Google’s March 2024 Spam & Core Updates Explained

SEO Reading Time: 6 minutes

On the 5th March, Google announced they were rolling out the March 2024 spam update and the March 2024 core update.

These updates aim to reduce ‘unhelpful content’ in Google search results by up to 40% and tackle growing issues like expired domain abuse, scaled content abuse, and site reputation abuse.

Both of these updates have completed their rollouts, with the March 2024 spam update completed on the 20th March and the March 2024 core update on the 19th April.

Below, we’ve broken down both of the updates, the changes introduced, and updates to their guidance.👇

What are Google’s ‘spam’ and ‘core’ updates?

Spam updates

Google is constantly looking for ways to improve its user experience and reduce spam-related search results, and they typically find and tackle around 40 billion spammy pages every day.

The first spam update was rolled out in two parts in June 2021 to fight spam in search results and improve the overall experience for their users.

Although this was the first official ‘spam update’, Google has always made tweaks behind the scenes and released broader algorithm updates that reduce spam and improve the search experience.

When the spam updates started being released, it showed a big commitment from Google to tackle spammy practices.

Since the first spam updates in 2021, Google has been regularly rolling out new algorithm updates to tackle any new spam techniques that start to grow.

Core updates

Core updates are much broader and involve changes to multiple systems and algorithms that make up Google’s ranking systems.

With these updates involving a lot of different changes, they can often take a little longer to roll out, which is certainly the case for this one. The recent spam update took just 14 days to complete, whereas the core update was completed after 45 days.

Google typically released a few core updates a year to improve their processes and systems and show more relevant, high-quality content to their users while cracking down on websites trying to use shady tactics to trick their systems into ranking them higher.

What did the March 2024 spam update change?

Like most other Google algorithm updates, we don’t know exactly what’s been changed inside Google’s elusive systems.

However, Google releases information and guidelines about new updates, including why they’re being made and the issues they aim to fix, which means we can get a clear idea of the practices we need to follow to stay in Google’s good books.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, the March 2024 spam update targeted three big spam issues: expired domain abuse, scaled content abuse, and site reputation abuse.

Here’s a quick look at each of those issues and why you need to avoid them, taken straight from the March 2024 spam update notice released by Google.

Expired domain abuse

Expired domain abuse is where spammers buy expired domains and repurpose them to boost the rankings of low-quality or plagiarised content.

This practice misleads users into thinking the new content is part of the older, more reputable website, which often isn’t the case.

Since the March 2024 spam update, Google now considers any expired domains that were bought and repurposed to boost low-quality content in this way to be spam, and it will be penalised.

Scaled content abuse

With AI tools like ChatGPT becoming increasingly popular for content creation, Google has cracked down on using AI tools to generate content low-quality or plagiarised content at scale.

Scaled content abuse is where spammers generate masses of unoriginal website content and articles to manipulate search rankings or trick users into thinking they have answers to popular searches, but they only deliver unhelpful content.

Google has had a policy on this issue for quite some time. Still, with scaled content methods becoming more sophisticated and AI tools constantly advancing, Google has changed how they target scaled content to address the issue better.

Instead of just trying to target scaled content created using AI, Google will tackle all forms of scaled content, whether made by humans, automation, or a combination of both.

Site reputation abuse

Some websites with strong reputations and loads of great content open up their website to hosting low-quality content from third parties, who can benefit from that reputation.

Google’s example of this is: “A third party might publish payday loan reviews on a trusted educational website to gain ranking benefits from the site.”

Google will now consider any low-quality, third-party content produced only to manipulate search rankings as spam.

These changes, however, won’t be enforced until the 5th May 2024, as Google is giving website owners who host third-party content time to make changes to their approach.

What did the March 2024 core update change?

With core updates involving a lot of changes behind the scenes to Google’s systems and algorithms, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s been changed.

However, in the statement released by Google after the March 2024 core update completed its rollout, we do know the impact this core has had, as well as some new features that Google has introduced.

Here’s a breakdown of these impacts and changes.

45% reduction in low-quality content in search results

When Google announced the March 2024 core update, they said the goal was to reduce unhelpful, unoriginal content in search results by 40%.

After the update finished rolling out, Google released a statement that said after making improvements to several core systems and their spam policies, they’ve exceeded their target by reducing unhelpful content by 45% instead of the expected 40%.

Here’s the official statement from Google:

“The updates led to larger quality improvements than we originally thought – you’ll now see 45% less low quality, unoriginal content in search results, versus the 40% improvement we expected across this work.”

More info on debugging drops in ranking

As part of the update, Google updated the help centre page to outline how website owners can identify what has caused drops in ranking, with a full video on how to analyze drops in Google Search traffic.

The page contains a load of information on the potential reasons for traffic drops, including:

  • Algorithmic updates
  • Small drops in ranking positions
  • Large drops in ranking positions
  • Technical issues
  • Security issues
  • Spam issues
  • Seasonality and changing interests
  • Site moves and migrations

New feedback form

Google also introduced a feedback form that allows everyone to submit feedback about the March 2024 core update.

In the form description, Google explains that they may use this feedback to improve their search ranking systems generally through future updates and that they will take the collective feedback into account rather than responding to individual queries.

As always, Google reinforced that if website owners or SEOs have any specific questions, they can post in the Search Central help community to get answers from Google experts.

Google handed out multiple manual action penalties

With Google reducing low-quality content, some websites were hit with ‘pure spam’ manual action penalties.

Google imposes manual actions for a number of reasons, but ‘pure spam’ manual actions are used on websites that “appear to use aggressive spam techniques such as automatically generated gibberish, cloaking, scraping content from other websites, and/or repeated egregious violations of Google’s spam policies for web search”, according to a screenshot on Search Engine Land’s recent article.

If a website is hit with a manual action, the owners will see a drop in traffic and rankings, or the website completely removed from the Google Search index.

It’s important to note that these manual actions aren’t automatically applied. They are manually reviewed by real people at Google who determine whether a website is in violation of their policies.

Here’s the statement from Google on the recent manual actions:
“Google issues a manual action against a site when a human reviewer at Google has determined that pages on the site are not compliant with Google’s spam policies. Most manual actions address attempts to manipulate our search index. Most issues reported here will result in pages or sites being ranked lower or omitted from search results without any visual indication to the user.”

How to avoid penalties from the March 2024 updates

If you’re concerned about being impacted by the March 2024 updates, here are a few tips to follow.

Be careful with AI tools

Don’t just use AI to write masses of content for your website.

Tools like ChatGPT are great for researching, rewording and shortening content, and developing content ideas.

But if you’re using them to create entire pieces of content, it’s not a great reading experience for your users, and based on this update, if you’re doing it en masse, it can be bad for your SEO, too.

Review your content

If you’re worried that you’ve been doing some of the spammy practices mentioned above, then you need to review your content.

Use the March 2024 spam update guidance to benchmark your approach to creating content, and conduct an audit across your website to ensure you’re following the advice.

Follow best practices

It’s also good to familiarise yourself with Google’s spam policies.

Knowing how Google tackles spam, the tactics you should avoid, and the best practices you need to follow, you’ll have a much clearer understanding of how to create helpful, people-focused content that ranks well.

What to do if you’re affected by the March 2024 updates

If you’ve noticed an adverse change in your keyword ranking, less traffic coming to your website, or you’ve been hit with a ‘pure spam’ manual action penalty in Google Search Console since the March 2024 updates, we can help.

Our SEO Specialists are super knowledgeable and can help you ensure you follow Google’s best practices and the latest guidance from the March 2024 updates.

If you’d like to speak to one of our Specialists, you can get in touch here.

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