Google’s 2023 Algorithm Updates & What They Mean for SEO Moving Forward

In the ever-evolving world of search engine optimization (SEO) and SEO web design, one constant is the ongoing updates to Google’s search algorithm. These updates are designed to improve the quality of search results, providing users with the most relevant and high-quality content. Among these updates, Google’s Core Updates play a significant role.

In the following sections, we will delve into the specifics of the major updates that Google rolled out in 2023, their impacts on you, your local SEO company in Toronto, and strategies for adapting to these changes.

February 2023 Product Reviews Update

The February 2023 Product Reviews Update was a crucial step in Google’s ongoing journey to enhance its search algorithm. This update was set in motion on February 21, 2023, and it took around 2 weeks to be fully rolled out.

This update stood out as it marked the sixth product reviews update that Google had launched. It was also the first time Google applied this update to additional languages. Besides English, ten other languages were impacted by this update, including Spanish, German, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Polish.

The aim of the Product Reviews Update is to prioritize review content that is based on actual experience and research and to de-emphasize thin content that merely summarizes a bunch of products. The announcement of the update to the Product Reviews Update was made via Twitter.

Google updated their Product Review Update documentation to better reflect that the document is about the product reviews update itself and what it does. The first notable change is to the title of the documentation. The previous title was “Google Search’s product reviews update and your website” and the new title is “Google Search’s product reviews system and your website.”

Previously, there was no mention of the topic “product reviews system” and now that phrase is used ten times. The phrase, “product reviews update” appeared ten times in the original version of Google’s product reviews update guidance, but now it only appears three times. While that may seem like a minor change the effect is that it changes the focus of Google’s guidance away from product reviews update.

Changes to the guidance have the effect of emphasizing the product reviews system. That, in turn, makes it clearer that the update is a change to the “product reviews system.” One of the new passages in the updated Product Reviews System guidance explains: “Periodically, we improve how the product reviews system works. When we do this in a notable way, we share this as a “product reviews update” on our Google Search ranking updates page.”

The Google product reviews update aims to promote review content that is above and beyond much of the templated information you see on the web. Google said it will promote these types of product reviews in its search results rankings. Google is not directly punishing lower-quality product reviews that have “thin content that simply summarizes a bunch of products.” However, if you provide such content and find your rankings demoted because other content is promoted above yours, it will definitely feel like a penalty. Either way, it’s never a bad idea to perform an SEO website audit, just in case.

Technically, according to Google, this is not a penalty against your content; Google is just rewarding sites with more insightful review content with rankings above yours. Technically, this update should only impact product review content and not other types of content, like SEO writing.

Google Algorithm Change – March 2023

Google’s algorithm updates are a routine part of the search engine’s efforts to refine and improve its search results. The March 2023 Core Update was a key event in this ongoing process, and it’s insightful to examine how it compared to previous updates.

The March 2023 Core Update was initiated on March 15, 2023, and took 13 days to fully roll out. This update was substantial, causing considerable fluctuations in search rankings across a wide range of industries.

When we compare the March 2023 update with the September 2022 Core Update, we find interesting insights from different data providers. Semrush data indicated that the March 2023 update was more volatile, hitting a peak of 8 in terms of their Sensor data volatility, compared to the September 2022 update, which only reached about 5. This suggests a higher degree of fluctuation in search rankings during the March update.

However, RankRanger’s data painted a slightly different picture, suggesting that the March 2023 update was about as volatile as the September 2022 update, but both sites agree that the March 2023 update was significant and had a substantial impact on search rankings.

An interesting observation from Semrush data was that 8.7% of the top 10 results on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) had jumped into the top ten after previously being ranked past the 20th position before the algorithm change.

August 2023 – Another Core Change to Google’s Algorithm

The August 2023 Core Update marked a notable milestone in Google’s continuous journey of algorithm enhancement. This change to their algorithm was initiated on August 22, 2023, and it took 16 days to be fully deployed. The impact of this update was significant, leading to substantial changes in search rankings across numerous sectors.

Compared to the March 2023 algorithm update, which Semrush recorded at approximately 8 on their page-rank volatility scale, the change caused by the August 2023 update resulted in a peak of 9.3 on August 25th, 2023. However, that seismic shift in page rank was felt in fewer industries, specifically retail and finance, which tends to indicate a specific keyword-based change in the algorithm – requiring an update to your keyword research.

Two Google Algorithm Changes Took Place in October of 2023

The October 2023 Core and Spam Updates were deployed in close succession, with the Spam update starting on October 4, 2023, and concluding on October 10, 2023, and the Core update beginning on October 5, 2023, and ending on October 20, 2023. The spam update was made to combat spam websites being indexed in languages including Turkish, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Hindi, and Chinese.

Semrush’s data revealed that the October 2023 Core Update reached peak volatility of 7.9, the lowest in the year to date, as measured by their Sensor data, on October 10th.

When assessing the increases in volatility relative to the pre-update baseline, the October 2023 Core Update had a lesser overall impact. The average shift in positions for URLs was around two and a half positions, which is lower than the August 2023 Core Update, where the average shift was around three positions.

In terms of the top ten position rankings, the October 2023 Core Update had similar volatility to the August 2023 update. The proportion of URLs that moved into the top 10 after the update, having not been in the top 20 before it, was roughly the same for both the October and August 2023 Core Updates.

November 2023 Sees Yet Another Core Update to Google’s Algorithm

The November 2023 Core Update was a noteworthy development in Google’s ongoing mission to enhance its search algorithm. This update was launched on November 2, 2023, and it took about 26 days to be fully rolled out.

Data providers, such as Semrush, offered valuable insights into these updates. Semrush data revealed that the November 2023 Core Update reached a peak volatility of 9.3, as measured by their Sensor data, on November 7th. This indicates a significant degree of change in search rankings during the update.

When we juxtapose the November 2023 update with the October 2023 Core Update, we unearth some intriguing findings. The November update exhibited higher peaks of volatility. The peak was 9.3 for the November core update and 7.9 for the October core update. This suggests that the November update resulted in a higher degree of ranking fluctuations.

However, the overall rank volatility picture is relatively similar when comparing the October core update to the November core update. This makes looking at data points such as peak volatility a bit more relevant.

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The percentage of new (not seen before) ranking URLs within the Google Search top 10 placements that were not in the 20 positions prior to the November update looked like this. To compare, back in August, Semrush saw 10.85% of top 10 results not ranking in the top 20 before the update, whereas back in March of 2023, that was 8.7%.

While the October 2023 core update had a corresponding October 2023 spam update overlap with it, the November 2023 core update had a corresponding November 2023 reviews update overlap with it. So, the data can be a bit messy when trying to figure out which update caused what volatility. It’s challenging to determine if the November 2023 Core Update was a correction or reversal of previous core updates. Google maintains that these updates are improvements, not reversals. However, some examples can often appear as reversals.

Google SERP on a smartphone

The April 2023 Reviews System Update

The April 2023 Reviews System Update was a crucial event in Google’s ongoing mission to optimize its search algorithm. This update was launched on April 12, 2023, and it took approximately two weeks to be fully rolled out.

This update was unique as it marked the seventh reviews update that Google had launched. It was also the first Google update that targeted more than just product reviews. This version went beyond Google’s prior product reviews updates to evaluate reviews of any topic that is reviewable, including services and businesses, destinations, and media such as games and movies.

Google changed the name of its “product reviews system” to “reviews system” and has altered the language in multiple parts of its guidance documentation around product reviews to now apply to all types of reviews. The new update raises the bar on product reviews. It may be that low-quality reviews may still rank in the absence of higher-quality reviews. Consider link building packages as a way to combat this.

Data providers, such as Semrush and Rank Ranger, provided valuable insights into these updates. According to their data, the April 2023 Reviews Update created more volatility in Google’s search results than past versions of the update, including the February 2023 product reviews update.

The new documentation lists the following signals of experience: Visual evidence, Audio, Links to evidence of experience, and Quantitative measurements. Those signals of experience are evidence that the product has been handled, tested, used, and measured. Visual evidence means taking photographs of what is being reviewed, which are original photos as opposed to stock photographs. Quantitative refers to measurements of a quantity. Taking performance measurements of a product is always a good idea.

Audio and Visual Experience Google didn’t provide examples of what audio or visual experience may be, but one can easily surmise possible contexts of when it’s appropriate. This may not be applicable to all reviews, but it may be for some, where visual and audio experience is important, such as demonstrating how quiet or noisy a product may be.

The April 2023 Reviews System Update affects the following languages: Dutch, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

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