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The August 2023 Google Core Update: Why Websites are Losing Traffic and How Publishers Should Respond

8 min
September 22, 2023
Inna Andrieieva
The August 2023 Google Core Update: Why Websites are Losing Traffic and How Publishers Should Respond

It has become a tradition for publishers to experience disruptions several times a year due to Google's algorithm updates. This year, it happened five times. Notably, there were two global core updates – one in March, known as the Google March 2023 Broad Core Update, and recently in August when the algorithm underwent changes, affecting certain websites.

Typically, a Core Update influences how Google assesses and ranks websites, consequently impacting search rankings. Google's philosophy behind such updates is to enhance search results by reducing the visibility of sites with outdated or harmful content, while promoting resources that are useful and engaging for users. As a result, some sites may feel penalized, while others are rewarded.

When publishers observe a decline in traffic, they often become anxious and search for culprits. IT departments or advertising efforts aimed at monetizing content are frequently under suspicion. However, a drop in traffic doesn't always indicate search engine filtering. It can often be a sign that your competitors are producing content that aligns better with what the search engine believes users prefer.

We have thoroughly examined how Google Core Updates impact web traffic, including news websites, and whether advertising on a site can be a reason for negative evaluations by Google.

Google Core Update 2023: How it Impacted Websites

As we have mentioned before, Google's goal is to maximize user satisfaction and limit their interaction with low-quality content. Since the search engine relies on indicators of expertise, trustworthiness, and experience, it's not surprising that after the August update, user-generated content (UGC) sites like Reddit saw a significant increase in their visibility in search results. Lily Ray's analysis for SISTRIX has already highlighted the growth of websites producing user-generated content.

This shift can be attributed, in part, to the addition of a new factor in December 2022 - experience. This means that articles by authors who have established themselves as experts in a specific topic and who share their experiences gained importance in search rankings. For instance, a user sharing their experience using certain equipment, providing reviews, or reports can be considered an expert by Google, primarily based on their experience. However, it's crucial for the content as a whole to align with the E-A-T principles (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness).

Furthermore, according to the research, including findings from the SEO department of Membrana Media, in March 2023, Google released a Core Update that affected all websites, including those in the medical field. As a result of this update, some websites featuring medical content lost positions in search rankings.

In September 2023, Google released another update called the Helpful Update, aimed at improving the quality and usefulness of content. This update had a positive impact on the positions of medical and medically-related websites that were able to enhance the quality of their content.

The focus on medical content is due to its inclusion in the "Your Money Your Life" content segment, which relates to healthcare, an area where credibility is of utmost importance worldwide. Google understands the significance of this niche and strives to provide users with truthful and up-to-date health information.

The August Core Update was geared towards improving the quality of content in search results. As a result of this update, Google began considering more factors that assess the usefulness of content. For example, it started paying attention to the presence of verified information, content relevance, and the inclusion of links to authoritative sources within texts and posts.

Membrana Media's Publisher Partners Affected by Google's Core Update

Some big-name publishers in Brazil and Turkey have recently felt the effects of Google's Core Updates. These updates are part of Google's ongoing work to make search results better. They have caused noticeable changes in how often people see and visit these respected publishers' websites. 

It's worth noting that Google Core Updates are global updates that affect websites in various languages. However, due to the significantly larger volume of English-language content, English websites were the first to feel the impact of the update. Nevertheless, reports of traffic declines were also received from clients in Ukraine and other European countries.

Which Websites Lost Traffic and Why

Recently, Google has become increasingly active in combating Parasite SEO. This practice involves the placement of low-quality content or links to irrelevant topics or content from "gray" niches, such as casinos or betting, on large and authoritative websites, including news media.

What Is Parasite SEO

The essence of parasite SEO is to leverage the trust and authority of a main website to promote irrelevant content. This can include placing catalogs of products or services unrelated to the main site's theme or posting links to websites with gray or blacklisted content, such as casinos, bookmakers, and gambling sites.

Google has been learning to identify such schemes and has been reducing the rankings of websites that employ them. Consequently, websites that hosted low-quality content or links to irrelevant topics on their own domains or subdomains have also seen a decline in search rankings.

This is an expected response from Google. Parasitic SEO is an unethical practice that undermines trust in the search engine. It would be surprising if the company did not take action against such deceptive practices.

Website Advertising: Is it Correct that Google Is Not Fond of it?

Typically, immediately after a traffic drop, website owners often attribute it to recent changes made on their site. This can sometimes be related to the placement of advertising blocks on the site or experimenting with new monetization formats.

Frankly speaking, advertising on a website can indirectly affect its search engine rankings. However, it's crucial to understand what specifically Google may not like about it.

When Advertising on a Website Can Harm:

Disruption of Reading Experience: Advertising can interfere with the reading experience of the main content. If ad blocks are too large or positioned in critical parts of the page, breaking the text into sections or covering essential parts of an article, it can impede information comprehension. In such cases, the website may receive a lower search engine ranking.

Page Load Speed: Advertising blocks carry weight, which means they can slow down page loading. If the page loading speed is low, it negatively affects the user experience, potentially leading to a decrease in search engine rankings.

In the initial scenario, the outcome, even though indirectly, is influenced by the actions of assessors—individuals who conduct manual website inspections based on extensive criteria. Google currently employs over 10,000 assessors, whose reports serve as the basis for training artificial intelligence-based algorithms. Regarding advertising blocks on a website, they do impact a ranking factor known as Core Web Vitals.

Core Web Vitals consist of three metrics that measure page loading speed, interactivity, and visual stability. These metrics are critical ranking factors in Google's algorithm, so it's essential to monitor their performance.

How Publishers Can Analyze Core Web Vitals:

Google Search Console: In the "Core Web Vitals" report within Google Search Console, you can access Core Web Vitals metrics for each page of your website. This report is the most convenient for analysis as it provides data for all pages in one place.

Dev Tools (Google Chrome): You can view Core Web Vitals metrics for a specific page using Google Chrome's developer tools. To do this, open the desired page in Chrome, access the developer tools, and navigate to the "Performance" tab.

Web Vitals Chrome Extension: The Web Vitals Chrome Extension allows you to track Core Web Vitals metrics for all pages of your site in real-time. This extension is a handy tool for quick Core Web Vitals analysis.

PageSpeed Insights: The PageSpeed Insights service assesses page loading speed and informs you whether your Core Web Vitals metrics meet the minimum requirements.

However, it's essential to note that the data for Core Web Vitals typically reflects the performance over the last 28 days, and Google Search Console shows trends over a three-month period. It's possible that poor performance may improve later when more data is included in the console.

How to Prepare for a Google Core Update

Core updates can impact the ranking of any website, regardless of its size or industry. However, websites that produce low-quality content, such as duplicate content or content stuffed with keywords, are more likely to be negatively affected by core updates.

Websites containing content related to adult themes and graphic violence, such as information about war, war crimes, stories about the consequences of bombings and casualties, may also face scrutiny.

The best way to prepare for a core update is to focus on creating high-quality content that meets the needs of your target audience. Ensure that your content is well-written, informative, and engaging. You should also avoid using black hat SEO tactics and refrain from keyword stuffing and link spamming.

What Actions to Take If Your Website Was Negatively Affected by a Google Core Update

If a Core Update has a negative impact on your website, don't panic. The first thing you should do is analyze your website to identify areas of your content improvement. You should also review your SEO strategy to ensure it aligns with Google's best practices.

It's important to note that core updates should not be perceived as punishment. They are simply designed to improve the quality of search results. Instead of treating them negatively, use them as an opportunity to enhance your website's content and implement best SEO practices.

Here are some additional useful tips for preparing and recovering from a Google Core Update:

Stay Informed: Keep a close eye on the latest announcements and recommendations from Google. Google regularly publishes blogs and updates its documentation to inform website owners about upcoming changes to its search algorithm.

Monitor Traffic and Rankings: Keep track of the traffic and rankings of your website. This will help you identify any negative effects of a core update and track your progress in recovery.

Diversify Traffic Sources: Don't rely solely on Google for website traffic. Consider promoting your site through social media, email marketing, and news aggregators like Google News, Opera News, Squid, etc.

Be Patient: Recovering your site's ranking after a core update may take some time. Continue to create high-quality content and follow Google's recommendations.

Google Core Updates are a regular aspect of search engine operations. By gaining insights into the nature and functioning of Google Core Updates, you can proactively plan for them. The primary piece of advice, consistently emphasized by Google in different situations, is to produce content that is both appealing and user-friendly.

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