The HCU Update and What To Do About It

What is HCU? = Google’s Helpful Content Update

This Google Search Rank update rolled out in 2022, but I was surprised to find that the SEO world is only talking about this right now – meaning they are talking about nothing else. Apparently it is causing a lot of pain to those who rely on large volumes of traffic for their livelihood. That may be interpreted as global websites that dominate short-tail search terms. So this is being felt by the big websites. But that doesn’t mean your website cannot realize the benefits of what is happening in the higher orbits.

My take, is that this change in search rank signals could be seen coming if you were paying attention to Google’s patents. In early 2021 Google received a patent on Question Answering Using Text Spans With Word Vectors. It was pretty clear then that reformatting your content, if possible, into Q&A would be a good idea.

AI = Artificial Intelligence; Machine Learning

Then, almost a year later, in December 2022, The AI Arms Race broke out when ChatGPT Caused ‘Code Red’ at Google. Google could imagine what would happen to their empire if OpenAI’s ChatGPT rolls out a search engine that blows Google away. Google AI/ML was not up to the task at that moment.

“People Also Asked” = Helpful Content (re. HCU)

Now 2 + 2 = it seemed to me that the “People Also Asked” section in Google SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) became persistent (in every results) and very prominent (Top of Page), but I had not heard about a change in SERPs design. So I asked Google’s AI (Gemini) about it.

You’re right, the “People Also Ask” (PAA) box is often positioned directly under the top of page ads on search results pages. However, there isn’t a specific date for when this placement became the norm.


No announcement!

But it makes perfect sense that Google is eager to find all the Answers in the world to every Question because…the AI needs training. And it fits Google’s business model perfectly; incentivize you to contribute your knowledge (UGC) in an easy to use format (Q&A) for their AI training – the perfect training material in the perfect format.

  • UGC = User Generated Content

I do not think it is hard to connect the dots. This is an obvious, evolutionary, business strategy: Google must stay ahead of any would be competitive search engines. Because the next gen search engine will be powered by AI.

What to do about it?

If you want your website to rank well in Google SERPs, I think the answer is obvious but if I have to say it; You may get a carrot for helping Google train its AI.

  • *Carrot = traffic (maybe)