Last Updated on September 29, 2023 by Jan Barley
On September 14th, the Google Helpful content update was published and some of the wording is particularly interesting. As with most Google updates, expect it to take around two weeks to compete.
I suspect this update is to address the rapid increase in AI-generated SEO writing software.
I’ve watched dozens of YouTube videos recently, with the creator publishing hundreds of AI-generated articles directly to their websites and suggesting it’s a fast way to rank content. Some reported content ranking in days or weeks. However, one sentence that stands out in the Helpful content update is that Google will “tackle content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines.”
To save you from reading the entire Google Helpful content update, here are a few notes to digest before publishing SEO content.
- The target is identifying content specifically for ranking rather than helping the target audience.
- Google may “penalise” such content by demoting it in the SERPs.
- The update includes worldwide content for all languages, not just English websites.
- This update will likely have a significant effect, but Google doesn’t specify the percentages affected.
- If you’re running an entertainment, eCommerce, technical, or educational site, assess and improve your aged content for “helpfulness” to avoid losing ranking.
- If your content gets dropped in the SERPs, it could take months to recover
- If your website hosts third-party content, it’s imperative to assess it.
- Does your site have a “page last updated” plugin? If so, that now constitutes manipulation of SERPs.
Is Google Penalising AI Generated Content?
Not necessarily, but read on.
In the previous helpful content update in December 2022, the document said Google created the Helpful content system to “better ensure people see original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results.”
The September update changed the wording to “helpful content created for people in search results.”
In a report I read this week (sorry, I cannot place it), the “expert” suggested that by 2030, 99% of content will be AI-generated. I don’t question this.
Already, I’ve researched several AI writing companies targeting businesses that need a lot of content and typically hire multiple writers. For instance, Content At Scale says on its website, “Scale Your SEO Content Without the Pain of Human-Only Analog Writing: Long-Form, Awesome Content for Any Niche in Minutes.” The site promotes “getting rid of writers and using their software.” Not in those words, but the message is unmissable.
Content At Scale seems to have taken down the pricing page and is now invite-only. However, when I researched the website a few weeks back, prices started from $250 a month.
To give you some perspective, I’ve worked with educational companies that hired 14+ writers a month. With an average writer invoicing $200+ for one article, $250 a month is a massive saving for a company. In my opinion, this targeted service will eliminate a lot of writers from the workplace.
Anyone can create AI-generated content and publish it as written on their site, but that doesn’t mean you should.
The Google Helpful content update says, “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.”
The document also said, “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.”
If you’re writing AI-generated content, note this sentence from the expertise section: “Is this content written or reviewed by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well?”
Updating Content: Are You Cheating?
Regarding plugins that add a “page updated date“, note this sentence in the document: “Are you changing the date of pages to make them seem fresh when the content has not substantially changed?”
Why is it harmful to manipulate content in such a way? The reason is that the Google robots cannot determine a genuine update date between plugins. However, that now seems to be changing.
Also, in that section, Google added, “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)”
I’ve worked for multiple companies where I added a few lines of content to an aged page to “refresh” it for the search engines. That was part of my job. That now seems unacceptable in line with the update; ethically, perhaps that’s a good thing. It never felt ethical to me.
If you’re writing helpful content, following Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines, and providing genuine value with your content, there’s nothing to worry about.
If your content in 100% AI-generated, it could affect your site ranking. AI is progressing exponentially and needs some control to prevent an SEO war in the SERPs from robot-driven writing.
If you focus on writing to help one person, a human being, this update should not affect you.
Don’t try to distort rankings using a last updated plugin or updating content with one or two sentences. Add genuine value with multiple new paragraphs. Remove out-of-date content on posts. Add new authoritative links that lead to information that genuinely informs and educates your readers.
I appreciate that small businesses and sole traders cannot afford to hire an SEO content writer. You may not enjoy writing or lack the time or skills to write SEO content. However, I believe there’s a solution to every problem.
As an SEO Coach and writer, I am happy to edit your AI-generated content. For a small fee, I can make it human and valuable under the Helpful content guidelines.
I’d suggest reading the Google Helpful content update and staying updated with future changes.
In summary, the Google Helpful content update could be the start of further changes; as 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.”
I am an SEO Coach and writer helping heart-led small business owners learn how to rank on Google.