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Google Algorithm Updates in 2022


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From core updates to product reviews, the helpful content system to combating spam, Google was a very busy bee in 2022.

In this article we’re going to run down what changed and why, along with how those updates are going to shape SEO in 2023. Let’s dive straight in:

Google updates of 2022 in review

Google is constantly making changes to its algorithm to improve the quality of search results and ensure that users are getting the most relevant and useful information possible. In 2022, Google rolled out several confirmed algorithm updates, each with the potential to impact website rankings and traffic. Here’s a rough summary of what went down:

  • 10 confirmed updates in 2022 (Google makes larger updates and changes which are planned and announced, there are a myriad of smaller updates across the year that are unannounced or ‘unconfirmed’)
  • There were 2 core updates (May & Sep) – this is where multiple changes are made to the central algorithm Google uses to rank sites across the web, they were big, impactful updates.
  • The general focus, as ever, was on providing users with a better overall experience whether in-platform (Google search) or on-site. This involved multiple spam updates, prioritising real reviews and ways to filter out content not created for the user.
  • Enter: The helpful content update – which aimed to demote content that is written to rank on search engines and not written to help people –see our blog on this for the full lowdown.
  • Google rolled out lots of changes in quick succession, particularly around the end of Summer and year end – making it difficult to track the impact and volatility of 2022’s updates

Google Algorithm Updates in 2022

“We put this diagram together to illustrate just how closely together some of those updates were released, the dates range from when they began rolling out to when they were confirmed as ‘completed’. You can see how knowing which update had a positive or negative effect on your site around September might be difficult.”

Update Schedule:
22 Feb – Mar 3: Desktop Page Experience Update
Mar 23 – Apr 11: Product Reviews Update #1
May 25 – Jun 9: Core Update #1
Jul 27 – Aug 2: Product reviews Update #2
Aug 25 – Sep 9: Helpful Content Update #1
Sep 12 – Sep 26: Core Update #2
Sep 20 – Sep 26: Product reviews Update #3
Oct 19 – Oct 21: Spam Update
Dec 5 – Jan 12: Helpful Content Update #2
Dec 14 – Jan 12: Link Spam Update

The core algorithm updates from 2022 made waves

Google released two core updates last year, one in May and one in September. The May update rolled out on 25th May and completed 9th June, hitting hard and fast, with some hefty peaks in SERP volatility on the 26th and the 5th. The September core update rolled out on the 12th and had finished by the 26th. There was actually less volatility reported from September’s update than May’s, but both were considered weaker than the core update of Nov 2021 (that was a beast).

May 2022 Core Update

Google’s May 2022 Core Update was a broad update that impacted a wide range of websites across multiple niches. As with all core updates, the goal was to improve the overall relevance and quality of search results. Some websites experienced significant fluctuations in rankings and traffic as a result, while others saw little to no impact.

One notable aspect of the May update was that it seemed to place greater emphasis on user engagement metrics such as bounce rate, time on site, and pages per session. This suggests that Google is increasingly focused on ensuring that websites are delivering a positive user experience, rather than simply targeting specific keywords or other technical factors.

September 2022 Core Update

Like the May update, the Sep ‘22 update impacted a wide range of websites, but some niches were hit particularly hard. Ecommerce sites saw some of the biggest increases in visibility, with some news and media sites losing the most visibility. One notable aspect of the September update was that it seemed to place greater emphasis on expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T) signals.

For a full rundown, see our analysis of the September core update here.

This is consistent with Google’s ongoing efforts to prioritise high-quality, authoritative content in its search results. Websites that were able to demonstrate expertise and authority in their respective niches, through things like high-quality content, backlinks from reputable sources, and positive user reviews definitely cut the mustard better than those lacking one or all of the latter.

The helpful content system updates made… ripples

We’ve gone into the helpful content update in detail in this article, but there were two updates made in 2022 to Google’s new helpful content system classifiers. The updates were meant to penalise content written solely to rank, and not written by a person to help other people.

August 25th – Google released the new update with a lot of press fuss and bluster

Dec 6th – They rolled out HCU 2.0

  • This took 38 days to roll out and was similarly underwhelming
  • Compare it to the core or product review updates and we’re yet to see similar volatility from the helpful content classifiers

The helpful content system as a whole was aimed at improving the quality of content that appears in search results. The HC system focuses on rewarding websites that offer high-quality, helpful, and informative content to users. In contrast, websites that offered thin content or content that was duplicated from other sources were penalised.

But what does this mean for you or me? Well, to make sure that your website is not negatively impacted by this update, focus on creating original, valuable, and informative content that meets the needs of your target audience. Google, as ever, has laid out “clear” guidance on the matter, worth checking out over at search central.

The 2022 product review updates shook the shelves

Google rolled out three product review updates in 2022, pair those with the two from 2021 and you’ve got a grand total of five updates within 24 months – quick maths.


But why? The cynic would say that they’ve not got it right yet, and bogus review sites still keep being rewarded with visibility despite their obvious bogusness. The more earnest among us might say, Google is perfecting the algorithm… Let’s take a look.

2022 Product Review Updates

  1. Released on March 23 and took 19 days to roll out – the third since they began back in 2021
  2. Released on July 27 and took 6 days to roll out
  3. Released on September 20, and also took six days to roll out, ending on September 26 – Mambo number five

What was the goal of the product review updates?

These updates were designed to improve the quality and relevance of product review content in search results, and to ensure that users are getting accurate and trustworthy information about products they may be interested in purchasing. The updates targeted three ways websites manipulate and twist product reviews for better search visibility:

  1. Using product review schema markup deceptively
  2. Overall quality of your product reviews
  3. Using product reviews to promote affiliate links

Schema has been around for years, but has recently curried great favour with SEOs the over the world, as Google shifts the weight of its value in their search algorithm. As part of the product review updates, Google stated that product review schema should only be used for content that was created by the website itself, rather than simply aggregating reviews from other sources.

They also made it very clear that they would be placing greater emphasis on factors like accuracy, trustworthiness, and expertise in its evaluation of product review content. Websites that were able to demonstrate niche expertise and provided detailed, well-researched reviews of products, saw some real gains. Check out Amsive Digital’s detailed analysis for a full analysis.

Affiliate marketing is a contentious topic within SEO, but whatever your opinion, product review sites built for affiliate purposes aren’t going anywhere. With the PR reviews of last year, Google aimed to penalise websites that were using affiliate links in a deceptive or manipulative way, and looking for signals that websites were prioritising affiliate revenue over providing accurate and trustworthy information to users.

Google’s spam updates caused (mild) panic

Goes without saying that, if you’re approaching SEO the right way, (which is to say; user-centric) and not adopting any outdated or ‘spammy’ tactics – the spam updates of 2022 shouldn’t have been of any concern for you. However, if you’re a legacy domain with a rich and detailed history, any update that looks to criticise your link profile is likely to cause your SEO’s blood pressure to rise. Let’s take a look at what we know:

October 2022 spam update

  • Released October 19 and took 48 hours to roll out
  • First time Google used SpamBrain AI to better detect spam and not rank it in Google Search
  • Google stated they were targeting spam and not content written for humans by humans

December 2022 link spam update

  • Released December 14 and took 29 days to roll out, ending on January 12, 2023
  • This update also used SpamBrain AI to neutralise link spam which did seem to have an impact on links and rankings

October Spam Update

In October 2022, Google rolled out a spam-related update aimed at cracking down on a range of spammy practices. This update targeted websites that were using techniques like keyword stuffing, cloaking, and hidden text to manipulate search rankings.

December Link Spam Update

The December 2022 Link Spam Update focused on websites that engaged in manipulative link-building practices. This update penalised websites that used link schemes to artificially boost their search rankings, such as buying links or participating in link farms. Google’s goal with this update was to promote natural and organic link building practices and to ensure that search results are not manipulated by spammy links.

To avoid being negatively impacted by this update, focus on building high-quality, relevant, and natural links to your website. This can be achieved by creating valuable content that is worth linking to and by reaching out to other websites in your industry to build relationships and earn links.

How are the updates of 2022 shaping SEO in 2023?

I think it’s safe to say that the updates we saw in 2022 turned the search lens back on SEOs and marketers, with an emphasis on putting a stop to ‘gaming’ search engines and instead, providing quality content to answer users’ queries.

The SERPs shifted across the year as they always do, with some gains or losses more predictable than others. In their annual wrap-up of 2022, SISTRIX laid out the key trends of the last year in search:

In 2023, SEOs and marketers will need to heed the changes we saw last year and factor that into their strategy and approach over the next 12 months. Before we go, here are five takes we’ll be applying in 2023 that you might want to consider as part of your strategy:

  • Brands are shifting their focus from short-term to long-term success. Search engine optimisation (SEO) has always been about making your site appealing to search engines, but now it’s also about creating an experience that will keep visitors coming back. Look to target terms that people are actually searching for, improve your user experience and heed core web vitals, particularly on mobile.
  • It seems that Google’s algorithms are adjusting to help people during the cost-of-living crisis. You can see this in health content, but it is likely that they have expanded the change across other YMYL topics. There’s significant volume to be found in these related topics, but they will be competitive – look to target longer-tail combinations and lean into location if those big money terms are out of your reach.
  • ‘Internationalisation’ is increasingly crucial for search relevance, particularly on platforms where the root domain does not change, like Etsy. By serving users with the most relevant information and products based on location, users on these domains have been able to improve their visibility in search. If you’re running a shop across different countries, make sure your SEO fundamentals are in place and present products for different audiences.
  • Content hubs still offer a best-case scenario for showcasing your brand’s experience, expertise and authority. With all the SERP updates focussed around content in 2022, it’s clear how important producing helpful and high-quality content will be in 2023. Look to build out clear pillars of content around specific categories, and unless you have a concrete reason, always use a sub-page, not a sub-domain.
  • Although the role of links in SEO has been debated, they still matter. Ultimately, links help users find content and brands, as well as enhance their browsing experience. Link building in 2023 will need to be careful and considered, focusing on quality over quantity, and trying to build niche-specific links to improve the authority of your domain within its industry.

And that’s it! Search in 2022, in miniature. If you have any questions about Google algorithm updates in 2023, or if you’re looking for help with your SEO strategy in 2023, get in touch with the team for a chat.

We offer a comprehensive range of SEO services to support the development of your brand's visibility in search.

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