2023 In Review: SEO Edition

2023 might go down as one of the most important years for SEO since Google’s rise to dominance in the early 2000’s.

We’ve had overlapping algorithm updates, high profile anti trust lawsuits, new evidence of previously unconfirmed ranking signals, and of course: AI.

 

What Happened In SEO This Year?

Let’s get the big news out of the way up top.

 

AI.

 

Back in February, Microsoft announced that they would be partnering with OpenAI to bring chatGPT powered features to Bing search.

Riding on the waves of chatGPT popularity, which had built heavily throughout the last part of 2022 and into January this year, Microsoft looked to grab the reins and put their search engine Bing at the forefront of innovation once more.

 

“Google is the 800-pound gorilla in search. I want people to know that we made them dance.”

– Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO https://www.theverge.com/23589994/microsoft-ceo-satya-nadella-bing-chatgpt-google-search-ai 

 

Satya and his team unveiled a whole new Bing.

Suddenly there was a whole new, chat based, search interface complete with generative AI powered answers. The Large Language Models that had powered chatGPT to become the fastest growing App of all time, was now accessible directly through Bing search.

Other features included what would go on to become Co-Polit for Microsofts Edge browser and “create and compose” tools to help you “write an email, create a 5-day itinerary for a dream vacation to Hawaii, with links to book your travel and accommodations, prep for a job interview or create a quiz for trivia night.”

That’s a fairly big shift from the traditional 10 blue links and some sponsored ads that we’re used to seeing in search results!

This prompted a “code red” at Google, as their entire leadership team was left scrambling and seemingly on the back foot.

Days later, Google unveiled their answer.

 

Google Bard. 

 

Bard is a chatbot, conversational style AI tool, similar to what OpenAI brought to Bing.

A couple of months later, in early May, Google announced the experimental release of the wider Search Generative Experience. 

Here’s a quick video demo to show you some of what’s already possible with the Search Generative Experience:

The Search Generative Experience (SGE) is a major platform shift for Search.

It’s the very beginnings of a new type of search interface. With all new possibilities, features, challenges and opportunities.

The SGE is currently only available through Google Labs, but what you see here is no doubt the beginnings of the future for mainstream Google search.

 

But what do business owners and marketing professionals need to know about AI in SEO right now?

That’s the big question.

As of right now, nothing’s really changed in the mainstream Google search interface. Under the hood, Google has been an AI first company for many years, so naturally AI powered tech is being leveraged in parts of the underlaying algorithm already. But as far as the search interface goes, we haven’t seen any of these new AI powered features in the wild just yet.

And the reality is that right now we don’t know what changes will be coming down the line.

But we do know that big change is coming. 

 

Our top advice for all business owners right now is:

  1. Continue to invest heavily in high quality, unique and useful content. As LLMs get smarter, become more multi modal, and new types of interfaces and results continue to chip away at the visibility of the traditional 10 blue organic search links, sites with experience based and opinionated content written by subject matter experts are the sites that stand to gain the most. The winners of search in 2024 will be the business owners who continue to embrace unique, high quality content.
  2. Demonstrate your Expertise, Experience, Authority and Trustworthiness. If you’re a client of ours already, you’ll no doubt have heard us talking about E-E-A-T and the increasingly crucial role it has to play in search engine optimization. Search engines want to connect users to people and companies who are Trustworthy, Experienced, Experts in their space and have some level of Authority among their peers. Google continues to put more and more focus on this, and in November they further update their internal Search Quality Raters Guidelines – a manual/guide for their internal teams that already heavily references the need and means to quantify and measure E-E-A-T for ranking purposes.
  3. Prioritize the best possible User Experience. Great user experiences convert. They convert viewers to sales, and customers into fans. If your website is slow, or your content isn’t useful, or you have broken links or frustrating user interfaces, you’re missing out on these conversions every second of every day. And if you ever needed any additional incentive when it comes to UX, we now know thanks to Google’s recent anti trust trial that many user experience signals are now also ranking factors in organic search! 
  4. But never underestimate the importance of solid Technical SEO. All the great E-E-A-T and high quality content in the world doesn’t mean a thing if search engines can’t access, crawl and understand your website due to poor technical SEO. Internal linking, site architecture, page structure

 

Alright. That’s AI dealt with.

But that wasn’t all the exciting stuff that happened in SEO this year…

 

More (And Overlapping!) Algorithm Updates

So far this year, we’ve had 9 major algorithm updates.

 

4x Core Updates (March, August, October, November)

3x Reviews Updates (February, April, November)

1x Spam Update (October)

1x Helpful Content System Update (September)

 

And if previous years are anything to go by, we can expect December to be equally action packed too.

Several of these through the last half of the year have even overlapped in their rollout, making it even more difficult to isolate exact causes for any sites who were caught in the crosshairs.

On top of all that, Google also confirmed the existence of an already in use ranking System called the Topical Authority System which looks to reward sites who demonstrate broad and deep topical knowledge of their industry.

 

New Ranking Insights

The confirmation earlier this year of the Topical Authority System confirmed what a lot of us in the SEO industry had suspected and even seen to be true for some time.

Sites that have content that covers every aspect of their industry/niche, rank.

Remember earlier when we talked about E-E-A-T?

What better way to demonstrate that than to write great content about as many different keywords in your industry as possible. Answer as many questions as possible. Appear in as many search results as possible.

If you’re a client of ours already, you’ll have heard us talk about the importance of creating new content to expand the amount and scope of keywords that your site can be found for in Google search. We’ve probably even taken a dive into some of your competitors together, to see what keywords they rank for, identified gaps and opportunities and put a plan together to drive our content development.

This is exactly why we continue to urge all business owners to get serious about the time and investment they make in high quality content creation.

On top of that, we also got some unexpected but powerful SEO insights from Google’s recent anti trust trial. 

 

Key takeaways? 

Click through rate and other metrics relating to how users interact with your site when they see it in a Google search result, are important ranking factors.

 

Ever wonder why we spend so much time focusing on the details, like title tags and meta descriptions? Well, that’s why. Crafting content that entices users to click on your results in the SERPs over your competitors is key to ranking success.

 

So what should we expect from SEO in 2024?

While 2023 was a huge year for Search, we’ve likely seen nothing compared to what’s coming in 2024.

With the SGE experiment due to end in December we’ll move into the next phase of the AI + Search partnership.

We’ve heard nothing official from Google, but the expectation from many in the industry is that early 2024 will see the start of parts of SGE being rolled out into mainstream Google search.

This is going to bring with it some major changes, challenges and opportunities.

 

Our SEO Predictions For 2024 And Beyond

  1. Reduced visibility (and traffic!) for basic informational intent keywords. As new additions to the interface roll out and the LLMs improve, for basic informational queries, Google is looking to move from Search Engine, closer to its end goal of becoming an Answer Engine.
  2. More major algorithm updates. The volume and intensity of algorithm updates increases every year, and 2024 will be no exception.
  3. Changes in searcher behavior. This is a much longer term one, but it’s an important one to think about. Right now, we’ve all been trained to search Google in a very particular and usually unnatural way. We’ll think about what we want to say, then work out the right way to Google it to get the results we want. That’s why there’s always bigger search volumes for broader keywords. Because we’re conditioned to broaden the terms we type in to get the results we want. But over the coming years as users get used to the new, more conversational style of how search can be, we can expect big changes in how people search and the keywords they type into Google. We’ve championed the long tail search opportunities for a long time. And 2024 might just be set to kick that into overdrive!

Matt Burns
LinkedIn

Matt is Marwick Marketing's Division Leader for SEO & Web Development and has over a decade of digital marketing experience in everything from local to national and international campaigns. He's led high impact strategies for major brands and currently oversees Marwick's global SEO and Web services.

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