How to recover the SEO of your website after the helpful content update?

In this article I tell you about Google’s initial mantra about organizing the world’s information, highlighting how algorithm updates, such as the Helpful Content Update, affect web pages. I focus on the negative impact these updates have on sites in various industries, mainly due to over-optimized or non-personally targeted content. I will give you a detailed guide to try to recover from this upgrade.

Since the origins of Google and its famous article: “The anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine” published in 1998, the search engine has had as its mantra:

“Google is designed to crawl and index the web in the most efficient way.”

Sergey Brin and Larry Page

To achieve this they had to improve crawling technology, be faster and more accurate than the search engines that dominated the market at the time: Altavista and Yahoo.

Twenty-six years have passed and technology has changed a lot. But Google’s mantra, I think it’s fair to say, remains with that mission of:

“Organizing the world’s information and making it universally relevant and accessible.”

Google

In the search engine documentation it is clear that you are looking for: “Helpful content for people”.

The evolution of the search engine teaches us that the company has become over the years, very intelligent in understanding our content and positioning tricks.

And let’s be honest, a very positive dynamic has been generated between search engines and content creators.

Media and Google symbiosis

A sort of symbiosis of 3 protagonists: (1) Google, (2) searchers and (3) content creators (blogs, media) who benefit from the traffic to monetize their sites, as long as those sites respond to search intent.

But of course, what happens when the search engine in its dominant position of 80% usage share makes a change?

It can all go to hell!

And that is what has happened to many websites, from many sectors, that have been affected by an algorithm change. In my 8 years of freelancing, it is one of the most impactful algorithm changes.

So let’s take a look at why all this has happened and give a few pointers to try to get out of the quagmire.

Why was Helpful Content implemented?

Shortly after the update was released, Juan González Villa (USEO) wrote an impressive article: Effects of the Helpful Content Update that I highly recommend you read carefully.

He gives some very interesting insights, even venturing to establish some theories as to why this happened, telling us how the Anglo-Saxon blogging ecosystem was moving with very viral articles such as Dmitri Brereton’s “Google Search is Dying” or Fast Company’s “Is Reddit a better Search Engine than Google“.

There was the idea or criticism in 2022 that the search engine had become cluttered with a lot of over-optimized SEO content and that it wasn’t that useful to people.

That on Reddit, for example, you can find real content created by people with no interest in positioning. They were right.

In fact, Google’s satisfaction rate used to be very high, almost always around 86% compared to other search engines, according to studies that used to be done by the University of Michigan (2009). Let’s be honest, we like the results, otherwise it wouldn’t have such dominance.

I already commented on this topic when I told you about alternative search engines to Google.

If over the years the search engines have been filled with junk content, it has been part of our responsibility, that in order to position, we have generated content designed for and by search engines, sometimes forgetting the human factor of the search.

How do Google algorithm updates work?

Parts or components of a search engine such as Google

Let’s remember that search engines have 3 essential components:

  1. A Crawler (Googlebot)
  2. The database (indexing process)
  3. Algorithms that organize information

Search engines have, on the one hand, (1) ranking factors that influence the order of results, and, on the other hand, (2) algorithm updates that allow them to change the weight of factors when organizing results.

I again quote Juan Gonzalez of USEO in an excellent X thread where he explains the various updates to the algorithm. As Juan points out, they make thousands of changes a year, but really communicate only 10-15 a year.

If you want to keep track of the changes, they publish them in: Google Search Status Dashboard.

And almost all SEO suites allow you to see the visibility indexes along with the changes to detect if there are causalities between updates and growth or decreases. For example, we see the visibility index of El Mundo.es:

Visibility Index of El Mundo with algorithm changes
Source: Sistrix

Types of algorithm updates

Following Juan González we have:

  • Core updates: These are ranking updates (not site updates). They usually affect types of searches and are difficult to recover if the search intent changes. The example of “ranking changes of the best movies of the 1980s” is always given. It is normal for listing updates to be made from time to time.
  • Helpful content: Content is intended to be written for people, not for search engines; therefore, you are affected if they detect this over-optimized content. You can get out of a rut by removing “non-useful” content, but it’s not immediate, it usually takes time.
  • Reviews: Attack low quality reviews. You are expected to demonstrate experience and original content by putting yourself in people’s shoes, avoiding rehashes. It does not usually affect online stores, as product reviews are not the main content.
  • SPAM: Seeks to remove fraudulent or hacked content from search engine results. Link spam updates often eliminate the positive effects of links.
  • Page experience: In this type of update, Core Web Vitals and user experience (UX) take relevance.

Here are two fantastic resources. (1) Search Engine Journal has a great section on the history of algorithm updates where you can filter by year.

Also (2) Yoast published in 2022 a very graphic article on the history of updates.

Sectors affected by the update

Returning to the article on the effects of Helpful Content, the type of websites that were affected were:

  • Websites with aggressive monetization
  • Websites with dispersion of topics
  • Sites that are summaries of others (typical content rehash) without providing anything of value.

The most affected sectors, I mention the main ones, I recommend the article if you need more information:

  • Recipe sites
  • Pets
  • Travel sites whose content was keyword oriented, with high search volumes, without thinking about people. Very generic travel blogs that do not specialize in travel topics or types of travel (destinations or types of accommodation).

According to the Sistrix blog, about this update:

  • Content created with AI is not necessarily low quality. They have realized that it is impossible to fight this.
  • Focus more on the quality of the content (independent of origin)
  • Subdomain or subdirectory rentals can affect the entire domain.
  • Changing the date of the article update (without major changes) penalizes you.

We can see the impressive drop in visibility on websites such as Brujulea, where we can see the immediate drop due to the update:

Source: Sistrix

Okay Wajari, all very clarifying. But what the hell can we do?

Upgrade recovery proposal

I have a very spiritual (not religious) component to life. And one of the things that helps me the most is: “Don’t resist”.

Accepting reality does not mean resigning myself, I already talked about this subject in an essay on Dopamine in accelerated times.

Technology is changing (everything in life is constantly changing) and we have to understand that Google doesn’t give a damn about your content. He cares about giving the best response to people. That has made it the largest advertising agency in the world.

To achieve that, it seeks to improve its system all the time, involving cost savings and being more efficient with searches.

I don’t even get into the question of how the introduction of AI might affect the company’s results and/or how it might be affected financially when faced with the “founder’s dilemma” (we’ll talk about this in the future).

Heymondo

This article you are reading is the result of a collaboration with Heymondo, a spectacular travel insurance agency that hired me to give a talk to their associates. And so, talking with Judith López, it occurred to us that it would be interesting to leave a practical tool.

A checklist of things we can do to try to recover our visibility indexes.

WARNING, remember that Helpful Content updates use amachine learning model that helps Google to automatically classify the content considering if it is of low quality.

So let’s get to it.

SEO Checklist to recover from the Helpful Content Update

We will leave this checklist written in this blog and also with a convenient spreadsheet for you to copy and use in your own strategies.

WARNING: Recovering from an algorithm update (let alone one of this nature) can be very complicated; don’t be sold a lie. We have to give signals to Google that our content is improving and that it is useful to people. However, the search engine in its position of power may take months to allow you to recover your visibility indexes. Patience! 🙏

I divide the checklist into three topics: (1) SEO on page, so that you analyze only your website. (2) Competitor analysis, where we analyze the competition and your own website. A kind of comparative. (3) Final tips for improvements and changes in the web.

On page SEO

Go back to your on page SEO roots. Are you doing everything right?

  • Check tracking problems: Errors 3xx and 4xx.
  • Hierarchization of headings
  • Am I answering the search intent with my content?
  • Am I over-optimizing the content in terms of SEO?
  • Am I providing original and useful content for people? Before answering, put yourself in the shoes of the person you are looking for. Do it for real for fuck’s sake!
  • Do you have weak content or search engine cannibalizations that you can: Remove, create canonicals or deindex?
  • Make a list of the top articles that have fallen in terms of clicks and impressions.

This way you can detect whether it is a global drop or a group of articles or categories of your blog. Use the Search Console comparison tool . I show you screenshots:

Date comparison analysis in Search Console
Difference of clicks in comparison of dates. Search Console

Competition

Analyze your closest competition . Those who have not been affected by the update. Look for elements in common and those that differentiate them.

Perform the following analysis on your website and on the website of each of them:

  • Do you have an author file? Let’s not forget the importance of EEAT (experience, expertise, authority and reliability), which are Google’s quality guidelines.
  • How do you have the wording of your meta data? Over-optimized or natural?
  • Is the date of the article displayed?
  • Is the date of the article changed even if there are no substantial changes to the post?
  • Does it contain outdated or out-of-date information?
  • Are they primary sources? Are you using your own resources to document your post?
  • Check the sitemap.xml: Do you detect weak or unhelpful content for people?
  • Is the monetization system aggressive? Is advertising annoying and does it affect the user experience (UX)?
  • Is it a thematic blog? Transversal? Do you specialize in one type of travel?
  • Do you have structured data? Do they apply correctly? Example: Recipes, videos, article. Use the enriched results test tool.
  • Do you have active comments? Are comments answered with value?
  • How is the wording of the article? Do you consider that it is useful to people by bringing value to the search?

Content improvement tips

  • If your articles are very oriented to specific keywords, detect if there are changes in how people search. Example: “What to see in…”; it is possible that people are looking for other specific details and your content is outdated in that sense.
  • Reinforce keywords with headings and their correct hierarchy.
  • Re-update the items that have fallen the most. Change metadata, update fonts, headings, reference links.
  • Merge articles that may be generating cannibalization (don’t forget about redirects).
  • Removes weak search engine friendly content.
  • Review the architecture and detect if there are categories, tags or pages that could be generating negative content.
  • Always focus your content on originality and real value.

Final reflection

I understand your frustration. I have seen and worked with honest blogs of very good people who do things with passion and love.

Seeing their visibility drops makes me frustrated because they can fall crappy niche websites that do not add value, but seeing good blogs, it is a sadness.

The way the Internet works today, search engines have a power that is hard to match. AI will change the rules of the game, but it is still too early to guess what it will look like.

So do not lose the illusion for your project ❤️. Apply these changes with love.

Remember to diversify your blog income (not everything is SEO), we are in the economy of content creators. The possibilities are endless. And I leave you with a Zen saying that I think may come in handy for the occasion:

“Make hardship your treasure (…) it is very difficult to grow a good crop without manure”.

Trevor Leggett. The wisdom of Zen
Leave this field blank

¿Te suscribes a mi lista?

Te reirás, lo disfrutarás y te puedes borrar cuando quieras. Contenido chachi y anti aburrimiento. El SEO no tiene por qué ser un coñazo. Consejos, promociones y mucho más. Nos vemos dentro. ¡Larga vida y prosperidad!

Leave a Comment