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What are Core Updates and Why Do They Matter?

I learned something new the other day: Google hates me.

Well, not me per se, but definitely my website that I’ve been working on.

If you’ve followed along with this blog, you know that in October I launched the Bible Blog Project. Basically, it’s Bible-based blog (super original, I know) that I started completely from scratch with the goal of getting it to 20,000 hits inside of 12 months.

If you want to catch up on the monthly progress, you can do so here:

My strategy was pretty simple: Write a short, daily devotional that I can send out to a mailing list every single weekday. The goal would be to target low-competition, low-volume keywords and build up the traffic over time.

With any luck, the cumulative effect of ranking for so many low-volume keywords would eventually help me reach that 20k mark.

Now…I’m not so sure.

Because Google hates me.

What’s a Core Update?

A core update is any update that Google makes to its algorithm (the “core” of their search engine). Since these changes affect the way Google shows websites in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), any update usually sends shockwaves through the internet.

Some of these core updates are tiny. Some may barely move the needle and are only visible to those who work exclusively in this space.

Others can absolutely annihilate a website. Online forums such as Reddit are usually swamped after a core update with people complaining that they lost nearly all their traffic overnight, just like this guy did

Core updates aren’t usually rolled out overnight. In fact, they’re almost always announced ahead of time and take a few days to a few weeks to fully implement. This gives websites plenty of time to prepare — and react — accordingly.

So What Happened?

In case you haven’t heard, in September, 2023, Google launched its Helpful Content Update. As the name implies, the update was designed to improve Google’s algorithm to prioritize “content written for users” (as opposed to “by” users — no doubt a response to the proliferation of AI).

Helpful content updates are important because they take Google one step closer to connecting a real life user with the content they actually want. Google uses machine learning to bring those two pieces together, but as with every other automated process, it’s not perfect. An HCU is Google’s attempt to make their system just a wee bit better.

This isn’t the first helpful content update. Google launched its first HCU in September of 2022, and there have been two others since, which makes this one number three.

And, just like the other two, the HCU in September brought with it some major changes.

What Changed in September, 2023?

There are a few things that Google had to consider this time around.

The first was in response to artificially generated content. It seems like they’ve finally acknowledge that AI is here to stay, so they adjusted their conditions to allow for AI content…provided that it actually helps people.

The other major change had to do with third-party content. A lot of websites include third-party content on their websites, such as reviews on Yelp or Google or UGC (user-generated content). Now, Google requires site owners to be more diligent in maintaining the quality of that content and ensuring it has to do with their website.

When it comes to my Bible Blog Project, there was one change that affected me the most: thin content.

“Thin content” is defined by Google as any page that doesn’t really say much. It either has too little content on it, so the searcher doesn’t really find anything that helps them, or it has too much content that doesn’t answer the question either. Just a long, meandering blog about ponies and sunshine and waterfalls when all the searcher wanted to know was what type of spark plug to buy for his vintage Ford Mustang.

Now, is my blog “thin content”? Absolutely not, and I reject any insinuation to the opposite. I’ve taken great pains to make my content valuable, despite all my blogs clocking in at less than 700 words.

If that makes it “thin” in the eyes of Google, then so be it. At least I’ve got my email list full of people that think it’s valuable. 

The Path Forward

Honestly, I have no real idea how this helpful core update is gonna shake out. Maybe it’ll tank my website and I’ll have to implement a new method to hit 20k visitors a month. Maybe it’ll be the best thing ever and I’ll start ranking super fast.

Only time will tell. One thing I do know is that with consistent content that people find valuable, my website will eventually rank in time. I just have to keep plugging away.

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