Google’s March core and spam updates: what you need to know


Peter Eckersley

Head of Organic

6th March 2024

~ 4 min read

On the fifth of March Google announced the launch of two key algorithm updates

  • March 2024 core update 
  • March 2024 spam update 

These two updates have started rolling out, designed to improve the quality of Search with more useful content, and also better handle the practices that can artificially promote poor quality content in Google's search results. Google is expecting the full roll out to take up to a month to complete - double the length of standard updates.

What to expect

This is a bigger update than usual. 

Google has provided specific guidance 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.”  

At Croud we’ll be closely observing ranking performance and visibility over the coming weeks, with performance updates and trends we’re seeing from the broader search industry communicated with our clients.

What are the core and spam updates and why do they matter?

These updates are a broader package of measures Google is taking to improve the quality of search results. On the updates, Google’s Elizabeth Tucker, Director of Product, Search says “we expect that the combination of this update and our previous efforts will collectively reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40%”.

March 2024 core update

Core updates are rolled out several times a year in order to improve search results as they recalibrate all of the factors which contribute to a successful organic ranking in search engine results pages. They are designed to ensure that helpful and reliable content is returned in response to a user's query.

This core update is more complex than Google’s usual core updates, involving changes to multiple core systems meaning the rollout may take up to a month. This “marks an evolution in how [Google] identifies the helpfulness of content”.

Useful links:

On core updates 

On creating helpful content 

Helpful content FAQs

March 2024 spam update 

Spam updates are designed to address practices that can negatively impact the quality of search results. This update references three new spam policies which are designed to target illegitimate SEO techniques. 

1. Expired domain abuse - the practice of buying old domains with strong domain authority and using it to host content that provides little value to users

2. Site reputation abuse (AKA parasite SEO) - a strategy where third-party pages are published with little to no oversight or involvement from the website owner, where the purpose is to manipulate search rankings by taking advantage of the first-party site's ranking signals.

(Note -this point isn’t covered as part of the March Spam update, but will launch on May 5th to allow time for site owners to prepare for this change).

3. Scaled content abuse - where great numbers of pages are generated for the primary purpose of ranking in search results and not helping users. Google provides the following example of abusive practices:

  • Using generative AI tools or other similar tools to generate many pages without adding value for users
  • Scraping feeds, search results, or other content to generate many pages (including through automated transformations like synonymising, translating, or other obfuscation techniques), where little value is provided to users
  • Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding value
  • Creating multiple sites with the intent of hiding the scaled nature of the content
  • Creating many pages where the content makes little or no sense to a reader but contains search keywords

You can read more about the spam policies here

Google is facing challenges on multiple fronts and for a while, it has felt like it has very much been on the back foot. Whether this is low utility content in the search results as a result of over-optimisation, AI generation and other forms of poor quality content ranking in top positions, or the fact that users are going to other platforms like TikTok or Amazon to begin their search journey. This feels like a package of measures designed to reestablish control - but the proof will very much be in the pudding as to whether it succeeds. 

If you have any questions or concerns about how these updates will affect your SEO efforts, don’t hesitate to drop us a line

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