Google’s March 2024 Core Update: Cracking Down on Spam and Elevating Search Quality

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40%  —  that’s the percentage of “unhelpful content” Google intends to wipe out with their March 2024 core update. That’s a lot. 

Some are calling this the “mother of all updates” and it will roll out over the next 30 days. According to Google, this update is aimed at improving the quality of search results. 

Highlights of the Update:

  • Google is implementing updates to enhance search results and minimize spam content.
  • Aims to decrease low-quality, redundant content in search results by 40%.
  • Enhanced anti-spam actions target manipulative practices involving scaled content, third-party site reputation misuse, and expired domain acquisitions.

Other SEO experts also noted that the new update will also be introducing substantial changes to how link signals are evaluated

All in all, this update represents a dual effort to combat low-quality content and refine the intricacies of ranking algorithms. 

The word on the street

Since the start of the roll out, we’ve seen from our communities reports of websites getting de-indexed (read: removed from search results pages, i.e. lost rankings). 

Here’s one from a member of an SEO Facebook group saying all of their websites got de-indexed by Google following the announcement of the March 2024 update.

Another Facebook user from the Fat Graph SEO group reported receiving manual action notices on their Search Console and they lost 10 niche sites in a blink of an eye. 

On Reddit, we’re also seeing reports from website owners losing their rankings to the update. 

Other marketers are calling the update a “bloodbath” — and it looks like it is. 

Our sensors show that it has been very volatile for the past weeks (as of March 12, 2024). 

So, should you be worried?

Well, let’s find out! 

The March 2024 Update: Enhancements to Content Quality

At the heart of the March 2024 Core Update is a series of algorithmic enhancements designed to significantly reduce “unhelpful” content in search results by an ambitious 40%. 

Elizabeth Tucker, Google’s Director of Product for Search, emphasized the focus on surfacing the most valuable information while reducing the visibility of unoriginal content.

This isn’t new. 

It’s been Google’s mandate to improve the quality of its search results. 

So, this update just builds upon ongoing efforts since 2022’s helpful content updates — reward high-quality sites with increased visibility and traffic.

In a gist, the March 2024 update introduces stricter spam policies targeting three key areas:

1. Scaled Content Abuse

Well, say goodbye to mass produced nonsense. 

This update is targeting content generated at scale, whether through automation or human effort, that seeks to manipulate search rankings. 

Google’s documentation also notes:

“Scaled content abuse is when many pages are generated for the primary purpose of manipulating Search rankings and not helping users. This abusive practice is typically focused on creating large amounts of unoriginal content that provides little to no value to users, no matter how it’s created.”

So, no, this is not just about AI-generated content. The update concerns any kind of content deemed unhelpful or spammy. 

2. Site Reputation Abuse (aka “Parasite SEO)

Reputation abuse, or “Parasite SEO” as others call it, is the practice where a website would host low-quality content from other websites  to ride on the ranking power of the first party website. 

Google’s documentation reads:

Site reputation abuse is when third-party pages are published with little or no first-party oversight or involvement, where the purpose is to manipulate Search rankings by taking advantage of the first-party site’s ranking signals. Such third-party pages include sponsored, advertising, partner, or other third-party pages that are typically independent of a host site’s main purpose or produced without close oversight or involvement of the host site, and provide little to no value to users.”

This is typically done when you’re guest posting on sites with higher domain authority — typically, the goal is to “pass on the SEO juice” from the higher authority site to the low authority website. 

Are all guest content (third-party content) in violation of this new policy? 

Google says, “No, only that which is hosted without close oversight and which is intended to manipulate Search rankings,” for example, “a third party might publish payday loan reviews on a trusted educational website to gain ranking benefit from the site.”

So, yes, you can still do or accept guest posts or run native advertising campaigns on your website.

Google’s policy is clear:

“Many publications host advertising content that is intended for their regular readers, rather than to primarily manipulate Search rankings. Sometimes called “native advertising” or “advertorial”, this kind of content typically wouldn’t confuse regular readers of the publication when they find it on the publisher’s site directly or when arriving at it from Google’s search results. It doesn’t have to be blocked from Google Search.”

3. Expired Domain Abuse

Google is also setting its eyes on the misuse of expired domains. This is a practice where expired domains are purchased and repurposed with the “intention of boosting the search ranking of low-quality content” — in other words, you purchase an expired domain to ride its coattails (slapping low quality content on a high-authority domain to harvest links). 

For example, “someone might purchase a domain previously used by a medical site and repurpose that to host low quality casino-related content, hoping to be successful in Search based on the domain’s reputation from a previous ownership.

Related Reading: New ways we’re tackling spammy, low-quality content on Search – Google

The Impact: Bye, bye! to a whopping 40% of unhelpful content

Google estimates that the update will cut down low-quality content on the web by an impressive 40%. 

The update documentation reads:

“We believe these updates will reduce the amount of low-quality content in Search and send more traffic to helpful and high-quality sites. Based on our evaluations, we expect that the combination of this update and our previous efforts will collectively reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40%.”

This is good news for search engine users, of course. But not so good news for those who like taking shortcuts to SEO and content marketing

Is this AI-generated content’s reckoning? 

Well, it depends. 

If you’re asking whether all AI-generated content will suffer from this update, the answer is NO. Inversely, if you’re asking if all human-produced content is safe from this update, the answer is also NO. 

Whether a content is produced through automation or by a human, it will ultimately be judged through its quality.

Google’s guidance about  AI-generated content explicitly states that we should “focus on the quality of content, rather than how content is produced”. 

While Google says that the use of automation, including AI-generative tools, “with the primary purpose of manipulating ranking in search results” is a violation of their spam policies — and this is what this March 2024 update is all about. 

However, Google also says that “not all use of automation, including AI generation, is spam”. 

Google’s guidance on AI use clearly acknowledges the role AI plays in helping us create better content:

“Automation has long been used to generate helpful content, such as sports scores, weather forecasts, and transcripts. AI has the ability to power new levels of expression and creativity, and to serve as a critical tool to help people create great content for the web.”

So, no, simply using AI to help you produce content won’t get you punished. Ultimately, it’s the quality of the work that matters. 

Is it helpful to your readers? Does it provide real value? 

To help you gauge if your content is helpful or not, we’ve prepared a series of guide questions to help you: Google’s Content Quality Self-Help Assessment

Refinements to Link Signals: Are backlinks no longer that important? 

In addition to content quality improvements, SEO experts speculate that  the March 2024 Core Update also brings forth significant modifications to how link signals are interpreted within Google’s ranking algorithm. 

These changes reflect a more nuanced approach to assessing links, aiming to foster authenticity and relevance.

  1. Deemphasizing the Importance of Links: Reflecting a broader reassessment of links’ role in the ranking process, Google has updated its documentation to describe links simply as “a factor” in determining page relevancy, removing the qualifier “important.”
  2. Content Created for Link Manipulation: New guidelines target the creation of low-value content designed primarily for manipulating linking and ranking signals, addressing the use of networks (such as PBNs) to fabricate contextually relevant links.
  3. Scrutiny on Outgoing Links: For the first time, Google explicitly states it will examine manipulative outgoing links, expanding efforts to penalize sites that use outgoing links to manipulate rankings.

All in all, it seems Google is placing more premium on content and less on backlinks — as it should be. 

What’s the timeframe for compliance?

  • There’s a two-month window offered for websites to review these new policy and adapt
  • The update will continue over the next several weeks
  • Google encourages everyone to prompt adapt to these changes to maintain or improve our search rankings

Final Thoughts

In essence, the March 2024 update is a step in the right direction. It is part of our quest for a better internet. Ultimately, it rewards quality and originality. 

So, whether you use AI to help you build content or not, it is worth remembering that at the end of the day, it’s content that truly connects… matters the most

Let’s make the internet a better place. 

Whether you use AI to help you build content or not, it is worth remembering that at the end of the day, it’s content that truly connects matters the most.  Click To Tweet

If you need help getting your SEO and content game sorted, just reach out and one of our content experts will get in touch with you.

Slye Joy Serrano

March 12, 2024

Slye Joy Serrano

Meet Slye — the inbound marketing maven who's got the "write" stuff. With a master's degree in International Studies and a flair for content and qualitative research, Slye has made a name for himself as the Managing Director at Content Hacker. When he's not busy cracking the content code, you can find him jamming to the Beatles and exploring the great outdoors with her two furry companions. Whether it's SEO or the great outdoors, Slye knows how to rock it.

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