Google’s March 2024 Core Update: What it Means for Your Website’s Visibility and AI-Generated Content

Google is performing a major core update with multiple pieces right now. Go and take a look at your website’s Google Analytics. Do you see a downward trend – or even a fall off a cliff – sometime after March 5, 2024? Well, that’s it.

Google updates its algorithms daily, often multiple times a day. While minor tweaks occur regularly, major core updates are less frequent but significant. These updates bring about substantial shifts in the algorithm’s core functionality. 

March 2024 Google Core Update
A visualization of the effects of the March 2024 Google Core Update based on internal website data, for illustrative purposes only.

This recent update was significant, encompassing both a major core update and a separate spam update. This alone has already resulted in manual actions, where some or all of a site will not be shown in Google search results, as well as some sites being entirely delisted. But that’s not all. With these fresh developments in Google town, AI-generated content is facing additional scrutiny. Plus, activity on X (formerly known as Twitter) can now impact how your organization appears on Google’s search engine results page.

So, how will these updates impact your website’s visibility on Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)? And better yet, what are some practical strategies you can apply right now for adapting to algorithm changes?

First, let’s discuss who benefits from Google’s March 2024 Core Update, and why it’s being done.

For the average Google user, this update offers several benefits. It reduces the likelihood of encountering spam and scam sites, and enhances user security by preventing access to potentially vulnerable sites. Moreover, it provides added protection against security risks associated with outdated WordPress sites, which are prone to exploitation by malicious actors. Those are all positive benefits!

Additionally, Google states that the core updates aim to enhance search quality and usefulness for users. To do so, Google will improve quality rankings and reduce the prevalence of unoriginal content. Unoriginal content refers to websites that act as mere collections, aggregating articles from various sources without adding unique value.

In other words, if you’re operating a business or organization, your primary focus should be on creating helpful, original content that isn’t AI-generated. Avoid relying on AI to assist you in writing or refining your content. While tools like Grammarly can be useful for grammar and syntax checks, they should not replace your own writing skills. Instead, view AI as an aid rather than a crutch. Focus on developing and honing your writing abilities independently, using AI tools as supplementary aids rather than primary writing tools.

To me, this update emphasizes the importance of providing original and insightful content. That brings to mind two Google acronyms familiar to SEO practitioners and creators:

  • EAT, or Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, a Google concept used to evaluate whether searches are providing helpful, relevant information to users. In December 2022, Google added another E: Experience. 
  • YMYL, which stands for “Your Money or Your Life.” Google uses this acronym to underscore the importance of content relevance, especially for topics related to health, finances, or anything that significantly impacts individuals’ lives. 

Understanding both of these concepts is essential for anyone following the Google gods, and is certainly relevant to responding to the update. Even though “Experience” has been in circulation for about a year, its impact is emphasized by the recent core update. So, too, is relevant, unique content. Merely reproducing existing content without adding personal insights or perspectives is unhelpful.

Unfortunately, this all means a lot for the little guy. Think small organizations, local businesses, and any website that relies on stock imagery or has used AI to generate even partial content. This is not the time to phone it in or rely on stock imagery.

Quantity isn’t as crucial as quality; instead of aiming for a vast number of pages or adding numerous bloggers, concentrate on refining your message. Address essential questions about your organization. Think like a journalist: What do you do? Who do you serve? Why do you do it? How do you do it? Provide comprehensive, original, and robust answers to these questions.

Structure your content around your core messaging, avoiding tangents that may dilute your impact. Remember, ranking on search engines like Google is essential for driving traffic to your website. Invest in creating original imagery and videos that align with your messaging. Focus on maintaining a consistent and direct message across all platforms and social media. Stay on topic and avoid distractions to ensure your message resonates effectively with your audience.

In Google’s recent announcement, they highlighted three significant issues related to combating spam. The following were identified as sources of low-quality content:

  • Expired domain abuse, where old domains are purchased and repurposed with the intention of boosting the search ranking of low-quality content.
  • Scaled content abuse, where content with little to no value created at scale to boost search ranking
  • Site reputation abuse, where additional, low-quality content provided by third parties is also added to a website with the goal of capitalizing on the hosting site’s strong reputation

These three issues constitute Google’s efforts to combat spam and enhance search quality. However, some creators may get caught in the crosshairs unnecessarily. Local businesses, particularly service-oriented ones, are most susceptible. Large national organizations may not be as severely impacted due to their resources and diverse content.

First, let’s talk about expired domains. If a domain with a decent Domain Authority (say, 40 or above) expires and isn’t renewed, opportunistic SEO practitioners might acquire it to leverage its authority. By redirecting traffic or hosting content on that domain, they can benefit from its inherent authority, which remains attached to the URL regardless of ownership changes. While this tactic might be considered somewhat black hat, it’s nonetheless effective.

Second, Google addressed generative content, a practice where AI-generated sites flood the web with thousands of pages daily. Google deems this unhelpful and will delist such sites to combat spammy behavior.

Lastly, Google targeted sites whose sole purpose is to link out to other sites. These sites, often with dubious content and low domain authority, exist solely to facilitate link-building schemes.

Consider this: Both AI-generated and stock images have implications for website experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trust. Using stock images extensively, for example, can raise red flags. Google can detect stock images by cross-referencing them with images used elsewhere on the web. For local service businesses, especially those stretching their resources, this could lead to penalties, including delisting.

For smaller businesses, custom imagery and videography are essential. Instead of relying on stock imagery or mass-distributed photos from suppliers, a local landscaping company should showcase real examples of their work. Images should ideally include geolocation data to confirm their authenticity and relevance to the business’s service area.

There are a lot of tools in the Google toolbox, and you’re going to want to pull them up right now. While Google Analytics has traditionally been the go-to tool for insights, the Google Search Console is now indispensable.

To ensure your website’s status, the initial step is to conduct a Google search using “site:[your organization’s URL].” If no results appear, your website may have been delisted—a fate that has befallen millions of sites in recent weeks, albeit a fraction of the total. Next, analyze your website traffic in Google Analytics, focusing on events after March 5, 2024. Traffic patterns typically exhibit one of three scenarios: no change, an increase, or a decrease. An increase signals positive reception to your unique and trustworthy content, whereas a decline might suggest delisted pages.

Should you notice a traffic decline, identify the affected pages and rectify any issues. Do this BEFORE resubmitting them via Google Search Console. Google advises against premature resubmission, which could prolong the recovery process.

To summarize, promptly check your website’s status using Google search, analyze recent traffic trends in Google Analytics, address any delisted pages, and focus on bolstering your domain authority. These steps are crucial for maintaining website visibility and performance amidst algorithmic updates.

So, who benefits from Google’s updates, aside from the average Google user? Well, Google, of course! Although this hasn’t been officially confirmed, observations from Google Labs indicate a shift toward a more selective search experience. Currently, in the generative search interface, only the top three organic results are prominently displayed, followed by advertisements.

This shift could imply a move towards a pay-to-play model for websites aiming to rank prominently in search results. Unless a website is deemed an authoritative source for specific search terms, organic ranking beyond the top few positions may become increasingly challenging. Consequently, businesses may need to invest in advertising to secure visibility.

While this transition remains speculative, it aligns with the observed trend in the generative search interface and the broader trajectory of online advertising models. However, until we have more information, this is simply my personal conjecture.