “helpful content created for people.” I think the shift here is twofold. 

On one hand, Google is showing a greater acceptance of content generated by artificial intelligence. On the other hand, the focus is on the end-user experience, so your readers, your audience rather than just SEO optimization. That’s what Google calls people-first content. They don’t want you to write for search engines. They want you to create content with the purpose of helping actual people. 

The other change is that they added to the guidelines the words “reviewed by” next to “written by an expert”. So they’re fine with content either written or reviewed by an expert, showing once again that Google’s attitude towards AI-generated content has loosened up.

So, my tip is, if you’re using ChatGPT, Jasper, or other AI tools to write your blog posts, that’s totally fine as long as you review your content and make sure is original, helpful, and adds value to your audience. 

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Tip #6: Make Sure Your Content Is Helpful

Back to the next tip, make sure your content is actually helpful. I recommend answering the user’s query directly at the beginning of your post. This is essential for creating content that’s truly helpful. Contrary to what SEO gurus have been saying, Google has made it clear that their algorithm doesn’t prioritize word count; what matters is the quality and relevance of the information you provide.

So, always adopt a ‘people-first’ approach to content creation. While SEO is important, your primary focus should be on meeting the needs of your readers, not search engines. To further enhance the user experience, consider including pros and cons, comparisons, or other evaluative content that can help the reader make informed decisions. But keep the content focused on what the readers want to know when they search on Google. 

For example, if you’re writing a blog post on  ‘How to Do a Proper Push-Up.’ and you start off with a lengthy history of push-ups, you risk losing your reader’s interest. The average visitor simply wants to know the correct form and technique for a push-up. So, don’t add some paragraphs on the ‘evolution of push-ups in ancient civilizations,’ to include keywords or to reach a certain word count. And if you’re a food blogger, give them that recipe straight away. 

Tip #7: Place Your Affiliate Disclosure Strategically

Next tip, don’t place your affiliate disclosure in the very first paragraph of your blog post.

Of course, you must have an affiliate disclosure within blog posts that include affiliate links as it’s required under several regulations and most affiliate programs’ terms of service. 

But Google pays a lot of attention to the initial content of a webpage to understand its topic and relevance. As long as the affiliate disclosure appears before the first affiliate link you mention, you can place it after a few paragraphs of your content. 

Tip #8: Reduce the Number of Ads

The next tip I have for you when it comes to surviving the Helpful Content Update is to reduce the amount of ads you have on your blog. If your website is jam-packed with ads, especially right at the top where people first land, you might want to rethink your strategy.

Google is shifting its focus, and it’s all about making websites run smoother and be more user-friendly. So, cutting back on the ads—especially the ones ‘above the fold’—is a smart move. This will make your blog look cleaner and load faster and will provide an overall better experience for everyone who visits your site which is exactly what Google wants with its recent updates. 

Tip #9: Avoid Typos and Stylistic Issues

Next tip, make sure your content doesn’t have any spelling errors, stylistic issues, typos, broken links, or anything that will make it appear sloppy. Google will penalize any blog posts that seem to be mass-produced or written in a rush.

Tip #10: Block Third-Party Content from Being Indexed

This next tip probably doesn’t apply to the average blogger, but Google now advises against hosting third-party content on your main site or subdomains without close supervision. This third-party content will now be included in site-wide signals, and as such it could potentially affect your blog’s overall ranking.

So, if you’ve been hosting third-party content, you might want to reconsider. Make sure any third-party content aligns closely with your blog’s main purpose and is closely supervised. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, it’s better to block it from being indexed by Google.  

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Tip #11: Diversify Your Traffic Sources

The next tip I have for you is more of a general one. Do not put all your eggs in the Google basket. While the Helpful Content Update emphasizes the importance of creating quality, user-focused content, it’s also a reminder that diversifying your traffic sources is more crucial than ever.

Platforms like Pinterest and other social media channels can be gold mines for driving engaged visitors to your site. But your main focus should be as always on building your email list. By building a strong and engaged email list, you create a direct line to your audience, independent of any algorithmic changes.

So, even if a Google update does impact your rankings temporarily, having multiple traffic streams can help cushion the blow and maintain a steady flow of visitors to your site.

Tip #12: Refine Your Content Strategy

The next tip I have for you is to take this as an opportunity to refine your content strategy and come back stronger than ever.  Let’s face it, algorithm updates happen all the time. They’re just a part of blogging, so don’t hit the panic button.

The good news is that recovering from this Helpful Content Update is entirely possible. Google’s classifiers are always running, continually reassessing websites, including yours.

So, if you’ve taken a hit, remember that you’ll have opportunities to bounce back as long as you focus on creating helpful, high-quality content that serves your audience’s needs. 

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Helpful Content Update 2023 ❘ How to Survive Google Updates

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Lucrezia Iapichino

Hi there! I’m the founder of Blogging for New Bloggers®Tinylovebug®, Legals for Business Owners, and host of the popular Blogging for New Bloggers® Facebook group (36K+ members). Originally from Italy and currently based in Melbourne, I’ve worked as an international lawyer and university lecturer in different countries for over 15 years. I use the combination of my research, teaching, legal, and blogging experience to show new bloggers, just like YOU, how to blog profitably and legally. I started my first blog, Tinylovebug®, at a time when I needed to take my mind off my fertility struggles. Born as a creative outlet, this little lifestyle blog blossomed into a profitable business within the first six months. As the money grew more and more consistent, I went on a mission to empower other bloggers to do the same. Only a few years later, I’m now a mum and have helped over 30K bloggers, podcasters, course creators, coaches, and other online entrepreneurs start and grow their business and protect it legally with my courses and legal templates.  Whether you want to grow your traffic or make money blogging, I will help you achieve your full potential! Take my FREE course - Blogging for New Bloggers Fast Track or my FREE  Legal Course for Bloggers - Legally Blogs™ and set yourself apart from the average new blogger!

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