The Gist

  • Algorithm update. March 2023 saw significant volatility in Google's search rankings due to a core algorithm update.
  • Review revamp. Google's April 2023 update impacted the reviews system, highlighting the importance of high-quality, E-A-T compliant content.
  • ChatGPT competition. As ChatGPT gains popularity for its unique search methods, it may pose a significant threat to Google's ad revenue.

I last caught up with you on March 16 to offer the latest in SEO news and updates. Now I’m back to cover what’s happened since then. 

March 2023 Core Algorithm Update

Perhaps the biggest update so far was Google’s March 2023 Core Algorithm Update.

The update launched on March 15 and completed rollout on March 28, 2023. It targeted all content types within all regions and languages, promoting and rewarding high-quality and high-value web pages. 

Not much information was available on the update when it first dropped, meaning marketers had to sit back and keep a close eye on their metrics for the next several weeks. 

Google claimed the update could impact search rankings, and some marketers did report dips or boosts in numbers. Semrush found that rank volatility was greater for the March 2023 update than the previous September 2022 update. The March update also saw higher levels of “drastic” ranking fluctuations. 

John Mueller, senior search analyst at Google, admitted that the March update “messed the SERP a bit up,” according to Search Engine Roundtable. However, he added, he expects a focus on quality to continue. 

Related Article: State of Search: Top SEO Strategies for 2023

April 2023 Reviews Update

On April 12, 2023, Google began rolling out its reviews update, which was completed on April 25 and could affect search rankings. 

This update covers Google’s reviews system, which evaluates articles, blog posts, web pages and other types of standalone content written with the purpose of recommending, giving an opinion on or evaluating something. 

Reviews can be about a single thing, side-by-side comparisons, ranked lists, etc. and cover products, pieces of media (like movies or video games), services and businesses. 

Content impacted by the reviews update might not recover until the next update is released, according to Google, but “changes can happen at any time for various reasons.” 

The digital giant recommends taking a gander at its help page on writing high-quality reviews. It features advice like:

  • Show that you’re an expert in what you’re reviewing 
  • Provide evidence of your expertise, such as through visuals or audio 
  • Evaluate the product, service, business, etc. from the user’s perspective
  • Include links to other useful resources to help the user

The advice sounds a lot like what Google’s been spouting all along — best practices come down to creating high-value, high-quality content for readers that follows E-A-T guidelines. 

Related Article: Google Helpful Content Update Improves Customer Experience and SEO Strategy

Google Retiring Mobile Usability Report

Also in April, Google put out notice that by the end of the year (Dec. 1, 2023), it will be retiring Search Console’s “mobile usability” report, the mobile-friendly test tool and mobile-friendly test API. 

“This doesn't mean that mobile usability isn't important for success with Google Search,” Google wrote in its announcement. “It remains critical for users, who are using mobile devices more than ever, and as such, it remains a part of our page experience guidance.”

Instead, Google claims other more robust tools for evaluating mobile usability have emerged, such as Lighthouse from Chrome. 

Helpful Content Update Coming Soon 

On May 10, Google announced it will be updating its helpful content system over the next few months to make it easier for searchers to “find and explore diverse perspectives.” 

In the next few weeks, some searches on Google might trigger a Perspectives filter to appear at the top of search results. When users tap this filter, they’ll see videos, images and written content people have shared on forums, Q&A sites and social media. 

Learning Opportunities

The idea is that truly helpful information can often be found in unexpected or hard-to-find places. This update will make it easier for searchers to find these “hidden gems.” 

What does this mean for SEO professionals? With this update, Google says it’s improving how it ranks content, with an emphasis on quality and originality of information. Pages based on firsthand experience or unique expertise are likely to rank higher. 

The helpful content update will also have the ability to demote content it deems unhelpful. When asked about this by SEO consultant Glenn Gabe on Twitter, Danny Sullivan, Google’s public liaison for Search, responded that the update will show more “hidden gems” on Search, “along with still working to ensure unhelpful content is not performing well.” 

Glenn Gabe tweet asking Google about helpful content update

New Unconfirmed Algorithm Ranking Update? 

Barry Schwartz over at Search Engine Roundtable posted on May 12 about his suspicions of another Google search algorithm ranking update, something he calls the Google I/O Search Algorithm Ranking Update. 

Compared to early May, Schwartz said he saw a lot of volatility in his rankings. Others online at WebmasterWorld saw similar patterns and large drops in traffic, with one person claiming he saw strong traffic from the UK while US traffic had nearly vanished. 

Schwartz claimed the upset is not caused by the upcoming helpful content update or the new Google Search Generative Experience. 

On March 18, Schwartz posted about another period of around three days where he saw significant volatility, pointing to an additional unconfirmed Google search ranking algorithm update. Some people claimed this update reversed the increased or decreased rankings from the previous unconfirmed update.

Is ChatGPT Hurting Google Search?

Right now, competition is heating up for Google Search. 

Droves of users turned to ChatGPT for a new way to search, and Microsoft infused ChatGPT technology into Bing. Google released its own AI-powered chatbot, Bard, in response, but it has yet to see the popularity of OpenAI’s product. 

Still, Google saw growth in its “search & others” revenue in Q1 of 2023 — just not as much growth as one might expect compared to the previous year. Q2 might offer more insights, as OpenAI rolls out access to its beta browser plugin for ChatGPT Plus subscribers, which gives the chatbot access to the open web (and up-to-date info). 

ChatGPT may pose the biggest threat to Google’s ad revenue since users can access information from the internet without having to open pages or interact with ads. Google’s response so far has been its announcement of its generative AI search, which is not yet available for general use.