September 2022 – Google’s Core Update Following Helpful Content Update

Gary Green
Gary Green
December 12, 2022

Something that has caused some controversy in recent months has been the Core Update’s rollout right after the HCUI update. Almost immediately after completing its Helpful Content Update, the Core Update was rolled out by Google. 

The initial Helpful Content update to the algorithms was designed to make it easier to connect people with the information that they were seeking, and September’s Core Update has been released to continue this effort and enhance it further. 

What Did The Helpful Content Update Do?

As you may imagine from the name, the Helpful Content Update was designed to help users see the most helpful, original content in their search engine results. The update’s primary focus was on content that is “people first” i.e. where visitors enjoy a positive experience. When content fails to meet the expectations of the visitor, that site will not rank so highly.

The whole idea of this update was to encourage content creators to ensure the content they are supplying adds value for the searcher, demonstrating in-depth knowledge and expertise in the subject and leaving the user feeling as if they know enough after visiting the site to achieve the goal that they intended to reach when visiting the site. Essentially, the update meant that content creators needed to switch from a focus on producing content that search engines would easily find to producing content that people are interested in engaging with.

The update allowed the Google systems to automatically pinpoint content which has minimal value or that is unhelpful to anyone carrying out a search for related terms and then to rank that site lower down the SERPs. 

This left some website owners confused and concerned about how long it would take for their site to return to a high ranking if the unhelpful content was removed. It also led to some confusion about whether sites that contain some well-created content that is deemed to be “people-first” could still rank well even if they also contain some content deemed to be unhelpful. 

The answer to this appeared to be that those sites could, as long as other signals exist, identify the well-crafted content that is created with the user in mind as being relevant and helpful for the user’s query. Nevertheless, the signal is weighted which means that a site that contains large amounts of content deemed to be unhelpful will rank lower down the SERPs. Therefore, content creators are recommended to remove all unhelpful content in order to boost their ranking. 

The September Update 

Although a significant change in how the algorithms identify and rank content was introduced in the form of the Helpful Content Update, Google’s Core Update in September 2022 followed hot on its heels. This Core Update was designed to make key changes to how the Google Search Engine would organise its SERPs. Over two weeks, the Core Update saw a full rollout across all of Google’s data centres around the world and at that point, the final changes in domains’ visibilities could be seen.

Some website owners were shocked to discover that their domain had been significantly affected after the Core Update. While some of the changes in their domain’s status were positive, in many cases, their visibility had gone down. 

The reason for this is that Google is now able to accurately recognise what the intention is behind a search in the case of most keywords, and so will deliver websites that correspond to that search intention in its first 10 organic results that it returns. If the site uses keywords that appear to be meaningless or generic, the site will be downgraded to a position further down the search engine results page. 

The big question about September’s Core Update, however, surrounded its timing. Why was it released so rapidly after the Helpful Content Update? 

The Timing Of The Update

A number of people expressed their opinions that the September Core Update’s release so soon after the release of the Helpful Content Update was no coincidence. After all, an update to Google’s core algorithm just days after the rollout of the targeted HCU update would be most unusual unless there was a connection between the two updates, and speculation abounded that Google had only released the September Core Update as a way of obscuring the impact of the HCU rollout.

However, Google has taken similar action in the past. While one update did, indeed, rapidly follow another closely, between June and July 2021, Google rolled six different updates out, all within this short timeframe. 

The Search Liaison from Google, Danny Sullivan, responded in a Tweet with confirmation that., indeed, the speculation was correct and the release of the two updates so close together was not coincidental. In fact, there was a clear reason for the Core Update to follow so quickly after the other. 

Sullivan stated that, in general, Google tries to keep updates separate with minimal overlap between them so creators can gain a better understanding of the changes and their impact on their content’s ranking. The core update was due, but Google decided to wait until it had rolled out the HCU before releasing it. He also dismissed any idea of the second update being released as a way of masking the first’s impact stating that, although Google could release multiple updates simultaneously if it wished, it was aiming to do the exact opposite, spacing the updates apart to allow people to gain a better understanding of why particular ranking changes had occurred. 

Sullivan was at pains to state that no connection existed between the updates, revealing that the September Core Update was released at that time simply because it was due for release at that moment. It seems clear, then, that Google is standing by its statement that there is no conspiracy, and that it is not trying in any way to obscure the impact of the Helpful Content Update by following it up with another update so shortly afterwards. 

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