Updated 13th November 2023
At its core, Google functions as a vast digital librarian, cataloguing countless pages of information and providing users with the most relevant answers to their queries. Underpinning this mammoth task is its search algorithm—a complex set of rules and criteria determining which pages get showcased and in what order. This algorithm isn’t static; it evolves continuously.
In the dynamic world of search engine optimisation (SEO), few elements are as influential—or as elusive—as Google’s algorithm updates. These updates shape the digital landscape, determining how websites rank and, by extension, how visible they are to users seeking information. For businesses and webmasters, understanding and adapting to these changes is akin to catching a continually shifting tide; fail to do so, and you risk drowning in the vast ocean of online content.
As of November 2023, we’ve seen 10 confirmed Google algorithm updates, with 4 being core updates, just this year! With AI looming on the horizon, digital marketing specialists and business owners alike must ensure that their online presence won’t get left behind in the next phase of search.
Check out some of our top tips and need-to-knows about the latest algorithm updates.
November 2023 Reviews Update
On November 8th, Google began rolling out the November 2023 Reviews Update, marking it as the last standalone update. Going forward, Google will regularly assess review content quality without further announcements.
This update focuses on evaluating review and opinion-based content, such as articles and blog posts. It does not assess third-party reviews on product or service pages. The evaluations occur at the page level, especially for sites where reviews are not the primary focus.
Websites that rely heavily on reviews for traffic may experience fluctuations in search traffic and rankings, depending on their alignment with Google’s evolving review system standards.
Further information on how Google’s Reviews Updates work is just down below in April’s Update.
November 2023 Core Update
Emerging as the 4th broad core algorithm update of 2023, the November core update was swiftly released just weeks after the rollout completion of October’s core update.
This update is to improve a different core system than the one targeted in October’s update. Like other core updates, it focused on enhancing the relevance and quality of web pages shown in search results.
Google aims to steer clear of holiday shopping seasons when scheduling their algorithm updates, which may explain the proximity of this core update with the last. With a 2-week rollout anticipated, the update should be finalised just in time for the Black Friday Sales season.
October 2023 Core Update
The week after I launched this article, Google came out with two very important updates – the October 2023 Core Update and the October 2023 Spam Update!
Starting with the October 2023 Core Update – released on October 5th with a predicted 2-week rollout period, the latest Core Update marks the third of its kind just this year. I do go into detail on what a Core Update is down in the August 2023 Core Update section but ultimately, Google introduces multiple core algorithm updates throughout each year, each focusing on specific facets of the search process.
As a result, the impact on website rankings can differ with each update and so we often see turbulent search results during these times. It’s a great reminder to ensure that you are confident that your website follows best practices and is consistently maintained in the realm of helpful content, technical maintenance, and trust factors.
Google had confirmed that it is not related to the August core update and that it included a specific focus on reducing spam results for users worldwide, targeting spammy content across various languages.
October 2023 Spam Update
The second update that commenced rollout in October this year is the October 2023 Spam Update. This is the first official Spam Update of the year!
Google continuously adapts its strategies to combat spam, reflecting the ever-changing landscape of spamming techniques. Vigilant users report suspicious activities directly to Google through the spam reporting tool, aiding Google in identifying critical areas to concentrate their anti-spam initiatives.
This particular update seems to focus primarily on cloaking, hacked, auto-generated, and scraped spam content in multiple languages.
As a rule of thumb, Google deems the following practices as undesirable and misleading:
- Concealed text or links visible to search engines but hidden from users
- Content generated automatically that offers minimal or no value to readers
Unauthorised large-scale scraping of articles
- Web pages cluttered with obtrusive ads that detract from user satisfaction
- Affiliate pages that prioritise monetisation over content quality, resulting in scant information
This update is predicted to take a few weeks to roll out. If you’re seeing some fluctuations in your organic performance – it is likely to do with the core algorithm update (unless you’re practising some dodgy activities as listed above).
September 2023 Helpful Content Update
On the 14th of September, Google announced the September 2023 Helpful Content Update which is expected to finish rolling out within two weeks. Roger Montti at Search Engine Journal has noted that the two most important changes to note of this update:
Google’s helpful content updates are a testament to its relentless pursuit of enhancing user experience on the web. These updates underscore the search giant’s commitment to prioritising content that offers genuine value to users.
This means content that is accurate, well-researched, and presented in a user-friendly manner is more likely to rank higher. Such updates serve a dual purpose: they reward creators who invest time and effort into producing quality content, and they ensure that users are presented with the most informative and trustworthy answers to their questions.
With the somewhat recent upsurge of AI, Google has emphasised prioritising content created by humans, but with this most recent update and documentation, they seem to have changed their tune.
The guidance by Google now states: “Google Search’s helpful content system generates a signal used by our automated ranking systems to better ensure people see original, helpful content created for people in search results.”
What does this mean as a website owner or manager?
Simply, ensure that the content on your site is accurate, updated/refreshed often, and is helpful to the reader. With a primary focus on “How could I give my website users all the information they need in as little time as possible?”, create and build the content on your pages utilising any tools you may need to facilitate it (including AI!).
Google does have a fantastic article on how to create helpful content.
August 2023 Core Update
Google has confirmed that the August 2023 Core Update – the second core update this year – has completed rolling out. The update started on August 22, 2023, and completed 16 days later on September 7, 2023.
The impact of this update is not seen as widespread as previous core updates.
Why are core updates so important?
Google’s core algorithm updates are essential recalibrations of their search ranking system. Several times a year, Google makes significant and broad changes to their systems with the goal of evolving how it presents helpful and reliable results for searchers.
Fluctuations in search results are normal around the rollouts of their core updates, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with your web pages if you do see some turbulence around these times.
A core update can affect a website’s search performance positively or negatively, or it may have no impact at all.
Google always encourages those who see drops in rankings to focus on improving website quality rather than looking for technical fixes.
April 2023 Reviews Update
Google’s April 2023 reviews update, launched on April 12th, finished rolling out on April 25th. Not sure what the Reviews system is? Google states:
The system primarily evaluates review content on a page-level basis. A review page typically looks like an article that contains a number of quality elements to support an individual’s experience with a service, product or topic such as videos, quantitative measurements, expert opinions, links to other sources, etc.
Google has provided a guide to writing high-quality reviews that forms a great list of best practices to follow.
Should I be concerned about reviews updates?
An important quality of the reviews system is that it’s not a continually updating algorithm. Pages may be positively or negatively affected by a reviews update and remain quite stagnant until the next.
What’s important to note with the reviews updates is that you need to ensure that your blog posts and articles provide value. If you’re reviewing a product or service, ensure that you provide the evidence of your authentic review throughout along with the credentials to back up your name.
With a helpful content update, core update and reviews update shaking up search lately in 2023, it can be overwhelming working out just what is working for your website and why.
They key takeaways:
- A website’s overall content quality, user experience, and trustworthiness factor prominently in these updates
- Google prioritises genuine, user-generated reviews, filtering out spammy or manipulated ones
- Recent and contextually relevant reviews often carry more weight, showcasing the evolving nature of products or services
- Content that delves deep into topics and provides comprehensive insights is favoured
- Well-researched, factual content from trustworthy sources gains prominence
Future Predictions and Staying On Top
Google Search and generative AI are both expansive areas of technology that continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Back in May of this year, Google posted an article about supercharging Search with generative AI. It teases the next generation of Google Search and poses an uncertain future for SEO and websites.
Already, Google’s featured snippets and rich results allows searchers to find the information they’re looking for without clicking into the website. With generative AI integrated into Search, will this continue to remove opportunities for searchers to click on websites? But where does the generative AI pull its information from? Will it be sourced? Is it simply what they claim it to be – an organisational way to improve how searchers sift through so much information?
Regardless of how generative AI will take shape and evolve, a well-structured website with high-quality content will always form a part of Search and will always be valued in the B2B and B2C space. As a business, it’s worth keeping an eye on Google’s guides, news releases and algorithm updates to ensure that your online presence and performance continue to grow with the evolving platform.
If you’re an Australian SMB and you’d like to ensure your SEO strategy is ahead of algorithm changes, chat with our team today!