Google, at around 3 am ET this morning, announced that the September 2023 Google helpful content update has finished rolling out. It took about 14 days, starting on September 14, 2023, and completing today on September 28, 2023. This update really went after SEO-first content, which is why the SEO community is so heated about this specific update.
Technically, this update took 13 days and 11 hours to roll out as per the search status screen:
Here are the X posts:
This update is now complete.
— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) September 28, 2023
What The September 2023 Helpful Content Update Impacted
I believe this update was felt way more by the SEO industry than the average website owner, similar to when Google launched the Penguin update. It was what we all expected to happen from the first (August 2022) and second (December 2022) helpful content update but we simply did not see it until the third (September 2023) helpful content update.
Yes, this targeted content designed to rank well in search engines – search engine-first content (or maybe SEO-first content – if some want to call it that).
It took time for the impact to be seen because the tracking tools were unusually calm throughout most of the rollout of this update. We covered the heated SEO chatter around the damage this caused many SEOs on September 20th and Septmeber 26th.
Glenn Gabe said he did not see many tremors in the data, which is a tad unusual for Google updates:
And there were no major tremors during the rollout (which could have reversed some of the movement). Google must be confident in the Sep HCU. If you’ve been heavily impacted, it’s time to seriously evaluate your content and user experience. Both seemed to play a role, as… https://t.co/ixLOcikvXT
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) September 28, 2023
As a reminder, Google is not rolling this update back, and we saw no signs of that happening. Although, the next version might be improved:
It’s good that people have high expectations, we’ll work to push things even further.
— John, aka “a total bell cheese” (@JohnMu) September 28, 2023
But this update felt like it impacted SEO-first content that was designed to rank well for search engines first and foremost. Of course, we can all debate if that type of content is helpful but did your clients hire you (SEOs) to create content that is helpful or that ranks well in search engines?
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: Finished rolling out on September 28 at 3:00 am ET
- 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.
Note there were a number of big documentation changes with this update but not all those help document changes were implemented in this update. For example, it did not target third-party hosted content techniques, that is coming later.
Previous Helpful Content Update Impact
Here is the list of the previous Google helpful content updates:
I covered a lot of the SEO chatter in my previous stories, in the what was impacted section above. Here is some of the chatter that we did not cover posted after my latest stories on this update:
Hi, my website traffic has dropped by 50% after 4 years of consistently climbing. Adsense earnings have dropped by 50%, too.
We’ve been hit as well, although not as massively as others.
Slowly it’s getting a bit annoying, first the traffic from Google increased now it’s dropping again. They don’t know what they want. Since about 16 o’clock the traffic of Google is practically dead. The last few days the traffic was not so good, but at least it was there.
Sad. I just told my writers to accept a cut down on articles or to leave. Do you, truly, think that these updates will ever end? I cannot keep paying these writers with these updates damaging the revenue. Yet they are so consistent. No wonder I dislike Google. Really wish there was an alternative. I was +10% yesterday. Now the traffic has, once again, dropped. The growth is not consistent so I never know what revenue to expect. I certainly will not be meeting my personal target this month. Why didn’t G just place both the August and September updates into one huge update? Who is to say October, November or even December won’t have updates?
It’s early, I know, but I see a significant improvement this morning. Has anyone else noticed positive movement today?
Nope, 13+ hours and at 30%, very, very slow.
Huge traffic loss on Google in September but many of our site’s posts / pages are still ranking near the top of Bing and Duck Duck Go for specific keywords. We’re noticing more and more users are starting to move to other search engines. Some or our competitors are now ranking on the first page of Google with old pages that haven’t been updated in years so we’re back to the idea that pages that are updated are going down in rank. Since we have to update pages if there are errors, new images and new information, we will have to continue to update pages despite the fact that Google has decided to view that as fake fresh content. I can see why another poster has had to let some of their content writers go as a result of this flawed update.
Yes, this update has also negatively affected my mental health. Extreme anxiety, stress, and depression. I’m autistic and I can’t work in a normal “day job” so I can’t just “go get a job” instead of my online business. I’ve lost around 35% of traffic. Yesterday’s stats showed almost -50%.
Oh here we go again…ranking is higher and more top 3 ranking terms than ever, but traffic for some of my main landing pages is down 53%-76% today. Here is what I have found is the culprit:
October 2022 spam update that took 80 to 90% of my traffic has been 100% reversed, back to normal, and then some.
This also occurred 30 mins before they announced HCU ended lol, what timing.
Now to be re-spanked in October 2023 spam update… Maybe spank all the Russians, Indians, Indonesians, and Chinese translating my content 1 to 1 with my images first Google before hitting the legit source that’s helpful.
There have been no sales for several days, traffic has dropped by over 50%. Yesterday was their birthday, I hope this will be their last year of operation. God help me.
Same here. We are 20+ year old ecom, even repeat customers have gone, probably because they have no enquires either! We have a blog with technical info, in the past 24 hrs that is the only traffic we get! Any buyer intent traffic is GONE. Must be just a coincidence right, just keep making great content!
That is just some of the new chatter from WebmasterWorld and new comments here.
Google Search Rank Tracking Tools
Here is what the Google tracking tools showed over the rollout period of this update:
As you can see, most were pretty calm and even the spikes of volatility were not any more heated than the past few months of normal Google volatility that these tools reported on.
So what do you all think about this latest Google helpful content update? Did it do what you expected? Are you upset with the update? Are you happy?