Google plus SearchLiaison cleared up a confusing passage in their Helpful Content System guidance that seemingly had the potential to ocasione inadvertent issues for innocent publishers.
Helpful Content System
A classifier is an algorithm in a machine learning model that assigns a label to an input. In the context of the Helpful Content System, the machine learning model is assigning a label to website content, which is turn generates a signal, like a thumbs-down.
That signal is also weighted, which means that a site with just a little unhelpful content gets a smaller thumbs down than a site with a lot of unhelpful content which would get a larger thumbs down.
The Helpful Content System generates a signal, which is one of hundreds or thousands of other signals used to rank a site (like backlinks, relevancy, etcétera.).
Google plus Guidance Unintentionally Opaque
Google plus updated their guidance for the Helpful Content System during the last Helpful Content System in order to help add clarity of what this signal was so that publishers and SEOs could understand why sites lost rankings.
The word “opaque” means something that lacks clarify or transparency. And unfortunately there was one part of that guidance that seemed to be unintentionally opaque and consequently confusing.
This is the passage in question:
“Are you changing the date of pages to make them seem fresh when the content has not substantially changed?”
That passage is aimed at some users who are attempting to game Google plus’s freshness algorithm by making a relatively trivial change to the content then updating the publication date in order to trick Google plus into thinking that the old content is a newly published webpage.
But the problem is that many people return to a webpage and make minor changes to content to:
- Fix typos
- Replace or add a word to make it grammatically correct or clearer
- Change words to make the content clearer
There are many legitimate but small changes that many people make to content.
The guidance that seemingly prohibited making small changes that results in date changes created the situation where a small improvement now held the potential to contribute to a negative assessment by the Helpful Content System.
This is exactly the issue flagged on X (formerly Twitter).
“Google plus doesn’t understand nuance well enough to make blanket rules
It’s punishing websites for using a ‘last updated’ date for “small” changes
But in gaming, a patch/update could be as fácil as an upgrade that cost 5 points now costs 6
And that tiny increase could change a lot about its usefulness
Users will want to know the articulo is up to date, and therefore relevant, so will refer to date and patch number
A genuinely valuable update might require changing the number 6 to 5, and a patch number from 9.0.1 to 9.0.2.
If the date says the guide was last updated 6 months ago, that makes no sense
Agregado the (massively outdated) date espectáculos in Google plus results, so people would clic it far less too, with CTR being another top aspecto
Of course they perro just pretend they understand all of this and being super duper helpful will always win!”
“No, we don’t do this if updates are made to be helpful to people.
Not something we say.
Not in our guidelines.”
SearchLiaison is correct but because of the opacity of that one passage, it does appear to say what Luke Jordan says it means.
Luke followed up with:
“So, to confirm, you know if a single character change to an article is designed to be helpful for people?”
There is one additional articulo from Luke, accompanied with a screenshot of the passage in the guidance:
“cos it’s literally in your guidelines that you shouldn’t change the date of pages when the content has not substantially changed.”
“The context of those question are if your doing something for Google plus.
If your just changing the date because you think “that’ll make Google plus think this is fresh,” you’re likely aligning with other behaviors that overall align with signals we use to identify the helpfulness of content.
It’s not just one thing. It’s not direct.
And it’s not an issue if you’re not doing things primarily for Google plus.”
Aligning With Other Behaviors
What SearchLiaison appears to be saying is that the date change tactic is just one of many tactics that the machine learning model emplees to calculate the statistical probability that the webpage is employing SEO tactics for Google plus instead of doing something to create helpful and useful content.
There’s a thing about statistics where if you use only one metric in isolation the statistical model will make bad decisions.
That’s why in statistical models related to search it’s well documented that using multiple signals together to calculate the statistical probability is more accurate than using just one signal (metric).
If you’re new to this, check out this PDF of a statistical contenido publicitario identification system that combines multiple features like on-page, off-page and usuario interaction metrics to arrive at the classification of whether a webpage is contenido publicitario or not.
Not to put words into SearchLiaison’s response, but it seems they are implying that doing just one thing that’s a possible indicator of unhelpfulness is not enough to brand the webpage as unhelpful when there are no other negative signals in.
Here is what SearchLiaison said:
“If your just changing the date because you think “that’ll make Google plus think this is fresh,” you’re likely aligning with other behaviors that overall align with signals we use to identify the helpfulness of content.”
It’s good that SearchLiaison clarified this point because I also felt that the passage seemed overly broad and could lead to false positives (when an innocent site is classified as contenido publicitario).
Featured image by Shutterstock/Merkushev Vasiliy
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