A look into Google’s August 2023 Core Update

On 22nd August, Google announced on Twitter that it was running a core algorithm update. Expected to take around two weeks to complete, it’s likely websites will start to experience changes in their SEO performance as a result. 

For some businesses, this rollout might lead to a drop in the rankings or organic traffic going to certain pages. However, before you hit the panic button, this article will help you understand exactly what these changes mean and the steps you can take to reduce any negative impacts.

What does a Google Core Update mean?

Google Core Updates are wholesale changes to the search engine’s algorithm and related systems. This means the methods and factors used by Google to review pages and set their rankings for keywords also change. Core updates are run to help the search engine deliver the best and most relevant content for each query. 

As Google explains itself in its developer guidelines, “Core updates are designed to ensure that overall, we’re delivering on our mission to present helpful and reliable results for searchers.” By doing these regular rollouts, Google ensures the highest quality content is being identified and rewarded in rankings, even if it’s brand new.

3rd Edition of Digital Marketing Strategy OUT NOW

The third edition of my international best-seller, Digital Marketing Strategy is out now. Including updates on cookies, covid, TikTok and much more with new case studies and supporting guides. Pick up a copy now.

Digital Marketing Handbook

The Digital Marketing Handbook is out now and includes over 250 pages of practical tips and advice on running all areas of your marketing campaigns from paid search and SEO to web design and email marketing.

When was the last core update?

The last core update was run in March 2023. This was the first major algorithm update of the year and took 13 days and seven hours to complete. As a result of these changes, which were rolled out across all markets and languages, many websites experienced drop-offs in their keyword rankings and organic search traffic. 

There have also been two more minor updates to Google’s product review system in 2023. These are designed to prioritise and serve content that includes high-quality, in-depth reviews. Similarly to the core updates, this system refresh was designed to help searchers find genuinely helpful product information or insights researched and delivered by topic experts. 

In February’s review update, more languages were integrated into the system. This means Google’s evaluation algorithm now supports and ranks reviews in Spanish, German, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Russian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Polish. 

Then, in April, another update gave Google the ability to evaluate reviews of services, businesses, destinations and media such as films or games. It also saw a change in the search engine’s terminology, with these updates now being termed only ‘review updates’ rather than ‘product review updates’. 

These changes to the review system and March’s core update support the launch of Google’s helpful content system. This focuses on rewarding pages containing the most valuable information with higher keyword rankings. As a result, Google’s algorithm can deliver the best content experience to searchers.

What effect can core updates have?

Core updates are designed to reward the best quality content rather than penalise spammy pages or problem websites. However, the wholesale changes these algorithm and system updates bring about can see drop-offs in SEO performance even for fully-optimised sites. 

This doesn’t mean there are any fundamental problems with a website. Often drops in performance are a result of new content being reviewed and considered higher quality under Google’s refreshed evaluation system. 

However, at the other end of the spectrum, core updates can have a positive effect on a site’s SEO performance. So if you’ve been working on developing helpful content that’s optimised according to Google’s guidelines, you could see a sudden boost in your rankings and traffic, even if your website is relatively new. 

Whether you experience negative or positive effects on your SERPs as a result of August’s core update, it’s the perfect opportunity to identify and refresh your website content.

How to recover your SEO performance

If sometime between August and September you’ve noticed a drop in your organic search performance, then it could be a result of Google’s latest core update. The first step is not to panic! 

As we mentioned above, these dips in SERPs aren’t the result of your site becoming affected by spam, a virus or some other major problem. As Google says itself, ‘There’s nothing wrong with pages that may not be performing as well as they were before a core update.” 

In some cases, your pages may bounce back after the initial update. However, if you’re seeing a major drop in performance or were already considering wholesale changes to your content, then taking the below steps will help your website rebound. 

Keep an eye on your KPIs

Rather than taking a digital machete to all your hard work and deleting pages en masse, you need to identify the specific SEO issues raised post-update. This means having a deep dive into your performance metrics to see what might be causing the dip. 

Pulling some reports on the following data points since the beginning of 2023 will help you see some common trends: 

  • Monthly organic search traffic
  • Average keyword ranking
  • Number of keyword rankings in the top ten or three
  • Domain or authority ratings

This will help you identify whether the dips in performance align with the timing of core update changes. Knowing if this is the case and the metrics that were affected will help you put a plan in place to fix these specific issues. 

Prioritise ‘problem’ pages

Once you’ve identified general trends of what metrics have dropped off and when, it’s time to get into page-level analytics. This will help you uncover the content that’s causing the overall downward trajectory in performance. 

Using an analytics tool such as Ahrefs or Google Search Console, you can filter out pages that are the lowest performing for each key metric e.g. monthly organic search traffic. Download these lists and pull them into a single data sheet. You can then use the COUNTIF function to identify how many times a URL is mentioned in the list. 

Based on this, you can start to prioritise the pages that need to be refreshed first. For example, if you’ve downloaded four different lists into your data sheet and a URL is identified in there four times, you know it’s a high priority for optimisation. If it’s only been identified in the data sheet once, then it can be put further back in the queue for optimisation. 

In short, this process will give you a list of URLs that require optimisation (or deletion if their performance is particularly poor) in priority order. So you know exactly which pages are causing your drops in performance and in what order to work on them. 

Review Google’s guidelines

When it comes to optimising your content, Google’s helpful content system guidelines are the go-to pointers. This is because they reflect the evaluation criteria the search engine’s algorithms use to rank content for each query. 

Review the EEAT quality rater guidelines, take a look at the list of self-assessment questions Google provides and set up alerts for any news releases. This will ensure you’re fully up-to-date on how to optimise your content for better rankings. 

Assess and refresh

Based on the guidelines above and general SEO best practices, it’s time to work through your optimisation list and make the changes you need to improve its performance. To do this consistently, pulling together a checklist of elements to review on the page is recommended. 

Depending on your specific goals and requirements, this may include the following: 

  • Making sure your meta title and description fit within the recommended character limits
  • Ensuring H2s and H3s are used consistently and include relevant keywords
  • Only including links to content that’s less than three years old

This will give the whole team set criteria and a thorough process to follow, so you can get multiple colleagues to work on your optimisations at once. Having a speedy refresh will ensure your SEO performance is rebooted as quickly as possible.

report cover

Download the full report

Let Google decide

Once you’ve completed your optimisation process, it’s important not to make any more changes for at least two or three months. This will give Google the opportunity to recrawl your content and rerank it against relevant queries. If certain pages are causing your particular problems, you might want to request a crawl or resubmit your sitemap into the Search Console to speed up the process.

However, if you’ve followed these steps and your SEO content isn’t picking back up after a few months, then get in touch with our expert team. We can help you get to the root of the issue and get your site up and ranking again.  

Share this post


Related Posts

Need help with your marketing? Get in touch