The two Most Important Google Updates for September

05 Oct, 2023 Google

Over the past month there have been many different updates and comments from both Google and Google employee’s. However, there are two that shine through the rest in terms of importance.

Links Are No Longer a Top Three Ranking Signal

For the past few years, Google has downplayed the relevance of links in its ranking algorithm. However, this was made concrete at PubCon when Gary Illyes from the Google Search team said he wouldn’t even put links into the top three ranking signals Google Search uses.

He has also stated the following:

“Links are not a top 3 ranking signal and hasn’t been for some time”

He also added that there isn’t really a “universal top 3” and that “It’s absolutely possible to rank without links.” He then went on to cite an example of a website he knew that was ranking on page one for “Porsche cars” which had zero internal or external links. He said that Google managed to find this website via a sitemap.

This intertwines with the fact that a year ago Duy Nguyen from Google’s search quality team also said:

“Backlinks as a signal has a lot less significant impact compared to when Google Search first started out many years ago.”

Alongside this, Matt Cutts, a former Google employee stated something very similar around eight years ago! He said the following:

“While links have many years left in them, Google is looking for ways to rely less on them in the future.”

The September 2023 Helpful Content Update – Targeting SEO First Content

At around 8am on the 28th September Google announced that most recent helpful content update had finally finished rolling out. This update took around two weeks to roll out, starting on the 14th and ending on the 28th. This particular update was rolled out with the aim of targeting those websites which display content with ranking being the only purpose for the content. This has cause a lot of heat within the SEO Community. Below are the posts Google Search Central posted on X to confirm this update:

Search Console Twitter Confirm

What has the update impacted?

Similar to when Google announced the Penguin update, I believe that this update was felt far more strongly by the SEO industry than by the common website owner.

This update mostly impacted those websites with content that was designed to rank well in search engines, otherwise known as search engine-first content.

There are several concepts as to what sort of information was targeted, such as AI, low quality, unhelpful, and so on. However, it is all of that and more.

It took as surprising amount of time for the impact of this update to be seen as the usual tracking tools were strangely calm over the last two weeks.

The Facts

Below you can find the most important things about this update that we know right now:

The Name: Google September 2023 Helpful content update

When was it Launched? September 14 at 9:20pm

When did the Rollout end? This update finished rolling out on September 28 at 8:00am

The Target: It prioritises material developed to rank high in search results over content designed to assist humans.

What does it impact? This currently impacts Google Search and Google Discover.

The Penalty: Google did’t mention any sort of penalty, but this update does seem to feel like a penalty for those sites unlucky enough to be hit by it

What does the update Promote? This update was rolled out with the idea of promoting helpful content, but it will also demote any unhelp content. As stated earlier this is anything that was designed to rank on search engines and not offer humans any kind of helpful information.

Will the effects be felt sitewide? As this is a sitewide algorithm, your whole website will be impacted by this update

Is this update worldwide? Although it used to be, this update is no longer just for English-language content, it is now all languages and covers the globe.

The Impact: Google would not confirm what percentage of queries or searches were impacted by this update but they did say it would be “meaningful.” Google also stated said this will be felt more for entertainment, online-educational materials, tech-related content and shopping

How to Recover: If you were affected by this, you should examine your content to see if you can improve it using the Google tips provided below:  (It’s also important to note that it can take several months to recover from this update.)

September 14, 2023September 2023 Google helpful content update
December 5, 2022December 2022 Google helpful content update
August 25, 2022August 2022 (original) Google helpful content update

The Tracking Tools

Here is what the Google tracking tools revealed throughout the update’s distribution period:


Semrush volatility


Serpmetrics Volatility

Advanced Web Rankings:

advanced web rankings volatility


Acuranker volatility


Mozcast Volatility

Cognitive SEO:

Cognitive Seo Volatility


Algoroo SEO Volatility


Rank Ranger Volatility


Serp Stat Volatility


Wincher Volatility


Serp Woo Volatility


Seo Clarity Volatility

As seen with all of the tracking software above most of them have been calm throughout the month and any volatility that was shown was nothing more heated than the past few months of normal Google volatility.