Helpful Google Content Update: A Critical Recap


Google’s Helpful Content Update officially rolled out on September 9. It is now important to reflect on the update, our initial assumptions and its impact on the SEO industry.

Other SEOs (eg, Lily Ray, Glenn Gabe, Marie Haynes, Johannes Beus) did a great job interpreting Google’s announcement and addressing what happened on Twitter and their blogs.

Google’s announcement raised high expectations within the SEO community. But the “big bang” never happened.

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The update’s impact was only felt in a few website categories, such as ringtones, coding, and lyrics pages. Its overall impact was relatively small compared to other algorithm updates.

Critical reflection and alignment between theory and practice

First, it makes sense to examine the interpretations and expectations arising from Google’s announcement and eventual results.

Here are Google’s main statements about useful content updating and my theories, which were largely derived from them.

  • Focus on people-oriented content.
  • The update was site-wide, which should affect not just individual content, but entire website content as well.
    • Observation: If you look at the heavy visibility loss for the few domains that are supposed to be negatively affected by the update, you can assume a website-wide penalty.
  • The recurring reference to expertise suggests that there should also be an update with EAT. It was supposed.
    • Observation: Does expertise play a major role in ringtones and lyrics? I do not think so! According to the analysis of esteemed colleagues, the coding pages were more about copied content (i.e. duplicate content) and not about a lack of expertise.
  • Google also wanted to devalue automated content, which would be a response to the expected flood of AI content.
    • Observation: Do you use AI tools to generate text for topics like ringtones, coding or lyrics? It doesn’t really make sense either.

So many assumptions and information from Google have not been observed to date.

According to Google’s Danny Sullivan, there may be more to come in relation to other updates.

Another scenario is therefore theoretically possible.

Like Colibri, useful content updating is fundamental to ranking algorithms as the effects can only be seen over a long period of time, even years.

So far, not much has happened, which brings another hypothesis into play.

Immediately after the useful content update, Google began rolling out a two-week core update. On the other hand, there is only one tweet and short general non-detailed information about it, which is typical for Google. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

No great explanation. No awareness.

Sullivan also remains vague on Gabe’s question of whether there’s a direct connection between the September Core Update and the Helpful Content Update.

Two theories on this:

  • Google is not happy with the results of the Helpful Content Update and wants to make further adjustments which, as Sullivan mentioned, only unfolds the full effect of the Helpful Content Update in combination.
  • Google would like to calm the emerging criticisms of communication and the low impact surrounding useful content updating and steer attention in a different direction.

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Helpful content update was a well-executed PR campaign

However past and future influences of the Useful Content Update are to be assessed, one thing must be said: the communication surrounding the update was an excellent example of a well-planned and executed.

First, you’ll ask yourself: why does Google need PR?

Like almost all companies, Google has communication goals pursued by marketing and public relations. Search is the most important product for Google; therefore, public relations should be made for it.

The following aspects indicate that the useful content update is also a professionally designed product PR campaign.

  • The name of the update is similar to Page Experience or Mobile Friendliness updates but different from Core, Hummingbird, Panda or Penguin updates. It also explicitly describes what it is and what works better in terms of PR than a meaningless name. As a result, the underlying main message “Google search is getting even more useful” is conveyed in almost every message.
  • The update was announced by Google in advance. In most cases, updates are not communicated at all or only shared during or after deployment. However, PR campaigns for product (re)launch always require lead time.
  • Influential and high-reach SEOs were briefed exclusively ahead of the official announcement. In public relations outreach, this is often an effective method of motivating influential media and influencers to report on something.
  • Google gave some pretty specific recommendations for the update on what webmasters should do, which hasn’t been the case with most previous updates except for Penguin or Page Experience. This shows that this alleged PR campaign was also aimed at a second important target group besides the SEO industry – website operators.

Updating useful content has been the primary focus of the SEO industry and media beyond for more than two weeks. Hundreds of thousands of articles, reports, and countless social media posts have spread the word that Google searches are becoming more and more useful.

Media coverage shows that the update is a major PR success for Google. You can find more than 180,000 pieces of content in Google searches that discuss the update, including 18,900 in Google News worldwide.

Searching Google for the query “useful content update” returns approximately 183,000 results.

The effects of this can be seen in Google Trends:

Google Trends "helpful content update"
Interest in “updating useful content” at Google worldwide in the past 90 days.

These models that speak of a professionally designed PR campaign, in combination with the manageable effects on Google searches, support this hypothesis.

Google pursued two goals with this PR campaign:

  • To deliver the message “Google search is now even more useful” to the world.
  • To get webmasters, publishers, and SEOs to produce less garbage, Google needs to explore. Google faces the challenge of making its crawling and indexing resources as efficient as possible. On the other hand, if more and more garbage is dumped on the internet due to the AI ​​revolution in content production, among other things, Google will struggle to keep up.

A reminder for the SEO industry

Google’s Helpful Content Update is a great example of a professionally run product PR campaign that you can learn a lot from.

For us SEOs, the realization remains that we are important stakeholders for Google to deliver their corporate messaging.

Here, Google shows a change in public relations and communication strategies in recent years and seeks proximity to influential figures in the SEO industry.

  • SEOs are invited by Google.
  • Google shoots videos with SEOs.
  • Google gives SEOs exclusive information in advance.

Relationships are built.

At the time, SEOs were rather unpopular with Google, as many intended to game search results. Now, Google seems to see the SEO industry as a multiplier for its own news and posts.

Fellow SEO Brodie Clark sees it the same way:

I’m not saying that Google is posting false information here, but of course they have their own agenda to present their products in a good light. And the commitment to include us, the SEOs and the industry media, in the communication is always an end.

I was excited when Google announced the helpful content update and released it immediately with great anticipation. But increasingly, my excitement gave way to the sobering realization that a lot of PR was also involved.

The SEO industry should be aware of this and critically treat Google’s information. The next time a “major” update is announced in advance, we should balance emotional excitement with rational thinking and stay objective. There is a business relationship between Google and SEOs, not a friendship, so we should keep it that way.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About the Author

Olaf Kopp is an online marketing professional with over 15 years of experience in Google Ads, SEO and content marketing. He is co-founder, business development manager and SEO manager of the German online marketing agency Aufgesang GmbH. Olaf Kopp is an internationally recognized author, podcaster, and industry expert for semantic SEO, EAT, content marketing strategies, customer journey management, and building digital brands. He is co-organizer of the PPC-Event SEAcamp and host of the podcasts OM Cafe and Content-Kompass (German language).

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