Suffering from HCU? Holy Crap! Helpful Content System Agony

The agony of a flower

Are you suffering from HCU? The holy crap up!?

Nah, I mean Google’s helpful content update. Many legit looking sites do.

Yet their content stinks. When I tell them they just get defensive.

Their crap is holy and who am I to tell them about the egregious odour?

I disagree? I must be wrong!

People tell me that I and Google are wrong. Their content is already helpful!

Yet the content is mainly helping themselves and their businesses.

So here I am. I did not want the energy spent on sharing free advice to be wasted. Instead I document it here.

Hopefully some other people will be more grateful and willing to improve.

Most people are way too proud it seems even to accept constructive criticism they asked for.

When you disagree with them they are personally offended and assume that you must be wrong.

Helpful Content Update vs System

First off it’s not just a singular update. That’s a misnomer.

It’s rather a helpful content system that rechecks your site regularly.

When the helpful content concept was initially introduced in 2022 it was an update at first.

Yet it quickly became an algorithm that continuously worked as one of Google ranking systems.

Then Google fused it even more closely with the ranking algorithm in March of 2024.

Now there is no single helpful content system anymore.

Marie Hayes

The helpful content paradigm gets taken into account on the core algorithm level.

For the sake of simplicity and in order to be found by those who seek advice on HCU and the helpful content system I will keep on using those terms in this post.

The gradual slow death agony of unhelpful content sites

When you don’t make your content actually helpful it will die a slow death. How do I know?

Well known SEO expert Cyrus Shepard (his avatar)

Well known SEO expert Cyrus Shepard pointed it out on LinkedIn!

Apparently there is even a slow death type of ongoing agony:

Sites not only drop after an update but continue to slide…

Cyrus Shepard

Sites once hit by the helpful content update or rather system get gradually demoted until they almost disappear from the Google index.

What are they doing wrong? Keeping the same old content without upgrading it to being helpful!

Most publishers, website owners or bloggers I gave feedback about their fluffy content were not ready to even seriously consider my advice.

Instead they claimed that their content is indeed already helpful.

When you are too proud of yourself to improve I can’t help you.

If you are are not even able to accept help how do even know whether your content is helpful?

You do not even know what help means it seems.

Just updating old content won’t suffice

Yes. I see superficial updates and refreshing of content sites hit by HCU.

So people just think “I have great content, quality content etc.” whatever the old Google requirements 5 or 10 years ago were. And they assume it’s perfectly fine years later.

Then Google checks each week whether your content improved. 

It’s still just great aka mediocre? It’s still just quality aka standard but not really helpful? 

Week after week go by and the content gets only cosmetic updates.

So Google is taking it slow, instead of just dumping your redundant content at once it goes and checks in every week.

In the hope you improve and upgrade your existing content to helpful status it waits patiently and checks again regularly.

  • Is it still just great content – the economy class of content?
  • Is it still only quality content – the business class of content?
  • Or is it finally helpful content – the first class of content?

Yet you disappoint the bots. They see new dates and some superficial changes and report back to the mothership. What do they say?

The locals on planet [insert your website address here] are still blatantly self-promoting themselves and polluting their space.

Let’s show some other less obnoxious planets as the top destination for interstellar tourism.

Ignoring the differences between great, quality and helpful content?

Most people don’t seem realize that helpful content is a completely new type of content compared to previous Google requirements.

For a decade or so Google just required “great content” without specifying what it really means.

Later on they upped their content game and asked for quality content instead with a set of more or less clear quality signs.

Now Google has a very specific set of rules explaining how exactly helpful content has to be in order to rank on top of Google’s results.

  • So does the content demonstrate E-E-A-T? 
  • Does it solve actual problems? 
  • Does it offer reliable sources? 
  • Is it even somehow unique?

Or is it just “me too” content that dozens of other sites have with slight variations? 

Is it only interesting, time-consuming content meant to make money but not really help?

Do you only have affiliate links that link out? 

Are the only sources your other old articles and Wikipedia? Think about it.

Updating content is not enough! What then?

Is it about updating existing content?

Not upDating! You need to upGRade your content. That’s a huge difference!

  • Great content
  • quality content 
  • helpful content 

are three different types of content. Updating your great or quality content does not suffice. 

Updating is the bare minimum you need to do anyway. 

Once you have helpful content then you can update that.

Also don’t mix this up with so-called “content upgrades” – this is a different marketing term.

What I mean is to take chaff and make wheat out of it.

What online dating can teach you about helpful content

Imagine you are on an online dating platform! Think about three potential individuals you want to date.

  • One looks great, just like 50% of the others.
  • One wears clothing of high quality and uses expensive gadgets. 
  • The third one actually helps to fix your car or cooks your dinner while looking great and wearing high quality attire and using great tools.

Which one would you prefer? One of the hundreds that look great on the surface?

One of the dozens who look great but also show off expensive high quality goods?

Or one of the selected few that really could help you beyond a one time date?

Also just search for anything slightly popular and you get literally dozens of the same types of articles. 

Within your niche or industry: is it really helpful to read another article offering the same types of insights dozens of others already offer? 

How do you differentiate from dozens or hundreds of others? Is there something authentic, unique and specific that you offer but nobody else does?

Do you need to date hundreds of great looking people or dozens of great looking people wearing quality clothing? 

Or do you just want one who also helps you carry your groceries home, walks the dog and takes care of the kids?

That’s the actual difference between great, quality and helpful!

Examples of sites allegedly hit by the HCU and reasons why

Some people shared websites allegedly hit by HCU. 

So I tried to help them but nobody was really fond of my advice.

Some ignored it, others got defensive and nobody wanted to pay me for my services haha.

I looked into those and spotted issues right away. Here are three examples. 

The organic search traffic got halved during the HCU of 23 as Semrush shows, it went nowhere fast after that.

The content hasn’t been updated for several years. 

I looked up a random post from the top of the site. 

In Google’s index is a version from 2020. The article shows a date from 2024.

  • It sounds generic and superficial. 
  • It’s only linking to itself. 
  • It is hard to read. 
  • It offers no sources. 
  • It claims expertise but with no proof or signs of trust. 

I still see it a #10 for a test keyphrase. Yet it gets outranked by major brands and publications now like 

  • Reebok
  • Gymbird
  • Mens Journal.

Is this site really better than the big names? I don’t know. 

Why? I’m not a powerlifter so I can’t tell you. 

Yet I know that I don’t trust this site because of the above.

So I’m not an expert on powerlifting!

Let’s take a look at an example from a discipline I’m somewhat aware of.

The organic traffic took a hit in Sept. 22 (first HCU) according to Semrush, it went downhill most of the time ever since.

Even though I don’t consider myself a marketer, SEO is often viewed as part of marketing.

A guy who said “Google’s search algorithms are broken” shared this marketing tool site as an example. 

Then he second-guessed it a bit as it’s such a huge statement.

Bashing one of the largest corporations like this – the leader in search?

Then he claimed that he “does not blame Google”.

I can see right away that the whole site is purely promotional.

The only potentially helpful content I could locate is hidden on the blog.

I had to look hard to even find it – and it is full of generic images, standard listicles and the writers have no visible or credible credentials.

I looked one of the writers up and even though he allegedly works as a writer for more than a decade he has no single endorsement on LinkedIn (the only link in his bio). His profile could be completely made up.

Then it has bait and switch headlines optimizing for one thing but pushing another.

Consider the “Blending Data in Looker Studio? Here’s a Faster and More Reliable Alternative” headline!

It is downright misleading. 

How does it match the user intent of someone who wants to find out how blending data in Looker Studio works?

Getting a sales-pitch for an expensive tool instead is a bait and switch.

They have other similar articles using the same hook.

Also I’m into SEO, social media, analytics etc. for 20 years but I’ve never even heard of the tool.

While I have been using and recommending a competing product for many years: Databox. 

So this is apparently an “also ran” or “me too” service that offers no value to the community or search audiences and creates promotional fluff to “back it up”.

The writers churn out content that looks like any other standard content but even more generic. It does not link to sources or cite experts. 

Even the blog articles like the above are purely promotional. 

There is not even a comment section where you could add some value or disagree.

This is also typical for the other HCU cases I’ve seen:

  • no comments
  • keyword-rich internal links
  • no linking out
  • no sources
  • no E-E-A-T
  • no actual problems solved by the content

It is just time consuming to read it.

The organic reach of got slashed after the second Sept. 23 HCU based on Semrush data. It experienced a slow agony later.

Again, I’m not an expert on camping!

This is just based on my experience of

  • dealing with websites since 1997
  • building them since 1999
  • and optimizing them (for Google and people) since 2004.

There is no way to verify whether the author is an expert or has actual first hand experience (no E-E-A-T):

The about page could be completely made up. 

There is no social proof of expertise other than what the author claims about himself:

What are other issues I spotted instantly?

  • Generic keyword optimized articles with no links to sources. 
  • Hard to read long walls of text with no text formatting other than occasional paragraphs. 
  • Impersonal starting sentences like: “Are you looking for some advice on how to stay warm and comfortable on spring and fall adventures? We can help.” It could be AI generated.

Share more holy crap!

Do you have more examples of sites that have suffered from HCU? 

Do you work for that site or is it one you assume that has been hit by the helpful content system?

If you want me to write to you: I get paid for SEO work since 2004.

Other than that I like to share my expertise with the public so that everybody can benefit.

Thus you can share examples in the comments below. I may respond publicly or even add your site to the article itself.

Please don’t “out” sites of your competitors or people you hate. 

Make sure that sharing a website address won’t harm the site’s reputation.

Do you share your website address you are so fond of that you angry at Google instead of trying to improve it?

Then don’t do it. Either don’t share or or don’t get angry.

Don’t kill the messenger and fight me because you can’t accept help.

If you can’t distinguish between altruist help and an ego-driven attack and fall back into fight or flight mode then go away.

I’m not available for one to one fights. I’m still recovering from over a year of illness and several rounds of surgery.

So if you think your crap content is holy why are you even here?

Move on and buy some links or ask a “Google Partner SEO” to buy some ads for you.

* Agony photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash