Google Search Core Update, March 2024: Summary & Analysis

Wednesday, March 13th
Content Manager

Mark Wilson

Google released a core update to its search algorithm in March of 2024. Below we summarize the changes in this update, and walk through some possible implications for content marketing and SEO on Google’s platform.

Google Search March 2024 Core Update

Google’s search algorithm update from March of 2024 emphasizes their response to various spam and abuse tactics, and outlines Google’s response to them.

Google notes that the rollout could take up to a month. And as we know from past updates, the SEO implications of the update may not be felt until weeks later, as rankings are rearranged to account for the updates.

Updates to Spam Policies

The update features three core changes to what Google views as spam. Each is outlined below.

Expired Domain Abuse: What Is It and How to Spot It

Expired domain abuse refers to buying an expired domain that previously had some search equity in Google’s ecosystem.

The new owner then floods the site with content unrelated to the original site’s intent. One common example of this is for money-making schemes involving online casinos.

The goal is to use some of the site’s former reputation to drive traffic to the new site. This is misleading to users, though, which is actively against Google’s stated intention for its search functionality.

Google notes that this isn’t accidental. Someone abusing an expired domain knows that it’s a frowned-upon practice. If you’re buying an expired domain and reusing it for legitimate purposes, you have nothing to worry about. 

Google has previously released language to this effect, indicating that either the search methods used to identify abuse are more rigorous now or that the penalties to a domain are more harsh (or both).

Site Reputation Abuse Changes

Site reputation abuse refers to when a landing page is hosted on a site that includes content from a third party and is intended to manipulate search rankings by utilizing the site’s existing reputation.

This is a bit tricky to describe, since sponsored content exists on a lot of sites and Google clarifies that this sort of advertorial content is not considered spam. So where’s the line?

Google’s spam policies page clarifies this quite a bit, with examples of what they consider to be abuse. Generally, if a landing page seems out of place, chances are it is a form of spam. But if the content is sponsored but retains value for the site’s audience, it’s considered acceptable.

Scaled Content Abuse

Scaled content is when numerous pages are generated quickly for the explicit purpose of manipulating search rankings.

This is opposed to Google’s stated goal of promoting content that is user-focused, and targets content that is intended solely to manipulate search rankings without regard for its usefulness and value to a potential reader.

Google previously released notes on automatically generated content, and this doubles down on that while expanding it to cases in which automatically generated content is published at larger scales.

What Does This Mean for AI-Generated Content?

The last of those has received the most headlines among content marketers, since it clearly targets AI-generated content.

It’s important to note that this section is the most opinion-based on this article. The earlier sections were aimed at presenting strictly factual information on the nature of the update. Below, we discuss some probable implications of the update.

Some have claimed this is a death knell for AI-generated content. That claim is a bit sensationalist, but it’s true that this update seems to create a tighter limit on AI content use cases.

Google’s policy on AI-generated content has remained consistent: it does not punish content suspected to be AI-generated on this basis alone. If the content is relevant to a site’s audience and provides value to the reader, it can rank equal to human-generated content.

However, because a lot of brands are using AI tools in attempts to manipulate search rankings - with quality as an afterthought - in practice a lot of AI content can be (and will be) penalized. Further, without a human expert as a guide, a lot of AI content has been accused of being generic and uninteresting, so your baseline AI article is unlikely to compete with the best content out there in a given subject. As ever, this reflects Google’s goal of promoting content that is the most engaging for human users.

Content marketing expert Neil Patel recently released some AI vs. human writing results, and human writing came out on top in the long-term, corroborating the hypothesis above.

This doesn’t mean AI tools can’t be utilized in ways that enhance your workflow, but that caution must be used in its application along with an understanding that it hasn’t yet replaced excellent content generation that is human-guided.

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