If Google’s August 2023 core update caught you by surprise, you probably haven’t been paying close attention. Google has a history of rolling out these updates about every four to six months; since the last update occurred in March, the timing is right on track.
Even if you saw it coming a mile away, you probably weren’t very happy. Core updates are kind of like party crashers, disrupting SEO rankings and tracking to the point where it feels like a rug was pulled out from under our feet. But they are an important tool to ensure Google continues to offer helpful and relevant search results.
Nobody Is Searching For An iPod Anymore
Google core updates are a necessary evil, one that can cause SERP volatility for a few weeks until the dust settles. They usually take two weeks to roll out, and the latest was no exception. They may affect a website’s search performance either positively or negatively; some sites aren’t affected at all. While this can feel like an eternity if you’re watching your page rankings slip, it’s important to take it all with a grain of salt and keep a few things in mind.
As with every core update, the latest update didn’t target any specific pages or sites; it’s intended to tweak Google’s algorithm to improve how content is assessed. A drop in page performance doesn’t mean you have anything wrong that needs fixing — it just indicates a change in the relevance of your content. A page that was once rewarded may slip in rankings, but on the flip side, a page that was previously ranked lower might gain visibility.
It’s helpful to think about this in terms of trends. Fifteen years ago, iPods and mp3 players were a trending search term and topped technology sales for many manufacturers. In 2006, the iPod accounted for nearly 40% of Apple's revenue1. However, once the iPhone was introduced in 2007, consumer demand for the iPod started declining, and streaming music began overtaking online content. Online searches for iPods dropped, and In 2022, Apple announced that the iconic device was being officially discontinued. Online content is similarly affected by consumer demand. What was ranking a few years ago might not today because of competition, innovation, new information, and changing consumer interest.
Having said that, Google has announced that one of the key changes involves FAQ and How-To structured data. FAQ rich results will be less visible, confined to well-known, authoritative government and health websites. How-To rich results will be limited to desktop devices only. You’re likely to see these changes on your Search Console reporting.
Cutting the Robots Some Slack
Recognizing the increasing influence of Artificial Intelligence, Google is loosening the guidance on AI-generated content via its Helpful Content System. Launched in 2022, this machine learning algorithm was designed to improve the quality of search results by identifying and rewarding content that is helpful and informative for users.
Previously, that meant ensuring people saw more original, helpful content “written by people, for people” in search results. With the September 2023 update, that language has been revised to read, “content written or reviewed by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well.”
While the new wording may not seem significantly different, removing “people” from the equation is a sign that Google is more willing to embrace AI content (or at least acknowledge the fact that, unlike flying cars, AI is more than just a gimmick).
What does this mean for you? With more of an emphasis on sitewide ranking signals, you can no longer count on getting away with inferior subdomains. Previously, subdomains were treated separately, but that is changing. Moving forward, poor content on subdomains can negatively impact the entire site.
Continuing to rank well means making sure your content is people-focused. The fact that Google is rewarding “experts or enthusiasts” with demonstrated knowledge means you should double down on your E-E-A-T strategy. That doesn’t mean filling your plate with seconds, but rather, ensuring your content demonstrates Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.
A great way to achieve this is by writing in the first-person perspective. This is an area where AI struggles without specific prompts. First-person writing shows you have personal knowledge and experience about a particular topic.
Another thing to take note of: author credentials are on the rise again. Implementing bylines, social media profile links, and author information in schema demonstrates expertise — a great way to give your rankings a boost.
Take a Deep Breath. Now, Take Another.
Though there’s a natural inclination to take some sort of action if you are experiencing a drop in page rankings, resist the urge to make any changes…at least until you know where you land. It takes a few weeks for things to shake out following a core update, so patience is the name of the game.
Besides, there’s no guarantee changes will reverse your fortunes. If your site contains structured data, for instance, removing it will neither hurt nor help your search rankings.
One thing you can do is audit any pages whose rankings have dropped. This involves the following steps:
- Examine closely any pages that aren’t performing well.
- Learn which search terms led people to those pages.
- Look at Google’s self-assessment questions and compare your content to determine whether the information you are providing is helpful and reliable.
Based on your findings, you should make an effort on providing people-first content; as its name implies, this is content created for people, not search engines. To help guide you in the right direction, learn more about Google’s E-E-A-T algorithm. We’ve written extensively about how manufacturing websites can take advantage of Google E-E-A-T.
Remember, core updates occur regularly, and Google doesn’t always announce them. It’s possible that your pages might recover from lower rankings over time, but even with improvements, there is no guarantee. Content that Google deems the most deserving will always rank highest, even as they periodically redefine what “most deserving” means.
If you have any questions about the latest update or want to optimize your site’s page rankings, reach out to your Foremost Media account manager today.