Oops, Google Did It Again… Here Are Some Answers to Your Top Questions About the September 2023 Update

Maria Kuznetsova Maria Kuznetsova
Reading time:  5  min.

“What the hell is going on, my traffic dropped 80% overnight!” Frustrated bloggers flooded Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook with similar messages last week. The explanation for the recent drop in traffic is very simple: Google rolled out another helpful content update. As a result of this update, many travel bloggers noticed a sharp drop in organic traffic as articles fell from the top of the search results. Let’s take a quick look at what happened and what you can do about it.

Oops, Google Did It Again... Here Are Some Answers to Your Top Questions About the September 2023 Update

What is the September 2023 Google Helpful Content Update?

The September 2023 Google Helpful Content Update is a significant upgrade to Google’s classifier system, which assesses whether online content is likely to be useful to users. This algorithm update was launched on September 14th and began to affect various blogs and niche sites by September 19th. The goal of this update is to improve the system that determines which pieces of content are seen as helpful, with the rollout expected to take approximately three to four weeks to fully implement, according to Travelpayouts’ SEO specialist.

SEO specialists have noticed that this update has brought about some notable changes. For example, Google stated that unhelpful content on subdomains could negatively affect the ranking of the entire site. There were also changes in Google’s wording. For example, “written for people” was replaced by “created for people”, which seems to signal more openness to AI-generated content, as long as it is high quality. One of the most critical changes observed so far is the modification of Google’s helpfulness model to better reward first-hand experience, similar to the early days of Google’s Penguin update. This recent update demonstrates Google’s continued commitment to prioritizing high-quality, user-focused content in its search rankings.

How Travel Bloggers Have Been Affected by the September 2023 Helpful Content Update

While not everyone was affected by the update, more than half of bloggers saw an increase in traffic. Meanwhile, the other half saw a sharp decline as many articles were removed from the top of the search results.

Even long-standing blogs that had been SEO’d according to all of Google’s rules and recommendations were affected. 

SEO specialist Dan Taylor analyzed several travel blogs and drew some conclusions as to why certain users saw a drop in traffic while others saw an increase.

What Should Affected Bloggers Be Doing at the Moment?

  1. Accept the fact that you can’t fix this problem right now. You’ll have to wait a few weeks until it becomes clear how you’ve been affected by the update.
  2. Analyze how much your traffic has dropped, determine which articles are no longer in the top of the search results, and try to understand why you may have been negatively affected by the update.
  3. Make a plan of action. In the next section of this article, we’ll give you some tips on what to look for when trying to regain your lost traffic.

What Should Travel Bloggers Look for When Trying to Regain Traffic?

Make Sure All Subdomains Follow Helpful Content Principles

Google has incorporated an additional paragraph into its guidelines for helpful content concerning the hosting of third-party content on one’s website: 

“If you host third-party content on your main site or in your subdomains, understand that such content may be included in site-wide signals we generate, such as the helpfulness of content. For this reason, if that content is largely independent of the main site’s purpose or produced without close supervision or the involvement of the primary site, we recommend that it should be blocked from being indexed by Google.”

A few key points that can be extracted from this paragraph are as follows:

  1. This amendment is particularly targeted at websites that are trying to manipulate the SEO system by leasing subdomain microsites to third parties without supervising their content. Therefore, if you consistently adhere to SEO best practices and publish relevant, original, and helpful content that is tailored to your audience, there is no cause for concern.
  2. When handling third-party content, it’s crucial to add your own unique analysis, commentary, or viewpoint to ensure that content will qualify as high quality. Merely copying and reposting content from other sites won’t make the cut.
  3. Historically, Google has differentiated subdomains from main domains for SEO purposes. However, this recent September update emphasizes that, at least for the site-wide helpful content signal, subdomains and domains may be appraised collectively. The takeaway? It’s important to evaluate the usefulness of your content across your entire digital footprint (including subdomains), not just your main domain, to remain in good standing with Google.

Make Sure Your Content Looks Expert

Imagine you’re a blogger, perhaps working alone or with a partner, regularly producing a wide variety of content covering different countries and aspects of travel. This diverse content is published every week. It may seem unlikely that just one or two people can demonstrate expertise in all areas, potentially raising doubts in Google’s algorithms.

Design your content strategy to highlight your expertise, rather than simply publishing topics in a random order.

Significantly, when evaluating expertise as part of their SEO E-E-A-T signals, Google used to look at whether or not content was “authored by an expert”. The updated September guidelines now state that high-quality, expert content can be “authored or reviewed by an expert”.

The key point here is that having an expert review and validate your content can be sufficient to indicate expertise on a topic, even if the expert is not the original author.

Continue Producing Helpful and People-Focused Content

Consistent with each algorithm update, Google’s overarching advice to content creators remains the same: prioritize the publication of genuinely beneficial content that adds value to human users. Avoid trying to manipulate or outsmart the system.

Content creators should concentrate on generating truly helpful, high-quality content rather than attempting to decipher Google’s algorithms. Aim to provide tangible value that focuses on human users and follows best practices. As Google persistently updates their systems, this approach will position your content for sustained search success.

Adam Dimitrov, the owner of budapestadventures.com, is a travel blogger who offers the following advice on how he maintained stable traffic during the HCU:

When I started searching for river cruises in Budapest, I noticed that many big and authoritative websites had posted thin content that seemed like it was put together hastily, often by freelancers who hadn’t even visited the country.

I wondered what would be truly helpful and unique for this search term. The answer was simple: try out the most popular tours from all the major cruise companies or the top five most popular options.

This way, I would have a basis for comparison and provide real value to readers. I documented my experiences in detail and published articles that were incredibly thorough. As a result, my article still ranks number one for multiple search terms, beating out big players like TripAdvisor, Viator, and GetYourGuide. HCU didn’t affect me at all. I attribute it simply to adhering to the helpful content guidelines to a tee.

Reflect on whether the articles you publish contribute value to the discussion or merely echo what a lot of online voices already have to say about the topic. This is why Google values unique perspectives.

Ensure that you’re consistently incorporating perspective-driven content that delivers personal value and isn’t merely targeting keywords.

Share in the comments, did you feel the impact of the September 2023 update?

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