In the persistent pursuit of optimizing search engine performance, Google rolled out another update to the helpful content system in September 2023. The update aims to fine-tune the quality and relevance of search results, adjusting parameters that identify ‘Helpful’ content on the Internet. Website owners and SEO professionals must comprehend and adapt to these changes to improve their search rankings effectively.

Key Changes in the September 2023 Update

The key modifications of the September 2023 helpful content update were primarily targeted towards ‘SEO-first’ content. Google demotes content that extensively optimizes search engine keywords over clarity, context, and value to the reader. The update, which began on September 14 and ended on September 28, included an improved classifier that more precisely identifies and ranks people-first content intended to ‘help’ users.

The most marked changes are as follows:

  • Launch Date: The Google September 2023 helpful content update launched on September 14, 2023, at 4:20 p.m. ET.
  • Rollout Completion: The rollout was completed by September 28, 2023, at 3:00 a.m. ET.
  • Targets: The update primarily targeted and penalized content that was created to rank well in searches over providing valuable information to users.
  • Search Only: The impact of the current update is exclusive to Google Search and Google Discover.

This latest update highlights Google’s intent to reward high-quality, human-centric, and informative content over those made purely for SEO purposes.

Google’s Gary Illyes Discusses September 2023 Helpful Content Update

Renowned Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes, offered comprehensive insights into the September 2023 helpful content update. Illyes emphasized the renewed focus of the update, shifting towards rewarding content genuinely helpful to people, which breaks away from the draw of standard SEO techniques.

He mentioned that the update included an improved classifier – an algorithmic deep-learning model – which can better understand and rank the helpfulness of the content. This new classifier focuses more on the context, clarity, and value of the information provided in the content rather than just keyword usage or the presence of backlinks.

Illyes further outlined the following key takeaways from the update:

  • There is a shift in Google’s perspective of ‘valuable content,’ focusing more on the audience’s benefits.
  • Google is investing more resources in identifying and combating disinformation or misleading information on the Internet.
  • Google is refining its stand on AI-generated content, allowing it under the right conditions.

Illyes said in his LinkedIn post,

Those of you who rent out sub-spaces of your sites to third-parties with no oversight of the content, please have a read:

“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.”

With these insights from Gary Illyes, websites can better understand what Google defines as ‘helpful’ content and adjust their SEO strategy accordingly.

Google Loosens Guidance on Machine-Generated Content

A fundamental change in the September 2023 update is Google’s stance towards machine-generated content. Previously, Google’s guidelines prioritized content crafted by humans. The phrase “content written by people, for people” was taken straight from the original guidelines.

However, this has been amended in the latest update. The modified guidance now reads: “content created for people.” This subtle tweak is significant as it signals a change in Google’s viewpoint towards AI-generated content, aligning it closer to its seemingly contradictory advice on AI content elsewhere.

Google’s updated stance allows for the tolerance of machine-written content that meets Google’s ‘helpfulness’ requirements and offers value to the users. This move reflects Google’s recognition of the progress in AI technologies and its willingness to incorporate AI-generated content in search results.

Remember, the focus remains on providing helpful, valuable content to users – whether humans or AI produces it. It is most likely that websites featuring AI-created content that lacks depth, comprehensibility, or value will continue to be penalized by Google’s algorithms.

Cracking the Code on “Helpful” Content

How does Google Determine Helpfulness?

Google has an intricate and multifaceted methodology for determining webpage ‘helpfulness.’ The search engine giant uses automated systems and algorithms, aided by machine learning and artificial intelligence, to define and evaluate the quality and relevance of content.

  • Originality: Google prioritizes original content and gives it a higher rank. Repetitive, copied, or spun content will unlikely be marked as ‘helpful.’
  • Reliability: Google measures the reliability of the information provided in the content. Confirmed facts, transparent sources, and accuracy of details are critical.
  • Readable and Comprehensive: The readability of the content to the general audience is another crucial factor. The format, language used, clarity, and comprehensiveness of information are all scrutinized.
  • Relevance of Information: The context and relevancy of the information to the user’s query are gauged by Google. The content must answer the search queries thoroughly.
  • User Satisfaction: User feedback, including interaction metrics like bounce rate, session duration, etc., also plays a part in the ranking.

Remember, a high degree of user focus and satisfaction remains the primary objective. Any effort to create helpful content should focus on delivering value to your audience first.

Identifying Unhelpful Content

To fit within Google’s preferred framework and achieve a higher rank, it becomes vital to weed out ‘unhelpful’ content. According to Google’s algorithm, unhelpful content includes materials that don’t provide significant value and relevance to users.

Here’s how Google signifies unhelpful content:

  • Low Quality: Content that lacks depth, clarity, or accuracy is considered low quality. Rewritten or spun content that does not offer any unique information also falls in this category.
  • Irrelevant: Content that does not respond accurately to the user query is deemed irrelevant.
  • Outdated: Information that loses relevancy over time or is not updated regularly can be regarded as unhelpful.
  • Misleading or Deceptive: Content with false, unconfirmed, or exaggerated information is deemed misleading.

Google’s updated guidelines advise websites to self-evaluate their content and delete or replace any content that may appear unhelpful. This proactive measure ensures that your website’s value proposition stays high, boosting your search results ranking.


The September 2023 helpful content update reflects Google’s ever-evolving attempt to offer the most relevant and beneficial search results. Google has recalibrated the SEO landscape by adding depth to the definition of ‘helpful’ content and adjusting the algorithm to favor content that benefits users.

While the revised guidance on machine-generated content speaks to the advancements in AI, the core emphasis remains on delivering high-value and beneficial content to the end-users. It is a timely reminder for content creators and SEO professionals to consider audience-centric content over SEO-heavy, keyword-stuffed content that doesn’t offer value.

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