In a world where a lot can happen in a year’s time, SEO professionals and marketers need to constantly be aware of the latest changes in Google and the world of search engine optimization.
Some of the most notable changes in Google SEO include the crackdown on link spam, the shift from creating content specifically for search engines to a more "people-friendly" approach, and the incorporation of AI in Search.
In this article, we will cover some of the biggest and most significant Google SEO updates that have been released in the last year. We’ll also go over some of the most noticeable SERP changes that have been rolled out within this period.
This article is divided into two sections:
- Google SEO updates: any updates that can have an impact on a site’s rankings and traffic.
- Google SERP changes: this includes changes to the Google Search user interface and features.
For this article, we’ve polled some experts to give their feedback on the most noticeable algorithm updates that they’ve seen within the last year.
We’d like to thank the following experts for contributing to this article:
- Josef Carmeli, CEO @ If-So, a WordPress personalization plugin
- Kelly van Wyk, SEO Manager @ RoomRacoon, a hotel management tech company
- AJ Silberman-Moffitt, Senior Editor @ Tandem, a digital agency based in Fort Lauderdale
- Rachel Griffiths, Search Marketing Specialist @ Oddball Marketing, a marketing agency in Sydney
- Kacper Rafalski, Team Leader @ Netguru, a web and mobile app developer based in Poland
Google SEO Updates
These are the “main” Google SEO updates that influence how websites and pages perform in the SERPs.
Core Algorithm Updates
Google algorithm updates are a common occurrence. In fact, Google makes hundreds, if not thousands, of changes to its algorithms every year.
According to Search Engine Land, Google made about 4,500 changes to Search in 2020. We can expect that this figure will remain the same or even more for 2023.
With that being said, most of these updates are so minuscule that you won’t even notice a significant change in your rankings and traffic.
However, every now and again, Google releases a major update to its search engine algorithm. These are called “Core Algorithm Updates” and they tend to have a noticeable impact on rankings and the SERPs.
Image source: Google
According to Google, “Core updates are designed to increase the overall relevancy of our search results and make them more helpful and useful for everyone.”
Since May 2022, Google has released 3 Core Algorithm Updates:
- May 2022 Core Update
- September 2022 Core Update
- March 2023 Core Update
Although Google doesn’t give specifics on changes, you can more or less figure out which elements the new update penalizes or rewards.
According to Lean Summits, one of the key takeaways from this update is focused on quality.
"Creating valuable and relevant content that is customized to the demands of your target audience will help you rank higher in search results."
Other people have noticed more significant changes in local search rankings.
Sterling Sky, a local SEO agency, has noticed that the update appears to have prioritized primary business categories in Google Business as a ranking factor.
They've also observed that the business categories have increased a business's ability to rank for broad match searches.
For example, a search for “electronics” now turns up more “computer store” listings, while a search for “furniture” brings up more “upholstery shop” listings. Similarly, a search for “baby store” now turns up more “clothing” type listings.
Joy Hawkings, founder of Sterling Sky and administrator of Local Search Forum, has noted, "I'm still digging into this but from what I can see thus far, most of the major changes happened in the local packs right at the end"
Here is an example of changes in local rankings for a personal injury lawyer from before the update to after the update (March 13 to April 3).
Rachel Griffiths, an SEO specialist at Oddball Marketing, mentions that some of the most notable changes in Google SEO that their agency witnessed were during the March core update.
“Our analysis indicates that websites with low-value content and excessive keyword stuffing were particularly impacted.”
Cape & Bay, another US-based marketing and branding agency has indicated that the March 2023 will continue the trend of focusing on the user experience.
"Sites that provide an excellent user experience, including fast load times, easy navigation, and engaging content, saw an increase in traffic. Sites that are difficult to navigate or have intrusive ads may see a decline in their search engine rankings."
An example of a website that benefited from the March 2023 Core Update is the Houston Hand and Wrist Center, a well-known medical center in Houston.
Their website saw increases in the number of keywords they rank for in Google.
As you can see the total number of organic keyword they're ranking for have increased from the low on 15 March 2023, and have been increasing ever since then.
An example of a website that got hit really badly by the May 2022 Core Algorithm update is Siteslike.com, a website that aggregates sites that are similar to one another.
Unfortunately, that's the only information that's on this website.
Here we can see the impact of not providing any value or the lack of high-quality content on your website.
Helpful Content Update
Google released two help content updates since August 2022.
Luckily, Google has given specifics on what the update entails and how webmasters can ensure that their websites benefit from these updates.
So, what are the helpful content updates all about?
These updates reward reliable, people-friendly content, instead of content that is written entirely just for gaining higher search engine rankings.
Image source: Foundation Inc
Google actually provides a series of questions that webmasters and marketers can ask themselves to ensure that their content is people-first.
These questions include:
- Does your content provide original research, information, or analysis?
- Are you able to display first-hand experience and knowledge?
- Is the content a comprehensive and substantial description of the topic?
- Does the content provide more value than other similar pages?
- Is the content free from spelling and grammatical errors?
- Do the title and headline provide an accurate summary of the content that’s free of clickbait?
Another element of the helpful content update is the page experience. This checks the following:
- Do the site’s pages have good Core Web Vitals scores?
- Is the page secure for users to access and interact with?
- Does the site load and display properly on all devices?
Google also mentions that your website needs to have a primary focus or purpose.
This statement makes it clear that content creators and marketers need to stick to the main topic or niche of their websites.
So if your website talks about email marketing, don’t add content about social media marketing or SEO.
Kacper Rafalski at Netguru states that Google’s helpful content update is one of particular importance and one that webmasters should pay special attention to.
“This update is a clear nudge from Google that the focus should be on creating content that is not just keyword-heavy, but rather genuinely useful and meaningful to the user. It encourages us to step into our audience's shoes and create content that addresses their needs, questions, and pain points.”
E-A-T to E-E-A-T
Tying into the help content update is Google’s addition of an extra “E” to their E-A-T acronym.
The new acronym, E-E-A-T, stands for Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trust, and is a way for search quality raters to evaluate the quality of the search results.
The addition of the extra “E” or “Experience” looks to determine whether the content was produced by an individual with some degree of experience.
Image source: SEO Inc
Google gives a great example of this in real life, “if you're looking for information on how to correctly fill out your tax returns, that's probably a situation where you want to see content produced by an expert in the field of accounting.”
To determine whether your content satisfies the new E-E-A-T guidelines, you should keep the following in mind:
- Does the person who created the content have relevant industry experience?
- Can the reader easily find who wrote the content?
- Is there an author byline on the page with more information about the author, their background, and the topics they write about?
Josef Carmeli and his team at If-So, a WordPress personalization plugin, place an emphasis on the “Authority” aspect of E-E-A-T.
“With the rise of auto-generated content, Google increased the emphasis on the authority of the content's author to ensure that the content is created by real people with real experiences. Creating an author bio which proves that the author has knowledge and experience talking about a particular topic is of importance to us.”
We should state that E-E-A-T is not a direct Google ranking factor. However, it’s still important to keep these guidelines in mind since Google aims to serve results with good E-E-A-T metrics.
Link Spam Update
Google rolled out the December 2022 Link Spam update at the end of last year. This update aims to “neutralize” the effect of spammy, unnatural links.
Thanks to SpamBrain, Google can now detect which sites are engaging in spammy link-building tactics, including the purchasing and selling of backlinks for ranking purposes.
Image source: Google
Websites that have these unnatural links pointing to them will likely see a decrease in rankings because of this update.
Since this update aims to crack down on link spam, websites that participate in excessive link exchanges are also at risk of getting penalized.
As AJ Silberman-Moffit from Tandem notes, not all backlinks are created equal.
“Many people believe backlinks are good. But what if those links are coming from low-domain or SPAM sites? Do such links hold the same weight as those from websites with a higher domain authority or a lower SPAM score? The difference is that one will make a positive impact, while the other will affect you negatively. Don't think that any link is a good link.”
Product Review Algorithm Update
This next set of updates is of vital importance to anyone running, owning, or marketing a product reviews website such as Wirecutter.
Google has released three “Product Review Algorithm” updates since July 2022.
These updates are aimed at rewarding high-quality, in-depth product review articles that give more information than what you’d find on the manufacturer or reseller's websites.
So the takeaway is that you shouldn’t just post generic information about the products you’re reviewing.
Google also wants to be able to see that you’ve got first-hand, personal experience testing the products you’re reviewing by including information such as comparative analysis, quantitative findings, benefits, and drawbacks of the product.
Other things you can do to demonstrate first-hand experience is adding your own photos and videos of the products, instead of stock imagery or manufacturer photos.
In fact, this is one of Google’s guidelines for writing reviews, “Provide evidence such as visuals, audio, or other links of your own experience with what you are reviewing, to support your expertise and reinforce the authenticity of your review.”
Furthermore, you should incorporate first-person pronouns such as “We” or “I” when writing product reviews. This is to signal that a review represents an actual product experience from the writer.
Lastly, you should consider adding links to multiple sellers or retailers to give readers the flexibility to buy from a store of their choice.
In the above example, you can see how Wirecutter added product links to Walmart and Amazon so that users can conveniently navigate to the vendor that they prefer.
Google SERP Changes
Other than the various Google SEO updates that were rolled out in the last year, Google also made changes to the different elements of the user interface and SERP features.
This next section will cover the different changes that Google has made to the way that users and marketers interact with the platform.
Over the last few years, Google has increased the prominence of SERP features such as Featured Snippets, Knowledge Panels, Related Questions, and video carousels.
The days of SERPs only consisting of 10 website results are long gone and marketers need to take advantage of all SERP features.
Instead of only focusing on a spot in one of the top 10 search engine results, SEOs should think of how they can optimize for these SERP features, especially Featured Snippets.
Rachel from Oddball Marketing also notes the importance of optimizing content for Featured Snippets.
"We have observed that Google has placed increased emphasis on Featured Snippets, prioritizing concise answers to user queries.”
Ranking in the Featured Snippets box is great for increasing organic click-through rates and building your brand awareness.
Google Business Dashboard
One of the most notable changes in local SEO from Google is the removal of the separate Google Business dashboard.
Instead, the entire Google Business user interface has been directly integrated into the search results.
Don’t worry, only signed-in users who have access to your Google Business Profile will see this.
The new interface can be accessed by typing “my business” into the search bar on Google. The user will be shown all of their listing settings, messages, reviews, and other Google Business features.
Love it or hate it, this new interface makes it easier to edit and manage all aspects of your Google Business Profile.
AI in SERPs
There’s no doubt that AI and its impact on Google SEO is a popular topic among marketers and search engine optimization professionals.
Kelly van Wyk, SEO manager at RoomRaccoon expects that AI in search will become more dominant over the next few months.
“As we’re seeing more advancements in natural language processing and machine learning, AI in search will show more accurate and personalized search results, voice search optimization, and improved user experiences.”
You’ve probably also read about the battle for AI dominance between Microsoft and Google.
Although Google hasn’t publicly released and integrated generative AI into the Search experience yet, we’ve seen screenshots and glimpses of this in action at Google’s 2023 I/O event.
This integration will change the way that people interact with and use Google going forward.
As a result, SEOs and content creators will have to rethink how they write content on their sites.
Google states that “Context will be carried over from question to question, to help you more naturally continue your exploration.”
So instead of only being a place where you can find answers to questions, generative AI will transform Google Search into a conversation-centric experience.
An example of this could be when a user asks Google what to pack on a skiing trip to Canada. Generative AI will suggest outfit ideas based on real-world factors such as the current weather.
However, it doesn’t stop there, the AI may then prompt further conversation and engagement from the user by suggesting content relevant to a skiing trip such as:
- How to ski
- Best places to ski in Canada
- Essential gear for a skiing trip
Google will gradually make this experience available to all users, starting with US consumers who’ve joined the waiting list or who have signed up for Search Labs.
Because of the stiff competition that Google is facing from Bing and other search engines, you can expect to see further updates to its search algorithm and user interface features.
The aspects that webmasters and SEOs should focus on with these changes include:
- Before you publish any blog article on your website, you need to ensure that it follows the guidelines for creating human-first content.
- Ensure that all blog articles feature author bylines that clearly state the writer's relevant experience in the industry or topic.
- Avoid building backlinks from websites that engage in the buying and selling of links or excessive link exchanges.
- Focus on optimizing content for Google's Featured Snippets.
- When publishing product reviews, write the review from the perspective of a user. Include original photographs and videos of the product in action, highlight advantages and disadvantages, and make use of "I" and "we" to make the text more personal.
If you want to take advantage of these updates and avoid getting penalized, you need to ensure that you stay on top of these changes.
What other updates have you noticed in Google and SEO over the last year? Tweet to us @seoptimer.