Surviving the March 2024 Google core update

Surviving the March 2024 Google core update

Google’s algorithm updates can shift the visibility of your sites. In March 2024, Google launched one of its biggest core algorithm updates yet, giving many people food for thought. This update differs from previous ones, as it targets low-quality, often AI-generated, content that’s cluttering search results. All of this affects the quality of information users find online, meaning Google had to step in and clean up. Here, we’ll give you more insights into the March 2024 Google core update.

Table of contents

Google updates are nothing new

Algorithm updates are not new. Updates are part of Google’s ongoing efforts to improve users’ experience. Google tries to find new ways of promoting high-quality, relevant, and trustworthy content. However, the March 2024 Google core update stands out. This is because it directly addresses the wave of AI content hitting the search engine. 

Generative AI is now widely accessible. As a result, the web has seen an influx of content lacking the depth and accuracy of content written by real people. While Google is clear that using AI to generate content is not prohibited, it does value and reward true quality.

Understanding Google algorithm updates

Google’s algorithm is a list of rules for ranking sites in search results. As with most things, these rules aren’t static. The rules change often to adapt to new technologies and user behaviors. Today, one of those changes is the tidal wave of new content. This prompts Google to update its algorithm. As a result, it should help users find the most relevant, high-quality content.

Google launched the core update on March 5 and finished the rollout on April 19, 2024

Why do algorithm updates happen?

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. For this, Google must continuously adjust its algorithms to understand and categorize content. Updates can target specific issues, like reducing spam. Others aim to prioritize expert content in medical searches. For instance, the 2018 “Medic” update focused on health and medical sites. Its goal was to uncover more authoritative content in areas where it matters most.

Content quality and user experience

Over the years, Google has increasingly prioritized content quality and user experience. Google algorithm updates such as “Panda” (2011) and “Penguin” (2012) were early examples, penalizing poor-quality content and manipulative link practices. Today, we see updates focusing on page experience (Core Web Vitals) and the helpfulness of content (Helpful Content Update). All of this shows Google is moving towards user-centric metrics.

It can be very insightful to learn about Google’s algorithm updates. The insights help you align your content strategy. It’s about understanding the need for content quality and user satisfaction. To survive, you must create highly relevant content that serves the user’s intent. Only then will your site remain a valuable resource for your audience.

Why the March 2024 Google Core Update?

We all notice the surge in content powered by generative AI. This technological leap has made it easy to produce content at scale. However, not all content meets the quality standards that Google seeks. The March 2024 core update is Google’s move to address this challenge. It hopes that users will once again find valuable and trustworthy content.

With this update, Google aims to reduce spammy content in search drastically by over 40%:

“We believe these updates will reduce the amount of low-quality content on Search and send more traffic to helpful and high-quality sites. Based on our evaluations, we expect that the combination of this update and our previous efforts will collectively reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40%.”

The challenge of low-quality content

The core issue with AI-generated content isn’t the use of AI but the quality of that content. Pre-March 2024, search results started showing content that offered little value to users seeking information or solutions. This is a bad user experience and makes it harder for high-quality, human-crafted content to get the visibility it deserves.

This goes specifically for what Google calls scaled content abuse:

“Scaled content abuse is when many pages are generated for the primary purpose of manipulating search rankings and not helping users. This abusive practice is typically focused on creating large amounts of unoriginal content that provides little to no value to users, no matter how it’s created.”

Content quality and relevance

With the March 2024 core update, Google wants to highlight high-quality content. Of course, the update doesn’t penalize the use of AI in content creation. However, it aims to ensure that content meets the same standards as real authors. This means AI-generated content should be informative, accurate, and engaging. Also, it should offer unique perspectives or insights that benefit the user.

Google even said as much:

“There’s nothing new or special that creators need to do for this update as long as they’ve been making satisfying content meant for people. For those that might not be ranking as well, we strongly encourage reading our creating helpful, reliable, people-first content help page.”

The March 2024 Google core update is very interesting for content creators. We should use it as a call to action to raise our content standards. As a result, we’d publish unique content that truly enriches users’ online experiences. This update gives you the chance to review your content strategies. Try to embrace AI’s potential but prioritize the quality and authenticity only people provide. It’s all about balance! Together, we’ll ensure the web is informative, trustworthy, and user-friendly.

Hit by the March 2024 Google core update?

Identifying the impact of a Google core algorithm update is the first step toward recovery. The March 2024 Google core update might lead to changes in your site performance. However, you should distinguish this from online traffic’s usual ebb and flow. This requires carefully analyzing your site’s metrics.

Monitoring traffic and rankings

First things first: don’t panic. A sudden drop in traffic or a decline in rankings can be alarming. These things happen, so you must try to remain calm. As you know, these shifts can signal that an update has affected your site. Use analytics tools to monitor your site’s traffic patterns. Look for abrupt changes that coincide with the timing of Google’s announced updates.

A graph showing a decline in traffic, which might be attributed to the March 2024 Google core update
Something definitely happened here

Analyzing different traffic sources

It’s crucial to differentiate between organic search, referral, and direct traffic. A decline in organic search traffic suggests your site’s visibility in SERPs might be waning. This could be due to the latest algorithm update. Conversely, changes in referral or direct traffic might indicate other factors at play that are unrelated to an update.

Use Google Search Console

Use Search Console to understand your site’s performance in Google’s SERPs. After an update, check for any notifications or warnings that could indicate specific issues Google has identified with your site. 

In GSC, look for sudden and unexpected losses. Losses in impressions and click-throughs would be the main things to check. If there are losses in impressions, try to identify the specific pages and queries that were hit. Was everything hit? Just certain queries? Certain pages? Confirm that the dates of the drops match the dates of the updates. This data can help pinpoint which aspects of your site were most affected.

Investigating the impact of a core update

Once you’ve identified potential clues, the next step involves digging deeper. This phase is about pinpointing the impacted elements and understanding why.

an illustration showing a google robot being examined by two data experts
Dive deep into the data to figure out what happened when

Aligning traffic changes with update timelines

Start by aligning the observed traffic and ranking changes with the update’s rollout dates. Google’s Search Central Blog and X account are reliable sources for announcements and timelines. Plotting your traffic data against these dates helps confirm if the changes correlate with the updates.

Also, ensure that nothing else might have happened on your website that could have caused the traffic loss. Eliminate the other possibilities to make sure you’re solving the right riddle. It’s important to attribute shifts in performance to the update rather than other variables like seasonal trends or external site changes.

Dive into Google Search Console data

Google Search Console offers a wealth of data for your work. Pay special attention to the Performance report. This report provides insights into impressions, CTR, and rankings for your pages and queries. A drop in impressions might mean your pages appear less frequently in search results, possibly due to the update. Google has a helpful guide on debugging drops in search traffic that helps you get started.

Identifying content and technical shortfalls

After pinpointing the issues, assess whether these are related to content quality and relevance, technical SEO, or both. For content, consider factors like originality, depth, and user engagement. Does the content provide unique value beyond what’s already out there? 

Review your site holistically. Check the site structure, internal linking, mobile performance, page speed, and the Core Web Vitals for technical aspects. Google’s PageSpeed Insights and Lighthouse are helpful tools for this analysis.

Recovering from the Google’s March 2024 core update

After identifying how the update affected your site, the focus shifts to recovery. Recovering involves addressing content quality and technical SEO aspects, depending on where the issues lie. Here’s how to approach recovery, ensuring your site aligns more closely with Google’s standards.

Enhancing content quality

If the traffic loss results from rankings drop for queries you used to rank well for, that is probably an issue with your content. Start by looking at the content ranking for those terms now. Look for clues as to why that content might be preferable over yours, and adjust your content accordingly. Try to make your content more relevant to the user.

Helpful content questions

Google developed a set of guidelines to help you assess your content’s relevance and quality:

  1. Does the content provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis? Assess whether your content offers new insights, unique viewpoints, or comprehensive research that adds value beyond what’s already available online.
  2. Does the content provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive topic description? Evaluate if your content thoroughly covers the topic, comprehensively addressing the audience’s questions, concerns, and related interests.
  3. Is the content written by an expert or enthusiast who demonstrably knows the topic well? Consider whether the author has the necessary expertise, experience, or passion for the subject matter, evident in the content’s depth and accuracy.
  4. Does the content have a clear purpose or goal that it successfully fulfills? Identify the primary objective of your content (to inform, entertain, persuade, etc.) and assess if it effectively achieves this goal.
  5. Would someone reading your content leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal? Reflect on whether the reader would come away with actionable knowledge, solutions, or a deeper understanding of the subject.
  6. Does the content present information that makes you trust it, such as clear sourcing, evidence of the author’s expertise, and a lack of factual errors? Verify the reliability and credibility of your content through accurate sourcing, showcasing the author’s qualifications, and ensuring factual correctness.
  7. Is the content free from spelling or stylistic issues? Ensure your content is professionally presented, with attention to grammar, spelling, and style, making it accessible and enjoyable to read. 
  8. Would you feel comfortable trusting this content for issues relating to YMYL? For content that impacts significant decisions (health, finance, etc.), consider if it meets the highest standards of accuracy and trustworthiness.
  9. Is the content designed to meet the needs of a human audience rather than search engines? Create content that serves your audience’s interests and queries instead of search engines.
  10. Does your site have a primary purpose or focus, and does your content support that purpose? Ensure your content aligns with and supports your website’s overarching theme or mission, providing a cohesive user experience.

Addressing technical issues

How you recover depends on the problem; the issues are usually related to your content. If you have a technical problem severe enough to cause a sudden loss in traffic, it probably was not caused by the core update. However, if you find a technical issue, you should fix it. Consider this: If your check engine light is on, washing your car and hanging a new air freshener isn’t helping the long-term outlook for the car’s driveability. 

Some areas to focus on:

  • Fix the performance of your mobile site: Having a well-performing mobile site is non-negotiable. Use Google’s Lighthouse to identify and rectify any usability issues. Keep ads at bay.
  • Page speed and Core Web Vitals: Fast-loading pages create a positive user experience. Use PageSpeed Insights to identify and fix issues impacting load times, such as large image files or slow server response times.  
  • Site structure and navigation: A well-organized site helps users and search engines find content efficiently. Review your site’s structure for logical hierarchy and navigation ease.

Best practices for future updates

Usually, Google algorithm updates don’t hit sites that follow the rules and play nice. Still, the last core update reminds us to work hard to improve our sites where possible. Looking ahead, there are several best practices you can adopt to stay ahead of the impact of future updates.

Stay informed about SEO news and updates

Keep track of SEO news and updates. Sometimes, Google offers insights into what site owners can do to prepare for updates. Follow reputable SEO blogs like ours — and the SEO update by Yoast — , forums, and other channels, like the Google Search Central Blog and the @searchliaison X account.

Continuously review and improve content

The quality of your content is never done. Regularly review your site’s content. It should always remain relevant, accurate, and valuable to your audience. Keep working on it by updating statistics, refreshing outdated references, and adding new insights to keep content engaging. Consider user feedback as an opportunity to enhance your content’s scope and depth.

Diversify your traffic sources

Try to prevent relying solely on organic search traffic. Explore other opportunities by diversifying your traffic sources with social media and email marketing. This makes your traffic more stable and allows you to reach new audiences.

All about the Google core update of March 2024

Adaptability, quality, and user focus are what you need to succeed. It’s hard work to recover if an algorithm update has hit you. The whole process offers valuable lessons to improve your site. In addition, you might find new growth opportunities.

Google’s algorithms will continue to evolve. The March 2024 core update aims to combat low-quality content. It underscores a shift towards a future that hopefully values genuine, insightful, and user-centric content.

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