How to Keep Your Rankings with Google’s March 2024 Core Update

Sites are deindexed. Rankings are majorly dropping. Website owners are rushing to see if their sites are impacted.

Welcome to Google’s latest core update: “New ways we’re tackling spammy, low-quality content on Search.” 

Let’s talk about what it means for you and the internet overall.

Table of Contents

The March 2024 Core Update

On Tuesday, March 5, 2024, Google announced a core update. In the company’s own words, this update is “more complex” than usual. It also “marks an evolution in how we identify the helpfulness of content.”

Sounds promising – we’ve all occasionally felt let down by search engine results pages (SERPs) and more helpful content is always appreciated. What does this mean in practicality though? What counts as more helpful? What counts as less helpful? How are sites being judged?

What we know is that the rollout may take up to a month, but there’s been reports that hundreds of sites have been completely deindexed already. This means that these sites have been removed from search engine rankings. No matter what search term someone employs, these sites will never appear as a result.

These deindexed sites are reportedly low-quality – sites with useless information and extremely poor user experience. The kind of site that you visit for less than a second and immediately leave upon realizing that it won’t help you at all. Deindexing isn’t anything new, but seeing so many sites affected so swiftly after the release of the update is a sign that Google is intent upon deep cleaning its SERPs.

Are my websites safe?

If your website features quality content, you don’t need to worry. Quality content has been the main yardstick used to determine helpful websites and good ranking for a long time. Remember to focus on quality over quantity and to create content that backs up the keywords and phrases you target for ranking. In other words, if you want to rank well for “best time to travel to New England,” create content that includes that keyword phrase and related keywords and phrases, is well-organized, answers the question in an easy-to-understand – i.e. helpful – manner, and provides insights, opinions, or perspectives not provided elsewhere.

Don’t write a blog post that features that keyword phrase in the title, and then doesn’t answer the question.

Google is still using its E-E-A-T concept to evaluate information. The 2024 March update didn’t change that. E-E-A-T can be used to help creators “seeking to understand how to self-assess their content to be successful in Google Search.”

E-E-A-T stands for:

  • Experience: have you actually used the product, service, or strategy you write or speak about?
  • Expertise: what is your background on the topic?
  • Authoritativeness: are you and/or your site recognized as an authority in your field?
  • Trustworthiness: is the content factual?

Content includes the copy on your website, blogs, any videos you create, social media posts, etc. If you follow E-E-A-T and know how to write well, this update shouldn’t bother you or your site.

If you want more clarity in content creation, check out Google’s guidelines for creating helpful, reliable, people-first content. We also recommend the Helpful content and Google Search results FAQ

Is AI content safe?

No, not all AI-generated content is not safe with this new update. There’s a few reasons for this.

One, AI-generated content doesn’t pass the E-E-A-T guidelines. AI tools don’t have any personal experience using or testing products, services, or strategies. They can’t be fully trusted and they aren’t experts in the field of any given topic – such as finances, software development, or cooking. 

In the page we linked above – creating helpful, reliable, people-first content – Google shares that content creators need to ask themselves why they are creating content. “If the “why” is that you’re primarily making content to attract search engine visits, that’s not aligned with what our systems seek to reward. If you use automation, including AI-generation, to produce content for the primary purpose of manipulating search rankings, that’s a violation of our spam policies.

This is not a blanket ban on all automatically generated content. It is a call to “take notice,” though and evaluate how and why you use content generation tools, whether AI or otherwise. At The Mather Group, we’ve never recommended using AI tools for long-form content generation, and that’s truly because the tools don’t perform as well as human content creators. If you’ve outsourced your content creation, or use AI tools in-house, now is the time to readjust so that Google doesn’t penalize your site.

New Spam Policies

The second part of the update is three new spam policies that are designed to “address practices that can negatively impact the quality of Google’s search results.” Google shares that part of its goal is to “ensure those producing helpful content are succeeding in Search ahead of those who engage in spam.”

Expired Domain Abuse

Sometimes people buy old domains that had historically done well in the SERPs and therefore had a high domain rating. After buying the domain, people use it to promote a product or service unrelated to or unassociated with the domain (URL).

This can include something like commercial medical products sold on a nonprofit site; or casino content on an educational site.

If you created your domain for your business – aka – you don’t need to worry about this.

Scaled Content Abuse

Scaled content abuse is what Google calls the action of creating pages on a website in order to manipulate search results, not to help people.

It is when looking at this abuse that we see AI-generated content called out, but websites can be found guilty of scaled content abuse even if they don’t use generative Ai tools. Other examples include:

  • Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding value
  • Scraping feeds, search results, or other content to generate many pages with little value
  • Creating pages where the content makes little or no sense but contains abundant search keywords

Remember, you don’t need to write five blog posts a week, create five new videos, or add a new page to your website once a week. You do need to create content that is valuable because it will improve searchers’ lives. Now, if you can do that and post content multiple times a week – content that is unique and full of trusted expertise and experience – fantastic! But you don’t have to do this in order to rank well.

Quality over quantity. It’s real.

Site Reputation Abuse

At first glance, we honestly found this new spam policy more vague than the other two. Luckily, Google provides some helpful examples to give clarity.

The focus here is on third party pages operating with little to no oversight from the first party with the intention of manipulating search rankings by taking advantage of the first party’s ranking signals. 

Since that isn’t the clearest explanation, here are examples:

Site reputation abuse includes, but is not limited to:

  • An educational site hosting a page about payday loans written by a third party that distributes the same page to other sites across the web to manipulate search rankings
  • A sports site hosting a page written by a third party about “workout supplements reviews,” but the sports site’s editorial staff have little to no involvement in the content and the main purpose of hosting the page is to manipulate search rankings
  • A news site hosting coupons provided by a third party with little to no oversight or involvement from the hosting site, and where the main purpose is to manipulate search rankings

(Can you spot the common denominator?)

Site reputation abuse does not include:

  • Wire service or press release service sites
  • News publications that have syndicated news content from other news publications
  • Sites designed to allow user-generated content, such as a forum website or comment sections
  • Embedding third party ad units throughout a page or using affiliate links throughout a page, with links treated appropriately
  • Third party content (such as advertorial or native advertising) that’s produced with close involvement of the host site, with the purpose of sharing content directly to readers and not manipulating search rankings

Bottom line: the purpose of hosting the content must be to reach readers and provide them with more helpful products or services, not to manipulate search engines. If you are hosting a third party site that violates this spam policy, you can continue hosting it as long as you deindex it. This will prevent it from ranking in the SERPs.

What if my site is found guilty of violating a spam policy?

You aren’t in for a good time. Google reports that sites engaging in practices that violate these new spam policies, and all existing policies, may rank lower or not appear in search results at all.

To find out if you are guilty, go to your Google Search Console and look at the Manual Actions report list. Any abuses will be listed as well as steps to take to reverse the violation.

Living Well with the New Update

There’s the changes in a nutshell. If you already follow Google’s policies and guidelines, you should be okay. If you work with any content creators or online reputation management companies, make sure they are reputable and follow all policies as well. If they don’t, you are going to find yourself paying money for something that does you no good.

As always, if you have questions, let us know!

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