Google releasing massive search quality enhancements in March 2024 core update and multiple spam updates


Google is unleashing multiple measures aimed at improving the quality of its search results beginning today.

Google is releasing the March 2024 core update and a number of spam updates (aka March 2024 spam update). Also, Google’s helpful content system has been incorporated into its overall core ranking system.

In addition, Google announced several new and updated spam policies that it will begin enforcing through automated algorithms and manual actions.

March 2024 core update – bigger than before

Today, Google started to roll out its first core update of the year and its first algorithm update of the year – the March 2024 core update.

Elizabeth Tucker, Director of Product, Search at Google, told Search Engine Land that the update will help reduce unhelpful content in Google Search by 40%.

  • “We expect that the combination of this update and our previous efforts will collectively reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40%,” Tucker wrote.

The rollout of the March 2024 core update may take as long as a month. Multiple systems will be updated and released during the update.

This update, unlike some previous core updates, includes enhancements to several components of the overall core system. This March core update will have multiple updates within it, since this update touched on several systems within the core update, Google will push out updates to those systems over the coming weeks.

The March 2024 core update is “more complex update than our usual core updates,” Chris Nelson from the Search Quality team at Google said. Google made “changes to multiple core systems,” he added.

Google enhanced its core ranking systems to show more helpful results using a variety of innovative signals and approaches (more on that later).

In fact, since Google is updating multiple core systems, “there will be more fluctuations in rankings than with a regular core update, as different systems get fully updated and reinforce each other,” Nelson added.

Google said this update has refined how it understands which webpages are “unhelpful, have a poor user experience or feel like they were created for search engines instead of people.” This “could include sites created primarily to match very specific search queries,” Google added.

Previous core updates. Here’s a timeline and our coverage of recent core updates:

Helpful content update now part of core updates

With this March 2024 core update, Google will stop announcing new helpful content updates, since the helpful content system has been incorporated into the core update system.

The last helpful content update, the September 2023 helpful content update was a large update that impacted several sites. Hopefully, some sites impacted will see relief from this March 2024 core update, but it is hard to say at this point.

The classifier for the helpful content system was overhauled and is now baked into the March 2024 core update.

But the helpful content classifiers are not the only systems part of this March 2024 core update. In fact, Google said work for the March 2024 core update started with the 2022 helpful content update.

What to do if your rankings drop. Here’s the advice Google has given in the past for those negatively impacted by a core update:

  • There aren’t specific actions to take to recover. A negative rankings impact may not signal anything is wrong with your pages.
  • Answer these questions to evaluate the quality of your content.
  • Wait for another core update. You may see some improvement between core updates, but the biggest changes will occur after another core update.

In short, write helpful content for people and not to rank in search engines.

  • “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,” Nelson explained.

March 2024 Spam updates

Google also announced the release of new spam updates, which it is calling the March 2024 spam update, and spam policy updates to complement the release of the March 2024 core update.

Two of these spam updates will result in both automated and manual actions this week. The site reputation abuse spam update will go into effect in two months from today, on May 5.

Scaled content abuse search spam

The scaled content abuse search spam is an update to the old “spammy automatically-generated content” policy that now goes beyond just “spammy auto-generated content” and is now inclusive of any method of producing content at scale for the purpose of ranking in search.

Google said producing content at scale to boost search rankings – whether with automation, people or a combination – is against its guidelines.

  • “This will allow us to take action on more types of content with little to no value created at scale, like pages that pretend to have answers to popular searches but fail to deliver helpful content,” Google wrote.

What are examples of pages that pretend to have answers but fail to deliver? Tucker explained that those are the pages that start off by stating it will answer your question, lead you on with low-quality content, and never end up giving you the answer to your questions:

  • “Our long-standing spam policy has been that use of automation, including generative AI, is spam if the primary purpose is manipulating ranking in Search results. The updated policy is in the same spirit of our previous policy and based on the same principle. It’s been expanded to account for more sophisticated scaled content creation methods where it isn’t always clear whether low quality content was created purely through automation.”
  • “Our new policy is meant to help people focus more clearly on the idea that producing content at scale is abusive if done for the purpose of manipulating search rankings and that this applies whether automation or humans are involved.”

Google will start to take action against scaled content abuse both through algorithmic spam systems and manual actions this week.

Expired domain abuse now considered spam

“Expired domain abuse” – the practice of buying expired domains and repurposing them with the “intention of boosting the search ranking of low-quality content” – is now considered spam, Tucker said.

This technique may try to trick users to thinking new content on a domain is part of the old site, when it may not be.

This is a specific and clear message to content creators to not purchase expired domains with the intent of repurposing those domains with the goal of ranking in Google Search.

Google will start to take action against expired domain abuse both through algorithmic spam systems and manual actions this week.

Site reputation abuse (aka Parasite SEO) is spam too

Google has a new policy for “site reputation abuse,” some SEOs have been calling it “Parasite SEO,” where third-party sites host low-quality content provided by third parties to piggyback on the ranking power of those third-party websites. Google explained, “a third party might publish payday loan reviews on a trusted educational website to gain ranking benefit from the site.”

“Such content ranking highly in Search can confuse or mislead visitors who may have vastly different expectations for the content on a given website,” Google added.

This new policy clarifies that “third-party content produced primarily for ranking purposes and without close oversight of a website owner to be spam.”

But this new policy doesn’t consider all third-party content to be a violation. Google said “only that which is hosted without close oversight and which is intended to manipulate Search rankings.”

Google offered this example:

  • “Many publications host advertising content that is intended for their regular readers, rather than to primarily manipulate Search rankings. Sometimes called ‘native advertising’ or ‘advertorial,’ this kind of content typically wouldn’t confuse regular readers of the publication when they find it on the publisher’s site directly or when arriving at it from Google’s search results.”

Google said they are giving two month advance notice of this policy and will start to take both automated and manual actions on this abuse in two months. The specific date is May 5.

Why we care

Over the past several months there has been numerous complaints and studies about Google search getting worse. Content on the web is simply not great, and Google seems to have been ranking big sites over smaller sites, where Reddit recently has been dominating the Google search results.

When I asked about the proliferation of Reddit rankings, a Google spokesperson responded:

  • “We know that for some queries, people are really seeking out content that comes from other people with relevant experiences. We want to surface content that people are looking for, in cases where it’s helpful. There is high-quality and low-quality content across all content types – including user-generated forum and discussion content. Our goal is to surface the best of the web, and we believe these ranking improvements will help us surface higher-quality discussion/forum content for searches where it’s helpful – and will help us get better at detecting when such content is truly helpful.”

Google said the ranking changes were done prior to any relationship with Reddit.

  • “We’ve been working on making it easier to find content that reflects first-hand perspectives across all types of sites in our search results, including hundreds of forum sites. This ranking improvement launched before and is independent of the Reddit partnership,” the spokesperson told Search Engine Land.

The criticism that the quality of Google search results isn’t up to par is nothing new. They echo what former Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan wrote back in 2017 in A deep look at Google’s biggest-ever search quality crisis.

Sullivan, now Google’s official Search Liaison, has been promising this and future updates that address the quality issue. In November, Google advised us to “buckle up.” The company reiterated this in January. And again in February. Is this the Google update that we’ve been waiting for?

Google will post on its Search Status Dashboard when the updates are done and we will post a story here as well.



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