Google completed the Helpful Content Update rollout on September 9, 15 days after its release began on August 25. Google had announced that it would take two weeks, which turned out to be exact.
And as for its effects? Has it had the desired results described in the Google statement?
Types of content and the sites affected
Based on what has been seen so far, a week after completion, it seems the update has mainly affected obvious and extreme cases of websites with one or more of these characteristics:
Automated, scraped content.
Content taken almost literally from other sources, without adding anything new or of value.
Content created with the excuse of taking advantage of SEO keywords to achieve traffic and monetisation, with nothing new or valuable provided on the topic the user has searched for.
The above practices are equivalent to answering with a clear “yes” to at least three of the nine questions posed by Google in the official announcement of the Helpful Content Update, under the section “Avoid search engine-centric content “.
The examples we will see below usually write to reach a certain number of words, write on topics without having an apparent authority in them, and skim around queries without providing a factual answer.
The most affected niches and topics are entertainment (celebrities, movies, TV), song lyrics, dictionaries or definitions of concepts, technology (software bug fixes and tutorials), and product reviews.
Examples of Impacted Sites
Below we offer examples of sites that seem impacted by the update, given the moment in which they have lost organic visibility, the content they provide, and the indications presented by Google in their guidelines. We have analysed several more sites but, in other cases, do not see patterns as clear as in these.
As the update is very recent, clearer cases have likely escaped our research. The list is incomplete, just a sample of the diverse types of websites affected, and we do not claim to have absolute validity about why they have been affected or even if they deserved it, according to Google’s guidelines. It is purely our opinion.
Nor do we intend to judge the quality of work on those websites. We limit ourselves to showing correlations between their reduced visibility. what we see as professionals, and what Google has communicated it wants to fix with the update. We try to be objective, but we can be wrong. That out of the way; let’s proceed.
Conch House is a typical review-type website with scraped content from Amazon, targeting low-difficulty keywords, and built on an expired domain (it was previously the website of a hotel restaurant and received links from TripAdvisor and similar domains). The latter would explain how quickly it grew in organic visibility, just weeks before going down with the Helpful Content Update.
Our data comes from Sistrix. The Sistrix Visibility Index gives a value for a domain’s visibility in Google’s search results. Using the Visibility Index, we can measure success in Google SERPs reliably and transparently.
Conch-house.com once had 27 points of visibility in the Sistrix US index, and now it is down to 0.0157 (virtually zero).
The pattern the content follows is easy to see (the intros promise a “comprehensive guide” to the current product category, and the posts are anything but). The content consists of a spun or patterned introduction, tables created by connecting to the Amazon Affiliate API, and a summary or scrape of reviews for each product.
Wealthy celebrity is a site with information about famous celebrities and not-so-famous celebrities, which tries to answer all possible related keywords (age, wealth, height, spouse/boyfriend, children) around each person. These posts abound in fluff, keyword stuffing, and repetition.
This site discusses celebrities, movies, TV series, economics, and software. This is a clear violation of the HU without a specific focus and oriented to keywords that may get traffic.
They focused primarily on keywords of the type “celebrity name + net worth”, or “when does the next season of XYZ premiere?” The content implies there is a specific date for a premiere when often, there is not. The resulting article is padded with fluff to keep the user on the page.
After a rapid rise, the site fell first with the May core update and dropped further with the HCU.
Under the guise of a “legitimate” definition site, en-academic.com contains many pages copied directly from Wikipedia, with the rest, we suspect, coming from other sources, such as scanned books.
Manualzz is an aggregator of PDFs of manuals and instructions for products, software, etc. Obviously, none of this is original to the site. They always come from other sources, usually the product’s official website. This site does nothing more than republishing something that already exists without providing any additional value to the user.
Here we come across a more complex case to explain, according to the directions from Google. Yes, a lyric site, by definition, doesn’t offer original content, but why has Google dropped some lyric sites and not others?
One possible theory is that sites must have a license from record labels to post the lyrics. Prominent players in the sector, such as genius.com, which the update has not impacted, display license information. Genius Lyrics and the other affected sites of this type would not meet this requirement; they do not display license information on any of their pages.
There are multiple examples of lyrics sites with sudden drops in visibility:
Similar examples with an almost identical loss of visibility pattern include lyricsjonk.com, lyricsroll.com, lyricsfa.com, and lyricsgoo.com.
What to expect for the future
As is often the case when Google announces a new algorithm, part of the industry had taken Google’s words in a big way and braced for a catastrophic impact.
Given these expectations, the observed effect has seemed punctual and not too intense, limited to specific types of sites, in contrast to the more generalised and powerful impact of core updates such as the August 2018 Medic Update.
However, according to Danny Sullivan, representative of Google, the effect has been exactly what was intended and announced. It should not surprise us that it has affected only a tiny percentage of sites since most sites have helpful content according to the criteria.
As Danny Sullivan states, this does not mean that more effects will not be expected in the future. First, the HCU algorithm will still be active, which could affect sites that launch later or add a significant amount of non-useful content down the line.
In addition, Google can refine the classifier, so in the coming months, we will notice more powerful effects on other types of websites (but if Google makes significant changes, they will apparently announce them). The update will be an ongoing effort on Google’s part.
And one more warning from Google. Even if further Helpful Content updates are not released, other updates, such as a core update or a Product Reviews Update, may shift the balance in cases where the HCU has “flagged” a website but not strongly enough to have a visible impact on rankings.
It is also worth remembering that the Helpful Content Update is currently only active for English searches.