5 Strategies for Adapting to Google’s March 2024 Core Update

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    April 3, 2024

5 Strategies for Adapting to Google’s March 2024 Core Update


Every few months, Google makes significant revisions to its search algorithms. These broad changes are called core updates, and they’re a fact of life for SEO professionals and the brands we support. So why is Google’s March 2024 core update shaking the search community to its core?

This update is more complex than most, as Google’s March 2024 core update and March 2024 spam update hit simultaneously. Almost a month later, we’re still waiting for the dust to settle, and even if your site took a big hit, it could regain some of that lost ground as Google fine-tunes its approach. But make no mistake: Each of these updates has major consequences for marketers.

Here are five things to know to keep your website from getting penalized or even de-indexed from Google’s search results.

1. Google’s March 2024 updates primarily target low-quality, unoriginal content and spam.

    In general, these updates aim to address long-standing criticism surrounding the declining quality of Google search results — and, in particular, the prominence of sites with low-quality content and large sites such as Reddit.

    First, let’s talk about unoriginality: Many of the impacted sites have the same type of content addressing the same questions around the same subjects. In a vacuum, the penalized content isn’t necessarily bad, but in the big picture, there’s too much of it. This can happen when everyone tries to rank for the same high-volume search terms, whether or not they’re an expert on the topic (more on that later).

    Meanwhile, here are some examples of spam in the SERPs, or search engine results pages, that Google is trying to eradicate:

    • Scaled content: Content produced at scale (whether by humans, automation or a combination) to manipulate search rankings now violates guidelines. This update expands on Google’s previous “spammy automatically-generated content” policy. It’s largely aimed at AI-generated content.

    • Expired domains: Buying expired domains and repurposing them to boost the rankings of low-quality content is now considered spam.

    • Site reputation: Known by SEO specialists as “parasite SEO,” this involves third-party content hosted on trusted websites, without close oversight, with the intent to manipulate search rankings.
      • Example: If your website includes third-party content, such as sponsored content, that has little or nothing to do with the site, the entire site can be affected.

    Sites found to violate Google’s new spam policies have until May 5 to clean up their act.

    When I reviewed a list of the websites hit hardest by these updates, I noticed a lot of reputable sites such as Better Homes & Gardens, Forbes and the New York Times. Why? These websites aren’t bad, but previously, they ranked for terms they shouldn’t have ranked for. Search results had become crowded with sites that shouldn’t have ranked for the terms in the first place.

    Here’s a hypothetical example of the site reputation spam penalty.

    Imagine you’re a homeowner searching for the best garden trowel. Who are the real garden trowel experts? Likely, they’re the garden tool manufacturers who make the tools, the retailers who sell them or the landscaping companies whose employees use the tools every day. But before these updates, if you searched for “best garden trowel,” you might have seen sites belonging to large publications (such as those listed above) at the top of the SERPs.

    That’s not the best user experience or an effective way to get your gardening done.

    While these changes were designed to target low-quality content and spam, Google can’t assess every affected site manually. Some site owners say they were unfairly penalized by the updates — and they might be right. In a video about the March 2024 core update and September 2023 helpful content update, SEO thought leader Lily Ray suggested that a lot of affected site owners probably thought they were doing everything right because Google was rewarding them with traffic. That’s to say, don’t give up hope.

    If your website has been negatively impacted by these updates, you can recover. Use this as an opportunity to reassess your content strategy, improve your content quality and strengthen the value proposition your website brings to the subject matter you cover.

    2. Experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (or E-E-A-T) are more important than ever.

      To drive organic search traffic to a website, some companies might start by telling their SEO team to look up the related search terms with the highest volume. That’s an important step, but it shouldn’t be the first thing you do.

      For example, say you manufacture kitchen appliances and market to residential builders. Instead of starting on Semrush, first ask your sales team questions such as:

      • What are some of the common questions you get from builders?

      • Is there a particular challenge your products address?

      • Are there any seasonal or regional trends?

      Gathering this type of information can help you find your niche and key in on the best keywords to target not because they have the highest search volume, but because you have a unique angle.

      If you want to keep your site safe in a rapidly changing search landscape, put your audience first. Why should they come to your website? Use your products or services? Trust the brand?

      This is a surefire way to demonstrate E-E-A-T and keep your spot in the SERPs.

      3. Google is not going after AI content. It’s going after unhelpful, unoriginal, repetitive content, whether written by humans, AI or a mix.

        Up until now, Google has been noncommittal about AI-generated content, and in that sense, these updates mark a huge step in the right direction. Many of the sites that were de-indexed following the March updates relied heavily on AI and/or published content at an unnatural rate.

        To be clear, the humans using AI incorrectly are the problem, rather than the AI tools. Generative AI is an efficiency tool, not a replacement for human brains. And if you’ve been using ChatGPT or other AI writing tools as a crutch for quick wins, the truth will catch up with you.

        I’ll say it again: Google is not specifically targeting AI content. It is, however, going after content that is repetitive, useless or employs black hat SEO tactics. If your content fits any of these three descriptions, whether generated by AI or written by humans, it’s at risk.

        4. Sites that prioritize quality over quantity will be rewarded. Sites that don’t do this might get de-indexed.

          Neither a brand nor its website can be the best at everything. And if you publish a ton of content, you’re almost guaranteed to step outside of your sandbox. This means that even if you have some great content, you’re also likely to have mediocre content on your site. The negative impact of Google’s March updates on your site will likely run parallel to the percentage of your website content that is weak or unhelpful.

          My best advice here? Prioritize quality over quantity. Just as you’d do in many other aspects of business and marketing, before you publish website content, make sure you’re putting your best foot forward. Let Google crawl THAT content. Furthermore, if you know your site contains weak or unhelpful content, consider adding a noindex tag. This way, you can protect your site from being penalized or de-indexed without erasing your content from the internet.

          5. Know your audience, what they need and how you can uniquely deliver. Don’t try to be all things to all people.

            The March 2024 updates create a golden opportunity for brands with something important and valuable to share. What do you have that’s valuable and different from anything your competitors can offer? Can you infuse your content with real-world examples or a fundamentally human POV? Enhance it with images and videos that are yours and yours alone? Show your products or services helping actual customers through case studies and testimonials? Sure, someone will try to fake these things using AI (and plenty already have), but in the long term, they won’t succeed.

            In that sense, the March updates might have rocked the search community and every affected website owner, but foundational SEO best practices haven’t changed. If you want to drive more of the right people to your site, you have to:

            • Create content for people first and answer their questions

            • Add unique value in a sea of sameness

            • Establish and grow your topical authority by leaning into your expertise

            Summing Up Google’s March 2024 Updates

            Despite plunging many SEO professionals and site owners into panic mode, Google’s decision to introduce these bold changes in March suggests a move in the right direction. And if the mother of all updates sent you scrambling, don’t fret. I browse the SERPs every day and see plenty of white space for site owners who are committed to publishing specific, valuable content that meets their audience’s needs.

            Deep down, I hope Google’s March updates will shine a spotlight on the good websites rife with amazing original content, thought leadership and expertise while weeding out the sites that provide no real value. I’m excited about working with our clients at Wray Ward to find the white space and reach their audiences with content that’s informative, rich and unique.

            Need help navigating a volatile organic search landscape? Contact us.

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