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What did we Learn from the November 2023 Core Update? 

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From 2nd November to 28th November 2023, Google rolled out the November 2023 core update, the second major change to its search algorithm in as many months. In fact, you could argue it was the second major update in as many weeks, as the October core update only finished rolling out on 19th October.

In total, the November 2023 core update took just under 26 days to finalise, meaning it took almost two weeks longer to roll out than the average core update. It also rolled out during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So, why has Google released another major algorithm update so soon, what’s happened and what does it mean for your website? Let’s take a detailed look. 

What is a Google Core Update? 

Core updates are periodic adjustments to the algorithms that power Google’s search results. Although people in SEO normally talk about ‘the algorithm’, Google actually uses multiple ‘algorithms’ that have each been designed to improve the relevance and quality of the web pages shown in search results.  

Each Google core update intends to make the company’s ranking system more effective and efficient. As a result, each update intends to enhance Google’s ability to generate search results that align with user intent. For this reason, during each core update, Google rewards or promotes great web pages over pages it doesn’t think are as useful to readers. 

This is why core updates lead to some websites gaining visibility and rankings, while others lose out. It’s important to remember that a core update is different to a penalty, which is a punishment against a website that contains content that conflicts with the marketing practices enforced by Google.

After announcing the November 2023 Core Update, Google published an updated Q&A addressing common questions about how search updates work. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Core updates are different from Google’s ranking systems. Updates adjust the algorithms while ranking systems generate the search results.
  • Thousands of updates happen per year, but only some notable ones are announced publicly.
  • If your site is affected by a core update, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being penalised for spam.
  • Google tries to avoid releasing major updates during the busy holiday shopping season, but it’s not always feasible.

Why did Google Roll Out a New Update in November? 

This is a main bone of contention among marketers. After all, Google’s previous update was only released in October, and it’s incredibly rare that Google releases two major updates in as many months. 

When announcing the new core update, Google said: “We have different systems that are considered core to our ranking process; this month’s core update involves an improvement to a different core system than last month… However, our guidance about core updates is the same for both.”

In the course of this year alone, Google has released all of the following major updates: 

  • The November 2023 core update was on 2nd November and ended on 28th November
  • The October 2023 core update was on 5th October and ended on 19th October
  • The August 2023 core update was on 22nd August and ended on 7th September
  • The March 2023 core update was on 15th March and ended on 28th March

Added to this, Google also rolled out the October 2023 spam update while rolling out the October 2023 core update. Plus, in September, Google rolled out the September 2023 helpful content update over a 14-day period. 

Similarly, while the November 2023 Core Update was ongoing, Google also announced that Search Generative Experience (SGE) had gone live in 120 countries. On top of this, the company also announced a new ‘reviews update’, which is now taking effect. 

As such, many marketers are finding it hard to keep up with Google’s many updates and the company’s conflicting advice (more on that later). This is particularly the case because Google is continuing to flood the SERPs with ads and is often ranking poor-quality, AI-generated content.  

How Impactful can Algorithm Updates be?

Website owners and business owners are rightfully concerned about the impact Google algorithm updates can have. Over the last 12 months, there have been several spikes for the term ‘traffic drop’ – possibly by desperate webmasters realising they’ve lost traffic. The latest spike seems to line up with the October update:

Graph showing searches for 'Traffic Drop' between May 2023 and October 2023

One case study that shows us just how impactful these updates can be is Outlook India, a site many marketers had previously claimed was ‘immune from Google updates’ despite using some rather questionable SEO tactics, such as selling links at scale and conducting so-called ‘parasite SEO’. 

In spite of apparently breaching Google’s terms of service over the years, the site continued to grow rapidly until 2023, when it fell victim to recent core updates. As Lily Ray pointed out on X (formerly Twitter), the site was actually ‘hit hard by the last three Google updates’:

In fact, in the August update alone, the site saw an enormous visibility decline: -20.67 points, or -38.17% of the site’s SEO visibility. 

It’s worth noting that this particular site has lost visibility again in the November Core Update and it now appears as though Google has developed an algorithmic solution that addresses so-called ‘parasite SEO content’. This is particularly evident because larger drops can also be witnessed on the subfolder/subdomain level of similar websites: 

What have we Seen from the November Update?

Rankings were heated and volatile during the first part of the rollout in particular, and the update had a very big impact right away. After 17th November, this volatility died down, even though the rollout was still active. It should also be noted that fluctuations began before Google even announced the update. Plus, since the rollout officially finished, they’ve spiked once more. That said, it’s important to remember that the November 2023 reviews update remains underway.

At face value, it looks as though this particular update was stronger and more powerful than the October core update. Subsequently, during the rollout, SEOs flooded to blogs and social media to give their views on the matter. 

One interesting point of note that has enraged some marketers is that many sites that performed well in the October update now seem to be struggling following the November update. 

Glenn Gabe, an SEO Consultant at G-Squared Interactive, took to X to show an example of a large-scale site that surged with the October core update, but has since dropped heavily in terms of visibility:

This is a particularly contentious issue for many SEOs who are frustrated with Google’s constant algorithm updates, with this most recent update almost displaying as a reversal of the previous update. 

After all, if Google claims that its ‘guidance for dealing with both [core updates] remains the same’, then how can a site gain visibility in one month and then lose it all (and more) in the next month?

It’s this lack of consistency and transparency that is currently driving many SEOs mad. It’s the same for site owners, too. In fact, it’s causing many of them to reverse course and abandon the decisions they made only a month ago. 

What Should I do if I’ve been Impacted? 

If you’ve been impacted by the recent core update (or any of Google’s algorithm changes this year), then it’s first important to take stock. With so many updates currently rolling out at once, it may be difficult to know exactly which one is currently affecting your website and you shouldn’t rush into a rash decision. 

You should also keep in mind that a negative rankings impact may not signal that anything is wrong with your pages. It may simply mean that other websites in your space have upped their SEO game and you need to follow suit if you want to remain competitive – this is usually achieved by improving your content and ensuring that it’s: 

  • Original 
  • Analytical or informative 
  • Provides a comprehensive overview of a topic that goes well beyond what’s obvious 
  • Displays your E-E-A-T authority

Need help recovering from a drop in rankings or visibility? Get in touch today. We’d love to help get you back on the right path. 

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  • Tom Brook

    Tom has more than 10 years of experience working in copywriting, content strategy and PR. Over the years, he’s led one of the largest copywriting teams in the UK and has worked on a freelance basis for some of the country’s biggest brands.