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Your Google March Core Algorithm Update Cheatsheet

The March core and spam updates are rolling out — need help finding the signal in the noise? Here's my short take on these updates as an SEO actively responsible for ensuring the organic performance of hundreds of customers.

Mar 11, 2024

4 m read

Some admins are discovering they have a new “manual action” sticker or that their sites have been completely deindexed this month. 

In contrast, there are also plenty of sites that have noticed… nothing. Their SEO strategies continue apace, and Google’s algorithm updates don’t seem to have affected them.

If you’re afraid you might end up in the former camp, here’s my take on Google March core update, including what the algorithm updates aim to do, who’s at risk, and how to tell if you’ve been impacted. I’ll also leave you with some next steps in case your site sees a negative impact.

Check out my LinkedIn for the CliffNotes version.

What Does the Google March 2024 Core Update Aim To Do?

Google announced its latest core update on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. In the post, the Google team noted it’s hoping the update will address two specific areas:

  1. Low-quality content
  2. Spam

Here’s how it wants to do this.

Reducing Unhelpful Content

At Victorious, we’re big believers in people-first content that provides information gain — and so is Google. It hopes the March 2024 core update will allow it to better identify unhelpful pages that have poor UX or that were built for the sole purpose of ranking. 

“Based on our evaluations, we expect that the combination of this update and our previous efforts will collectively reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40%.”

This is good news for searchers, but it should be worrying for those publishing large volumes of low-quality content that doesn’t consider its readers.

Scaling Back Spam in SERPs

AI made scaling spammy content easier, but it’s not the only way spam has snuck onto page one. Some sites have made posting spammy content a monetized activity, allowing other businesses to post content that isn’t connected with their industry on their website for a fee. Google calls this “site reputation abuse.”

Google is also cracking down on the use of expired domains as a way to promote unrelated content on a domain that was previously used in a different niche. Some individuals have used “expired domain abuse” as a way to rank disreputable casino or pharmaceutical pages, among others.

Ultimately, this update isn’t just one algorithm update. It’s essentially multiple system updates rolled into one seismic algorithm update. There will be aftershocks — so let’s talk about who may be impacted most.

Who’s At Risk From the March Core Algorithm Update?

Because Google is hoping to achieve very specific goals with this update, only some sites are at risk. 

Yours may be in trouble if:

  • You use generative AI as an end in itself rather than as an assistive tool and a means to an end of high-quality content production. If you have lots of AI-generated content that doesn’t provide value to readers and hasn’t been vetted by your content team, you’ll want to look for drops in organic impressions and clicks in Google Search Console.
  • Your backlinks are predominantly sourced from dropped domains “recycling” the previous site’s authority to prop up low-quality content.
  • Your site’s monetized through third-party affiliate content that’s wholly unrelated to its primary purpose and unvetted by the site’s owners. (The best fix for this? Don’t do it.)

How Do I Know If My Site’s Been Impacted?

To check if the algorithm update has affected your site, open up Google Search Console. Look for significant drops in impressions and clicks starting March 5. You can also check GA4 for organic traffic drops.

I loosely define “significant” as a sustained 15%+ drop, with a variance of 5% on either side. Keep in mind that some fluctuation is normal. On the Google Search Central blog, the Google Search Quality team shared that:

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

Don’t be surprised by these fluctuations, just keep an eye out for the above-mentioned drops.

If you don’t see a sustained, significant drop, you haven’t been impacted. Sit back and let updates run their course. Continue to execute your strategy, and don’t try to solve a problem you don’t have by meaningfully changing what’s proven effective to date.

If you have seen a sustained drop, ask yourself, “Does my site do any of what’s listed under ‘Who’s at risk?‘” 

If the answer is no, but you’ve seen significant drops, you may have been impacted by the core update and not the spam update. If the answer is yes, you have been affected by the update. 

What Do I Do if My Site Is Impacted by the March Core Algorithm Update?

The severity of the impact should dictate your next steps. Consider the tactic being targeted so you can address it directly.

First, check your indexed pages and manual actions in GSC to note if there are any changes you should be aware of. 

If your site has been affected because of your use of AI content, you should run a content audit to see what specific pages are suffering from declining organic traffic. Take action based on your findings — improve or remove impacted content. 

At the same time, address your use of generative AI in your content production process. We provide tips on integrating AI into your content workflows here.

If you believe backlinks may be responsible for significant traffic drops, skip the disavows. Instead, you need to focus on sourcing backlinks from more reputable referring domains. A new link-building strategy can help you secure quality backlinks.

Once you’ve fixed the issues that may have gotten you in trouble with Google, you can return to GSC to ask for pages to be reindexed or submit a reconsideration request for your manual action penalty.

Your Partner in Algorithmic Recovery

An SEO strategy backed by a proven methodology can help your site recover after an algorithm update. At Victorious, our flexible strategies are created with our customers’ business goals in mind. We put our expertise to work, making measurable, sustainable improvements. Learn more — schedule a free consultation today.

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