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A Guide to Google’s Algorithm Updates in 2023

by | Jan 3, 2024 | Blog

As we reflect on 2023, it seems that it truly has been the year of the algorithm update. From the Product Reviews Update in February to the November Core Update, Google has kept us on our toes throughout — and it has certainly felt like a struggle to keep up at times.

As we know, there is always a lot of talk when a Google algorithm update goes live. Has your site been impacted by any updates? Well, if you’re reading this, congratulations. You made it through.

In this blog, we take you through a chronological list of all the changes that Google has sprung on SEOs and marketers this year in a compact guide. Read on to get started.

2023 algorithm updates and their impact on SEO

February 2023 – Product Reviews Update

Google announced an update to product reviews. This applied to the following languages globally: English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Polish. The purpose of the ‘Product Reviews System’ is to highlight product reviews based on experience and lose thin content pages. Therefore, when writing a product review, you want to ensure that it is written by someone who has used the product itself.

March 2023 – Core Update

In March, we saw several Core Updates focusing on providing value to users, so that sites and pages meeting the intent of the search query were better prioritised in search rankings.

April 2023 – Reviews Update

On the 12th of April 2023, Google launched its new Reviews System Update. Accompanied by plenty of new Search Central documentation, this update offered an outline of the kind of content that Google looks for when it comes to reviewing products, services, and destinations.

This review update was notable as it no longer focused on just products, it looked at websites that recommend a range of things, including services, destinations, TV shows, and movies.

Why not read our full blog on writing for E-E-A-T and the Reviews update?

August 2023 – Core Update

The second Core Update of the year launched on the 22nd of August 2023. Luckily for SEOs, this one did not cause too many issues overall.

September 2023 – Helpful Content Update

On the 14th of September 2023, the Helpful Content Update was launched. This updated the previously-released Helpful Content algorithm that focused on promoting sites that produce informative content to the user.

Read Google’s full description of what constitutes Helpful content here.

October 2023 – Spam & Core Update

In October, we saw a double-whammy with both a Spam and a Core Update. Combined, these focused on improving search quality served to the user and decreasing low-quality content in the search results.

Taking a few weeks to roll out, the Spam update aimed to reduce the visible spam in search results, particularly when it comes to cloaking, hacked, auto-generated, and scraped spam.

November 2023 – Core & Reviews Update

Starting on the 2nd of November 2023, we encountered another Core Update. Google also treated us to a Review update to boot!

Keen to keep up with the latest Google Algorithm updates? Follow the Google Search Status Dashboard and never miss an update again.

What does this all mean for your site?

Ultimately, in all the updates we have seen, it is clear that Google wants to ensure that they are serving the highest quality pages to users and meeting their search queries.

As we have read, this has been achieved — at least in part— by Google doing the following:

  • Continuously improving their understanding of keywords or searches
  • Penalising toxic backlinks and manipulative link-building processes
  • Promoting experts and those that highlight their ‘E-E-A-T’
  • And many more

All of this should be a positive thing for your site if you have helpful content written for the user, not the search engines. If your content exists to help users, they will stay longer on your website and Google will see they have promoted the correct content to the user, therefore improving your position in the search results.

To show you ‘E-E-A-T’ it is a good idea to include author profiles (EG: An SEO expert writing this blog post), certificates or qualifications and contact pages that include telephone numbers and addresses that are matched elsewhere on the internet.

Previous significant algorithm updates

While we’re on the topic, let’s spend a little time looking back at the previous algorithm updates that have shaped search today.

Panda – 2011

This update focused on ‘demoting’ low-quality content and websites, meaning that ‘spammy’ sites were harmed in search engine page rankings as a result.

Penguin – 2012

Penguin focused on bad backlinks, websites that had bought links, or followed manipulative backlink-building techniques — penalising them for doing so. You can check warnings in Google Search Console to see if you have been affected.

Hummingbird – 2013

This update worked to better understand the search query as a whole and match it with relevant results, rather than looking at the words separately.

Mobile – 2015

This update prioritised mobile-friendly websites in mobile search rankings. You can read more about being mobile-friendly and mobile-first indexing in another of our blog posts.

RankBrain – 2015

Similar to Hummingbird, this algorithm worked to look at long-tail keyword searches and provide relevant results for those — rather than for shorter, individual words.

Medic – 2018

This update was focused on E-A-T (Expertise, Authority and Trust) and YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) content — also known as websites that could affect your health, money, or life. Under ‘Medic’, Google pushed websites that highlighted their E-A-T on their website and demoted those that did not.

Bert – 2019

Lastly, the BERT algorithm (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) was a deep learning algorithm related to natural language processing, introduced to improve the understanding of searches.

Stay informed, keep complaint

With so many updates — some expanding on each other year on year and others with serious negative implications for sites that don’t comply — it can feel overwhelming to try and stay in Google’s good books all the time.

Luckily for you, we have an experienced team of SEO professionals who know their Hummingbird from their Penguin. When it comes to technical SEO, site optimisation, and content types, our team can help you keep your site adhering well to all the best practices that Google throws out there.

Get in touch with our Giants today for SEO that works. Or, in the meantime, keep up to date with our blog to hear more about the latest algorithm updates.


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