Google’s search algorithm is constantly evolving to better serve users, but major “core” updates that significantly impact search rankings do not occur often.
In October 2023, Google rolled out one of its broadest core algorithm updates in recent years. This update analyzed the visible impacts across industries, factors Google may have targeted, and best practices for sites to evaluate and prepare for future changes.
What is a Google Core Algorithm Update?
At the foundation of Google’s search engine is its core ranking algorithm. This algorithm evaluates hundreds or thousands of signals to understand webpages and determine their search result rankings.
A “core update” refers to significant changes directly made to this underlying algorithm itself, beyond just refining existing signals. It modifies the core system processing all data signals that determine rankings.
Core updates target the algorithm, rather than other more focused updates relating to spam or technique issues. Because they impact the core evaluation process, core updates can cause widespread volatility in search result rankings across industries until the changes fully disseminate through Google’s index over several weeks.
Some turbulence in rankings is to be expected as sites strive to understand and adapt to a new algorithmic status quo.
Analysis of the Significant October 2023 Core Update
Google confirmed on October 19, 2023, that the October 2023 Core Update had fully rolled out after nearly two weeks of changes. This represented one of the longest updating periods for a core update based on previous timelines.
Scope of Changes
According to preliminary observations, this update caused significant short-term volatility in search rankings between October 10th through 12th and again over the subsequent weekend leading up to its completion.
However, without aggregated data from analytics platforms, it remains difficult to quantify the full breadth and depth of impacts. Some initial SEO reaction online complained of major downward movements.
The update began on October 5th, just one day after a confirmed spam update, and concluded on October 19th spanning almost 14 days. This exceeded the typical rollout windows of past core updates averaging around 1 week. The prolonged timeframe likely points to Google conducting an especially thorough re-evaluation of its index and algorithms.
Importance for Publishers
Given core updates can positively or negatively influence organic traffic, conversions and revenue, they represent a significant factor for all digital content owners and marketers to monitor. Seeing movements post-update helps discern whether changes originate from the site or Google.
Insights from Recent Core Updates
Google has released several major core algorithm updates in the past few years that have significantly impacted search rankings and traffic for many websites. Here is a timeline of recent updates along with key outcomes observed:
- November 2021 Core Update: One of the slower updates to fully rollout but analyses found it focused heavily on website experience signals like speed, interactivity, and responsiveness to user touchpoints. It emphasized depth over breadth of content and authority over aggregation.
- June 2021 Core Update: While a gradual rollout, this ended up being a significant “helpful content” update prioritizing factors like original reporting, expertise, and quality over links or social shares alone. Many news and publisher sites saw traffic volatility for weeks.
- July 2021 Core Update: This appeared to incorporate some aspects of the June 2021 changes while also targeting other areas like commercial intent queries and local search packs more forcefully. E-commerce and local business listings saw revisions.
- May 2022 Broad Core Update: This was one of the fastest updates to take full effect, spanning just a few days. It assessed websites more thoroughly based on factors like authoritativeness, expertise, and inclusion of high-quality original reporting rather than aggregation.
- September 2022 Broad Core Update: Impacts were noticeably less sweeping than prior core updates, potentially incorporating more gradual refinements focused on content quality rather than massive rankings changes industry-wide overnight.
- March 2023 Core Update: Lasting from March 15-28, it centered on expertise, originality, and a positive user experience. Medical, financial, and news publishers saw volatility until stabilizing through experience tweaks.
- August 2023 Core Update: Running from August 22-September 7, this again evaluated domains’ helpfulness, expertise, credibility, and inclusion of unique rather than duplicate or thin content across the web. E-commerce and travel verticals reported visibility changes.
Parsing these updates’ key focal areas enables anticipating future changes’ possible emphases for proactive optimization.
Industries and Categories Impacted
Given its “broad” scope, websites across many topical categories experienced visibility shifts in the initial aftermath of the October 2023 core update. Some of the industries most prominently impacted in the early days included:
- News Publishing: Sites in this category saw significant declines in traffic and discoverability, including large publishers like The New York Times. This suggests changes to how Google evaluates and surfaces news content.
- E-commerce: Etailers and marketplaces faced turbulence, particularly on mobile. Companies reporting impacts included eBay, Amazon sellers, and smaller merchants. Adjustments were likely made to prioritize excellent shopping experiences.
- Travel: Hospitality, flights, activities and travels sites saw performance volatility worldwide. Google may have refined how it understands and fulfills travel/vacation related queries.
- Technology: Both consumer-focused tech blogs and industry resources experienced changes. The algorithm updates potentially focused more on usability and customer-centric tech data.
- Healthcare: Health information sites and medical publishers were widely impacted. Google likely retuned its approach to serve high-quality healthcare/wellness content to users.
- Financial Services: Banks, investing resources, and Fintech companies reported issues. The changes seemed aimed at optimizing for authoritative finance information seeking.
Overall, the dispersed impacts across industries suggested the core algorithm itself underwent changes rather than targeting niches. Very few major domains avoided at least some fluctuation.
Factors Potentially Targeted by the Update
Looking at past algorithm behaviors provides context into what factors Google may have revised:
- Content Quality: More emphasis on depth, thoroughness and usefulness vs shallow pages.
- User Experience: Stronger prioritization of satisfying search intent and page usability on all devices.
- Authoritativeness: Refinements to evaluating expertise, trustworthiness and accuracy of information sources.
- Mobile Optimization: Increased weighting of mobile-friendliness, performance and responsiveness.
- Technical SEO: Continued importance placed on core web vitals and other user-centric loading and interactivity metrics.
- Links & Backlinks: Potential adjustments to how link profiles and high-quality backlinks influence search rankings.
Over time, tracking metrics in these areas offered clues on where sites needed to enhance user experiences and domain authority to align with Google’s evolving standards.
Notable Early Impacts Reported
How long do impacts from core updates typically persist? Past experiences show that ranking and traffic fluctuations resulting from core algorithm changes can linger for several months as websites work to optimize their presence.
Quick fixes alone rarely undo the damage caused by algorithm updates – diligent and thoughtful improvements based on user needs have shown the best long-term results.
However, prioritizing quality content, user experience, and serving users well positions websites to withstand changes and regain lost visibility in the long run through continuous learning, testing and iteration.
Tracking and Monitoring Performance Post-Update
- Careful performance tracking helps understand the nature and extent of changes:
- Keyword rankings and traffic shifts can be analyzed in Search Console and various analytics tools such as Google Analytics.
- Technical issues are addressed by auditing page speeds and conducting mobile testing.
- Backlink profile adjustments are monitored using tools like Ahrefs and Moz.
- Competitor strategy shifts and newly effective tactics are identified.
- Industry data from third parties provides broader context and benchmarks.
- Direct user feedback pinpoints friction points needing attention.
Diligent tracking facilitates focusing optimization work where it will be most impactful after algorithm updates.
Preparing for Future Algorithm Changes
Major updates emphasize being adaptable, iterative and prioritizing users. Tactics for readiness include:
- Evaluating page depth, structure and focus on key information.
- Targeting long-tail, nuanced queries beyond top keywords.
- Swiftly fixing any technical or performance issues.
- Building authority through original, high-quality reporting.
- Conducting comprehensive mobile experience audits.
- Monitoring link profiles for unused or unnecessary links over time.
- Tracking discussions on observed algorithm behaviors.
- Continuous testing and learning from small experiments.
This agile, data-driven approach helps websites withstand future shifts in Google’s evaluation methods.
Industry Impacts Six Months Later
Six months on, certain industries will find renewed stability while others might face ongoing challenges:
- News publishers may regain traffic with prioritized user experiences.
- Ecommerce leaders rebuilt visibility through mobile optimizations.
- Medical publishers enhanced authority and expertise in rankings.
- The travel sector stabilized with refreshed user-focused strategies.
- YouTube creators refined technical SEO, seeing restored discoverability.
- Cryptocurrency domains saw protracted declines without adjustments.
Industries adapting strategies found long-term success, while slow changes led to persisting impacts.
Core updates motivate re-examining alignment with users and evolving industry best practices. Data-driven optimization better prepares for future changes ahead. Sites elevating helpful, meaningful experiences tend to weather short-term volatility and strengthen their position long-term. Continuous improvement mindsets serve websites well to proactively understand and benefit from Google’s perpetual algorithm refinements.