2023 Google Updates: A Year in Review

2023 Google Updates Year in Review

Our good pal, Google, is constantly implementing small updates, fixes, and tweaks to their search engine algorithm. In fact, the tech giant makes thousands of these minuscule changes every year, most of which you probably never even notice. These tiny fixes have very little impact on what SEOs do on a daily basis.

Big algorithm updates, including broad core updates, are when we see the biggest changes to the search engine results page (SERP)—and Google certainly had a lot of them to roll out this year. Over the course of 2023, we saw big update after big update shake things up almost more than ever before.

A Timeline of Google Updates in 2023

Let’s break down the timeline of major algorithm updates for 2023. These rolled out in:

  • February
  • March
  • April
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November

February – Product Reviews Update (PRU)

Rollout Period: Feb. 21, 2023 – March 7, 2023

Purpose: To improve the quality of the product reviews that appear in the search results.

Impact: The February 2023 Product Reviews Update (PRU) drastically increased ranking volatility on the SERP. Critical evaluation factors for expertise, trustworthiness, and content quality were updated across multiple languages, including English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Polish.

This first major update of 2023 introduced everyone in the world of SEO to what has become the new norm: regular volatility on the SERP.

March – Broad Core Update

Rollout Period: March 15, 2023 – March 28, 2023

Purpose: To reward and promote high-value pages with worthwhile content in all languages across all regions.

Impact: Google’s change to the way its systems assess and evaluate content sought to reward unique, high-value content in the rankings. The update elevated pages and sites with well-written content that aligned with search intent and met the standards for E-E-A-T while penalizing websites using black hat tactics.

We once more witnessed an increase in ranking volatility and fluctuations, and Google emphasized the importance of following page quality guidelines and practicing E-E-A-T.

April – Reviews Update

Rollout Period: April 12, 2023 – April 25, 2023

Purpose: To better enhance the search rankings and user experience within the SERP. The reviews algorithm was expanded to include content beyond standard product reviews.

Impact: A greater number of websites were impacted compared to past PRUs. The focus shifted away from product reviews and was expanded to create a new emphasis on Google’s review system. This system includes more than just product reviews.

With this PRU, media, services, and other materials can now be evaluated based on factors such as:

  • Recommendations
  • Opinions
  • Analyses

Websites that were previously unaffected by PRUs likely experienced ranking changes, whether positive or negative.

August – Broad Core Update

Rollout Period: Aug. 22, 2023 – Sept. 7, 2023

Purpose: To improve Google’s overall ability to assess the relevance and quality of search results.

Impact: Small, underperforming websites focused on providing high-quality content were rewarded in this update. Bigger websites that traditionally performed well with lower-quality content (often due to site authority or backlinks profiles) may have seen a drop in their rankings.

This was a broad update that did not target specific sites or pages but instead focused on Google’s own assessment capabilities.

September – Helpful Content Update (HCU)

Rollout Period: Sept. 14, 2023 – Sept. 28, 2023

Purpose: To enhance the quality of search results by identifying and rewarding websites producing helpful content.

Impact: Hosting third-party content used to be a popular strategy for gaining backlinks and was a common component of most SEO strategies. However, black hat strategies involving the use of third-party content began to push pages that did not match search intent or meet E-E-A-T standards to the front page of Google.

The Sept. 2023 Helpful Content Update specifically targeted websites hosting third-party content on their primary and subdomains. These sites likely saw decreased rankings, as did websites that altered publication dates in an effort to fake updated or fresh content.

We also saw Google relaxing its attitude toward content generated by artificial intelligence (AI). In one of the most notable shifts in guidance in recent years, the documentation for helpful content guidance shifted its wording from “content written by people for people” to “content created for people.”

October – Spam Update

Rollout Period: Oct. 4, 2023 – Oct. 19, 2023

Purpose: To reduce the amount of spam content in Google’s search results.

Impact: This update targeted multiple spam tactics across several non-English languages, including Indonesian, Hindi, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Turkish. Specifically, websites using tactics like cloaking, scraped content, and auto-generation saw a drop in their rankings.

Although the update did not target English language content, some sites and pages primarily producing content in English were also negatively affected by using these types of spam techniques.

October – Broad Core Update

Rollout Period: Oct. 5, 2023 – Oct. 19, 2023

Purpose: To improve rankings and search results through the promotion of high-quality content.

Impact: The SERP saw significant changes during this update. Top-ranking pages that had been consistently in the top 10 could no longer be found on the first several pages of search results.

This update created a renewed emphasis on helpful content and positive user experiences. The full impact of this update can be difficult to pin down since it overlapped with the spam update released at the same time.

November – Broad Core Update

Rollout Period: Nov. 2, 2023 – Nov. 28, 2023

Purpose: To provide the most relevant content in search results.

Impact: The Nov. 2023 Broad Core Update targeted a wide range of features to reward pages with high-quality content, refine the process of evaluating and displaying reviews, and enhance the overall quality of search results.

This comprehensive update did not penalize content. In other words, if your site saw a drop in rankings, it wasn’t because you did something wrong—it was because someone else was doing something better.

November – Reviews Update

Rollout Period: Nov. 8, 2023 – Ongoing

Purpose: To adjust and enhance Google’s evaluation and use of reviews in search results.

Impact: At the time of publication, this update is still in the process of being rolled out. The most significant impact is perhaps Google’s comment that it will no longer be announcing reviews updates as they happen. This is because rather than releasing big, impactful updates to how it assesses reviews, it will instead be constantly making updates and changes on a regular basis.

This is a new era for Google, marking continuous evolution and change for its systems and algorithms.

Looking Ahead to SEO in 2024

Change is the one constant that we can expect from Google. Here are some notable changes you can expect in 2024:

  • Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) will exit beta and roll out to everyone.
  • New spam prevention and authentication requirements will go into effect in Feb. 2024.
  • Universal Analytics and API will no longer be accessible as of July 1, 2024.
  • Google AdSense will shift to per-impression payments.

And perhaps even more than in 2023, we can expect to see substantial shifts in not just search results but also in the way that we search in 2024.

Search Generative Experience (SGE) for 2024

Google’s SGE provides AI-powered summarized results for search queries. These are no-click results, which provide searchers with an answer or result that they don’t actually have to click. While “position zero” results were first introduced back in 2014 with the featured snippet, SGE is expected to build and expand on the impact of no-click search results.

More than ever, prioritizing the creation of high-quality content that matches search intent, honors E-E-A-T, and is created for real people will be critical.

Preparing for the Future of Search with GAVL Marketing

The future of search will continue to grow, change, and evolve. A commitment to ongoing, incremental changes is more important than ever. Having a “set it and forget it” mindset won’t fly in today’s competitive world of online rankings.

Dynamic website design, breathtaking video production, and outstanding content production are the most effective ways for lawyers and law offices to stay ahead of the search curve in the new year.

It can be easy to bemoan every change that Google makes to its search algorithm. But I believe it’s important to face every big algorithm update as a new and exciting challenge to meet head-on. Because ultimately, these changes should align with our own goals—to make search better.

As we greet new and evolving opportunities in 2024, I’m excited to see the way that we can all help shape the world of search for the better.