2023 Google Algorithm and SERP Updates

Has your website’s search traffic taken an unexpected dip recently? You’re not alone. Many business owners are feeling the ripple effects of Google’s latest core algorithm shifts.

But here’s the thing: Google is always refining its search landscape, and staying informed is your best defense. In this article, we demystify the recent updates, breaking them down into digestible insights even if you’re not SEO-savvy.

By understanding these changes, you can recalibrate, regain lost ground, and ensure your business remains at the forefront of search results. If you notice a change in your organic search traffic sometime after any of these updates, it could be a sign your website has been affected.

Dive in to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to navigate these digital waters confidently.

Google Algorithm Updates

Core algorithmic updates announced by Google will be classified under this section.

October 5, 2023 Core Update:

What is it: Google has confirmed the rollout of its latest core algorithm update, named the “October 2023 Core Update.”

What it impacts: The update targets various aspects of the search algorithm, leading to fluctuations in website rankings. Factors such as page load speed, mobile-friendliness, ease of navigation, and the E-E-A-T (Expertise, Experience, Authority, and Trustworthiness) of a publisher can influence how Google evaluates a site’s overall quality.

Who it affects: Websites that may not adhere to Google’s guidelines on high-quality, relevant, and authoritative content. Sites that lack in user experience, mobile optimization, and those that do not establish credibility and expertise in their respective fields might see a more significant impact.

How to recover if affected: Websites should focus on producing high-quality, relevant content tailored to their audience’s needs. Enhancing user experience, optimizing for mobile, and ensuring fast page load speeds can be beneficial. Establishing credibility and demonstrating expertise in a specific field can also positively influence rankings.

October Spam Update

What is it: Google introduced the October 2023 Spam Update to enhance its search algorithm by reducing spam results for users globally.

What it impacts: This update specifically targets cloaking, hacked content, auto-generated content, and scraped spam content. The focus is on multiple languages, including Turkish, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Hindi, Chinese, among others.

Who it affects:

Websites that engage in practices such as:

  • Using hidden text or links.
  • Generating content automatically with minimal value for users.
  • Scraping articles on a large scale without permission.
  • Overloading pages with distracting ads.
  • Creating affiliate pages with thin content centered on monetization.
  • Employing tactics like cloaking, sneaky redirects, or creating “doorway” pages.

How to recover if affected: Websites impacted by the new spam filters should thoroughly review Google’s policies to ensure compliance.

September 14 Helpful Content Update

What is it: Google has initiated an update to its helpful content system, which began rolling out in September 2023. This update introduces an improved classifier and is expected to take about two weeks to fully deploy.

What it impacts: The update targets “content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines rather than to help or inform people.” This means content that appears to be written mainly for SEO purposes, or what one might term as “search engine-first content,” could be negatively impacted. On the other hand, content that offers unique expertise, experience, and is written from a personal or expert point of view might see a positive effect.

Who it affects: Websites that primarily produce content optimized for search engines, rather than focusing on providing genuine value to users, might be adversely affected. Conversely, sites that prioritize creating high-quality, user-centric content, which feels authentic and useful, could benefit from this update.

How to recover if affected:

  • Examine pages that were negatively impacted
  • Review the content guidelines provided by Google and assess whether your content aligns with these recommendations.
  • Focus on producing content that offers unique expertise and experience, prioritizing the needs of users over search engine optimization.
  • Avoid creating content solely for the purpose of ranking in search engines. Instead, aim to produce content that genuinely helps and informs users.
  • Remember that recovery can take several months, even if you make the necessary adjustments to your content.

August 22, 2023 Core Update:

What is it: Google announced the launch of the August 2023 core update. These updates are not designed to target specific sites or pages but can cause shifts in rankings based on content relevance.

What it impacts: The core update can affect various aspects of a website’s search performance. While some sites might see a boost in their rankings, others might experience a decline. The primary focus of this update is on content relevance rather than technical aspects. A decline in performance post-update doesn’t necessarily indicate an issue with the website but might be due to adjustments made by the core update.

Who it affects: Websites whose content may not align with the criteria set by the latest core update. Pages that were previously high-ranking might slip, while lower-ranked pages might gain more visibility. The update emphasizes the importance of content relevance in determining rankings.

How to recover if affected:

  • Examine pages that aren’t performing well.
  • Analyze search terms that led users to those pages.
  • Compare the content to the guidelines provided by Google to identify areas of improvement.
  • Prioritize enhancing content to better answer users’ queries.

March 15, 2023 Core Update:

What is it: Google confirmed the rollout of its March 2023 core algorithm update. Core updates are periodic changes to Google’s search algorithms to provide users with the most relevant and high-quality search results.

What it impacts: The update can change how Google evaluates and ranks websites, emphasizing the importance of valuable content tailored to the target audience’s needs. Technical aspects of a site, such as speed, mobile-friendliness, and proper indexing, also play a significant role in determining rankings.

Who it affects: Websites that may not consistently provide valuable content or neglect the technical aspects crucial for a good user experience. Sites that do not prioritize their audience’s needs might see a more pronounced effect.

How to recover if affected: Monitor organic search traffic and keyword rankings to gauge the update’s impact. Emphasize creating valuable content that resonates with the target audience. Address technical issues like site speed and mobile optimization. Always prioritize user experience.

April 2023 Review update

What is it: Google unveiled the “Google April 2023 Reviews Update” on April 12, 2023. This update places a significant emphasis on signals of experience. Accompanying this update is new documentation from Google Search Central, providing insights into the type of content that the Reviews System Algorithm may be seeking.

What it impacts: The update introduces a shift in content quality standards, emphasizing the Double-E-EA-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) paradigm, which was formally introduced by Google in December 2022.

The added “E” represents “Experience.” Google’s Review System is now particularly interested in evidence of experience. This means that mere mentions like “in my experience” might not suffice; the standard for demonstrating experience is set much higher.

Who it affects: Websites that produce product reviews. The update targets content that doesn’t provide genuine evidence of experience with the product being reviewed. Websites that rely on stock photographs or lack tangible evidence of product handling, testing, and usage might be negatively impacted.

The April 2023 Reviews System Update has been implemented in multiple languages, including Dutch, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

How to recover if affected:

  • Offer visual evidence, such as original photographs of the product being reviewed.
  • Provide quantitative measurements, indicating performance metrics of the product.
  • Incorporate audio and visual experiences where relevant, like showcasing the noise level of a product.
  • Link to evidence of experience, ensuring that the review is based on genuine interactions with the product. If competitors seem to be ranking with superficial signals of experience, it’s recommended to go the extra mile by providing concrete evidence of experience, such as original photos and performance measurements.

February Product Reviews Update

What is it: The February 2023 product reviews update focuses on promoting review content that offers in-depth analysis and insights beyond templated information. This is the sixth release of the product reviews update series.

What it impacts: The update emphasizes content that provides insightful analysis, original research, and is written by experts or enthusiasts knowledgeable about the topic. Google aims to demote “thin content” that merely summarizes products without offering genuine insights or evidence of hands-on experience with the product.

Who it affects: Websites that produce product reviews, especially those that don’t provide evidence of hands-on experience or lack in-depth analysis. The update supports multiple languages, including English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Polish.

How to recover if affected:

Websites should ensure their product reviews:

  • Express expert knowledge and hands-on experience with the products.
  • Offer unique content beyond manufacturer-provided information.
  • Provide quantitative measurements of product performance.
  • Discuss both benefits and drawbacks based on thorough research.
  • Include visuals or other evidence to reinforce the authenticity of the review.
  • Address key decision-making factors for the product category and rate performance in those areas.

Google SERP Updates

Changes to how the Google Search Results Pages look will be classified under this section.

Google HowTo and FAQ rich results get less visibility

A search result showing a full FAQ rich result, and one without

What is it: Google announced changes to the display of HowTo and FAQ rich results in its search results. The aim is to provide a cleaner and more consistent search experience .

What it impacts:

  • The visibility of FAQ rich results is being reduced.
  • FAQ rich results (from FAQPage structured data) will only be displayed for authoritative government and health websites. For other sites, this rich result will not be shown regularly.
  • HowTo rich results (from HowTo structured data) will now only be displayed for desktop users. Despite mobile indexing, to have HowTo rich results displayed on desktop, the mobile version of a site must include the appropriate markup.

Who it affects:

  • Websites that utilize FAQ and HowTo structured data. Sites outside of authoritative government and health domains will see a reduction in FAQ rich results.
  • Websites that aim to display HowTo rich results for mobile users will also be affected.
  • Webpags that used to get clickthroughs from FAQ and HowTo rich results may see a drop in traffic

Search Generative Experience on Search

What is it:

The Search Generative Experience (SGE) is Google’s AI-driven feature that combines and summarizes information from the web in response to search queries.

Instead of the traditional “ten blue links,” Google displays AI-generated text and a few links at the top of the results page. The SGE interface also resembles a conversation with an AI chatbot.

Who does it impact: SGE impacts the way users interact with Google Search, especially those seeking in-depth information or answers to multifaceted questions.

For instance, when shopping, users receive a snapshot of noteworthy factors to consider, product descriptions, up-to-date reviews, ratings, and prices, all powered by generative AI.

Decreased Web Traffic: Some website publishers are concerned that if SGE becomes the standard way Google presents search results, it could lead to fewer visitors being directed to their sites, as users get the answers they need directly on Google.

Why is this important for website owners to know: The introduction of SGE signifies a shift in how users interact with search results.

For website owners, especially those who rely heavily on organic search traffic, understanding the implications of SGE is crucial.

The potential decrease in web traffic and concerns about content repurposing without proper attribution highlight the need for publishers to be proactive in adapting to these changes and exploring alternative strategies to maintain visibility and engagement.

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