March 5th marked the beginning of Google’s most significant core algorithm update since the infamous Penguin update of 2012

First off, this is no ordinary core update, as it includes major changes to multiple core ranking systems – and it introduces brand-new spam policies. 

Not only that, but Google has now fully incorporated its helpful content system into its core ranking algorithm, meaning there won’t be any more helpful content updates.

This update has been in the works since the Helpful Content Update of August 2022, which explains why it’s so complex. 

If you’ve been in the SEO game long enough to remember the Penguin update, you’re probably shuddering right now. 

Back then, Google went completely scorched earth and began penalizing and de-indexing thousands of websites, causing businesses to lose 100% of their traffic overnight. 

The scary part?

The exact same thing has been happening over the last few days. 

Manual actions are going out left and right, and websites are getting de-indexed at historic rates. 

It’s no secret that Google has come under serious scrutiny as of late, with countless users complaining about AI-generated spam clogging up Google’s search results. 

And while Google claims that the March Update is separate from introducing manual penalties again, the two are happening in tandem. 

Eager to protect their reputation as the internet’s go-to search engine, this update is Google’s response to the criticism. 

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the March 2024 Core Update, including what to do if your site’s been impacted. 

March 2024 Core Update: Three Updates in One  

There was a ton of publicity from Google before this update, which isn’t common for run-of-the-mill core updates. 

Why all the PR buzz?

There are several reasons, the first being all the negative feedback Google’s been receiving over the past few months. Users aren’t happy with the amount of spam showing up on Google’s SERPs (which is partly due to the massive spam attack from a few months back), and it’s been hurting their reputation. 

As a result, the company is in recovery mode. It’s clear they’re eager to win back user’s trust with the severity of this update and the amount of PR surrounding it. 

Next, this isn’t a regular core update by any means. 

In fact, you can think of it as three updates in one. That’s because it contains:

  1. Updates to Google’s core ranking algorithm 
  2. Updates to the Helpful Content system (and integrating it into the core system) 
  3. New spam policies and updates to SpamBrain

In other words, the March 2024 update is a core update, a helpful content update, and a spam update, so it’s no surprise that the SERPs are so volatile right now.  

Google released a detailed blog post explaining the reason behind the update, along with the prediction to reduce low-quality, unhelpful search results by 40%

Over on Google Search Central, the company published another post letting site owners know what they can expect from the update, and included its new spam policies

Overall, Google claims this update refines its understanding of ‘low-quality, unhelpful web pages that feel like they were created for search engines instead of users.’ 

The reaction so far: an SEO apocalypse?

While the update has only been rolling out for a few days at this point, it’s been setting the internet on fire. SEOs are reporting manual actions like never before, and websites are completely disappearing from the SERPs. 

Again, Google claims these are separate, but the bottom line is, they are happening, and at the same time as this new update. 

X user Lily Ray saw a whopping 10 websites disappear from the SERPs overnight, and it’s by no means an isolated case. 

In the not-so-distant past, manual actions were a pretty rare occurrence. Rather than de-index a website, Google preferred to devalue the impact spam, auto-generated content, and paid links had on a site’s search rankings. 

That’s no longer the case, as Google is dead set on improving the quality of their search results. 

So far, the sites that have been impacted the most are low-quality, AI-generated sites that only exist to manipulate search results. These sites have been popping up all over the place due to the prevalence of free tools like ChatGPT, and they’ve had a noticeably negative effect on the quality of Google’s search results. 

Yet, Google updates are never error-free, as there are also reports of websites disappearing from the SERPs that didn’t use AI whatsoever – but that’s likely due to one of the new spam policies. 

The New Spam Policies: Expired Domain Abuse, Scaled Content Abuse, and Site Reputation Abuse 

Google’s newly announced spam policies are the culprit for most of the manual actions going out, so it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with them. 

According to the post on Google Search Central, the update cracks down on the following:

  • Expired domain abuse. A favorite trick of SEOs that build PBNs (private blog networks) is to seek out expired domains that still carry authority. For instance, an SEO may purchase an expired educational domain to take advantage of its ranking power, only to then populate the site with worthless content. The March 2024 update refined Google’s ability to detect expired domain abuse, and they aren’t hesitating to deliver manual actions. 
  • Scaled content abuse. This is the policy that cracks down on mass AI-generated content intended to manipulate search results. These are low-grade web pages that don’t answer user’s questions or provide any valuable information, and Google is eager to rid their SERPs of them entirely. 
  • Site reputation abuse. Some authoritative sites take advantage of their good reputation and publish unrelated third-party pages that confuse or irritate their core audience. This technique goes by the unflattering name ‘Parasite SEO.’ The example Google gives is a third-party site posting payday loan reviews on an educational website to piggyback off their ranking power (sort of like how remora fish cling to sharks). This particular policy features a two-month notice, so it won’t go into effect until May 5th. 

SEOs should not only memorize these policies but also pay close attention to the sites that were de-indexed/penalized to understand what they did wrong. 

What Can You Do to Prepare/Recover?

Google’s advice on ranking fluctuations due to core updates has remained unchanged for years now, and it boils down to ‘create better content.’ 

Yet, for this update, we have a lot of concrete information to go on.

In particular, ensure that your website does not employ any of the spam methods included in Google’s new policies.

AI-generated content isn’t inherently bad, but you should do your best to avoid it since Google is cracking down on it so hard. Also, exhibit E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) signals in every piece of content you create. 

There’s a reason why Reddit posts rank for so many Google searches. 

It’s because Google values real experiences and first-hand expertise – so demonstrate both whenever possible. 

If you run a reputable site that has some questionable third-party content, it’s in your best interest to remove it before May 5th to avoid a manual action, which can be disastrous to recover from. 

As long as you’re publishing valuable content that your core audience actually wants to consume, you shouldn’t have much to worry about. 

Wrapping Up: A Historical Core Update 

While it doesn’t have as catchy a name, the March 2024 Core Update will go down in history alongside milestone updates like Florida, Panda, and Penguin. 

It’s brought major changes to Google’s helpful content, core, and spam algorithms, and it has already massively reshaped the SERPs. 

Despite the chaos, the principle of sound SEO still remains true; create valuable content for your audience first, and search engines second. 

Do you need help mastering SEO in this uncertain age?

Then don’t wait to sign up for HOTH X, our managed SEO service that removes all the complexity from the process while yielding outstanding results.     

Or, book a direct call with our team, for a one-on-one deep dive on exactly how to move forward.