Every year, search engines love to keep SEO’s on their toes through algorithm updates that have the potential to dramatically impact a site’s performance. 2022 was no different, and 2023 will likely follow suit.
How SEO changed in 2022
To determine how SEO changed in 2022, we need to discuss the main Google algorithm updates and how they have impacted rankings and, ultimately, SEO strategies. The three main updates to search in 2022 were:
- The page experience update for desktop
- The helpful content update
- The product reviews update
Page experience became a prominent ranking factor for desktop searches
In 2021 Google updated its mobile ranking signals to more accurately reflect the quality of the page experience users were receiving when landing on a site. In early 2022, after deeming it a success for mobile, these updated ranking signals were rolled out for desktop too.
This means Google was was putting more emphasis on the following factors when determining rankings:
- Largest contentful paint (LCP)
- Cumulative layout shift (CLS)
- First input delay (FID)
- HTTPS security
- Absence of intrusive interstitials
In short, sites that are fast, secure, and don’t have any irritating pop ups started being favoured by Google. But how did this change SEO?
LCP, CLS and FID are the three elements that make up the Core Web Vitals; the page speed ranking factor that Google introduced in 2020. This update implies that Google is now considering these an even more important ranking factor, meaning SEO’s need to be spending more time optimising their clients websites to be as fast as possible.
The last two factors should already be a consideration for every SEO. This update was a way of Google formalising page security as a ranking factor (ensuring HTTPS sites are favoured), and recognising that intrusive pop ups do not provide a good page experience so should not be associated with high rankings.
The Helpful Content Update prioritised content written for users
Arguably one of the most important updates in 2022, the Helpful Content Update brought a new algorithm into play that assesses whether a page was built for users or for search engines.
The helpful content algorithm essentially does a site-wide audit and assesses each piece of content and will either put it in the ‘the page is helpful’ bucket, or the ‘this page isn’t helpful’ bucket. If a site has more pages in the latter, then your page rankings will see a hit.
With this in mind, this update can be more or less seen as a ‘helpful site’ update, with the site’s content being the indicator of how user-optimised a site is. This update caused ranking drops (ironically) for content created just to generate rankings, and ranking increases for content created to add value to a user’s experience on a website.
This update stressed that SEO’s and site owners need to spend more time making sure they are creating the most useful content possible, and less time worrying about keyword usage and title tags. This is Google’s way of making user experience an essential consideration for every SEO strategy, which, arguably, it should have been anyway.
Multiple product review updates changed product rankings
One of Google’s focal points in 2022, evident by the four specific updates rolled out over the past 12 months, was to make product reviews a more important ranking factor. In essence, Google wants users to see the best products first, and the ‘best’ products aren’t the ones listed on highest authority sites with the best SEO in the class, they are the products that have provided the best experience for previous consumers.
These updates make sense for Google, as part of their Messy Middle report (their own in-depth review of search) identified that ‘social proof’ is one of the highest influencing factors when it comes to consumer decisions, so why not save users time by showing them the products with the best ‘social proof’ possible first? This is a great example of Google figuring out what users need to see, and improving their algorithms to show them.
For SEO specifically, this meant that having reviews marked up and visible for products became a necessity to be shown to the most potential customers. This also means that the involvement of different teams within a business were called upon to generate these reviews became vital to improve the visibility of their products.
How SEO will change in 2023
If 2023 is anything like 2022 has been, then we can expect quite a few changes to the landscape of search. We have picked out a handful of changes expected in 2023 and what these will mean for SEO, focusing on:
- Even more content updates
- The importance of rich results
- Optimising for conversational queries
Content ranking algorithms will continue to improve
With the Helpful Content Update playing a large part in the transformation of search in 2022, it’s safe to assume that updates to how Google assesses content will continue. Seeing as the Helpful Content Update brought about a new algorithm, the very least we can expect in 2023 are updates that help refine this algorithm.
However, with the rise of AI generated content, we will likely see Google release additional updates that help identify these pieces of content and make sure they are not climbing to the top of search results.
Google’s main focus of the Helpful Content Update was to start serving users with the content with the best experience possible. It seems more than likely that they are not going to favour content that is written by AI, no matter how ‘helpful’ this content is for users – at least until AI becomes advanced enough to completely understand the human language.
It’s true that AI generated content can help you quickly expand your keyword reach and improve your rankings, however, Google’s algorithms will eventually catch up, possibly in 2023. It’s likely that all this content will then be pushed to the bottom of search results and could leave site owners back at square one.
There is one clear approach to content that Google wants you to take in 2023, and that’s to produce content written by people, for users, and make it as useful as possible. Every SEO needs to be making sure content fits this criteria before pushing it live on a site.
Now that continuous scrolling is rolling out for search results, the days for competing for page 1 positions are limited. Instead of scrolling to the bottom of page one then deciding whether they want to move on to subsequent pages, users will be able to continuously scroll until they find what they’re looking for.
This means that results in position 11 and onwards will receive a higher amount of clicks than we would traditionally expect, simply because they’ll be easier to find. To grab an even larger share of the traffic, having a listing that stands out is a must. This is where rich results come in.
SEO’s will need to leverage structured data wherever possible, even for pages that are not ranking at the top of search results. By leveraging structured data each result can appear as a rich result by presenting additional features on their listings, such as:
- Image thumbnails
- Author & publish date
- Knowledge panel
Enhancing your search listings to become a rich result will be a must in any SEO strategy in 2023, not just an additional thought or something only considered for product listings or recipes.
Content will need to be optimised for the rise in voice searches
The number and popularity of voice assistants (Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana etc.) is increasing and the functionality of voice search on search engines is improving, so more and more people are going to start using voice search over typing their queries into Google.
This is going to pose a problem as people speak and type quite differently. For example, if you are looking for a good pair of running shoes, you may say ‘what are a good pair of running shoes’ to your voice assistant, but type ‘good running shoes’ into Google. To rank at the top of search results for these terms would take slightly different strategies, so SEO’s cannot expect to gain a big share of voice search results if they are just optimising for the shorter, high search volume keywords.
It looks like voice search is here to stay and is going to increase in popularity as time goes on, so SEO’s need to be considering this when optimising their content going forward. How? Include these longer tail queries in headings to help users find the page when searching with their voice assistants.
It’s safe to say that there will be countless changes to SEO in 2023, but if your site is optimised to provide the best possible experience for users, you should come out on top.