How to Recover from a Google Helpful Content Update - Case Study (2024)

How do you recover from a Google Helpful Content Update? Get 8 actionable SEO tips from this inspiring travel website case study.

Written by
Torbjørn Flensted
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January 12, 2024

How to recover from one of Google's Helpful Content Updates?

Let's look at an interesting case!

This travel website resently recovered from the Google September 2023 Helpful Content Update. But how did they do it?

Learn more about how Googles Helpful content systems works and learn how to recover and thrive after getting hit.

What is a Helpful Content Update?

Google's Helpful Content Update (HCU) is a system designed to prioritize and reward high-quality, valuable content in search results.

Google Search's helpful content system prioritizes valuable, original content in search results. It uses an automated machine-learning model to generate a site-wide signal, which is considered in Google's ranking systems. This system identifies and penalizes unhelpful content.

If your site hosts third-party content, it may be included in site-wide signals. If this content doesn't align with your site's purpose, it should be blocked from Google's index.

The travel website was hit by the 2023 September Helpful Content Update.

If you're producing helpful content, you don't need to do anything. However, if you've noticed a traffic change you suspect is related to this system, assess and improve your content.

The system's classifier runs continuously, and if it determines unhelpful content hasn't returned long term, the classification will no longer apply. Google periodically refines the classifier, and improvements are shared as a "helpful content update". If content improves, the previous unhelpful classification may no longer apply.

Case + 8 Tips: How to recover Helpful Content Content Updates

The travel website implemented several strategic improvements that played a crucial role in its recovery.

After analyzing specific webpages using the web history archive and comparing them to the improved versions, I pinpointed eight key enhancements that were implemented:

Before and after: How to recover from a Google Helpful Content Update

1. Enhance Your Title

The title was updated with "21", "Mexico", and "2023" for specificity and timeliness, boosting click-through rates and SEO.

  • Use numbers for specificity
  • Include relevant locations
  • Add the current or upcoming year

2. Personalize Your Introduction

A personal introduction was added to showcase experience, fostering trust and engagement, key for SEO.

  • Share your background
  • Highlight your expertise
  • Connect with your audience

3. Optimize Your Header Image

The large dark header image was removed, bringing more content above the fold, enhancing user experience and SEO.

  • Use relevant, high-quality images
  • Avoid large, distracting headers
  • Prioritize content visibility

4. Minimize Social Media Icons

Big social media sharing icons were removed to focus on the article, reducing distractions and boosting SEO.

  • Limit the number of icons
  • Place icons strategically
  • Ensure content is the main focus

5. Showcase the Author

A personal author presentation with an authentic travel image was added, increasing credibility and user engagement.

  • Use a professional author photo
  • Share a brief author bio
  • Connect the author to the content

6. Include a Table of Contents

A table of contents with jump-to-links was added, improving navigation and user experience, key for SEO.

  • List all main sections
  • Use jump-to-links for easy navigation
  • Update the table as content evolves

7. Expand Your Content

Ten more day trips were added for topical depth, enhancing the content's relevance and SEO ranking.

  • Cover related subtopics
  • Provide comprehensive information
  • Regularly update and expand content

8. Highlight Top Picks

Top 3 picks were added to assist users in choosing the best trips, increasing user engagement and SEO.

  • Feature top recommendations
  • Provide concise, valuable information
  • Update picks based on changes or new information


Google's algorithm updates requires a deep understanding of SEO principles and a commitment to producing high-quality, valuable content. With over two decades of experience in the SEO industry, I've seen firsthand how these updates can impact a website's ranking and visibility. The key to recovery and success lies in a strategic approach that prioritizes user experience, E-E-A-T principles, and continuous content optimization.

Remember, Google's ultimate goal is to provide users with the most relevant and helpful content. Aligning your content strategy with this goal will not only help you recover from a Google Helpful Content Update but also set your website up for long-term success in the digital marketplace.

FAQs about Helpful Content Recovery

Here's some the frequently asked questions about the Google Helpful Content Updates.

What is Google’s Helpful Content Update?

Google's Helpful Content Update, five in 2023 alone, targets content lacking in expertise, authoritativeness, or trustworthiness (E-E-A-T). This is part of Google's regular updates, enhancing user experience by promoting high-quality content.

Why is the Helpful Content Update important?

The Helpful Content Update is important because it affects how your website ranks in search results. If Google's classifier determines your website has a high amount of unhelpful content, your website won't rank well. The update encourages creators to prioritize people over search engines with every piece of content.

How can I tell whether I have helpful or unhelpful content?

Helpful content satisfies user curiosity and provides value. It’s original and not curated from other sources. Unhelpful content regurgitates information that already exists. Google has released a series of questions to help creators determine whether their content is helpful or unhelpful.

What should I do with unhelpful content?

If you have unhelpful content on your website, you have two choices: improve it or remove it. To improve unhelpful content, consider adding first-hand expertise, filling in informational gaps, demonstrating a depth of knowledge, or aligning the piece with your website’s primary focus. If you can’t add value, consider removing the unhelpful content from your website.

How do I create helpful content?

Helpful content puts people before search engines. Start creating helpful content by satisfying search intent and using an SEO strategy to get relevant information in front of your audience. Stick to your knowledge base and your customers’ interests, answer search intent, use your expertise, and make your content stand out.

What are some highlights from Google’s helpful content update?

Google's testing shows the update improves results for online education, arts and entertainment, shopping, and tech-related content. The update affects global English searches first. The search engine frowns upon extensive automation but allows some use of artificial intelligence (AI) for writing assistance.

How can a content marketing agency help with the Google Helpful Content Update?

A content marketing agency can help you address unhelpful content on your website and create a plan to produce helpful content in the future. They can work with you to develop a helpful content strategy for your business, ensuring your content is optimized for both search engines and your audience.

How to Recover from a Google Helpful Content Update - Case Study (2024)

This is an article written by:

Passionate SEO expert, Torbjørn Flensted, boasts two decades of industry experience. As the founder of and having run an SEO agency for 13 years, he's spent the last decade pioneering cutting-edge tools, transforming how agencies and professionals approach Search Engine Optimization.