Internet Marketing Ninjas Blog

Google’s March 2024 Updates: What’s to Blame for Your Rankings Drop?

An AI-generated image of a search engine personified as a police officerGoogle’s got some big updates rolling out, and already, webmasters are seeing noticeable impacts on their sites, both positive and negative. Since it could take up to a month for the dust to settle, you don’t necessarily need to panic quite yet, but you do need to take a hard look at what these updates are intended to do and whether your site might be at risk.

Part 1: The March 2024 Core Update

This is a content-focused update that comes on the heels of the September 2023 Helpful Content Update. Google says that there actually won’t be any more “helpful content updates” as such: They’ve been rolled into broader core updates. The March 2024 core update aims to improve on what Google has already been trying to do, so if you’ve been listening to what they’ve been saying in the past few years, you should already be on the right track. According to Google, “There’s nothing new or special that creators need to do for this update as long as they’ve been making satisfying content meant for people.”

Part 2: The March 2024 Google Spam Updates

Google is going after three types of spam in an effort to clean up the SERPs: scaled content abuse, site reputation abuse, and expired domain abuse.

Scaled Content Abuse (aka Reckless Use of AI)

So many webmasters have seen the rise of generative AI as an opportunity to throw thousands of pages online with no effort, hoping that something will stick in the rankings. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and similarly, if you throw enough auto-generated text at the SERPs, some of it is bound to rank. That doesn’t mean that it’s actually any good or that people want to read it, though, which is why Google is cracking down, clarifying that using AI to create content in bulk in order to manipulate the search rankings is spam.

Some sites are already getting manual “pure spam” penalties for this, so it’s clear that Google is aiming to send a message.

Note that they did not say that using AI is forbidden. It’s not the AI that’s the problem: It’s the flood of low-effort, low-quality results that AI can be used to create. Just like any tool, AI needs to be wielded responsibly, guided by humans to create content that’s then human-edited to make sure that it’s helpful, informative, and accurate.

Site Reputation Abuse (“Parasite SEO”)

This type of spam actually appears on websites that otherwise have a lot of good, authoritative information, like those run by credible news outlets or even highly respected universities. The “parasite” content lives in a subfolder or subdomain that exploits the parent site’s reputation to get better rankings. Google’s spam update is going after content that provides little or no value to readers and isn’t closely overseen by or relevant to the main site.

Interestingly, Google has given sites a two-month head start to fix this, saying that they’ll start penalizing sites for site reputation abuse after May 5. That’s certainly not their usual approach, but it makes sense that they’d be loath to penalize some of the Internet’s most respected sites because they also contain spam.

Expired Domain Abuse

Similar to site reputation abuse, expired domain abuse aims to exploit the authority of a domain to rank low-quality content. In this case, it’s an expired domain that used to host good content; some people have made a lot of money from buying expired domains that have a good reputation, then filling them with junk. That’s not to say that you can’t buy an expired domain and repurpose it, but to avoid running afoul of Google’s guidelines, you should use it for a high-quality site with useful content, not spam.

Hard Pills to Swallow: Accepting and Fixing Your Weaknesses

It’s common for some webmasters to rant about Google after an update, complaining that they did everything right and Google is just dumb/evil/crooked/etc. You might see people saying things like:

  • “But my content is all human-written!” (It doesn’t matter. Humans can write low-quality content, too.)
  • “I worked really hard on this site!” (You need to refocus that effort on a better strategy, then.)
  • “If you’re not a big company, Google won’t rank you anymore.” (Not true; being a big company does tend to mean that you’re more trusted, but authority can be built up over time, and expertise doesn’t require you to be on the Forbes 500.)
  • “But I publish X posts a week!” (It’s about quality, not quantity.)
  • “Google loves to kill people’s sites for no reason.” (There’s always a reason.)

The fact of the matter is that blaming Google because your site doesn’t offer what they seek to reward isn’t useful. You can complain and make up excuses all day, but that’s not going to fix your rankings or get you out of a manual penalty. What will help is reading Google’s guidance and taking it to heart. Create content that’s focused on providing useful information for readers, not gaming the search rankings. The path to better rankings is paved with helpful content.


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Jim Boykin
Jim Boykin

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Ann Smarty
Ann Smarty

Community & Branding Manager