Impact of Google’s March Core Update on Websites and SEO Strategies

Google rolled out the core and spam updates in March 2024. These updates were introduced as a step against the surge of low-quality content published online. The goal? To enhance search quality and overall user experience (UX).

But what impact do the March core update and Google’s spam update have on websites and business SEO strategies? Let’s explore how these updates have reshaped the search landscape.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

In early March, Google shared information on this in an article by Elizabeth Tucker, Director of Product, Search at Google. According to Tucker, the March updates will help to reduce unhelpful content on the web by 40%

The March core and spam updates have impacted how Google indexes web pages and ranks content in organic results. The changes have ultimately led to a substantial deindexing of websites with unhelpful, irrelevant, or unoriginal content. Following the March updates, Ian Nuttall (a well-known SEO programmatic expert) reported that out of the 49,345 websites he monitored, 837—or approximately 1.7%—were completely removed from Google’s search index following these updates.

From a search engine marketing perspective, the deindexing was predicted to “result in a monthly loss of $446,552 displayed advertising revenue across the affected sites.” (SGE). While these figures highlight the extensive impact of the updates, the permanence of these deindexings remains to be seen, as some sites are already reappearing in search results.

Here’s a closer look at the specific March core and spam updates:

The Google March Core Update 2024

Google has always placed user experience at the forefront, and the March core update continues this trend. It rewards websites with high-quality, original content and an excellent user experience.

On the flip side, websites with AI-generated, outdated, or error-filled content have taken a hit. Even long-standing sites and those covering various niche topics (which might have escaped previous updates) now feel the pressure. Sites employing dubious SEO tactics or flouting Google’s guidelines have faced “manual action” from the search engine. This implies not just penalties but sometimes outright removal from search results (i.e., deindexing the website). In Google’s March 5th blog post, the company mentioned that the updates aim to reduce unoriginal content in search results. This post is only the second time Google has used ‘unoriginal’ to describe content quality. The first instance was in its August 2022 post outlining the helpful content update. 

A screenshot of Google SERPs, showing use cases of 'unoriginal' in their product blog posts.

But what defines original versus unoriginal content? Tama Payne, Technical SEO Specialist at Pure SEO, describes them as the following:

  • Unoriginal = content that is not fresh, unusual, or novel.
  • Original = content that includes fresh insights or novel perspectives.
original versus unoriginal content

Creating original content is something that artificial intelligence currently struggles with, as its originality is confined to its training data. A recent study from Originality.ai found a correlation between websites negatively affected by the March updates and websites with AI-generated posts. According to the study, 100% of the sites deindexed had some AI-generated posts.

Google’s March Spam Update

The spam update, which took nearly 15 days to complete, aims to fine-tune the detection and handling of spammy content, targeting issues like scaled content abuse, expired domain abuse, and site reputation abuse.

  • Scaled Content Abuse: When mass-produced unoriginal content (AI-generated or human-generated) is made for the purpose of gaming algorithms rather than providing value to humans.
  • Expired Content Abuse: When an expired domain name is purchased to manipulate search rankings and host low-quality or irrelevant content that offers little to no value to users.
  • Site Reputation Abuse: Site reputation abuse, a.k.a. parasite SEO, occurs when third-party pages exploit a reputable site’s ranking signals to manipulate search rankings, often without significant oversight or direct involvement from the host site.

Explore the full list of Spam policies for Google web search

Why Has My Website Dropped in Organic Rankings?

If you’ve noticed a recent drop in your website’s rankings (after February 2024), it could be due to several factors highlighted by the Google March updates:

  • Low-Quality Content: Google’s refined algorithms are now better at identifying and demoting websites with thin, duplicated, or irrelevant content.
  • Spammy Practices: The update targets manipulative SEO tactics such as scaled content abuse, site reputation abuse, and expired domain abuse. Engaging in these practices can lead to severe penalties, including deindexing.
  • Poor User Experience: Websites offering a clunky user experience, slow load times, or intrusive ads are likely to see a drop in rankings. Google continues to emphasise the importance of a smooth, intuitive user experience.

Worried about how these updates are affecting your website? As long as you focus on creating valuable, user-centric content adhering to Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness), your site should remain competitive in search rankings.

What if I’m Using AI in Content Creation?

Google hasn’t banned the use of AI for content creation, but it does take a firm stance against unoriginal content that lacks value or unique perspectives. Moreover, an increasing number of news websites and major websites worldwide are now blocking AI from crawling their content, raising concerns about the reliability, relevance, and authority of the sources AI references.

While ChatGPT, Gemini (previously Bard), or Perplexity are fantastic tools for brainstorming ideas and drafting content, relying solely on them for content creation won’t cut it. To stand out, you need to inject personality, share personal brand experiences, include relevant statistics, and reference authoritative sources. 

For example, if your brand sells pet food and you ask ChatGPT or Bard to “write an article about the best pet food for Cavoodles”, it will generate one based on what content already exists online. Will it reflect your brand’s voice or mention your products? Or could it inadvertently promote a competitor? Perhaps you want to highlight products that are on sale or newly available. You need human input and editing to bring the context, unique perspective and experience.

ChatGPT inspired image of AI in content.

How to Improve Rankings Post-Update: Recovering from Google’s March Updates

Improving your rankings after Google’s March updates is easier said than done, but with the right strategies, it’s definitely achievable. Here’s an overview of approaches that will help boost your rankings:

  • Enhance Content Quality: Focus on crafting high-quality, people-first content that resonates with and adds real value to your audience.
  • Avoid Spammy Tactics: Stay away from black-hat SEO practices such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, or using purchased backlinks.
  • Focus on User Experience: Make sure your site is user-friendly, with responsive design, quick loading times, and straightforward navigation.
  • Regularly Audit Your Site: Perform thorough SEO audits to spot and fix any issues that might impact your site’s performance (e.g., broken links, poor-quality content, or poor optimisation for mobile devices).

Applying These Strategies in Practice:

Optimise Ad Placement: 

Google favours sites that are easy to navigate and visually appealing. Avoid overwhelming your site with intrusive pop-up ads as they detract from visitors’ experience.

Refine Internal Linking and SEO: 

Do you understand the primary search intent of your keywords? For instance, if someone searches for “What is the best pet food for Cavoodles?” your blog post answering this should do more than simply discuss pet food for Cavoodles. It needs to encompass a broader scope, including useful links to various types of food and potentially some relevant reviews. 

This approach ensures that the content not only addresses the direct query but also provides valuable information that taps into the underlying user concerns — in this case, a likely intent to purchase Cavoodle pet food. Enhance your content by incorporating both internal and external links that facilitate and enrich the user’s journey.

Fact-Check and Edit AI-Generated Content: 

Ensure any AI-generated content is high-quality and not spammy or generic. Enhance it with your own original research to make your posts more substantial and authoritative. You should also check out Google Search’s guidelines around AI-generated content. 

Update Outdated Content: 

Regularly review your content to find opportunities for updates. Content that is outdated and no longer relevant should be refreshed to align with current standards and user expectations. 

We recommend checking the search engine results page (SERPs) to identify content opportunities to guide your updates. Compare your existing blog posts with the content currently ranking high for the same topics. Use the top-ranking results as inspiration to enhance your old or outdated content, ensuring it remains relevant and competitive.

Diversify Traffic Sources: 

Relying solely on one channel for traffic is risky. To mitigate this risk, we recommend diversifying your traffic sources. Develop a digital strategy that includes SEO, Google Ads, social media campaigns, and email marketing. This approach ensures that if one channel faces disruptions, your overall traffic remains stable, maintaining a steady flow of visitors and engagement across your digital presence.

Build Online Authority: 

Part and parcel with the above point – building online authority requires a broad presence across multiple platforms. Establishing your presence on various platforms can significantly enhance your E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) and domain authority, which Google values highly. 

It’s important to note that Google assesses domain authority using more than just backlinks; it also considers other social signals. For example, take two e-commerce clothing businesses with similar products. If one has wider exposure across the web—including in blogs, on YouTube, and through positive customer reviews—it will likely be perceived as more trustworthy by Google. This broad exposure reinforces your brand’s credibility and authority in your industry.

Create People-first Content:

A people-first approach to content aims to engage and satisfy people rather than search engines. It should answer your audience’s queries, offer advice, and leave them satisfied and informed.

To create people-first content, start by understanding your audience, particularly their search intent, motivation, and points of friction:

  • Search Intent: Grasp what your audience is searching for and their goals. Are they looking to make a purchase, seeking inspiration, evaluating options, or solving a problem? Tailoring your content to these intents ensures it meets their needs effectively.
  • Motivation: Identify what drives your audience. This could range from finding the best deals, desiring premium products, features that offer great value, or items that elevate their status.
  • Points of Friction: Determine where your audience faces challenges. Is it the lack of comprehensive information, poor user experience, slow website performance, or content that’s hard to digest? Address these issues to improve their interaction with your site.

Aim to provide all the necessary information your audience needs so that they don’t look elsewhere, increasing the value and stickiness of your site. Additionally, consider the “Who, How, and Why” of your content to enhance its quality and relevance:

  • Who: Be transparent about who created the content. Including detailed bylines or author bios helps build trust and credibility, particularly where expert knowledge is expected.
  • How: Explain how the content was produced. This is especially relevant for pieces like client testimonials or case studies. Include evidence of the work involved, such as photos or videos. Transparency about using AI or automation in content creation can also add value, helping users understand its role.
  • Why: Ensure you create content with the audience’s benefit in mind. Content that aims to genuinely help or inform the audience aligns better with Google’s E-E-A-T criteria and core ranking principles.

Implementing these strategies will help you recover from any hits taken during Google’s updates and help position your site for better visibility and success in the future.

Create Content Your Audience Actually Wants to Read

At the end of the day, what should you take from these updates? Build a digital marketing strategy that incorporates multiple sources of traffic and prioritises a people-first approach to content creation.

If you’re writing high-quality content that captures your unique brand perspective and prioritises your audience, you should have nothing to fear from the March updates.

In fact, well-maintained websites that provide valuable, relevant content and a great user experience are more likely to excel in search rankings. Meanwhile, those relying on outdated or spammy SEO tactics will likely face challenges.

However, it’s not the end of the world if these changes have impacted your ranking. By understanding the reasons behind ranking drops and proactively improving your website’s experience and content, you can enhance your brand’s visibility online.

As Google cracks down on spam and solely AI-generated content, the team at Pure SEO is here to help optimise your online presence and steer you clear of penalties. Whether you’re looking for services in Auckland or for a digital marketing agency in Melbourne, Pure SEO has multiple international locations and works with clients worldwide.

Get in touch to explore our services and receive a digital marketing package tailored to your brand’s needs.

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Amanda Middeldorp

Amanda serves as the Marketing Manager at Pure SEO. She thrives on crafting marketing content and collaborating seamlessly with the team to drive successful marketing initiatives. With expertise in SEO copywriting and content creation, she's worked with clients across various sectors and loves creating creative, relatable content for marketing. Beyond her professional role, Amanda is passionate about mental health, family, travel, and continuous learning.

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