5 min read

The Helpocalipse Is Here. What Now?

The Helpful Content update isn’t even over, and it’s already been one of the most impactful updates I’ve seen in years. Expectedly, it is small sites that seem to be getting hit the hardest—with major publishers either not affected or enjoying sizeable traffic gains.

Even parasite-SEO sites haven’t been very affected! Just take a look at the most popular ones out there, the ones who don’t even try to hide what they’re doing. Sure, some may have taken 20-25% hits, but that’s nothing compared to the drops that many indie publishers are reporting.

Meanwhile, the community forums of display ad networks and blogging or niche site courses are on fire—and some of the top SEO influencers are interrupting their super-busy schedules to publish videos and blog posts on the subject.


I hate turning out right where I least want to: I called this last week, in, "The Easy Money in SEO Is All Gone."

However you look at it, it seems like the Search folks at Google have given a ranking advantage to forums and social media, and in some cases, Web 1.0 relics from WordPress.com, Blogger.com (ex-BlogSpot), and Google Groups over independent blogs and niche websites.

Google any topic and see for yourselves. User-generated content, a.k.a. UGC, is cool again. And so are trade sites and obscure pages written in HTML 4.1 from the long-forgotten early days of the Web.

And if you ask Google Search’s John Mueller, this is not a temporary hiccup, nor something the search engine team intends on reversing.

What’s next? Bringing back cached posts from Friendster? The rebirth of TypePad blogs? MySpace?

What an interesting week!

This Helpful Content Update seems to have reversed years of conventional SEO wisdom—that seeing Reddit and Quora results in the SERPs means you’ve struck a gold mine—and sent many a website owner back to kindergarten.

Yes, it’s probably trying to ween off low-content, generative-AI and content-farm-produced websites so they’re hopefully wiped off the face of the Earth. Unfortunately, many decent websites are collateral damage in an overly wide blast radius.

It ain’t pretty. Take a look at this site in my portfolio, hit by a Helpful Content Update for a second consecutive time in one year:

(And this, mind you, is after months of overhauling the UX, rewriting old content, and working with expert authors—literally people with degrees and expertise in the field—while demonstrating EEAT in every way possible.)

If you’re hit, don’t panic.

It’s tempting to want to draw conclusions prematurely and try to reverse the changes you’ve recently made to your websites: So you published 50 pieces of new content all at once? Finally switched on video ads in Ezoic? Tried a new caching plugin?

The truth is, this may very well be one of those algorithm updates that changes the rules of SEO and Internet marketing as we know them. (Or not.)

Many, many years ago, I had a media company with a dozen outlets on the Bulgarian Web. One of our main traffic sources was Facebook Pages—we had many of those, with hundreds of thousands of likes each.

This, as you may have guessed, was before Facebook introduced changes to its newsfeed’s algorithm and destroyed the organic reach of pages in a matter of months.

It dropped from 30-40% to 15-20%, then to 5-10%, then to 1-3% at most. There were days when you felt lucky if, on a page with a 500k audience, you got impressions and likes, let alone clicks.

Back then, "organic social" was as big of a thing as "organic search." (Everyone also took it for granted.)

These days, there is no such thing as organic traffic from social media platforms. Because those social media platforms have long figured out that the only way to stay in business is to keep users in instead of letting them click out to your site.

Which brings me back to the topic of today’s issue.

I genuinely think that organic search as the traffic channel we know today is on a decline:

One, many Internet users have already gotten used to using ChatGPT to get tasks done for them instead of seeking info on how to those tasks themselves. While ChatGPT is no longer growing as fast as it used to, it is, technically, still growing.

Two, Google has yet to widely roll out SGE, or Search Generative Experience, which may or may not have an even bigger effect on SERPs and the meaning of rankings as we track them today.

Three, Google is already working on Gemini, an alleged competitor of ChatGPT itself.

Meanwhile, everyone and their mother are blasting the Internet with cheap, AI-generated content that’s undergone little-to-no human editing and fact-checking.

This, along with the fact that even the quality of human-written content has been on the decline since the pandemic, when Internet usage exploded, website-building became a fad, and blogging or website building trended as a way to make quick money.

The picture for your average independent publisher is anything but bright:

  1. An influx of content is making it harder and harder to rank websites because there’s more and more junk, and search engines are having a hard time finding the good stuff.
  2. This is worsened by the death of organic social as a traffic channel, and, lately, the continuous decline of traffic from organic search.

And so, indie publishers are in a pickle. It’s less expensive than ever to produce low-quality content. But because so many others can also do it, it will also get increasingly harder for such content to rank. And yet, it’s also more expensive than before to produce good content because of the associated uncertainty and risk—there’s no longer a paved path for success.

Is now a good time to give up?

I’d say lie low—and hold your horses.

There’s a case to be made that in a world of instantly generated websites with generic, repetitive content, the value of old domains with strong backlink profiles and unique, expert-written content can only go up.

There’s also a case to be made that the impact of this update can discourage many website owners and flippers who were in it for the easy money. Now that the money’s no longer easy, they may move on to something else, leaving more room to play for the stayers.

If you’re cautiously optimistic (or not overly pessimistic) about the role of blogs and niche websites on the Internet of the future, this may be a good time to hunt for deals and buy distressed assets in bulk. Blogs and websites have been "dying" since I got into this business—in the mid-2000s.

When times get turbulent like they are now, keep your cool and stay sharp. Remember, no one has any answers—only guesses and opinions. The update hasn’t finished rolling out, and everyone’s working with anecdotes rather than data.

If things stay the way they are now, we may need to rethink the way our websites make money. Is the display ads boom over? Will affiliate links and other, harder, monetization methods be king again? Are display ad networks in trouble?

As a Chinese curse says, "May you live in interesting times."