Winners & Losers of the September 2022 Core Update & Product Reviews Update

Jump to: Winners of the UpdatesLosers of the UpdatesAnalysis of the 2022 September Core Update & Product Review Update & Impacts Across Categories

From August to September of 2022, Google rolled out three significant search algorithm updates nearly concurrently: the Helpful Content Update, the September 2022 Core Update, and the fifth rendition of the Product Reviews update. The full list of Google’s recent updates and their associated launch dates can be found on this handy new page Google created for this purpose.

Somewhat ironically, Google stated in the midst of all these updates that they try not to launch major updates concurrently, in order to help creators better understand the impacts and outcomes of what they changed. However, just days after the completion of the Helpful Content Update, the September 2022 Core Update and most recent Product Review Update were launched only eight days apart, shared six days of overlap, and ended on the exact same day (September 26).

These details are important to understand because they make clear analysis of any of these updates nearly impossible. While it has always been difficult to isolate the exact cause of Google ranking volatility due to the preponderance of signals used in organic ranking, the simultaneous rollout of these two updates makes it impossible to say whether a ranking drop or increase is directly due to one update or the other.

That said, Google has been clear in its documentation related to Product Review Updates that this series of updates should, in theory, only impact sites containing product reviews. However, as astutely pointed out by Glenn Gabe in his article about the Product Reviews Updates, Product Review Updates can impact entire sections of a site or the entire site, much like a core update, especially if the entire site’s focus is on product reviews. Therefore, it’s not only difficult to know which update caused a ranking decline, but one update could exacerbate or even reverse the effects of the other update.

The above context is important to understand because it means that pinpointing the exact causes of ranking changes on Google is impossible, and analyses like these are purely speculative based on the data that is available to us. While this information was already true, this particular set of updates is even harder to analyze given that they rolled out at the same time.

Methodology & Disclaimers About Core Updates

For our analysis of the September 2022 core update, we collected the list of over 1,800 winning and losing domains in terms of their Sistrix Visibility Index scores using the Google.com U.S. index. The visibility change was calculated between September 12, 2022 and September 27, 2022.

We have also pulled in category labels from Similarweb for all analyzed domains to see whether the impacts of the core update affected any particular categories more than others.

Because it is impossible to determine whether a site was impacted by the September 2022 core update, or the Product Reviews update, all domains have been grouped together. Later in the article, likely culprits of the Product Reviews updates will be analyzed on their own.

It’s important to remember that thousands 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 or what specifically Google aimed to achieve with the core update and Product Reviews Updates.

That said, it can be illuminating to look at the performance of websites at scale after a core update to see if any patterns exist among winning or losing websites.

Winners of the Updates

Absolute winners in terms of greatest Visibility Index score increases, which represents the total overall market share gained on Google:

Percentage winners in terms of greatest percentage increases in Visibility Index scores since the start of the September core update:

Losers of the Updates

Absolute losers in terms of greatest Visibility Index score decreases, which represents the total overall market share lost on Google:

Percentage losers in terms of greatest percentage decreases in Visibility Index scores since the start of the September core update:

Analysis of the 2022 September Core Update & Product Review Update & Impacts Across Categories

By comparing Similarweb categories with total Sistrix visibility index changes, we can see the impact that this update had across categories. The “absolute VI change” scores shown here are a net figure that represents how much organic market share was gained or lost in each category as a result of these updates.

It’s important to remember that a small set of sites — or even just one site — could be responsible for massive gains or losses, like Amazon, an “eCommerce and Shopping” site, which was singlehandedly responsible for an absolute increase of 273.5 VI points! On the flipside, YouTube was the biggest overall loser in visibility, accounting for a -122 point decline in the “Arts and Entertainment” category.

Similarweb category with sum of absolute V1 change

News Websites

One of the most significant outcomes of the September 2022 Core Update was its impact on news websites.

Below is the list of news sites seeing declines, sorted by the greatest drop in absolute visibility scores:

News websites visibility

The impact was especially felt among CNN, Metro.co.uk, NY Post, CNBC, WSJ, Bloomberg, Mirror.co.uk, and Daily Mail, which saw significant declines in visibility.

Not all news sites decreased. The New York Times, Pew Research, The Guardian, Today, and Time all saw increases in visibility:

news websites visibility

However, the total overall decline in “News” as a category significantly outweighed the gains experienced by these sites. In aggregate, all the sites classified as “News & Media” in our analysis saw a combined drop of -137 visibility index points.

It’s possible that Google is reducing the number of news results it shows for a variety of queries as a result of these September updates. This is essentially the opposite of QDF – query deserves freshness.

Analyzing the rankings of news sites is also especially challenging due to the volatile nature of news rankings: Google may rank a news site higher when the news is actively occurring, but the article will naturally lose rankings as the news cycle changes.

In the case of CNN, there is some evidence that the site lost one or two positions on page 1 for extremely high-volume keywords, like “news” and “weather,” which in and of itself can cause enormous visibility declines.

news chart

Government Sites

Another big outcome of the September 2022 core update is the impact it had on many .government sites. The CDC alone saw an increase of 43.41 visibility points, and various other .gov sites saw visibility increases of 30% or more.

governement sites chart

I posted a thread on Twitter about what this type of change in rankings looks like for one of the affected sites, the U.S. Department of Justice:

https://twitter.com/lilyraynyc/status/1574385767484358656?s=20&t=1HBbaxMM1F5YUJkAk4fmBA

Google has indicated that its algorithms should elevate highly authoritative sources during times of crisis.

EAT matters more during crises slide

This focus on authoritativeness has seemingly caused a massive increase in visibility among a variety of highly authoritative sites, both including government sites but also medical authorities like the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. This update exacerbated the growth that has been taking place among these sites over the past five years.

medical sites visibility

Music Sites

Some of the biggest winners of this update have been music sites like Spotify, Last.fm, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Shazam. One theory why this may be taking place is that Google has slightly changed the intent for what types of results it shows when searchers look for individual songs. Perhaps Google is choosing to show less lyrics content and more actual music player sites.

musics site chart

Lyrics Sites

As with many core updates, lyrics sites were impacted by the September 2022 core update. The website azlyrics.com has seen a tremendous uptick in visibility, whereas several lyrics sites have seen significant declines. Interestingly, this pattern appears to start during the Helpful Content Update (letter A in the below chart), where lyrics sites appeared to be among the first types of websites negatively impacted by that update.

lyrics sits visibility chart

This may be evidence that the classifier Google introduced during the Helpful Content Update to identify low-quality, unhelpful content may have also been used in the September 2022 core update, but there is currently no confirmation from Google that this is true.

Dictionary Sites

Dictionary sites often see tremendous volatility during core updates, which I have written about in previous analysis of core updates, and the September 2022 core update was no exception.

While Wiktionary saw a significant boost in visibility, yourdictionary.com and Merriam Webster were among the biggest losers this time.

dictionary sites visibility chart

These ranking declines don’t always mean the sites don’t have good SEO or that they did anything wrong. Especially in the case of websites like dictionaries, this may just be an indication of an intent shift: Google previously thought a dictionary definition was a good result for a given query, but the algorithms now think there’s a better type of result for the query.

eCommerce Sites

There was significant movement among the rankings of various e-commerce sites, with Amazon being by far the biggest winner, but major winners of previous updates like Walmart, Target, and eBay saw declines this time around.

Winning eCommerce sites sorted by the greatest absolute decline in visibility:

eCommerce winners visibility chart

Losing eCommerce sites sorted by the greatest absolute decline in visibility:

eCommerce losers visibility chart

Some smaller eCommerce players, like Aveda and Everything But Water, saw great benefits from the September 2022 core update and the fifth Product Reviews update (shown in letter H):

eCommerce sites ranking chart

Stock Photography Sites

The core update caused significant ranking declines among various major stock photography websites, which often move as a group during core updates. Similar to dictionaries, this may have less to do with the individual sites doing anything “wrong” and more to do with Google determining that a stock photograph may not be the best result for a variety of queries.

stock photography sites ranking chart

Likely Culprits of the Product Reviews Update

As stated above, it’s difficult to determine exactly which sites are impacted by the fifth rendition of the Product Reviews updates, separately from the core update (or in some cases, if both updates affected the same sites). However, there are many sites that almost exclusively focus on product reviews, which are likely culprits of having been impacted specifically by the Product Reviews update (PRU):

Possible winners of the PRU:

Winners of product review update
Possible losers of the PRU:
losers of product review update

Did the Helpful Content Update Classifier Impact Sites?

As it stands, we don’t have confirmation from Google that the Helpful Content Update specifically played a role in the September core update. But there are some sites seeing declines over the past couple of weeks that seem like good candidates for losing visibility due to having a significant portion of what Google describes as unhelpful content, such as:

impact to classifer sites

Stay Up-To-Date on SEO

SEO is always evolving. To learn the latest in SEO, read our expert team’s freshest insights and explore our full suite of SEO services to see how we grow brands and bottom lines as a leading digital marketing agency. Have a question? Reach out to @lilyraynyc on Twitter or talk with our team!

Want to know more now? Read Google’s ‘Helpful Content Update’ to Devalue ‘Search-Engine First’ Content and Elevate Authentic, Expert Voices in Search.

Find out what we can do for your bottom line.

Our flexible solutions will help you meet (and exceed) your business goals.

Let's Talk