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Google March 2024 Core & Spam Updates: Everything You Need to Know

During the last week, Google has begun to release its highly anticipated March 2024 Core and Spam updates.

They are a series of updates happening throughout March to improve the quality of Google’s search results. Early indications show that there is up to a 40% reduction in unhelpful content on the back of the updates.

As you can probably tell by now, this is a major event from Google that will result in a widespread impact on some websites where rankings and therefore traffic will reduce or be lost.

We know that this will be of interest and that you may have questions on the back of this update. To preempt this, we have analysed Google’s announcements and read their new policies so that you do not have to. We’ve summarised the important bits below.

Search Engine Optimisation. Google Core Update March 2024

What is a Google Core Update and Why is it important to me?

Every few months Google releases core system updates. These updates are Google’s way of continuous improvement as they strive to hit their objective of increasing the quality of their search results. 

By releasing updates Google can start to reduce the amount of low-quality search results and spammy websites appearing on its search results page. This helps to increase the value experienced by Google’s visitors by delivering high-quality and relevant content which satisfies their search queries. 

The update should also benefit websites that display helpful content written for humans and not for search rankings. By removing sites and pages with low-quality content, it opens up opportunities for sites with great content to start climbing the rankings. 

Man using a mobile device to search on Google.

The Google March 2024 Google Update

Overview

The March 2024 Core Update was tipped to be a major update, but its size and impact has caught even the most experienced of marketers by surprise. 

This is the first core update of 2024 and is one of the largest Google Updates in recent times. As a result, it is already making a profound impact on how sites are ranked on the Google Search Results Page. 

Elizabeth Tuker, who is Director of Product, Search at Google announced that the update will eradicate 40% of unhelpful content in Google Search in a recent interview with Search Engine Journal. 

The exact details of the update are complex, involving multiple changes and update to Google’s Core Ranking Systems to enhance the search experience for its visitors. It will do this by boosting high-quality and helpful content that has been created for human consumption. Content that has been created with the purpose to manipulate the search engines is likely to be penalised or removed altogether.

What is the Impact?

The impact of the update has been profound. From industry news and reading forums, we can confirm that some websites have been completely removed from Google’s search index overnight resulting in zero traffic from search. 

There is also evidence that a lot of websites are seeing a significant reduction in keyword rankings and traffic since the update. 

If your website has experienced a hit in rankings, do not panic. This is not an indication that your website is considered spammy or that your content is low quality. However, there are a few things you or your SEO management partner can check:

  1. Google Search Console – Log in and check to see if you have any spam content warnings or manual actions from Google. If there is no warnings, great! If there is, please feel free to get in touch and we will advise on how you can fix the issue. 
  2. Check your content – We’d advise checking the content on the pages that have lost ranking. Analyse your content to ensure that it is high quality and helpful for the person searching for it. Remember, create content for humans not the search engines. 
  3. Do nothing – Unfortunately, similar to the Autumn core update, websites with good content will get caught up in this. Google is aware of this issue and will likely apply a fix in the next Core update. You will also likely see incremental ranking increases between now and the next update. 

 

The impact from the March 2024 Core Update has seen a rapid impact, faster than previous updates and should be seen as a signal of how future updates will be delivered. 

What Should I do Going Forward?

Our advice would be to continue creating helpful content and evaluating and updating previous content to fit within Google’s Helpful Content Guidelines. Evaluate originality, value to readers and how comprehensive the content is.

This should put your content in a good place for Google’s upcoming Generative Search update which is set to change how your business is found on Google. We are planning for this major update to be released in the first half of 2024. 

Student searching Google on a Macbook

The Google March 2024 Google Update

Overview

Swiftly moving on to Google’s March 2024 Spam update… 

The spam updates have been released alongside the core update and they are aimed at further improving search results.

These updates target a few specific areas which we discuss below and are being released throughout the month. 

Specific Spam Updates

Site Reputation Abuse Spam Update: This update relates to site reputation abuse which has become known in the industry as Parasite SEO. 

This is where a reputable website will host low-quality content from a third party to boost the third party’s ranking and traffic. 

An example of this would be a startup crypto company uploading low-quality content to a trusted financial industry website to piggyback on its SEO power. 

This type of content is often confusing to website visitors who have specifically landed on a website with the expectation of being served high-quality content. 

Scaled Content Abuse Search Spam: An update that targets the growing issue of low-quality content produced at scale by humans, automation such as AI, or a hybrid of both. This type of content is produced in vast quantities with the aim of manipulating the search engine results page (SERP). 

The update enhances on previous policies that ruled against spammy automated content. It gives Google more power to take action against websites that violate its policies and offer little to no value to the reader.

Elizabeth Tucker from Google said:

“Our long-standing spam policy has been that use of automation, including generative AI, is spam if the primary purpose is manipulating ranking in Search results. The updated policy is in the same spirit of our previous policy and based on the same principle. It’s been expanded to account for more sophisticated scaled content creation methods where it isn’t always clear whether low quality content was created purely through automation.”

“Our new policy is meant to help people focus more clearly on the idea that producing content at scale is abusive if done for the purpose of manipulating search rankings and that this applies whether automation or humans are involved.”

Reducing the Importance of Links: Google is starting to de-emphasize the power of links as a ranking signal. 

As reported in a Search Engine Journal post, Google’s Gary Illyes announced that links are no longer in the top three ranking signals for Google.

This statement has now been backed up by a change in Google’s documentation:

Before: “Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

Now: “Google uses links as a factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

The way we see it is, links are still important for your SEO and they should continue to be built. However, their strength is going to reduce over time and there is going to be a clampdown on paid-for links (more on this below), so ensure your links are genuine and acquired in the right way. 

Expired Domain Abuse: Google announced that it is going to start penalising websites that violate its expired domain abuse policy. 

Expired domain abuse is where lapsed domains are purchased and flipped to boost the search ranking and traffic of low-quality content. 

Some expired domains still have significant authority and there is evidence of entities using them solely to rank on Google. 

Link Manipulation: Until recently there was networks of websites that would appear in the Google search results. These websites would individually focus on one niche while linking between them to gain authority and ranking. 

Google has started removing these networks because it has identified that the individuals running them are not genuine experts in these niches. Instead, they are regenerating content available elsewhere to gain ranking and attract huge amounts of traffic. They then sell advertising space on their website networks to make huge profits.

We have seen evidence over the last week of entire networks being deindexed from Google. 

New Signal for Outgoing Links: In the last of the major spam updates, Google has confirmed that it is now actively checking outgoing links. 

This is a brand new process that has the aim to penalise websites that sell outgoing links. This is something that has been against Google’s policy for some time. 

Summary

From the Google update events of the last week, we now know that Google is getting serious about cleaning up its search results. 

It is now proactively seeking out low-quality content and completely removing it from its results pages to greatly increase user experience. 

We think that this is a wave of housekeeping which is required for its new flagship feature, Search Generative Experience to work as seamlessly as possible and deliver the highest quality information for users once it is released.

As an agency, we are already putting new strategies into place for our SEO clients. Our recommendation to everyone else would be to listen to what Google is saying. We keep hearing them shout about ‘content for humans, not search engines’ which would suggest that delivering on this message will probably put your website in a good place for future updates.

If you have any questions on the March 2024 Core or Spam Updates, Google Search Generative Experience, or anything to do with SEO, please get in touch with us via the form below. 

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