Google Search Algorithm Updates for Q4 2023

The Gist

  • SEO disruption. Google’s October 2023 Core Update saw considerable volatility and stirred the SEO community.
  • Spam overhaul. Google’s spam update extends to multiple languages, targeting various deceptive techniques.
  • Quality focus. Emphasis on helpful content, with Google pushing against AI-generated and unhelpful content. 

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on October 31, 2023 to include new data and information. 

In a single month, Google rolled out significant changes that could spell volatility for countless websites. From a core update that echoed across the SEO community to a dedicated spam crackdown expanding its reach to new languages, the search giant continues its relentless pursuit for highly relevant search results.

As website owners and digital marketers scramble to adapt, understanding these updates becomes crucial to maintaining visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). Dive in as we dissect the latest algorithmic shifts that might change the game for online content.

Google’s October 2023 Core Update

The October 2023 core update is the third core update of the year, with Google making broad changes to its search algorithms and systems. This update started rollout on October 5 and completed October 19.

Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable commented on the significant volatility caused by this core update. “I cannot say enough how big of an impact this update had within the SEO community and probably wider,” he wrote.

Core updates are broad changes to Google’s search algorithms and systems that can significantly impact how web pages rank, but there’s nothing within these updates that targets specific pages or sites.

The overall goal of core updates, according to Google, is to ensure they’re delivering on their mission to present helpful and reliable results for searchers. They likened it to creating a list of the top 100 movies in 2021. A few years later, you refresh the list, and you might add movies that didn’t exist three years ago, or reassess some films and realize they deserve a different spot.

Related Article: What’s New in Search? Top SEO Strategies 

Google’s October 2023 Spam Update

Overlapping with the October 2023 core update was Google’s new spam update, which began rollout on October 4 and ended October 20. Google’s tweet on the subject said the update to their spam detectors will “improve our coverage in many languages and spam types.”

This update applies globally and improves coverage in Turkish, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Hindi, Chinese and other languages. Common types of spam that Google targets include:

  • Cloaking: Presenting different content to users vs. search engines, with the intent of manipulating SERPs and misleading users.
  • Doorways: Sites or pages created to rank for specific, similar search queries. They lead users to intermediate pages that aren’t as helpful as the final destination.
  • Scraped content: Content taken from other, more reputable sites that doesn’t provide any additional value to users.
  • Spammy auto-generated content: Content generated programmatically without adding anything original or offering sufficient value.
  • Hidden text and links: Content placed on a page designed to manipulate search engines that’s not easily viewable by human users.
  • Keyword stuffing: Filling a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate the SERPs.

Google said companies that noticed an impact from this update should review its spam policies to make sure they’re in compliance.

Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update

Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update, which finished rollout on September 28, was not a core update, but still targeted content designed to rank well in search engines, specifically AI-generated content, or low-quality and unhelpful content.

This update promotes helpful content, but soon will also demote unhelpful content. It’s global, targeting all languages and, according to Barry Schwartz, Google said this update will be felt more for online educational materials, entertainment, shopping and tech-related content.

Danny Sullivan, Google’s Public Liaison for Search, tweets on September 2023 Helpful Content Update

Danny Sullivan, Google’s Public Liaison for Search, added in a Tweet, “In addition to making it easier to find authentic perspectives, we’re also improving how we rank results in Search overall, with greater focus on content with unique expertise and experience.”

Any content on sites determined to have high amounts of unhelpful content overall is less likely to perform well on search, according to Google. “For this reason, removing unhelpful content could help the rankings of your other content.”

Their guidelines on how to create helpful, people-first content includes questions to self-assess your site, such as:

  • Does the content provide original information, reporting, research or analysis?
  • Does the page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
  • Would you expect to see this content referenced by a printed magazine or book?
  • Is the content mass produced and outsourced to a large number of creators?

Related Article: The AI and Content Marketing Paradox: Empowering and Threatening the Future

Google’s August 2024 Core Update

Google’s second major core update finished rolling out on September 7, with the overall goal of improving search results. The August 2024 Core Update targeted all content types in all regions in all languages. This update doesn’t penalize content, according to Google, but instead rewards great pages.

Some pages that saw a drop in performance might see a full recovery after the rollout is complete. However, recovery is not guaranteed. And, if you make improvements to your content, it’s performance might not recover until the next broad core update is released.

Google recommends that underperforming sites or pages focus on creating high-quality content. Content creators who want better results in SERPs would do well to follow the E-E-A-T roadmap:

  • Experience: Does content demonstrate it was produced with some degree of experience?
  • Expertise: Does the content creator have the necessary knowledge or skill for the topic?
  • Authoritativeness: Is the website or content creator a known go-to source for the topic?
  • Trust: Is there independent, reliable evidence that the website or content creator is considered trustworthy?

Navigating the Evolving SEO Landscape

Google updates its search algorithms constantly. And it’s important for marketers, content creators and SEO pros alike to keep up with these changes to secure and maintain their rankings in SERPs.

Keep in mind that it can be hard to pin down how and why performance fluctuates.Those constant changes Google makes to its search algorithms? They don’t tell the public about all of them, including smaller core updates. Still, despite these challenges, one thing remains clear: a commitment to producing high-quality, user-centric content is always the best compass for success in search engine optimization.

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