On September 7th, 16 days and 3 hours after its initial release, the rollout of Google’s 2023 August core update was completed, marking the company’s second big algorithm change of the year.
While details of the update remain uncertain at this stage, its potential impact on ranking and site performance means brand owners need to get ahead of the situation and try to understand how Google’s ranking systems have been altered.
In this article, we explore the purpose of Google’s 2023 August core update, its implications for site performance, and how to recover if your traffic takes a hit over the coming weeks.
What are core updates?
‘Core updates’ is the term Google uses to describe significant and sweeping changes made to its algorithms and systems, typically every 2–3 months. As Google puts it, ‘The changes are about improving how our systems access content overall.’
What this means is that they’re training their systems to understand different and more nuanced elements of quality and value in content. As such, with each major system recalibration comes a reshuffle of site rankings as per the new assessment criteria.
Why we care about Google’s core updates
Every time Google rolls the dice with a core algorithm update, one of three things can happen as the ranks shift:
Your site performance improves: It could be that your content was under-rewarded by older, more rudimentary Google algorithms. As these systems become more sophisticated and new quality criteria are implemented, it’s possible that your site will get its due and experience greater visibility, and in turn, boosted organic traffic, conversions, and revenue.
Your site performance dips: If the change to Google’s main algorithms and ancillary systems doesn’t favour your content, and in fact finds it to have been overvalued before, it might fall in the rankings, leading to less visibility, less organic traffic, fewer conversions, and reduced revenue.
Nothing changes: A core update doesn’t guarantee upward or downward momentum in Google’s SERPs. It’s possible that the amended algorithms agree with their older iteration, or perhaps certain aspects of your content have increased in value while others have decreased, balancing the difference.
Knowing when Google updates are going to happen and establishing as much as you can about what’s actually changing are the only ways to brace for impact and take appropriate action to start the recovery process. In addition, the right SEO strategy and maintaining technical and backlink health in line with the latest Google guidance and announcements can reduce the impact of future updates.
With that said, let’s focus on what we know about the August update.
The August update
Google prefers to keep its cards close to its chest during the rollout of these significant changes, but the company rationale behind the August update has been particularly vague.
Of course, Google’s general motive will always be to improve search experience for users, but the ways in which this goal is met are often kept under wraps despite the scale of impact they might have on website performance.
Understandably, this builds quite a bit of tension as brands wait blind for the details to gradually unravel by way of their analytics tools - but we needn’t be so passive.
Google’s silence on the matter speaks volumes!
Core updates are BIG, meaning there are a lot of potentialities for things to go wrong, i.e. bugs in the new systems, errors in execution, unexpected results, or changes simply not being well-received by users.
To minimise disruption and smooth out the release of a major algorithm update, Google tends to implement what appear to be small, discrete updates, that are, in actual fact, fragments of the bigger change to come.
If something goes wrong with these drip-fed constituent updates, they’re easily withdrawn, fixed, and re-released, but trying to do the same when they’re already woven into the body of a larger update isn’t as simple - you can think of it as taking a sledgehammer to a load-bearing wall in a house that’s already built.
What this means is that we can speculate with some confidence that the August update focused primarily on suturing various minor updates rolled out over the last few months, most of which have been related to AI, machine learning, and the demotion of traditional rich results.
This tells us that Google’s relationship with AI systems is deepening and that their machine learning and NLP protocols are getting ever closer to the natural and nuanced way in which humans consume content, encouraging a people-first approach to content creation and SEO.
How to recover site rank after a core update
If your site becomes one of the unlucky ones that was negatively impacted by the August update, fret not; there are steps you can take to kickstart your site’s recovery and regain the ranking power it once commanded.
As we get started here, an important thing to note is that updates do not target individual sites, and any dip in performance your site experiences is in no way related to Google policy violations.
In other words - you’ve done nothing wrong, and your site isn’t being penalised; it’s just settling into the new normal of Google’s ranking systems. You can absolutely claw back some visibility on the SERPs, and here’s how.
Content is key
In the event of an update-related dip in performance, Google has advised making changes to content that add value and novelty to the user. By doing so, you’re leaning into their people-first E.E.A.T. ethos, and thus, presenting more quality indicators to the company’s automatic ranking systems.
E.E.A.T. is an acronym representing:
These are the touchstones of valuable human-first content as per Google’s Helpful Content update, and don’t forget that your content should also be relevant to your brand or the services/products offered on your site.
Keep an eye out for both on- and off-page technical issues
While content certainly is important, the idea that technical aspects of SEO and site performance are now irrelevant is not.
Content and technical facets of SEO share several imbrications; ensuring both sides of this coin are polished and presentable is the only way to holistically optimise for user experience.
Examine your pages that aren’t performing well, checking their technical health: Assess page load times, anchor text, mobile-friendliness, site architecture, content structure, and your backlink profile.
Learn about SEO for AI
While the user should always be your number one priority, the more entwined AI systems and site visibility become, the more important it is that we understand which facets of SEO machines appreciate.
It’s crucial not to take a search engine first-approach, but understanding the needs of the bots visiting your web pages can help them form a more accurate understanding of your content and the value it holds for human eyes.
The result? Precise indexing, enhanced perceived relevance, and boosted visibility.
How long will recovery take?
Recovering from the negative impact of a core update can take time - there are no quick fixes. Even with proper site analysis and SEO strategy, it can take several months to recoup losses, but it’s essential to stay the course and implement the changes you deem necessary.
Resist the urge to make rash decisions on your way to recovery. Being patient and methodical is paramount.
Even if you feel you’re not making any progress, as long as you’re taking a user-first approach to SEO, subsequent minor updates are likely to notice your efforts and help you reclaim your pre-update rank.
Google’s August update appears to be a means of interweaving the various minor artificial intelligence-related updates announced earlier in the year, insinuating that their AI systems are becoming more proficient at assessing content quality and relevance for human users.
As always, with a positive attitude and an informed approach, you can navigate potential damages and rise through the ranks.
If you’d like a helping hand to guide your site back to where it belongs on Google’s SERPs, contact us today.