Jan 22, 2024 / Marketing

2023 Google Algorithm updates

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Google Algorithm 2023 1

What did we learn from the 2023 Google Algorithm updates?

It feels like there has been a heck of a lot of updates to the Google Algorithm recently. This may be because they came along so thick and fast towards the end of 2023, with 67% of announced Google Algorithm updates happening in the latter half of the year, the vast majority in Q4.

2023 felt like a bumper year for updates with a massive four confirmed Core Updates. Overall, there were no more than there had been in previous years with a spam update and helpful content update alongside the core updates, but it still felt like a busy year. So, before we dive into 2024 and everything that it has to offer, let’s have a quick recap on what the 2023 updates included, what we can learn from them and how they might have impacted your SEO performance.

Google Core Updates 2023

Designed to make search engine results better for users, Google Core Updates are wide-ranging, major changes that are made to the algorithm that ranks websites in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Google Core Updates were confirmed in March, August, October and November last year. This was double the previous year’s core updates, and they certainly kept SEOs on their toes!

While Google implemented four core updates over the year, they didn’t publish as much guidance as they did with other types of updates. In a Q&A released in early November, they advised that there was really nothing to do for those who were creating people-first content, as the updates are designed to reward them. They also offer advice on creating helpful, reliable, people-first content. Despite this, SEO analysts reported a fair amount of volatility as each happened.

It’s best to remember that Google is always looking for the best result for the users. So provided you’re creating useful, people-centric content and avoiding black hat SEO tactics, you shouldn’t see too much impact from a Google Algorithm update. If you are and you want to pinpoint possible causes, our team of SEO experts are available to help and advise you, get in touch.

If you see a change in your rankings, it’s important to consider what updates there may have been to the algorithm. Updates aren’t always confirmed but there are several communities you can follow that give you a view of the SEO landscape. Once you are aware of an update it is wise to keep an eye on your analytics.

Google Review Updates 2023

This was the first update to land and was an important one for businesses that rely heavily on customer reviews. The updates were spread nicely across 2023, in February, April and November. For the first time, Google acknowledged the scope of reviews, dropping the word ‘product’ from their update title in favour of ‘review update’ - indicating that they’re now considering all types of reviews. And, they went worldwide with this update, including several languages, covering a much larger global territory.

The message with this update was clear, websites publishing better quality reviews would be rewarded and generic unhelpful reviews most certainly would not. To avoid appearing spammy, you should include high-quality reviews with evidence like images, performance measurements or descriptions of how the product has improved over time. Ultimately, you should be displaying first-hand, realistic experiences.

Google is now better at identifying and rewarding first-person, first-hand human experiences that show an understanding of the product or service and haven’t been lifted from an instruction manual. For best practice, they also clearly laid out how to write a good review.

Google Spam Update 2023

In October 2023 Google rolled out an update that improves how it detects spam. It aimed to reduce spam for users worldwide, and so focused on community areas where members had reported issues, which included languages such as Turkish, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Hindi, Chinese and among others. Google announced that the update would clean up several types of spam and reduce the visible spam in search results. It also pointed users to their spam policies if they noticed any changes after the update.

Activities that google considers spammy include:

  • Cloaking - Deceiving search engines by showing them content that is different to that on your website.

  • Keyword stuffing - Overdoing it with keywords on your website to manipulate rankings

  • Machine-generated traffic - Using bots or automated tools to generate visits.

  • Sneaky redirects - Although redirects are necessary in some cases, this involves purposely sending users to pages different to those they clicked on.

  • Scraped content - Using content from other sites without properly crediting or gaining permission.

  • Misleading functionality - A site that says it will provide something such as an online dictionary service, but it intentionally leads you to ads rather than providing this.

If you’re worried that your content or digital activities could be detected as spammy, we’re happy to help you take the stress out of the process - get in touch!

Google Helpful Content Update 2023

The Helpful Content System was launched in the summer of 2022 and was part of Google’s efforts to make sure people were seeing more useful content in their search results. The most recent helpful content update was rolled out in September 2023 and it attempts to further weed out unhelpful content that has been generated primarily to boost SEO.

Interestingly, part of the update focuses on some tactics that, while not overtly considered black hat, have traditionally been implemented with SEO in mind. This includes changing publish dates with minimal updates to content and adding or removing lots of content to make your site appear fresh. As well as this, Google advised that content that is largely independent of the website’s main purpose, i.e. third-party generated content such as blogs, videos and articles should be blocked from being indexed.

There were also some (actually quite helpful) updates to their Helpful Content guidelines. Google added a section about the overall importance of the page experience. It also detailed the importance of ensuring that a page displays equally on desktop and mobile, as well as the impact of certain types of ads and details on page security. Many were also quick to notice that they removed ‘written by people’ from some wording, suggesting that Google had taken a softer stance on AI-generated content. We’d advise treading carefully here, this omission may be to give themselves a bit of breathing space, while they see how the AI landscape pans out.

All content on your site needs to be written for people and it all needs to be useful. Even if you have some helpful content on your site, if not all of it is, you will get penalised in the rankings. The signal that classifies contents is weighted, however, which means that a website with more unhelpful content will have a stronger effect than one with less. Going forward, when it comes to your content marketing, it’s best practice to take the time to make every written word count.

How do you manage Algorithm updates?

The key takeaway from the 2023 updates is that your site needs to be designed to give the best possible experience to the end users. It needs to match their search intent, be relevant to them and give them what they are looking for. Google rewards good user experience and relevant content.

The SEO work we do is designed to get the right people to our client’s websites and give them the best user experience. We continually keep our ears to the digital ground when it comes to Google updates to make sure we know what Google is looking for too. While the websites we manage are not immune from fluctuations, following an update we find the impacts are normally minimal or are positive. We create sites that work hard for our clients and ensure they are continually optimised for SEO but ultimately the end users.

If you’d like some advice on how to ensure your site rides the 2024 wave of algorithm updates or you need some support when it comes to navigating the SEO ecosystem, get in touch with us today.