Changes to Google and SEO in 2023 — and why it matters for Ecommerce

In 2023, there were nine updates to Google search’s algorithms but the one that had the biggest impact by far was the late September 2023 ‘Helpful Content Update’.

As its name suggests, the change to the algorithm was to rank genuinely helpful, well-written content higher in search results.

And penalise poorly-written, unhelpful content written primarily for search engine optimisation.

In November, Google also updated their ‘Reviews System’ which aimed to rank people-first content which rewards high quality reviews that provide insightful analysis, original research and are written by experts or enthusiasts.

Here’s a timeline snapshot of the 2023 changes:

The changes on the surface may seem simple, but the technical process is complex and the algorithms are always changing. Let’s dive in to the key changes to Google’s guidance and what it means for you as an Ecommerce founder.

Avoid hosting third-party content

This isn’t really new advice, but Google’s doubled down on penalising websites that host third-party content that’s not relevant to your main site’s purpose, or produced without much involvement from the main site.

This was a major bombshell for many online media websites which were becoming increasingly cluttered with third-party hosted ads, pop-ups, affiliate links etc.

However, it is a reminder that all content on your site should serve a primary objective which will truly be helpful for the audience.

AI-generated content isn’t all that bad

I’m sure many of you have relied on AI to generate an Insta caption or a product description and while it may seem like the easy way out, Google has always made it clear that humans still need to be involved.

The good news is that Google’s backtracked on its strict guideline that its ranking systems are positively influenced by ‘helpful content written by people, for people’.

It’s now been changed to ‘helpful content created for people’.

It’s a subtle change, but an important one and the key thing to remember is that as long as the content is verified, well-written and helpful, using AI to help you write it isn’t all that bad.

Don’t just change the date of your content or re-upload old content — provide genuine value to your audience

You can’t fake it ‘til you make it by simply refreshing the date of your content, or deleting and re-adding new content.

The information needs to be genuinely up-to-date and helpful to be picked up as ‘fresh’ by Google.

Above all else, your content needs to be genuinely helpful and satisfy your audience’s curiosity by providing value.

Unhelpful content regurgitates information that already exists, and forces the user to go back and search again — which Google wants to avoid.

As Google puts it, your content should demonstrate Experience-Expertise-Authoritativeness-Trustworthiness (or E-E-A-T for short).

How has this impacted Ecommerce?

These changes mean that your products and pages in search results are being viewed in a different lens. Some have benefited from this change, others have been negatively impacted.

Sites with thin product descriptions, high volumes of affiliate links or reliance on AI-generated descriptions are being penalised.

However, we have seen low quality web pages like listicles and affiliate product review websites get severely penalised by these changes. This means that online stores which have traditionally ranked below these pages have seen a deserved boost in their rankings.

See below for some very interesting US traffic data in the apparels space:

Source: seoClarity

While this doesn’t mean EVERY online store or brand has come out on top, it is a promising sign that pesky, low quality listicles and review websites are being punished under the new changes.

What does all this mean for me?

Ask yourself - does this content genuinely assist your audience? And does it offer unique insights about your products?

Your site shouldn’t just be a place to buy products. It should have detailed, helpful product descriptions, FAQs, how-to guides, product comparisons and more.

Your website and its content should be designed for humans — not the search engine.

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