Mastering Google’s March Core Update: Out With Spam & Poor Quality

Unless you’ve been living on a desert island, you’ve probably noticed that Google is announcing a lot more updates these days.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are carrying out more updates than they were in the past, but they are certainly being a lot more vocal about them.

At one time, you could go a good six months or more without hearing very much about major algorithm updates. We’re now living in a time where significant updates arrive multiple times a year, and many websites can be heavily impacted by them.

However, even by the standards of recent history, the March 2024 Core Update has been a big one.

In fact, it was so big that it took 52 days in total to roll out.

Join us as we explore the nature and the aftermath of Google’s March 2024 Core Update, and discuss what it means for you and your website in the long term.


TL;DR: Google’s March 2024 Core Update has spelled doom for many sites that made too much use of low-quality AI content. We warned about the need to be cautious with AI content generation around 12 months ago, and the negative impact of this latest update is just another example of why we did so. To future-proof your digital strategy, you should be focused on creating helpful content that’s written for humans, is optimised for UX as well as keywords, and displays clear EEAT (i.e. experience, expertise, authority and trust) signals.

The March 2024 Core Update

So, what has made the March 2024 Core Update so different?

In one sense, not very much!

Google’s official announcement confirms that this algorithm update was rolled out to:

  • Reduce low-quality, original results by as much as 40%. The focus here is on promoting helpful content (created for people) that offers a great user experience.
  • Reduce spam in the SERPs. Google’s spam policies are long-standing, but they’ve now been updated to address more modern methods of abusing low-quality content.
  • Combat scaled content abuse. A renewed commitment to not only address automated content at scale, but any form of mass-created, unhelpful content.
  • Combat site reputation abuse. Continuing policies to stop third-party sites from publishing content on more authoritative sites to capitalise on the latter’s reputation.
  • Combat expired domain abuse. Tightening up rules against people who repurpose expired domains as a means of boosting the ranking of low-quality content.

As you’ll see, it’s focused on weeding out low-quality content and untrustworthy activity.

So far, so similar.

However, the seismic shift this time around has been the wider landscape around the update.

Rubber Duck Numbers Flying

How Does the March 2024 Core Update Change Things?

The fact that Google is seeking to crack down on low-quality content is not new.

If you’ve been around for long enough, you’ll probably have vivid memories of Google Panda, which was perhaps the most famous of Google’s early attempts to quash blatant content abuse. At the time, users of spun content and keyword stuffing fared very badly, but most content creators soon learned to keep to a basic standard of practice that would keep them off Google’s naughty list.

However, we’re here to tell you that, whatever your standards are, you should aim higher.

We’re now in an age of widespread AI usage, which means that it’s increasingly easy to tick the basic boxes of content creation that Panda demanded. As such, a flood of mediocrity is underway, and it doesn’t look as though Google is happy to let that happen.

The quality-focused March 2024 Core Update has struck the multitude of websites relying upon hurried and low-value AI content like a thunderbolt.

Lazy, AI-generated content has been an easy addition to the toolbox of the type of content creator who has historically tried to leverage tactics like spun content, scraped content, or other Black Hat SEO approaches that tend to get you in trouble with Google. This is exactly why we’ve been warning that AI generation may not be effective over the long haul for the last 12 months.

Tactics like this may bring about short-term success, but they will hurt you in the long run.

Google’s response has been to clearly confirm that this isn’t good enough, and this is exactly what we pointed out months ago, when we noted that CNET was caught out by an approach to AI content that was less than discerning. It’s not the AI part of the content that has been penalised, but the lack of value that the inclusion of AI can all too easily bring.

We take no pleasure in being right but, when we last said that we all need to keep our eyes focused on value, we urge anyone who still had their fingers in their ears to listen now.

For many victims of the March 2024 Core Update, the penalties are imposed quickly, and have involved complete deindexation of the affected websites (i.e. they cease to appear on Google). If those websites remedy the issues that caused them to disappear from Google, then the situation is recoverable, but the recovery process is based on educated guesswork, and can be very time-consuming. There’s no getting all of that lost revenue or traffic back!

While all this has been going on around us, we’ve continued to utilise AI’s capability to scale our output and create a framework to give our wordsmiths a helping hand, but we’ve never sat back and let AI do our writing for us.

As we said in another recent piece about AI and SEO, how can purely AI-written content provide true value if…

  • The information it produces is curated from existing – and often outdated – databases?
  • The thoughts that it relays are cherry-picked from all the other opinions out there?

The March 2024 Core Update essentially validates what we’ve been saying all along.

The arrival of easily-accessible AI is great, and opens up lots of exciting new possibilities but, in some senses, it should change absolutely nothing.

Above all else, your focus should still be on providing value.

Future Proofing Your Digital Marketing

When any new technology arrives to augment your marketing activity, you need to make sure that you use it responsibly.

For instance, when Google Analytics 4 (GA4) arrived we knew straight away that the responsible thing to do was to embrace it as soon as possible. After all, it wasn’t going anywhere, and there was no point hanging onto UA3 when it was inevitably going to be phased out. It would have been neglectful of us to resist change, which is why we made sure that our partners were fully migrated to GA4 even earlier than they perhaps had to be.

However, when generative AI was making major waves, we knew that the best approach was caution. It was clearly very useful, but it was also an invitation to take it easy and relax our standards. As proud custodians of our partners’ brands, we knew that – following the immortal quote from Star Wars – “it’s a trap!”.

Whatever the new hotness might be, the impact that it has needs to be positive. Sure, a new tool or resource might not touch some aspects of the work you’re doing at all, but where it does touch them it needs to add value. Prioritising quantity over quality is not adding value. At best, it’s a lateral move, and it was never going to be anything other than a pitfall if you know the history of Google quality-focused algorithm updates.

We’re committed to future-proofing our partners’ websites by helping them to use technology responsibly and advising caution; the last thing we want is to see them flirting with potentially damaging territory.

Temporary wins via jumping on the latest shiny bandwagon don’t interest us; we want to forge partnerships that last by achieving lasting success.

Happily, that ambition is something that we’re living out, as none of our partners has been hit by the March 2024 Core Update in a negative way.

Yet even while we say that, something that’s also worth emphasising is the need to remain humble. Just because a site has survived a previous Google update intact doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to sail through every future one.

We all need to keep our eyes fixed on the twin goals of content quality and user experience.

Building Back After a Core Update

Building back Lego duck

If you’ve been hit by the Google March 2024 Core Update then you probably have a problem with thin or duplicate content on your site, and that content probably doesn’t offer as many valuable or unique insights as it could do. It also probably doesn’t cite reputable sources or showcase your own expertise as an author.

If you’re struggling, then the sorts of things that you need to address are:

  • Updating your low-value, unhelpful content, and only leveraging AI in the right ways
  • Focusing on UX principles, not just keyword optimisation. Clearly conveying EEAT signals like authorship
  • Prioritising page speed and mobile friendliness

Whether you’ve been hit or not, you need to make sure that you’re continuing to focus on doing better, as who knows how and when the goalposts may next change? This is where we can help.

Our experts can soon diagnose what you’re already doing well, and pinpoint where you’re perhaps resting on your laurels. From there, we can partner with you to create a content strategy that’s built to last.

You can trust us on this because we’re doing it right now, even for brands who may have suffered as a result of a former Google update. We’ve got partners who have wobbled in the past, but who have now sailed through the March 2024 update with record levels of organic traffic.

We’re not complacent about their success, but we are proud of it, and we know that we still need to keep on working hard for them because that’s what guarantees great results.

Contact us today if you’re ready to step up the resilience of your digital marketing.

Further Reading:

Written by
Joel Perkins
Joel Perkins

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