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March 2024 Google Core Update: 4 Step Recovery

Here's what's happening with Google's latest March 2024 core updates that have taken over all the talk in the SEO community.

A large number of sites have been impacted,

  • organic reach has been algorithmically limited
  • websites have experienced a manual action penalty

Both of these are bad news, and the truth is that it can take several weeks, if not months, to recover from these handdowns.

We're still learning about these updates because they're still underway.

However, expecting short-term gratification is mistake number one when it comes to search engine optimization.

But you already knew that.

What is Google's March 2024 core update?

Google core updates are significant adjustments that Google makes to its search algorithm, impacting how pages are ranked on search engine results pages (SERPs). The primary goal of these updates is to prioritize content that is more useful, informative and meets user intent.

Google's March 2024 core update is the latest in this series of algorithm changes aimed at improving the relevance and quality of search results.

This time, Google released both a core and a spam update concurrently in March 2024.

While this isn't unprecedented; Google has released updates in close succession before – this has made it harder to detect which of these updates your website may have been impacted by.

Google's March 2024 spam updates target manipulative and deceptive practices that violate Google's webmaster guidelines. You can access the spam guidelines here, but for March 2024, here are 3 specific ways Google is tackling spam.

  • Reducing low-quality results with little to no added value. This includes unhelpful webpages that have poor user experience and were created to game search engines instead of for readers.
  • AI abusive tactics to generate low-quality content at scale to manipulate search rankings.
  • Parasite SEO practice by hosting low-quality content by a third party to benefit from the hosting site's strong reputation.
"We’ll now consider very low-value, third-party content produced primarily for ranking purposes and without close oversight of a website owner to be spam. We're publishing this policy two months in advance of enforcement on May 5, to give site owners time to make any needed changes."

Google blog update, March 2024

Mark that date on your calendar with a big red marker.

Note that this March 2024 spam update is not a link spam update, which specifically targets the ranking impact from a manipulated link profile.

How to recover from Google's March 2024 core update?

Just like the Helpful Content Update recovery, a Google core update recovery is possible, but let's analyze why this happened. It's likely that your website violated one or more of Google's content policies to rank in its results.

This could be low-quality content, purchasing links, or manipulative black hat practices. But essentially, the reason your relationship with Google has broken down is the erosion of trust.

And like any broken relationship, you'll have to practice these steps.

  • Fix the mistakes you made
  • Show Google you can be trusted
  • Prove your intention to be a long-term partner

To begin with, you're likely to see these issues.

Your website has been algorithmically deindexed

Deindexing may not be considered a manual penalty because it results from the site failing to meet certain criteria set by Google's algorithms.

Your website has been penalized by a manual penalty

This is a deliberate action taken by Google, typically accompanied by a notification in Google Search Console. You'll find this message inside the manual actions tab of GSC.

The road to core update recovery will be similar for both manual and algorithmic Google penalties, so we'll examine them together.

Here are 3 steps you can take to recover from Google's March 2024 core updates.

Erase all unhelpful content

There's absolutely no way that you will beat the penalty with poor content. The fundamental basis of ranking in search engine results is to provide informational, well researched content that users deem useful to them.

Google's latest blog post about the March 2024 update reiterates this but this isn't news.

Start addressing your website's recovery by getting rid of all unhelpful content.

Here's what unhelpful content is.

  • Thin content that is superficial and doesn't really meet search intent
  • Weak content that is only designed to rank and draw in clicks without answering queries
  • Scraped content, or manufacturer-provided content
  • AI generated content at scale
  • User generated spam

Take a look at the Search performance report inside your GSC to find pages that didn't bring in meaningful traffic or rank for keywords over the last few months and delete them.

Consider consolidating well-written pages that target similar keywords. Then, redirect old pages to your main page about those keywords.

If you've been abusing AI tools to create hundreds of pages in a short span, it's time to prune them as well.

Remember, Google isn't against AI generated content. It's against the misuse of AI content created specifically to draw in clicks, rather than provide information.

If you have the resources, revisit your content instead of deleting your pages altogether and edit them in line with Google's helpful content policies.

Also, get rid of any spam from user-generated content in the form of links and comments.

Get a new domain

Buying expired domains has been a widely practiced strategy for years. In fact, there are websites dedicated to selling you expired domains to override the Google sandbox period.

However, it seems like the new update is cracking down on this.

"Expired domains that are purchased and repurposed with the intention of boosting the search ranking of low-quality content are now considered spam."

Google blog update, March 2024

Note that Google mentions low-quality content, so if you only purchased an expired domain to bypass the sandbox period but are creating high quality content, you should be fine.

But if you're practicing either of these, you're likely in violation.

  • your content isn't relevant to the old domain that was a gov or edu site
  • you're abusing the site's authority to push out low quality content

This is a pretty drastic measure and will only apply if you're in violation of these.

If you are, it's time to get a new domain.

A 301 permanent redirect may actually be more detrimental because you'll still be abusing the site's ranking power for the new domain.  

Address black-hat techniques

If you're still implementing black-hat SEO, here's a friendly reminder that we're in 2024.

Here are a few methods that the core update punishes.

Cloaking: If you're presenting different content to search engine crawlers than to users, this is a manipulation of search engine rankings that can result in penalties for the offending website.

Redirects: Sneaky redirects deceive search engines by showing users different content than their crawlers, undermining the integrity of search results.

Parasite SEO: Not specifically a black hat tactic, but the exploitation of reputable websites to host lower-quality content is deemed as spam.

Disavow unnatural links

Unnatural links are those from low-authority, irrelevant websites, often link farms and PBNs.

It's possible that your website acquired them via a partnership or paid agreement. Or perhaps, a competitor spammed your site.

Even though this is not a link spam update, follow these steps to disassociate from spammy links.

  1. Head to your Top linking sites tab in the Links report in GSC
  2. Export the list
  3. Disavow any links that appear to be spammy

Once you have cleaned up your link profile, please submit a request for review.

If you have sold links from your pages to other websites,

  1. Remove these links or add a rel=”nofollow” attribute
  2. Request a review

How long does it take to recover from a core update?

Google releases core updates on a regular basis every few months. If one of these updates impacts your content, it might not return to its previous position until the next broad core update, provided you have made the necessary improvements.

However, Google's search algorithms constantly evolve and can lead to a core update recovery if the search engine recognizes your improvements.

Takeaways

  • Implement Google's content policies strictly to avoid penalties. High-quality, informative content is non-negotiable.
  • Regularly audit your website for spammy practices and eliminate them to maintain trust with Google.
  • Stay updated with Google's guidelines, as they are subject to change and can impact your site's ranking.
  • Consider the risks of using expired domains for SEO benefits, as this can lead to penalties under the new update.
  • Recovery from a core update requires patience and adherence to Google's best practices, and improvements may not be immediately visible until after the next update.
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