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Google’s March 2024 Core Update: Lessons on the Future of SEO

StartUp Growth Guide Staff

StartUp Growth Guide Staff

Future of SEO

Between March and April 2024, the SEO space was brimming with reactions to Google’s latest algorithm update, which was being rolled out then.

According to Semrush’s analysis, websites gained or lost an average of 2.3 positions. Perhaps more significant is that about 9% of the top results after the update were not even among the top 20 prior.


So, what exactly went down here?

Core updates, algorithmic shifts made by Google to improve search results, can dramatically impact a website’s visibility.

They force site owners to adapt their strategies to stay ahead of the curve constantly. 

In this article, we examine the lessons learned from the March 2024 core update, a game-changer that sheds light on Google’s evolving priorities and what it means for the future of SEO.

Background on Google’s Core Updates

Google’s search algorithm is continually evolving to improve the quality and relevance of search results. These are core updates and represent significant, broad changes to the company’s search algorithm and ranking systems that affect the future of SEO.

Specific core updates usually have some or all of these targets:

  • Improving search quality by promoting high-quality and useful content in search results.
  • Combating manipulation tactics like keyword stuffing, link schemes, etc.
  • Adapting to the evolving nature of the web as user behavior continues to change.
  • Maintaining the integrity and trustworthiness of the Google search engine, ensuring that users can rely on the results they see.

Over the years, some of the most popular core updates have had memorable names, such as:

  • Panda (2011, targeting low-quality content)
  • Penguin (2012, combating link-building)
  • Hummingbird (2013, improving search intent understanding)
  • RankBrain (2015, contextual understanding of queries), and so on.

Others include Medic (2018, improving health and medical content), BERT (2019, using AI to understand queries better), Core Web Vitals (2021, improving website performance), etc. And now, we have the March 2024 Core Update.

Expect more updates as the future of SEO advances.

Overview of the March 2024 Core Update

As Google admits, the March 2024 core update is quite unusual. It is a more comprehensive update, and perhaps, it is more accurate to describe it as not just a single update but a collection of updates to various systems.

Primarily, the aim was to enhance how the Search algorithm assesses content for helpfulness and relevance.

As a result, helpful content updates, which used to be standalone, have now been integrated into core update systems and will remain so for the foreseeable future of SEO, as it pertains to Google.

Moreover, Google introduced new spam policies to address evolving bad-faith practices in the SEO space:

  • Expired domain abuse: purchasing and repurposing expired domains for the sole purpose of manipulating Search rankings without producing helpful information.
  • Scaled content abuse: creating multiple pages of unhelpful content to manipulate rankings. This includes AI content generation too, although there are non-harmful uses of AI in SEO.
  • Site reputation abuse: publishing third-party pages (sponsored posts, ads, etc.) without the oversight of the host site and without providing value.

The announcement of the update caused significant ranking fluctuations (typical for core updates), and it got a lot of reactions within the SEO community.

Google expected to see 40% less low-quality, unoriginal content in search results after the update, but it ended up performing better than expected, at 45%.

Analysis of March 2024 Core Update

The update emphasizes the importance of creating high-quality, user-centric content as we step into a new future of SEO.

In terms of impact, the kinds of content that were most affected by the update were:

  1. AI-generated Content: with the dawn of ChatGPT and other similar tools, many website owners have come to rely solely on AI to automate the creation of low-quality content at scale and without human oversight. Such pages were the hardest hit by the update.
  2. Thin/Duplicate Content: The update ultimately aimed to reduce unoriginal and unhelpful content in search results. So, websites publishing thin, repetitive, or duplicate content across multiple pages were penalized.
  3. YMYL (Your Money or Your Life): Websites in sectors such as health, finance, legal, etc. were heavily impacted. That was not unexpected, though, as Google traditionally prioritizes established expertise and trustworthy information in these critical areas.
  4. Affiliate Marketing: Sites relying on thin affiliate content or keyword-stuffed articles likely suffered losses. Focus shifted towards valuable product comparisons and in-depth guides.
  5. Legacy Sites: Google’s algorithm has placed greater emphasis on E-E-A-T. Older websites that had managed to retain rankings despite past updates faced declines, particularly those with outdated or error-prone content​. This shift encourages websites to enhance their content’s credibility and accuracy.

In general, spammy and manipulative websites using black-hat SEO tactics suffered ranking drops as the update further cracked down on such practices.

For websites that already focused on posting helpful content, there was no recommended action for them to take; they should simply continue.

Lessons Learned from the Update

By understanding these lessons, site owners and SEO professionals can better prepare for future updates and improve their content strategies to meet the evolving needs of Google’s algorithms in the future of SEO:

1. Quality over Quantity

With this update, Google Search has further clarified that its priority is showing users content that addresses their specific needs and situations. Site owners and content creators must align with this by producing high-quality, original content that is helpful and relevant to users.

Foundational SEO best practices like creating content for people first, adding unique value, and establishing topical authority remain crucial for driving organic traffic.

2. Adapting to Change

The March 2024 Core Update underscores the importance of continuously adapting to Google’s evolving standards. Website owners should conduct regular content audits, emphasizing depth, originality, and relevance to stay competitive in the future of SEO.

Familiarize yourself with Google’s Search Console guidelines and Webmaster Guidelines to ensure your website adheres to best practices.

3. Focus on E-E-A-T

Enhancing Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) remains crucial. Websites must showcase their authority, cite reputable sources, and ensure all content is accurate and valuable to readers.

Focus on long-term SEO strategies prioritizing user experience and quality content instead of quick fixes or black-hat tactics.

4. Spam and Manipulation

Updates like this remind us that Google takes seriously the spam problem and those who try to manipulate search results without putting in any real work to help users.

Perhaps some spam sites might have missed being penalized during this update, but this certainly won’t be the last update aiming to eradicate manipulation tactics by site owners.

5. Contextual Understanding

Google is moving towards understanding the context of queries and presenting content that accounts for the user’s particular situation. This shift emphasizes the importance of situational content and intent.

You need to go beyond keywords and delve deeper into user needs. What are they trying to achieve with their search queries? Tailor your content to address their specific situation.

Future Implications for SEO

The future of SEO seems to be firmly rooted in user-centricity.

Your website will be well-positioned to thrive in the long if you prioritize user needs, provide valuable content, and offer a positive user experience. By understanding these future implications, you can develop comprehensive strategies that ensure your website remains visible and relevant in the ever-evolving search landscape.

In any case, experimentation and data-driven decision-making will help you understand what works best for specific audiences and niches. And a proactive approach to SEO will be necessary to anticipate changes and remain competitive.

Pay Attention to Future Updates 

Whether you are a seasoned SEO expert or a business owner striving to enhance your online presence, understanding these changes is crucial.

Focus on creating valuable, relevant content, ensuring your website is user-friendly, and staying updated with SEO best practices.

If you need help analyzing or scaling your content and SEO strategies, reach out to the StartUp Growth Guide team and we’ll be glad to help.

Featured Image by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

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