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It’s core update time again! The March 2024 update is a whopper, and, as usual, we’re here to tell you everything you need to know…

What is a core update?

A core update is a broad Google algorithm update. These algorithms are used by Google to generate search results for its users, and core updates to them aim to improve the quality and relevance of these results. It’s always Google’s aim to ensure that their users get the information they need ASAP, and the core updates will always support that.

When was the last core update?

The last core update took place between November 2nd 2023, and November 28th 2023, which, by all accounts, was a change to a different ranking system than the one updated in October 2023, which explains why they’re so close together. With much more time having passed since the last core update this time around, this March 2024 update isn’t really a surprise.

March 2024 Core update

It’s already been suggested that Google’s March core update is due to be a big one, and even includes enhancements to several components of the overall core system; it is, essentially, several updates within one.

Due to the size and complexity of this core update, we’ve been warned by Google that

‘there will be more fluctuations in rankings than with a regular core update, as different systems get fully updated and reinforce each other.’

They’ve also said that this core update will help Google identify pages that are:

‘unhelpful, have a poor user experience or feel like they were created for search engines instead of people.’

Helpful content is now part of Google core updates

One of the big announcements that has been made alongside this core update is that helpful content updates will now be part of the bigger Google core update; before, these updates were made and announced separately.

It’s now largely understood amongst website owners that Google favours reliable, helpful, person-centred content on webpages; this is something that is unlikely to change, only better identified, so anyone publishing content onto their website should bear that in mind.

If you have experienced a drop in the performance of your website after a core update, it’s always worth evaluating your content against Google’s self-assessment criteria. Improvements may be seen in the short term, but they’ll have more of an impact following a further core update.

March 2024 spam update

Something else is being rolled out alongside the Google core algorithm update; it’s Google spam updates - yes, plural! Two out of the three spam updates will result in both automatic and manual actions taken by Google against websites they consider to be partaking in spammy activity, with the exception of parasite SEO, which will be in effect on May 5th.

Let’s take a look at what the March 2024 spam updates mean:

Scaled content abuse search spam

This spam update targets content produced on a large scale for the purpose of ranking in Google searches; previously, it focused on spammy automatically generated content, but this update widens this beyond just auto-generated content, to any kind of content produced en masse to manipulate searches. This kind of content certainly doesn’t have the user at its heart, and therefore goes against helpful content guidelines.

Expired domain abuse

Buying expired domains and repurposing them to display spammy content is getting particular scrutiny under this update. It has been used by some to boost search rankings, but it’s now considered spam, and will be treated as such.

Parasite SEO

Quite the name, huh? Parasite SEO is otherwise known as site reputation abuse, and involves third-party sites hosting low-quality content, which is provided to them by third parties, to harness the ranking power of those third-party websites. Google gave the example by saying:

‘a third party might publish payday loan reviews on a trusted educational website to gain ranking benefit from the site.’

Let us be clear, however, that this won’t penalise all third-party content, only that which has been produced with the intention of manipulating rankings without close oversight from the website owner. It’s this spam update that has a two month notice period, with manual and automatic actions being taken against offenders from May 5th.

Google has started issuing manual action penalties

As we’ve mentioned, Google has already begun to dish out manual action penalties against spam perpetrators; let us explain a little more about what this means…

What is a manual action penalty?

Manual action is taken against websites by humans at Google, who have identified your site as being one that goes against the Google Search Essentials guidelines. Your website has therefore been seen to be engaging in spammy, deceptive, manipulative, or harmful practices, and these can easily negatively affect the user experience on your site. These manual actions can significantly impact a website’s visibility in the SERPs, in very serious cases removing it altogether.

Manual actions v algorithmic updates

Both manual penalties and algorithmic changes (those adjustments made to the algorithm that Google uses to rank content) can cause setbacks for websites in the SERPs. However, major differences between the two include the fact that manual actions are taken on an individual basis by a Google employee and not an automated algorithm, and you’re informed of the penalty and therefore what you’ve done to deserve it (with algorithmic changes, you have to guess).

Algorithmic changes are also reversible through future core updates, but with manual actions, you have to apply to get the penalty removed.

Is Google informing people of manual actions?

Yes - if a manual action is taken against your website, you’ll be told via Google Search Console under ‘manual actions’ in the ‘security and manual actions’ tab. An email should also be sent to the one associated with the Google Search Console account. Here, you’ll find out what has caused the penalty, and apply directly to Google once you believe you have resolved it.

Why are core updates important?

In a world where the way we interact with the web is constantly changing, Google too has to adapt to ensure it’s still presenting helpful, relevant results to its users, so these updates are always important. The have, however, been rumblings around the SEO community about the quality of Google’s search results recently, particularly in the perceived and alleged priority that bigger sites get over larger sites; one notable example is that Reddit results appear frequently. A core update is always a way for Google to indicate to us that they’re working to improve things.

Is this the start of an AI purge?

The spam update in particular is one that you’d be forgiven for thinking is a direct jab at AI content, but whether it is or not remains to be seen. As long as your content is helpful, reliable and person-centred, it’s likely to tick Google’s boxes, even if it was written by AI. However, the kind of mass-produced content that AI is certainly capable of will no doubt be one of the motivations behind this spam update.

How long will this update take?

As this is a chunky update, we can see it taking a while, perhaps as long as a month to be fully rolled out. Therefore, we’d suggest you keep a close eye on your rankings as usual to notice where anything has dropped, and therefore where improvements can be made.

Need help with your website's SEO?

In our jobs, Google core updates are very much our business, so when something big like this happens in the SEO world, we’re all over it for our clients. By carefully tracking the rankings and performance of the websites we look after, we can see quickly whether a core update may be affecting it and take steps to mitigate the loss of traffic and even business that that can cause.

In this way and so many more, your SEO is in safe hands with 427; our experienced team has every SEO base covered, so that you can get on with what you do best. Chat to us today about handing the burden of SEO over to us.

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About Chris Simmons

Chris is our onpage SEO Specialist at 427 Marketing, having joined the team in early 2023. He works with our content team to cover the 4 pillars of SEO; content, onpage SEO, technical SEO and offpage SEO. Prior to joining the 427 Marketing team, Chris spent almost 10 years applying his SEO and content skills across several different industries in marketing agency and inhouse roles including tool hire, auctioneering, health care within the NHS and high end luxury retail in both B2B and B2C capacities. His passion for writing, content, UX, technical and on page SEO has expanded our content offerings, helping provide reliable advice about all things SEO to 427 Marketing.

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