This article has been co-written by Dan Taylor and Alireza Esmikhani.

On March 5, 2024, Google announced two algorithm updates targeting content quality and addressing spammy tactics that could previously boost a website’s ranking in Google’s SERPs.

These updates were named the March 2024 Core Update, and the March 2024 Spam Update.

At the time of writing, the Spam Update finished rolling out by March 20th (14 days and 21 hours after release), while the Core Update continued to be deployed.

The November 2023 Core Update took 25 days to roll out, while the previous two core updates, in October 2023 and August 2023, took 13 and 16 days to roll out, respectively. So while 20+ days is an above-average length of time, it’s not something we haven’t seen before.

Both of these updates work towards a common cause, and there is a lot of crossover between their targets, but the underlying recommendations and advice for both are largely the same.

A Volatile Past 6 Months

In the latter half of 2023, Google launched a series of algorithm updates beginning with a core update in August. This was followed by the Helpful Content Update in September, another update in October, a subsequent core update in October, and a final core update in November.

This sequence of updates laid the groundwork for the significant changes that followed, including the simultaneous release of the core update and spam update of March 2024.

Spam Policies & Website Evaluation

In previous years, Google has emphasized the importance of prioritizing high-quality content for users over optimizing for its search engine.

In the past year, we’ve also seen a seismic shift in the availability and accessibility of scaled content production through AI, leading to a surge in big SEO box tick websites yield little originality or backlinks

Google references helpful and quality content a number of times in its documents. Both are objective, and what is helpful and quality for one query won’t be the same for another—thus making it impossible to box-tick or provide traffic light scores against.

Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content, 27/03/2024

The increase in businesses utilizing large language models (LLMs) to generate website content means an increase in the number of new URLs submitted to Google for consideration.

Google has stated in its documentation for a number of years that the internet is expanding at a rate faster and to a scale it cannot conceivably crawl. Increasing the number of URLs with questionable content would always lead to Google (and other search engines) withdrawing resources from lower-quality websites and reducing crawl resources altogether to domains judged to offer low value to the audience they’re trying to reach.

There will, however, always be edge-case websites caught in the crossfire.

It’s essential to note that Google isn’t inherently opposed to the use of generative AI. In fact, its business model is increasingly reliant on individuals leveraging their generative AI tools and products for various applications.

Scaled Content Abuse

As generative AI tools have become more accessible, some webmasters have started leveraging these technologies to produce high-volume content. Their goal is to target a wide array of keywords to significantly enhance their visibility in search results.

These websites encompass a variety of categories, including businesses seeking to increase traffic and user engagement, affiliate sites, and platforms that focus on advertising monetization.

Prior to AI, scaled content production was in the realm of programmatic SEO that when executed correctly can be a powerful technique in improve website visibility for a range of search terms.

The main issue with the programmatic approach arises from the creation of pages with little value, designed primarily to rank high and target specific keywords. Programmatic SEO is a broad practice, used by a wide array of businesses that depend on organic search traffic.

The negative impact on affiliate websites may result from several factors, such as the presence of inferior content or mixed objectives that fail to prioritize genuine value for users.

For example, some affiliate sites might focus on generating traffic with the sole intention of maximizing advertising impressions, which could degrade the user experience and the quality of content.

The March 2024 Spam Update plays a key role in identifying websites engaging in these manipulative practices. It takes decisive steps to remove them from search engine results pages, protecting the quality and relevance of search results for users.

Expired Domain Abuse

An older SEO strategy involves purchasing expired domains with strong backlink profiles and historical significance.

For many years this tactic was used to capitalize on the existing content of these domains, creating articles that boost their rankings on relevant topics.

For some, this was to create websites that could be monetised, with the aim of seeing shorter lead times to ROI. In other cases, the full expired domain was just redirected to a primary domain with the aim of passing link equity to the primary.

However, when a domain “drops” for any period of time, Google works to understand the potential reasons why, and if the new purpose matches the old purpose. Google will also question why it was rewarding the domain with resources.

In November 2021, John Mueller said during an office hours hangout:

So if the content was gone for a couple of years, probably we need to figure out what this site is, kind of essentially starting over fresh.

So from that point of view I wouldn’t expect much in terms of kind of bonus because you had content there in the past.

I would really assume you’re going to have to build that up again like any other site.
Like, if you have a business and you close down for four years and you open up again then it’s going to be rare that customers will remember you and say oh yeah I will go to this business.
And it looks completely different. They offer different things. But it used to exist.

I think that situation is going to be rare in real life …if you will, as well.
So I would assume that you’re essentially starting over, here.

This is also one of the reasons why it usually doesn’t make sense to go off and buy expired domains in the hope that you’ll get some kind of a bonus out of using those expired domains.

From these updates, we’ve seen a number of websites that appear to be resurrected domains impacted.

Site Reputation Abuse

The Site Reputation Abuse section of the Google March 2024 Spam Update addresses a nuanced issue where reputable websites might inadvertently host low-quality content from third parties.

In this scenario, the content could leverage the main site’s credibility to gain undue search engine ranking benefits.

This involves situations where a trusted site allows external entities to publish content on their platform, which might not align with the quality or focus typically expected by the site’s audience.

For instance, a well-regarded educational website could unwittingly host reviews for payday loans published by a third party. This kind of content, aiming to ride on the hosting site’s strong reputation, could mislead visitors and dilute the trustworthiness of search results.

Visitors to the site might be confused or misled, expecting educational content but finding promotional material instead. Google’s update targets this practice by considering such third-party content, produced primarily for ranking purposes and lacking rigorous oversight by the website owner, as spam​​.

However, this policy update doesn’t outright ban all third-party content. Google acknowledges that many sites host third-party content, like native advertising or advertorials intended for their regular audience and not just to manipulate search rankings.

The distinguishing factor is the intent behind the content and whether the website owner closely oversees it to ensure it meets the site’s standards of quality and relevance.