Image depicting the digital marketing updates from 2023 with icons to symbolize Bing, Google, content marketing, third-party cookies, AI, PPC, and online ads.
January 4, 2024

The Most Important SEO & Digital Marketing Updates From 2023

From Google Analytics 4 to algorithm updates and the AI revolution, 2023 was a year of monumental change for SEO and digital marketing. 

2024 promises to bring more of the same, so it’s crucial you stay up to date with the latest marketing updates so you can stay adaptable. 

But before we look ahead to 2024, take a moment to reflect on these vital pieces of news and updates from 2023. 

GA4 Replaces Universal Analytics

Image depicting the transition from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4. Each logo is represented with an arrow from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4.

In July 2023, we bid farewell to Universal Analytics. Google replaced it with their next-generation measurement solution, Google Analytics 4

Many industry pros were disappointed, as they’d grown attached to Universal Analytics for its functionality and UX. However, with the release of GA4, Google promised significantly advanced capabilities, including:

  • Customer-centric measurement
  • Insights powered by machine learning
  • Deeper integration across Google’s marketing products
  • Flexible, nuanced data controls

Of course, GA4 came with significant changes in UX, but arguably the biggest difference was in the data collection and modeling. 

Whereas Universal Analytics was built on a session-based data model that captured user interactions as various hit types, GA4 captures each user interaction as an event without categories, actions, or labels. 

GA4 wasn’t exactly met with a warm reception by the industry. Some unwillingness to adapt to a new measurement solution could be expected, but there was also fairly wide agreement that GA4’s emergence was clunky and buggy. 

Recent improvements have helped considerably, and the thing to remember about GA4 is that, unlike Universal Analytics, it’s built for a cookie-less future that will emphasize user privacy and data protection. 

This brings us to the next big subject of interest in 2023: the third-party cookie. 

RELATED: How to Set Up Google Analytics 4 for Your eCommerce Site

Third-Party Cookies Are Going Away

Image depicting a giant cookie with a red X crossing it out to symbolize the end of third-party cookies.

We aren’t at the end of the road just yet, but the demise of third-party cookies is inevitable and, for Chrome users, already underway. 

As of January 4, 2024, Google deprecated third-party cookie support for 1% of Chrome users selected randomly. By the beginning of Q3, Google intends to have phased out third-party cookies entirely. 

It’s a huge change for digital marketers, who have depended on the data and insights from these cookies for nearly three decades. Without cross-site tracking of users, targeting and retargeting efforts will likely become far less effective.

The replacement? Privacy-preserving APIs from Google’s Privacy Sandbox, first-party cookies, and zero-party data collection in the form of surveys, polls, and quizzes for your users. 

But none of them—or even their sum—is likely to prove a 1:1 replacement for the incredibly useful data gleaned from third-party cookies. 

Brands will have to do their best to adapt in the cookie-less future if they want to see meaningful growth. 

Fortunately, everyone will be on a level playing field, and there will likely be no shortage of knowledge sharing as industry professionals regain their footing. 

RELATED: What Happens When Chrome Blocks Third-Party Cookies?

AI Tools Hit the Mainstream

2023 showed us that AI chatbots and other products powered by machine learning are well on their way to fundamentally changing how people use the web. 

Early on, we were introduced to Google’s Bard and Microsoft’s Bing Chat. Bard infamously stumbled out of the gate, giving an incorrect—and very public—answer that resulted in Alphabet losing $100 billion in market value for a period. 

While Bard’s miss may have been the most notable example, it certainly wasn’t the only instance of AI products struggling. 

Hallucinations remain an issue, and it’s clear that while GPT-4 and other generative AI tools can aid content creators, the work they produce must be fact-checked and refined by a human editor. 

In Google’s content creation guidance, the search giant initially said content should be created for people rather than for algorithms and by people rather than machines. 

However, that guidance was later revised to remove the “by people” bit. The change has been widely interpreted as indicating that Google believes generative AI should have a place in content creation. 

However, what that place will ultimately look like remains unclear. 

For SEOs and digital marketers, AI can be a significant productivity enhancer. From writing tags to meta descriptions and even outlining blog posts, AI is already demonstrating real value. 

That said, we’re still in the early days of this emerging technology, although that isn’t stopping major players from releasing these powerful tools to the public. 

In fact, in December 2023, we saw Google release Gemini, and Microsoft made its Copilot generally available. It seems AI has progressed from crawling to walking, and we could very well see it start running in 2024. 

A Whirlwind of Google Updates

Image depicting a tornado with the Google and Google Chrome logos to signify the frenzy of updates released in 2023.

As the Helpful Content Update from December 2022 rolled out, we saw enormous volatility in the world of SEO and digital marketing. The saga continued through 2023, with Google releasing numerous significant system and algorithm changes. 

Here are the biggest updates from 2023. 

Core Updates

In total, we saw nine meaningful updates from Google in 2023. Four were core updates rolled out in March, August, October, and November, respectively. 

Other than announcing each rollout, Google doesn’t tend to offer much insight as to what core updates cover. We do know that the back-to-back updates in October and November each addressed a different core system, but that’s about it. 

As for recovering lost traffic or SERP positions, Google’s boilerplate guidance remains the same: Hang tight. Site impacts brought on by a core update don’t necessarily mean that the site is somehow deficient. 

Instead of reacting after a core update, maintain a consistent, proactive approach to SEO. Create a first-rate UX, promptly address technical issues, and publish helpful, people-first content to deliver genuine value to your visitors. If you’re doing everything right and by the book, Google shouldn’t see a reason to “punish” your site. 

Reviews Updates

We also saw a pair of reviews updates from Google in 2023. Rolling out in April and November, they improved Google’s ability to recognize quality review content. 

Because reviews are so vital to how we shop and form opinions online, it’s only natural that Google would emphasize this type of content. 

Any site that uses reviews, and especially eCommerce sites, should have a thorough understanding of Google’s quality standards for reviews and only publish review content that aligns with Google’s best practices. 

The November reviews update also marked the last time Google announced this type of update. 

Going forward, the reviews system will be updated on an ongoing basis, so stay alert and continue following Google’s best practices to maintain your rankings. 

October 2023 Spam Update

Thanks to filters, avoiding email spam is easier than ever. However, there’s so much spam online in the form of sites, ads, and social media profiles, that the web can sometimes feel cluttered.

To address reports of cloaking, hacked spam, auto-generated spam, and scraped spam, Google released the October 2023 Spam Update.

The update impacted sites in all languages, but Google specifically identified spam appearing in Turkish, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Hindi, and Chinese. 

While the search giant hasn’t specified a date for the rollout, Google has confirmed that it’s already working on the next spam update. 

September 2023 Helpful Content Update

Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update delivered three key changes:

  • Relaxed guidance on AI-generated content
  • Negative impacts for sites hosting third-party content on their primary domain or subdomain
  • Updated guidance on creating “helpful, reliable, people-first content.”

For digital marketers, the takeaway is simple: High-quality, helpful content designed for people rather than search engines is what Google wants to put at the top of its organic search results. 

Tricks, hacks, and quick fixes aren’t the way to drive meaningful, lasting results for any business. 

Has Google closed every loophole and perfected the art of evaluating pages? Certainly not. But the shortcuts that once worked are now obsolete. 

Succeeding in the digital marketplace of 2024 will require a thoughtful strategy, cutting-edge research, and expert implementation. 

VELOX Media Can Help You Unlock Exponential Growth in 2024

If 2023 had one clear takeaway for digital marketers, it’s the old quote from Heraclitus: The only constant in life is change. 

What drove results for your enterprise yesterday may not prove effective tomorrow, and the best way to minimize risk is to stay adaptable. 

VELOX has forged a reputation as the ROI-focused digital marketing agency that exceeds client expectations—not by falling back on the same old techniques but by pushing boundaries and innovating to deliver exponential growth. 

Contact VELOX today and make 2024 your brand’s best year yet.

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