Five months after its most recent core update, the March 2023 Core Update, Google announced the long-awaited August 2023 Core Update on August 22, 2023. This core update lasted 16 days and 3 hours (according to Google’s Search Status Dashboard) and was anxiously anticipated by many site owners, as well as the search marketing community. Throughout 2023, Google’s algorithms faced with new challenges, in large part due to the rapid rise of content created by generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT.
The Rise of AI Content
Ensuring high-quality content that demonstrates good E-E-A-T rises to the top of the search results has become increasingly difficult. As free and cheap AI tools have spread like wildfire throughout the digital marketing industry, creating content at scale has become much easier and cheaper. While many argue that it’s hard for both users and search engines to differentiate between AI content and human-written content, this year offers many examples of AI blunders and mishaps, including:
- AI tools are prone to errors and mistakes, including hallucination, which is when the AI produces incorrect or nonsensical output
- CNET’s use of AI to write articles backfired when errors were found in one of the posts
While Google officially clarified that its algorithms do not differentiate between human-written content and AI-generated content – and instead only look to elevate high-quality, helpful content – there is some important nuance to understand on this issue. In the same article, Google reminded site owners of the following:
When it comes to automatically generated content, our guidance has been consistent for years. Using automation—including AI—to generate content with the primary purpose of manipulating ranking in search results is a violation of our spam policies.‘
However, it’s clear that this has been a challenge for Google this year, as many sites supposedly filled with AI content (they don’t always admit when AI is involved in the content creation process) have begun to dominate search engine rankings. This is no secret and has caught the attention of mainstream media, even outside of the SEO industry. Most recently, an article published in the MIT Technology Review in June exposed how “Junk websites filled with AI-generated text” are a growing problem for Google.
The Increasing Importance of Experience
Google also announced a new signal in its December updates to the Search Quality Rater guidelines: “E” for experience. The “E” is a new member of the E-A-T family, now called E-E-A-T, and stands for experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. According to Google, the amount of E-E-A-T required for a page or site to be considered high-quality depends on the nature of the content and the extent to which it can cause harm to users. Throughout this year, including with the previous March Core Update, we have speculated that we would start to see experience play a larger role in the rankings of certain types of websites where first-hand experience provides a better result, like product reviews and travel blogs.
Search Quality Raters have been working off this new version of the Quality Guidelines to review the quality of Google’s results and evaluate E-E-A-T for 9 months now, giving Google plenty of time to update its algorithms with the feedback provided by quality raters.
Methodology & Disclaimers About Core Updates
For our analysis of the August 2023 Core Update, we looked at the list of the top 1,000 winners and losers in both absolute and percentage terms, using Sistrix Visibility Index scores using the Google.com U.S. index. The visibility change was calculated between August 22, 2023, and September 9, 2023, the day the update officially concluded.
It’s important to remember that thousands, if not millions, of factors are at play in the changes we see to website rankings during a core update rollout, making it impossible to isolate exactly what happened to a site. This is especially true when analyzing sites from the outside without access to their internal data or knowing precisely how the website has changed. Technical issues, server outages, or other significant website changes can also cause changes to organic ranking performance. External factors, such as major news events or relevancy shifts, can impact rankings as well, even if the site did nothing “wrong” or “right” from an SEO perspective. Therefore, this data should only be used directionally.
It is also important to remember that visibility is not organic traffic and was never meant to represent organic traffic. It is a different metric that works differently and is only meant to represent how visible a website is in Google’s organic results compared to other domains. You can learn more about how Sistrix calculates visibility here.
All of that said, looking at the performance of websites at scale after a core update can be illuminating to see if any patterns exist among winning or losing websites.
For greatest accuracy, our Amsive SEO team manually categorized 500 domains in the list to see whether we could observe any trends among winning and losing sites. Of the 500 we classified, the sites fell into the following categories (plus the count of domains in each category):
|Website Category||Count of Domain|
|Business & Finance||21|
|Music & Lyrics||23|
|Websites, Hosting & Marketing||4|
Winners & Losers of the August 2023 Core Update
The tables below include a list of 250 domains that fell into both the winners and losers category (absolute and percent) as measured by their Sistrix Visibility Index scores on the day the update began compared to when it ended.
Absolute winners in terms of greatest Visibility Index score increases, which represents the total overall market share gained on Google relative to all other sites on the internet:
Note: one site was removed from the winner list, because its growth was not tied to the core update.
Percent winners in terms of greatest percentage increases during the core update, relative to the site’s own visibility scores.
Absolute losers in terms of greatest Visibility Index score decreases, which represents the total overall market share lost on Google relative to all other sites on the internet:
Percent losers in terms of greatest percentage decreases during the core update relative to the site’s own visibility scores.
Analysis of the August 2023 Core Update
- Massive increase in Reddit & UGC Sites
With only four sites classified as “UGC” (user-generated content) websites, this category still saw the greatest visibility increase — 290.18 points. The vast majority of this increase stemmed from Reddit, the biggest winner of the August 2023 core update. Reddit saw a whopping increase of 183.67 visibility points, representing a 64.68% increase for the site. The site now sees by far the greatest SEO visibility it has ever seen in its history of appearing on Google, as demonstrated by the chart below.
2. Rapid declines among sites known for “Parasite SEO”
Within the past several months, there has been significant chatter in the SEO industry about the benefits of using “Parasite SEO” – or publishing blogs containing affiliate and other backlinks on high-authority sites, which rank much more easily than smaller, lesser-known blogs. One of the most notorious examples, Outlook India, saw an enormous visibility decline resulting from the core update: -20.67 points, or -38.17% of the site’s SEO visibility.
Another relatively new site known for a similar site section, Newsdirect.com, was the greatest percentage loser, with a -70.03% decline in visibility.
3. Increases for sites with real experience, and declines for review sites lacking experience
It appears Google continues to elevate sites with real experience where that experience matters, such as travel blogs and product review sites.
Below are various Review sites that have seen significant percentage growth resulting from the update.
Sites like Garage Gym Reviews do a great job of meeting Google’s guidelines for review sites, such as providing ample evidence that the authors actually reviewed the products, plus unique photos of them using the products.
4. Drops in music and lyrics sites
While many music, lyrics, and entertainment sites had seen big increases with the prior March 2023 Core Update, the August Core Update reduced visibility of many of these sites.
5. Increase in health websites
WebMD was by far the biggest winner in the health category, with a whopping increase of 42.47 visibility points, representing over 20% organic growth for the site.
6. Increase in government & authoritative sites
As is the case with many Google core updates, official government sites both from the U.S. as well as abroad saw massive increases in visibility resulting from this core update, with the NIH leading the pack (+18.89 points).
7. Increases in education sites
Various universities and other education sites saw substantial increases resulting from this update.
8. Decline in the news category overall
The overall news category appears to have seen a decrease, including major publishers that are generally regarded as high E-E-A-T sites, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian. This could represent a shift in “QDF” – query deserves freshness – where Google possibly decided to show less recent news results for a greater set of queries.
Learn more about the latest in SEO.
The August 2023 Core Update demonstrates Google’s continuous efforts to combat low-quality and artificial content while promoting sites that offer real expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. This update rewarded high-E-E-A-T sites like Reddit, educational institutions, and government entities. It demoted tactics like “Parasite SEO” as well as content farms relying heavily on AI-generated text. As Google’s algorithms evolve to address new challenges like scalable synthetic content, we can expect further fluctuations in search rankings as the search engine works to surface results that best serve users.
Dive deeper into the impact of core updates and search intent on your SEO strategies or let’s talk about how to leverage these insights for your marketing efforts — and elevate your business.