2022 Google Helpful Content Update

Adult Swim. Everything is fine.
Credit: Adult Swim. “This is Fine” by Shmorky

Last week, Google announced in a blog posting that they are rolling out a significant update. They are naming the update the “Helpful Content Update” to demote… err… tackle content created to trick Google instead of being written for people.

We continually update Search to make sure we’re helping you find high quality content. Next week, we’ll launch the “helpful content update” to tackle content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines rather than to help or inform people. 

Read the entire blog post: https://blog.google/products/search/more-content-by-people-for-people-in-search/

Before I dive into an analysis of the update announcement: a rant (okay, two rants)

Rant #1

Literally within an hour or two of Google’s announcement, Twitter exploded with SEOs coming out with their blog posts on how this update affects websites and what we should be doing.

People post their analysis of sites that are winning and failing and why.

There’s just one HUGE problem – the update hasn’t even started yet.

How can anyone outside of Google use the current search results to determine exactly what is affected and how? There is zero data to analyze at this point.

One day you will get sick. What and how is entirely unknown. Can your doctor advise you on avoiding this sickness aside from general wellness tips?


So, aside from blatant peacocking, how can an SEO magically know the details of an update? If you read Google’s blog, there are general hints, but until the rollout is finished, we shouldn’t be running around trying to be soothsayers.

Rant #2

Google has a history of wordplay. This leads to marketers misquoting them because of a nuance in their messaging. Even worse, entire strategies can be launched based on misleading statements.

It’s like a sadistic game of “Simon Says.”

For the longest time, Google’s position on domain authority was that they didn’t use it as a ranking factor. Finally, at the 2018 SearchLove event in London, Will Critchlow interviewed John Mueller from Google. This time, Will knew the trickery that is played when skirting this answer and asked in such a way that, to answer the question honestly, John had to admit to what had been suspected for the years prior.

We’ve seen a few times when people have asked Google: “Do you use domain authority?” And this is an easy question. You can simply say: “No, that’s a proprietary Moz metric. We don’t use Domain Authority.” But, do you have a concept that’s LIKE domain authority?”

Will Critchlow

John’s response was magic to the ears of many SEOs.

I don’t know if I’d call it authority like that, but we do have some metrics that are more on a site level, some metrics that are more on a page level, and some of those site wide level metrics might kind of map into similar things.

the main one that I see regularly is you put a completely new page on a website. If it’s an unknown website or a website that we know tends to be lower quality, then we probably won’t pick it up as quickly, whereas if it’s a really well-known website where we’ll kind of be able to trust the content there, we might pick that up fairly quickly, and also rank that a little bit better.

it’s not so much that it’s based on links, per se, but kind of just this general idea that we know this website is generally pretty good, therefore if we find something unknown on this website, then we can kind of give that a little bit of value as well.

At least until we know a little bit better that this new piece of thing actually has these specific attributes that we can focus on more specifically.

John Muleler

Mic drop. Done.

This is just one of many examples where Google misleads people with very intentional wording. Once we realize this, we can see through the bullshit and start to uncover the truth.

Google is full of lyrical magicians. Learn their tricks.

So, when Google comes out with these blog posts, we need to look at precisely what is being said to garner any form of actionable value. I’m not talking about taking action now, before the update and analysis. I’m saying to have somewhat of a roadmap when the data comes.

“More content by people, for people in Search.”

Now that my rants are over, let’s start with the title of their post. Google wants us to create content for people, not search engines. That’s what most people are picking up on.

Yea, so what?

What’s changed? Nothing. Google has never been a fan of people attempting to trick its search engine.

But what is more striking to me is the preceding portion of the title. The part that says “by people.”

The only alternative to content that people do not write is content written by machines. These can be content spinners, scrapers, or machine learning systems (CPT-3). In a 2022 article, Shelley Walsh tested four variations of content and asked people on Twitter to vote for which version was written by a human. The majority of people guessed wrong.

So, what is the big deal if most people cannot distinguish between machine-written and human-written content? I mean, it seems that the machines are doing a pretty good job.

As always: It depends. The answer varies based on what type of machine-written content we are discussing.

Content Spinners

A content spinner attempts to create “new content” by rearranging and rewording existing content. Typically, a spinner is used in conjunction with a scraper. Hundreds of thousands of article variations can be generated within seconds.

Because the spinner is simply rewording the same article ad nauseam, new and original ideas are never introduced.

The quality of this content can range from somewhat mediocre to absolute garbage. The upside is for those who are looking to burn and churn websites. That is, land a bunch of low volume and low competition keywords until the site is devalued.

The tactic of gaining a small amount of revenue from two clicks a month per page but from thousands of pages can quickly add up to a healthy sum.

This type of content is flat-out spam with the sole purpose of ranking. It wastes Google’s resources and revenue to crawl, analyze, and index.

Content Scrapers

Often working in conjunction with content spinners, content scrapers do precisely as their name implies. They scrape the content of a website. What happens after the scraping occurs differs depending on the purpose and system.

Not all content scrapers are 100% bad. Most are bad, but not all.

A content scraper can be used to gather large amounts of data for analysis. To loosely echo Obi-Wan: These aren’t the scrapers we looking for.

I’m talking about the little dirty scrapers that steal content and add that content to another website. These scrapers infringe on the work of others for the site owner’s personal gain.

Now, I don’t want to get too far down the accusatory rabbit hole, but before you start shaking your finger at the black hat SEOs, Google scrapes website owners’ content.

Put down the pitchforks!

Yes, there is a bit more to the scraping debate that I won’t get into. Just know that scraping occurs all over the web. Scraping to gain ranking and duplicate content violates Google’s rules and can result in a manual penalty.

When a scraper creates spammy duplicate content, it stands to reason that Google will want to demote that site or penalize it for the same reason of getting rid of content from spinners.

“AI” Content Generators

I’m throwing up quotes around “AI” content generators because these systems use deep learning, not artificial intelligence. Specifically, most use the CPT-3 deep learning model.

The big difference between scrapers, spinners, and AI content is that these new AI systems generate articles of higher quality and readability. Plus, with the ability to wrap commands around these systems, marketers can create custom output with a specific tone and the ability to simplify complex subject matters automatically.

There are a couple of areas where most AI writers fall short: data and historical facts.

Because AI writers will combine ideas and try to create the best answer based on the information it has, facts and data can become mixed up and flat-out erroneous.

If AI writers create decent to above-average quality to a point where we humans can’t tell the difference, why does it matter if we’re using AI?

The exact same problem exists with scrapers and spinners.

Crawling, analyzing, and indexing takes resources, and resources cost money. If people can generate content at an accelerated rate without needing even a semblance of industry expertise, we will inevitably end up with an increasingly disproportionate ratio of unique ideas vs. regurgitations.

A Target On The Back Of AI

Johnny 5. Short Circuit. 1988

With the three forms of machine-generated content, the articles that are generated via AI tools are the most likely target. I conclude this because the overwhelming majority of purely scraped content will not be indexed. So, there is already somewhat of a system in place to thwart page scrapers.

AI tools can include spinners.

Some spinners on the market use CPT-2 or CPT-3 to rewrite their content. So, I’m going to lump those into the AI tool category.

It may be difficult for Google to accurately determine if an article is created via an AI tool within a significant level of confidence. This can become even more difficult as these tools become “smarter.”

With this latest update, it probably doesn’t matter.

The folks at Google seem to be intelligent enough not to attempt to laser focus on autogenerated content. Instead, their systems can determine the usefulness of an article.

Does it really matter if a bot writes an article or if you give your cousin $20 to read some blogs and summarize them for you? I argue that it doesn’t. The end result is copy that lacks a unique perspective. It is this perspective that gives additional value to what we write.

Angel and Devil. Artwork generated by Dall-E 2

A Right Way To Use AI Writers

This is where my opinion takes a left turn for most writers and marketers. I understand that this is not the popular belief, and my opinion may result in me getting kicked out of the cool kids table. However, bare with me and just consider the option that AI tools can be beneficial if we learn to use them responsibly.

Unpopular Opinion: Marketers should feel free to use AI tools to assist in creating content.

By allowing these tools to help generate an outline and create copy for you, a writer can overcome the initial hurdle many content creators face. That initial “getting out of the gate” can be difficult.

BYOE: Bring your own expertise

Just because a tool, like Jasper, can churn out an article for you doesn’t mean that we as marketers and site owners should just let it crank.

You need to be bringing your own expertise to the table.

Give your readers your unique spin and back that with data, logic, studies, or the opinions of other experts in your field.

If you don’t feel that you have the right expertise to write on the topic, document the journey of gaining knowledge on the topic.

Google’s Explanation

Glenn Gabe, a columnist for Search Engine Land, wrote an insightful article on this update that is based on a Q and A session with Google’s Danny Sullivan. In the article, Glenn asked if the new update targets content generated by CPT-3 or similar models. Google’s response was:

“we are looking to surface content that will be viewed as helping and adding value to the topics searched. Creators who are specifically creating content for search engines first, which include AI-based content, may be impacted.”

Danny Sullivan, Public Liaison for Search, Google

The bottom line is to focus on quality and users. It’s that simple.

Can you use AI tools and other pieces of software to help create better articles for your target audience? Absolutely!

This update is not a death strike for those who responsibly use content generators to help come up with ideas and breakthrough writing block barriers.

A shot is being fired at those who are attempting to cheat the system by creating garbage. Since you’re here and you made it all of the way through my ramblings and rants, I’m pretty confident that you don’t fall into that category, and you’ll be just fine.