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With the end of 2023 creeping ever-so-closer, the experts at Circulate Digital wanted to reflect on how the SEO landscape has changed throughout the year. Following on from 2022 with the emergence of the Helpful Content updates, the internet has been getting to grips with the development of AI, meaning that search engines have needed to think fast on how to rank content that has not been written by humans.

So, what’s different in 2023? Content has continued to be king throughout the year, with a higher emphasis on trustworthiness, high-quality content and authoritativeness, which have all appeared to take precedence as the most valued ranking factor. This, combined with a strong user experience has placed more emphasis on ensuring that websites are not only a positive experience for users, but also a useful one.

From content clusters to site speed, this article will break down all the essential information you need to get up-to-speed with the SEO algorithm updates throughout 2023. Simply keep reading to learn more…

So, what exactly has changed for SEO in 2023?

As shown on the Google Ranking Dashboard, there have been 9 new algorithm updates that have challenged SEO-ers throughout 2023, and an additional update in October to fix a bug that was affecting rankings. The number of updates this year isn’t unusual, but the timings of them have been somewhat unpredictable, especially in relation to the surprise November Core Update, which immediately followed the October one.

Algorithm updates are typically broken down into 3 categories. This includes Google’s annual Core Updates, typically rolled out in Spring and Autumn of each year, Review Updates and Spam Updates.

The Core Updates are rolled out to improve the quality of search results for users, a factor that ensures Google is always providing users with the best and most-reliable service. Google’s Review Updates are used to verify that users are being provided with the most reliable, informative and fair reviews of products, businesses and services. Lastly, the Spam Updates are essential for penalising spam pages or websites and safeguarding users from any type of fraud.

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Google’s Core Updates

Google’s Core Updates throughout 2023 included March, August, October and November changes. While Google, and other search engines, continually work to improve their service and ranking potentials, only the largest and most impactful updates are announced. Typically, the announcements of a core update is followed by turmoil in the SEO world as a result of ranking volatility.

From here, the SEO community is able to depict and debate what exactly has changed, and why. While no official guidance is provided by Google, there is general advice provided that details what to do if your website has been hit by recent changes. This includes re-assessing your content, demonstrating that your website showcases up-to-date knowledge and expertise, and meets as many Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (EAT) guidelines as possible.

It’s been argued by the SEO community that the 2023 trends for rankings have included a focus on how to use AI content correctly, the new use of voice search, the growing power of image and video searches (especially with the growth of large social media platforms such as TikTok), the development of Featured Snippets, and more.

Google’s Review Updates 2023

Google’s Review Updates have been running since April 2021 and have focused on ensuring that the fairest, most informal and trustworthy reviews are the first ones that users experience. This year, we’ve seen 3 changes rolled out which have been large enough to create impact, with the first being in February 2023 and the last being rolled out in mid-November.

The point of reviews is that they help users to make a fair and informed decision on whether or not to purchase a product or service. Usually, these updates focus on ensuring that the highest quality reviews are rewarded with the top spots.

A useful tip to ensure that your website gets the most out of reviews is to produce guidance for users that follow Google’s advice on producing high quality evaluations. Once published, ensure that you keep up-to-date with responding to any feedback to show that you’re an engaging and proactive company.

Google’s Spam Update 2023

Spam updates are essential for ensuring that the websites who follow all the best practices are rewarded, and the ones that don’t aren’t rewarded with high ranking positions. This not only guarantees that websites adhere to security guidelines put in place, but also protects users from fraud or any other scam websites.

There has only been 1 spam update this year which was rolled out in October 2023. Here, Google targeted ‘spammy’ websites that damaged the quality of search results. This included websites that:

  • Used automated content
  • Used boilerplate or plagiarised content
  • Were security compromised (such as hacked)
  • Were false affiliated sites.

Ensuring that your website adheres to EAT guidelines and has a naturally built domain authority appears to be a successful tactic in rebuilding any rankings lost through this algorithm change. For more information, you can also explore Google’s Spam Policy.

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What are the most important ranking factors in 2023?

A variety of updates follow a variety of changes. While there are over 200 ranking factors to consider, there are some that have higher importance than others. This year, we’ve seen further certification that content is king. But not just any content, specifically high-quality, reliable content written by a trustworthy person within the industry. This is especially important if your website meets a YMYL niche, which requires extra caution and consideration into your content.

In fact, the overall importance of EAT ranking factors has grown extensively this year. Google wants to see that your information comes from reliable sources, and that your website can be trusted. According to Google’s Guidelines, this includes website reputation (built through backlinks), accreditations of any content creators, page quality and more.

Keeping your website up-to-date is also important to get your website ranking. SEO-ers have discovered that content clusters, posted regularly, is a factor which not only helps you to gain more top-spots, but target a wide variety of keywords linked to your niche. Ensuring that information on your website does not go outdated is also valuable. To avoid this, consider re-visiting old blogs and updating any content in which the guidelines, beliefs or general information has changed over time.

In terms of off-page ranking factors, your site speed and overall user experience now plays a bigger role in ranking than ever before. Ensuring that you regularly review the speed of your website, using tools such as PageSpeed Insights, and carry out any relevant fixes should help you to keep on top of this.

Need some help with your SEO? Talk to our experts at Circulate Digital

Let’s face it – SEO is a constant dance of change. What’s considered a top-ranking factor today is likely to shape-shift again in the coming year. Feeling lost in this ever-evolving landscape? Don’t worry; that’s where our expertise comes in.

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