Google has just announced an extensive update to how they’ll be ranking content in the weeks and months ahead. This update comes in two parts, the March 2024 core update and the March 2024 spam update, both of which take aim at low-quality content and look at ways to deal with spam currently manipulating rankings.

“The March 2024 core update is a more complex update than our usual core updates, involving changes to multiple core systems.” – Google

We’re expecting this update to have a large impact on rankings, Google has also been explicit in noting that this is a more complex and larger update compared to the last we’ve had. It might be similar to that of Penguin or BERT back when updates shook up the rankings and impacted all sizes of businesses.

As this is a complex update, the rollout may take up to a month.” – Google

Even though we’re likely to see volatility for the weeks it takes for these updates to roll out, we’re confident that the update won’t affect sites that have always prioritised serving helpful content to their users. After all, this update is focused on, or at least attempting to, reduce spammy content.

During the roll-out, we recommend keeping an eye on SERP volatility trackers (we like to use SEMRush’s Sensor as it updates daily for both desktop and mobile) to explain any big swings in rankings you might see for your website and keep checking back to Google’s own Status Dashboard to know when it is complete. At that point, you’ll be able to learn fully how your site has been affected and essentially how well Google regards its content.

The updates are composed of two main topics:

  • Improved Quality Ranking
    Google states: “We’re making algorithmic enhancements to our core ranking systems to ensure we surface the most helpful information on the web and reduce unoriginal content in search results.”
  • New Spam Policies
    Google states: “We’re updating our spam policies to keep the lowest-quality content out of Search, like expired websites repurposed as spam repositories by new owners and obituary spam.”

The Specifics

Scaled Content Abuse

Google is toughening up its policy against using large-scale automation to create unoriginal or low-quality content to manipulate rankings. This update in their policy focuses on abusive behaviour and doesn’t explicitly mention AI-generated content, although it is much easier to abuse this with AI-made content that is largely unedited from what various language models output.

“This will allow us to take action on more types of content with little to no value created at scale, like pages that pretend to have answers to popular searches but fail to deliver helpful content” – Google

Our thoughts: As we mentioned above, this is a policy that will, in theory (what Google says and what it does can differ!), not affect sites and businesses that have worked to provide useful content to their users. We’re not too concerned with the impact of this and welcome the toughening up which will hopefully lead to a much more beneficial search experience for users.

However, Google won’t and never will get it right for every case. And we expect exceptions to be made for certain ‘big-name sites’… *cough* Reddit *cough*

Site Reputation Abuse (Parasite SEO?)

Google is looking to address the issue of trusted websites hosting misleading and low-quality, third-party content which is using the site’s reputation and authority to rank.

Here’s an example of site reputation abuse from Google:

“For example, a third party might publish payday loan reviews on a trusted educational website to gain ranking benefits from the site. Such content ranking highly in Search can confuse or mislead visitors who may have vastly different expectations for the content on a given website.”

Google will now consider something to be content spam if it’s produced for ranking purposes and without close oversight of the website owner. Interestingly, they are giving two months’ notice for the implementation of any automated or manual actions it may take against this content.

Our thoughts: An update that makes sense when considering user experience and making sure people aren’t misled. Especially with the “Best _” type listicles where the products/services chosen aren’t there on merit but on how much they’ll pay in affiliate fees.

What’ll be interesting to see is how big news publications that often accept these types of posts fair in the coming months and if they really will be punished or if Google will turn a blind eye to certain sites, as it has done many times in the past…

Expired Domain Abuse

This one is a bit specific and one that won’t affect legitimate sites, expired domain abuse is the practice of buying expired domains that previously held authority and recreating them to rank for keywords with low-quality and unrelated content. This technique tries to trick users that this new content is related to the original site the domain was associated with.

In Summary

SEOs have, for months, seen a decline in Google search quality and how content from big sites dominates across most industries and niches, with Reddit being the biggest example of this. With suspicions increasing when it was announced Google is using Reddit data for its AI model to learn from. Google claim the ranking changes were done prior to any relationship with Reddit, however, it’s hard to ignore the trend.

Whether we see more diversity in search results by giving smaller sites with better quality content the visibility they deserve is still yet to be seen. But we welcome Google’s attempt to suppress the spam and hope to see useful content finally be rewarded.

TL;DR: don’t spam content without at least manually editing and proofing it to ensure it contains useful and unique content. If you have third parties posting on your site, ensure that content is monitored and reviewed to ensure it reflects your site. And lastly, don’t buy expired domains to try to fake your content’s authority.