A Recap of Google’s 2023 Algorithm Updates

Tablet opened on a Google Search page

If you’re the type who enjoys being kept on your toes and off balance, SEO just might be the field for you! In the ever-evolving world of search engine optimization (SEO), change is often the one constant you can count on.

Please don’t misunderstand; the core principles of effective SEO don’t change every time the wind blows. But for your local SEO, who fights for every rung up Google’s search engine rankings, we must update what we do with every Google update.

 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.

A Core Update is a tweak or change to the main search algorithm itself. These updates typically happen several times a year and can have a substantial impact on search rankings across all industries and languages. They aim to improve Google’s understanding of queries and webpages, thereby enhancing the match between the intent of the user and the relevance of the pages.

On the other hand, other updates often target specific aspects of the algorithm. For instance, the Product Reviews Update specifically targets review-based content, aiming to reward in-depth, insightful reviews rather than thin, uninformative content.

Understanding the difference between these updates is crucial for an SEO consultant in Canada and website owners. While Core Updates require a broad focus on producing high-quality, relevant content, other updates may require more specific adjustments to certain types of SEO on-page optimization.

How do I know if my website was affected by an update?

Determining whether your website was affected by a Google update involves a few steps:

  1. Monitor Traffic: Use tools like Google Analytics to monitor your website’s traffic. A significant change in traffic, especially a drop, around the time of an update could be an indication that your site was affected.
  2. Check Keyword Rankings: Tools like Google Search Console can show you how your site’s keyword rankings have changed over time. If you notice a significant drop in rankings for your SEO content writing following an update, this could be a sign that the update affected your site.
  3. Compare with Industry Trends: Look at SEO news sites, forums, and social media to see if other sites in your industry are reporting changes. If many sites similar to yours are affected, it’s likely that the update had an impact on your industry.
  4. Audit Your Website: If you suspect that your site was affected, consider SEO site auditing. Check for issues that the update might have targeted, such as low-quality content, poor user experience, or technical SEO problems.

Remember, Google’s updates aim to improve the quality of search results. If your site was negatively affected, it may be that Google’s algorithms have found areas where your site could improve, you haven’t done enough link building, or it may be a case of  Google simply rewarding sites with more insightful content, giving them rankings above yours. Addressing these issues can not only help recover lost traffic but also make your site better for your users.

Google’s Core Algorithm Updates in 2023

In 2023, Google launched nine confirmed algorithmic updates, as well as a new AI search engine, the Search Generative Experience. In 2022 and 2021, Google had 10 confirmed algorithmic updates. Conversely, Google had four core updates in 2023, compared to only two in 2022. This may suggest their search algorithm is evolving faster, or is about to do so at an exponential rate.

Person conducting a Google search on a laptop

Changes to Google’s Algorithm in March 2023

The March 2023 Core Update began rolling out on March 15, 2023, and was completed 13 days later. This update was significant, similar to their Page Experience Update, with considerable changes to page rankings in Google search results being reported by various sectors.

When comparing the March 2023 update to the September 2022 Core Update, Semrush’s analysis showed that the March 2023 update was more volatile, causing a 74% increase in page-rank fluctuation than before the algorithm update.

RankRanger’s data, on the other hand, indicated that the page-rank volatility caused by the March 2023 update was about the same as the volatility experienced after Google’s September 2022 core algorithm update. They did concede, however, that the March 2023 update did have a significant impact on search rankings.

Semrush’s data showed that after this update, 8.7% of the top 10 results on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) were new and weren’t even in the top 20 pre-algorithm update.

Google Algorithm Update Agust 2023

The August 2023 Core Update was a significant event in Google’s ongoing algorithm refinement process, much like Google’s Page Experience for Desktop. It started rolling out on August 22, 2023, and took 16 days to fully implement. This update was substantial, causing considerable shifts in search rankings across a wide range of verticals.

According to Semrush data, the August 2023 core update reached a peak of 9.3 on their “Sensor” data scale of page-rank volatility a few days after the update began rolling out. In contrast, the March 2023 core update only reached about 8. Fewer verticals were affected, however, which may suggest the algorithm change was based on specific keywords – specifically those used in retail and finance.

October 2023 – A Sea Change Occurs as Google Implements Two Key Algorithm Updates

Google rolled out two updates in October that were carried out simultaneously: a core algorithm update and a spam update to reduce the number of spam websites listed in languages including Turkish, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Hindi, and Chinese. They were initiated within one day of each other, with the core update taking nine days longer to complete.

Surprisingly, data collected on the effects of these two updates show that despite the two updates, URLs either gained or lost an average of only two and a half positions on their page rankings and only registered a 7.9 on Semrush’s volatility scale. This may indicate that an adjustment(s) was made to a previous algorithm change.

Another Google Algorithm Update in November of 2023

This update was launched on November 2, 2023, and took about 26 days before it was fully rolled out.

The November 2023 Core Update reached a peak volatility of 9.3, as measured by Semrush’s Sensor data, on November 7th. This indicates a significant degree of change in search rankings compared to the October algorithm updates.

However, 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 was 10.85%.

The November 2023 Core Update also overlapped with a November 2023 Reviews Update, making it harder to pin down the cause of the page-rank volatility.

Other Significant Google Updates in 2023

Google’s February 2023 Product Reviews Update

On February 21, 2023, Google rolled out its Product Reviews Update, taking two weeks to implement. This was Google’s sixth iteration of a product reviews update. The headline was that it was the first time Google applied this update in languages other than 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 was to prioritize review content based on actual first-hand experience and research, and to de-list content merely summarizing product or service features.

To do so, Google intends to showcase reviews that include:

  • Intimate knowledge of the products.
  • Descriptions regarding use and size that aren’t available in the manufacturer’s descriptions.
  • Ratings of how a product performs in various categories.
  • Differentiators between similar products.
  • Recommendations based on the use case.
  • Information regarding upgrades on previous versions of the same product.
  • Analysis of the product’s design.
  • Multimedia, such as pictures or videos.
  • Links to multiple vendors.

Technically, this update should have only impacted product review content.

Person reading a book review

April’s Reviews System Update

The April 2023 Reviews System Update was rolled out on April 12, 2023, in the following languages: Dutch, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

This was the seventh update to Google’s reviews ranking system. It was also the first Google update that targeted more than just product reviews, including services, businesses, movies, games, destinations, and basically anything that gets user reviews online. Google changed the name of its “product reviews system” to “reviews system” to reflect this change.

According to the data, the April 2023 Reviews Update created more volatility in Google’s search results than previous updates, including the February 2023 product reviews update.

September 2023 – Google Releases its Helpful Content Update

This update, implemented between September 14, 2023, and September 28, 2023, while not causing the same fluctuations in page rankings as an algorithm update, did, however, cause more volatility than the average non-core update, creating a 3.22% change in search-result positioning.

This speaks to the intent behind the update and its impact on existing content. Google’s Helpful Content Update deployed its impressive tech to better differentiate between content written with the user in mind versus “SEO content,” content written in a way that checks off SEO boxes but provides little-to-know value or information. This is just further evidence that well-intentioned SEO practices are the only constant in the ever-changing technological landscape.

The Final Reviews Update Announcement was Made in November of 2023

Google announced that it will no longer be announcing changes to its Reviews system on November 8, 2023. They advised that moving forward, updates to the Reviews system will be regular and ongoing. This constant updating of the Reviews system means we can assume that reviews that don’t follow their guidelines for ‘good’ review content will be down-ranked into oblivion – sooner rather than later.

About the Author

Paul Teitelman - SEO Consultant

Paul is a well-respected Canadian SEO consultant and link-building expert with over 15 years of experience helping hundreds of companies rank for competitive keywords on Google. He is a Toronto-based SEO consultant who is passionate about search engine optimization and link building. Over the years, he has made a reputation for himself as a leader in the industry by consistently delivering phenomenal results to his growing client base.