Google Offers Advice For Those Affected By HCU

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            Google Offers Advice For Those Affected By HCU

Google’s SearchLiaison answered a question asking for advice on how to diagnose content that’s lost rankings because of the Helpful Content update. SearchLiaison offered advice on how to step back and think about what the problem could be and if there even is a problem to consider.

Question On Fixing HCU Affected Pages

Someone on X (formerly Twitter) expressed frustration with the advice SEOs have offered because it was understood (erroneously it turns out) that the Helpful Content issue is a sitewide signal which complicates identifying pages that didn’t need fixing.

Lee Funke (@FitFoodieFinds) tweeted:

“I keep getting advice from SEOs to “look at the pages with the biggest drops” and figure out why they dropped. If we were hit by HCU then the sitewide signal has made ALL pages drop, making it difficult to analyze helpful vs. unhelpful. Any advice?”

SearchLiaison Answers HCU Question

SearchLiaison first addressed the perception that the Helpful Content ranking system is a single signal.

He tweeted:

“We had this in our Search Central blog post, but it’s probably worth highlighting that the helpful content system of old is much different now:
https://developers.google.com/search/blog/2024/03/core-update-spam-policies

“Just as we use multiple systems to identify reliable information, we have enhanced our core ranking systems to show more helpful results using a variety of innovative signals and approaches. There’s no longer one signal or system used to do this, and we’ve also added a new FAQ page to help explain this change.””

Next he explained that the Helpful Content System (commonly referred to as the HCU) is not a sitewide “thing” but rather it affects websites at the page-level.

He followed up with:

“The FAQ page itself is here, and it explains it’s not just a site-wide thing now:
https://developers.google.com/search/help/helpful-content-faq

“Our core ranking systems are primarily designed to work on the page level, using a variety of signals and systems to understand the helpfulness of individual pages. We do have some site-wide signals that are also considered.””

Drops In Rankings: Not Always About Fixing Pages

The next bit of advice that he offered is that a drop in ranking doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something wrong that needs fixing. He’s right. A common mistake I see website publishers and SEOs make is to immediately assume that there’s something wrong that needs fixing but that’s not the case when the problem is related to relevance.

A site that loses rankings because of relevance can sometimes come back but in extreme cases the old rankings can never come back, ever. An SEO with experience knows how to tell the difference.

SearchLiaison tweeted:

“So then to the all pages dropping questions. Pages could drop in ranking for a variety of reasons, including that we’re showing other content that just seems more relevant higher. Sort of what I was talking about here:
https://twitter.com/searchliaison/status/1768681292181434513”

That tweet he referred to offered the advice to wait until the update finished rolling out before making any changes. He also said that rankings can change by themselves without changing anything and that user trends can affect site traffic, it’s not always due to rankings.

Self-Assess Pages That Lost Rankings

Returning to the answer to Lee Funke (@FitFoodieFinds), SearchLiaison suggested identifying the pages that are receiving less traffic and to focus on self-assessing those pages together with the Helpful Content FAQ documentation and the HCU Self-Assessment page as guides.

He tweeted:

“If it’s more than just moving down a bit, then I’d look to some of the pages that I’d previously gotten a lot of visits to and self-assess if you think they’re helpful to your visitors (the FAQ page covers this). If you do, carry on.”

Is Google’s FAQ Contradictory?

The person who tweeted the original question had some follow-up questions and concerns. They tweeted felt that the HCU FAQ was contradictory in that it said that the Helpful Content signals were at a page level but that it also suggests there are sitewide factors that can bring the entire site down.

This is what the person who started the discussion tweeted:

“Also the FAQ about HCU sounds a bit contradictory. It says that the systems work primarily on a page level but then unhelpful/thin content can weigh down the success of other pages which feels site wide. I’m just trying to understand what these massive drops resulted from!”

The FAQ doesn’t cite thin content but it does mention unhelpful content affecting other pages in a way that goes beyond page level.

This is what it says:

“Our systems work primarily at the page level to show the most helpful content we can, even if that content is on sites also hosting unhelpful content.

This said, having relatively high amounts of unhelpful content might cause other content on the site to perform less well in Search, to a varying degree. Removing unhelpful content might contribute to your other pages performing better.”

That’s kind of vague and contradictory.

  • Does Google mean that if most of the content on a website is unhelpful that it would drown out the value of a handful of pages that are helpful?
  • Is Google implying that a website that’s infested with a preponderance of unhelpful content won’t ever get links or user enthusiasm because nobody would be able to find the actual good content?

It’s not unreasonable to say that Google’s documentation could use a little more clarity.

Non-Self Self-Assessing

I would suggest sticking with the self-assessment suggestions in Google’s Helpful Content FAQ.

A fresh set of eyes can see things with more clarity than someone who authored the page.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi

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