Google has officially confirmed the launch of the second release of the Google helpful content update/system. It started lightly on December 5th but became noticeable, according to Google, on December 6th, which is why Google did not announce it until the 6th. This update adds new signals, most notably making it work for all languages globally – it is not just looking at English content anymore.
Google posted on December 6th that on December 5th, it “released the December 2022 helpful content update, which improves our classifier and works across content globally in all languages.” Google added, “the rollout may take up to two weeks to complete.”
As a reminder, the Google helpful content update looks to weed out content written for the purpose of ranking in search engines that do not help or inform people. Google said this update will “tackle content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines.” The update will “help make sure that unoriginal, low-quality content doesn’t rank highly in Search,” Google added. So if you are writing content to drive search engine visibility and traffic, you might be hit by this type of update, and non-English sites are no longer safe from this update.
December 2022 Google Helpful Content Update Quick Facts
Here are the most important things that we know right now in short form:
- Name: Google helpful content update
- Launch Date: It began to rollout on December 5th but not so noticeable until December 6th
- Rollout: It will take about two weeks to fully roll out
- Targets: It looks at content that was created to rank well in search over help humans
- Search Only: This currently only impacts Google Search, not Google Discover or other Google surfaces. But Google may expand this to Discover and more in the future.
- Penalty: Google did not mention penalty but this update does seem to feel like a penalty for sites that will be hit by it
- Sitewide: This is a sitewide algorithm, so the whole site will be impacted by this update
- Not a core update: Many are going to say this is a core update, it is not.
- Global and all languages: This is no longer just for English-language content, it is now all languages and global.
- Impact: Google would not tell me what percentage of queries or searches were impacted by this update but Google did tell me it would be “meaningful.” Also, Google said this will be felt more for online-educational materials, entertainment, shopping, and tech-related content.
- Recover: If you were hit by this, then you will need to look at your content and see if you can do better with Google’s advice below
- Refreshes: Google updates the scores constantly here but there is a timeout period, and a validation period and it can take several months to recover from this update.
Updates to Helpful Content Update Document
Google made some small changes to its helpful content update page here are those edits:
- Replaced a lot of “update” references to “system” as we expected.
- Added the line “It works globally across all languages.”
- Remove the paragraph that it is only for English languages.
- Google also updated parts of the bottom of the document, it now reads “Periodically, we refine how the classifier detects unhelpful content. When we do this in a notable way, we share this as a “helpful content update” on our Google Search ranking updates page. After such an update finishes rolling out, and if the refined classifier sees that content has improved, then the unhelpful classification from our previous classifier may no longer apply.
One note here, Google is emphasizing how this system identifies unhelpful content with that last paragraph. Google’s Seach Liaison, Danny Sullivan, also said this on Mastodon when asked “When it says “improves our classifier” is that related to the updated classifier for NLP. If so should we expect to see the new categories being assigned to content?” He responded “The classifier tries to understand if content is unhelpful. We’ve improved from the original one when the helpful content system was first launched earlier this year.”
I am not sure I disagree with this statement based on that:
I still think Google should have called this “Unhelpful Content Demotion” instead https://t.co/XaxQtzbMZn
— Kazushi Nagayama長山一石 (@KazushiNagayama) December 7, 2022
Here is the announcement tweets:
The Dec. 2022 helpful content update was released Dec. 5, starting to become more visible today & will take about two weeks to fully roll out. It improves our classifier & works across content globally in all languages. Our help page explains more: https://t.co/MS7hbcBTsp
— Google Search Central (@googlesearchc) December 6, 2022
Previous Helpful Content Update Impact
Last update was interesting, on September 9th we we thought we started to see the first widespread fluctuations from this helpful content update. Prior, only 20% of SEOs said they noticed any ranking changes related to the original helpful content update and I believe a good percentage of that 20% are confused and misattributing the changes they see to the wrong thing – i.e. it is not the helpful content update. The original Google helpful content update early on seemed pretty minor in terms of what SEOs and tools are picking up, despite what we all thought would happen. Even Danny Sullivan even said himself it was not a huge shakeup but it was big in terms of the direction Google is going with ranking content.
In short, the original one did not live up to the hype – will this updated version make up for it?
Here is some of the chatter I found that hints at some of the early impact on this update (or maybe the unconfirmed update from earlier?):
Quick update on the Dec HCU: Here’s the first big drop I have seen based on the December Helpful Content Update. Search visibility drops heavily starting yesterday. I’m now also seeing several other domains that dropped over the past two days… Will share more soon-ish. pic.twitter.com/md5FEls6u1
— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) December 7, 2022
Big ol’ drop in a site with 2M+ pageviews per day. It started yesterday.
— Bot de revisión de titulares (@chupitodehelio) December 6, 2022
Yes, we noticed changes happening overnight. Interestingly the sites with the biggest changes (that have moved up to page 1) are sites that have the keywords in the domain…
— Mike (@nycmw2) December 6, 2022
Big increase on Sistrix. Not translating to traffic yet but December also tends to be a slower month traffic-wise so hard to tell for sure. pic.twitter.com/Wbk5zOqVez
— Ash Read (@Ashread_) December 6, 2022
I have 2 sites w all unique original well-written human driven content that look like they’re being affected by this rollout right before the end of the holiday season so this will affect them financially AND you’re getting it wrong. Thank you @Google for breaking your promise.
— Kristine S (@schachin) December 6, 2022
yes on one site across the board improvements
— Joe Hall (@joehall) December 6, 2022
— Anuj thaker (@Anuj_Thaker03) December 7, 2022
Don’t know about other but this specific keyword was going up ⬆️. pic.twitter.com/KHiJvTYZoU
— Manzoor khan (@ManzoorRph) December 7, 2022
— networthypeople (@joelycirny) December 7, 2022
Yes, and it started about 3 days ago. They were testing this before they announced it
— Stefan (@Stefan01301380) December 6, 2022
— Dr. Marie Haynes🐼 (@Marie_Haynes) December 6, 2022
Semrush is showing this site exploded – it did not – at least not according to GA:
Semrush is showing me this, it seems like one big movement 🙂 pic.twitter.com/r3lIiLTWhE
— Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick) December 7, 2022
I mean, I am up but this much? I doubt it…
And some chatter from Black Hat World & WebmasterWorld:
One of my sites got hit in the spam update. Today it’s breaking the ceiling.
I was starting to wonder when all my cache dates were no older than 7 days. That’s never happened before. But the ranks I see now were definitely taking shape days ago.
I think changes began Nov 30th according to site log activity, crawling level, rank movement, etc.
Google Tracking Tools
Here is what the automated tracking tools are showing:
Advanced Web Rankings:
I believe it is still early, but the impact, thus far, in the past 24-48 hours, was not yet massive. I will keep an eye on the changes, volatility, and chatter and keep you posted.
Forum discussion at Twitter, Black Hat World & WebmasterWorld.