Google’s March 2024 Update

Mar 19, 2024It Depends - An SEO Podcast, SEO

In this episode, Lindsie and Jay discuss the recent updates announced by Google to address spam and improve the quality of search results. They explore the significance of these updates and the impact on AI-generated content. The conversation covers the ongoing rollout of the updates and the fluctuations in rankings and traffic that websites may experience. They delve into the specific changes in the core update and the spam update, including the focus on helpful content and the crackdown on parasite SEO. The episode concludes with a reminder to take a long-term view and not panic in response to updates.

Key Takeaways

  • Google has announced updates to address spam and improve the quality of search results.
  • The updates target AI-generated content and aim to discourage its use.
  • The rollout of the updates is ongoing and may result in fluctuations in rankings and traffic.
  • The updates include changes to the core algorithm and spam policies, focusing on helpful content and combating spam.


00:00 Introduction and Background

01:02 Google’s Updates and the Podcast

03:02 Google Recognizing and Admitting the Problem

03:22 Direct Attack on AI-Generated Content

04:26 The Significance of the Update

06:14 Ongoing Rollout and Fluctuations

08:02 Improved Quality Ranking

08:45 New and Improved Spam Policies

10:07 Impact on SEO Tactics

11:48 The Problem with AI-Generated Content

13:10 Inclusion of Helpful Content in Core Update

16:37 Difference Between Core Update and Spam Update

19:58 Addressing Parasite SEO

23:24 Impacts and Observations

26:03 Variation in Rankings and Traffic

28:08 Taking the Long View

30:09 Conclusion


Lindsie Nelson (00:01.174)

Just starting the recording off happy today, right Jay? We’re ready for our episode 13 of It Depends.


Jay (00:09.923)

I remember to hit record so we’re at least starting it off. What’s going on, Lindsay?


Lindsie Nelson (00:15.51)

Kicking it off. Yeah, this is uh, this is almost a 2.0 episode from our last episode, which we talked a lot about some of the spam issues with Google, all these fun things that are happening, and the day I think that we pushed publish on this, Google announced some major updates to address at least a handful of the things that we had discussed in our last episode. So this


conversation is about the actual updates that are occurring, what they mean, what they’re impacting, and kind of from our perspective all of these different pieces coming into play. Definitely making some waves.


Jay (01:02.558)

Yeah. And there were definitely signs that things were coming, including statements from folks at Google that they were working on some improvements, but still I’d like to point out that we actually scheduled the, our last episode to publish the day before the updates happen. So we’re ahead of the curve here.


Lindsie Nelson (01:22.942)

We’re ahead of, it wasn’t, it was because of us. They actually, they’re like, you know what? They’re talking about it. It’s this podcast. We have to do it now. Now or never.


Jay (01:32.698)

Yeah, these, these like 17 people that listen to this obscure SEO podcasts are up in arms about the quality of our search results. And they keep sending us all of this, this documentation that we put together. And. Okay. What are we talking about, Lindsay?


Lindsie Nelson (01:40.64)

I know.


Lindsie Nelson (01:48.014)

Yeah, yeah. All right, well, let’s get into what happened and when. So March 5th, the updates were officially announced on Google Search Central that there were these updates coming to both the core update, the core algorithm was being updated, as well as a direct spam update. So this is also unique in that there are a number of updates happening all at one time.


Google historically has tried to keep them one by one, at least that’s what they tell us. So what does this mean that they’re doing all of these at once, what’s your interpretation of why these are all happening at one time?


Jay (02:34.57)

I think it’s Google recognizing and admitting that it has a problem. You know, this is like step one of the, the 12 step program is stuff got really bad and just doing, you know, this like iterative approach of we’re going to tweak some things, we’ll add some new updates, you know, in between, but we’ll just kind of steadily make it better. Like that doesn’t keep up with.


the way the internet’s going and with like the no barrier to entry for creating new websites and thousands of articles and all the other things that AI is helping power. You know, Google had to change their approach and be a bit more comprehensive, a bit more aggressive.


Lindsie Nelson (03:15.671)



Lindsie Nelson (03:22.518)

Right? And this is a direct, maybe attack is aggressive, but attack on AI generated content, especially the spam update. There are other pieces, we’ll talk about the aspects that are called out specifically.


But to me, it feels very much like we are seeing Google results being inundated by AI-generated content and we want to highly, highly discourage that. So we are now aggressively penalizing sites for using this tool to create mass amounts of content.


Jay (03:59.438)

Yeah. And before we get into how all of that’s happening and what’s going on and everything like that, I at least want to point out, like, I don’t think we’re going to talk about every Google update on this show. You know, they happen a lot and some of them are really just not important or interesting. But this is… I always have, like, my Forbes test for Google updates where it’s like…


There’s updates that happen in the SEO world, gets in a panic about it, and we see what’s going on. And then there’s updates that, like, business owners and marketing people that don’t touch SEO find out about because it’s a big enough deal that it lands in, like, Forbes or CNN or, you know, name your general news and business website. And this one, I feel like I need to revise to have, like, three tiers. Because this one,


Lindsie Nelson (04:43.415)



Jay (04:56.214)

made it to like all of the tech news websites like the verge is talking about it and the verge has been big on like seo is the devil lately so maybe that’s their beat but like i think fast company had an article about it and like all of the sites where you go to find out about like the new hot apps or the latest iphone or whatever they’re talking about this which is a lot more mainstream than the normal google update is so it’s worth diving into


Lindsie Nelson (05:00.674)



Lindsie Nelson (05:11.053)



Lindsie Nelson (05:18.455)



Lindsie Nelson (05:24.414)

Right. Yeah, absolutely. And it is making its way into mainstream news as well. Just it’s just starting. But we’re also really, really new in it, right? I think a lot of we’ll get into impacts, but a lot of business owners aren’t seeing it yet. I think we’re going to start to see a lot more conversation about it when it’s like.


oh my God, we have no traffic, or why have we dropped X percentage over the last 30 days, or what is this massive drop in this one day? And I think once those conversations start to happen, we’ll start to see it get elevated even more. But again, this is very new. This is just happening right now. It is continuing to roll out. I’ll also mention we’re gonna get into exactly what’s changing and why.


in just a moment, but what I also wanted to note is that it is not done. So Google has come out and said that, um, so as this is a complex update, the rollout might take up to a month. It’s likely there will be more fluctuations in rankings and a regular core update as different systems get fully updated and reinforce each other. So that’s Chris Nelson from the search quality team, specifically saying. It’s not going to be quick. It’s not going to be a one day thing. And.


I think regardless of if you get penalized, there is going to be fluctuation right now because of this massive movement that’s happening across multiple algorithms here.


Jay (06:56.798)

Yeah, that’s an important note. Um, you know, a lot of times updates take like two weeks. Some of the bigger ones, you know, like the helpful content update, I think was, I think that was like 25 days or 30 days somewhere in that neighborhood. So they have some that, that span across three, four weeks occasionally, but they’re pretty consistently like two weeks is, is the normal time period.


Lindsie Nelson (07:20.597)



Jay (07:26.422)

for the monthly core updates and that sort of thing. So once we cross that threshold, you know things are shaking up a lot more.


Lindsie Nelson (07:34.358)

Things are moving. All right, well, let’s get into a little bit more about what this update entails. So I’m gonna quote what was on Google Search Central here in terms of what they were attacking, and there were two core pieces. One was improved quality ranking. So they’re making algorithmic enhancements to our core ranking systems to ensure we surface the most helpful information on the web and reduce unoriginal content in the search results. Again.


I think that’s very directly. We don’t want AI generated crap. We want opinions and real people writing things. At least that’s what they’re saying there.


Jay (08:12.076)

I mean, unless it’s GEMINIZE AI-generated crap, but…


Lindsie Nelson (08:17.818)

we’re not gonna get into Google’s conflicts of interest here. That’s a whole nother podcast. All right, and then the second one here is new and improved spam policies. So updating our spam policies to keep low quality content out of search, like expired website repurposed as spam repositories by new owners and obituary spam. So things that people are doing.


in those spaces, thoughts on those.


Jay (08:50.106)

I mean some needed things that had to happen. You know, the obituary spam thing is like, it just shows how sad some of the folks on the internet are that like, you know, someone you love dies and like an obituary goes out but then a bunch of like fake obituaries also go out.


fake obituaries could like link back to your site or whatever they’re trying to accomplish with it because there’s going to be like a surge in interest for this person obituary or this person died, whatever like that’s stop. Um, you’re, you’re a pathetic person if that’s what you think good SEO is. Uh, and yeah, the, the expired website thing, there’s, there’s certainly some


Lindsie Nelson (09:37.755)

It feels icky.


Jay (09:49.174)

like identity theft or stealing information from people and things like that, where it can be used for malicious purposes. But, you know, from the context of search, like using recently expired domains to boost SEO, like that’s malicious in, in Google land. So needs to happen.


Lindsie Nelson (10:07.63)

Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think, at least from what I’m hearing from our team and other SEOs that are in this space of just creating good quality websites and content and connecting them with the right audiences and doing them in helpful and strategic ways, this update is good. This is important that this is happening, and this is going to encourage…


positive, healthy behaviors. And if you’re really, really concerned about this, or if your SEO team is really, really concerned about this, then perhaps revisiting what the tactics are that they have been using is likely a need. Unless you have a different opinion on that, Jay, are you out there doing obituary spam that I’m unaware of?


Jay (11:02.714)

I mean, sure, doesn’t everyone, but I mean, I take, I’d quibble a bit with your wording in the sense that like, what makes for good SEO in my opinion.


Lindsie Nelson (11:04.637)

I’m sorry.


Jay (11:19.798)

has been the same for like 20 years at this point. And it’s a lot of what you said, like people are looking for answers and you need to give them helpful answers to their questions and a good experience on your website and all of this stuff that we just kind of devolve into like, I don’t know, generic talking points about helpful content and whatever. I mean, but that is a real thing that works for SEO. And…


Lindsie Nelson (11:29.085)



Lindsie Nelson (11:44.609)



Jay (11:48.21)

You know, Google’s job since like a year after it was born has been being reactive to all of the other stuff that also works. And yeah, this is like fighting a bunch of the stuff that makes for a worse internet experience for users. But I think for the people that have been doing…


Lindsie Nelson (11:58.786)



Jay (12:13.182)

those things that have been doing like a bunch of AI generated content or have been spamming like parasite SEO at scale. Like if this detours them, it’s just going to push them into doing the next thing. I don’t think it’s going to be reinforcing good behavior for anybody. If they’re, they’re already on to this idea that like, Hey, making a good website that’s actually helpful to people is hard work. Like I could also just do this other stuff.


Lindsie Nelson (12:21.576)



Lindsie Nelson (12:26.354)

What’s the next thing? Sure.


Lindsie Nelson (12:40.502)

do these, yeah. Yeah, and it’s a matter of what is the hot trend at the time, is it, you know, link networks or buying all this other stuff. So, okay, let’s get into some specifics of this, some specifics of the updates. First of all, the core update, there’s a number of pieces here. A big one is that helpful content is now just rolled into this where historically we’ve seen that.


um, as its own update. Um, I’m trying to remember when was the last one that came out where there was a big, helpful content? Was it this year already?


Jay (13:18.955)

The last one that came out was in…


Jay (13:26.258)

September. So it was, I guess, like six months ago at this point.


Lindsie Nelson (13:30.694)

Okay, so a little longer than I expected, but it was one where we were talking about that update and now that is just going to be a part of this core algorithm moving forward. So we won’t even be talking about it as its own entity.


Jay (13:46.718)

Yeah, and that’s something that Google’s done historically. I mean, thankfully, like a lot of their updates have been happening on like more frequent or rolling ongoing basis, where it’s a lot less common that if you do get hit by an update in a negative way, that you have to like wait maybe a year for the next time that update happens to get reconsidered. But.


Lindsie Nelson (14:01.012)



Jay (14:14.278)

Yeah, once, once Google does one of these types of updates targeted at a specific type of website or behavior or content or whatever it might be, if it’s something that like they go through three, four rounds of it, usually they just integrate into the core update. So it’s like always being reconsidered, um, every month or every other month.


Lindsie Nelson (14:37.094)

Mm-hmm. Yeah, and I think something too that’s interesting about this core update, and we are going to link a number of sources in The show notes as well as on our website a lot of people are talking about this But what we’re seeing is just widespread DM in D indexing of sites, which is pretty unique I think to these core updates I don’t think I’ve historically seen where we’re seeing just Dozens of sites just disappearing entirely


Jay (15:07.566)

Yeah, I mean, some of the, the like way back, like the penguin update, there was tons of that stuff, um, happening. So Google’s done it with like the more aggressive updates when things get really bad, but the one thing to keep in mind is, you know, hundreds is a very tiny number in the scheme of things, but a lot of this is from like self-reporting.


Lindsie Nelson (15:23.327)



Jay (15:35.114)

Or there’s a lot of folks in the SEO world that they like monitor a chunk of websites that are like in certain industries they care about or whatever it might be. And so they’re noticing things. There’s probably a lot more websites that we don’t yet know about. So it’ll be interesting to see when like SEMrush or one of those bigger companies that monitors rankings at a massive scale puts together a report like maybe next month or something of.


Lindsie Nelson (16:00.756)



Jay (16:05.054)

You know, here are the sites that lost like all of their keyword visibility.


Lindsie Nelson (16:10.318)

Mm-hmm. Yeah, one of those like, if this is the initial rumblings, there’s likely a lot more to come. And it’s just kind of an interesting piece of, again, this aggressive behavior of Google trying to fix some of the major issues that are being experienced. Now, how is the core update different from the spam update?


Jay (16:37.15)

So the spam update, this is one of those things that Google does a lot less frequently. And where the core update targets like the core algorithms and just like the main ranking and results functionality, spam is targeted at very specific behavior. You know, Google has a definition of what’s considered spam. So it’s dealing with.


that sort of thing. Um, and also as we’re seeing in this update, there is a like hands on aspect to it of, you know, folks that work at Google, uh, are either reviewing websites themselves, or they’re seeing reports that are generated of sites that are really abusing, uh, the spam policies. And even like handing out manual actions as part of this, which we have seen a lot of reports of.


So yeah, we’re the core update is like everything related to your search experience spam is really just focused on getting rid of the bad stuff.


Lindsie Nelson (17:45.73)

Mm-hmm. And yeah, a lot more manual and direct. So we talked a little bit about the expired domain abuse as a big piece of this, you know, buying these expired domains, repurposing them, and that being a direct attack. And then also search spam in general. Any other thoughts on the spam update and those intricacies of it?


Jay (18:15.69)

Well, I mean, there’s the, yeah, the scaled content abuse part of it that we talked about a bit earlier. So, you know, the, the pages that pretend to have answers to popular searches, but failed to deliver helpful content was Google’s quote on this. So we all experienced this where, you know, there’s sites by the thousands or millions, I don’t know, there’s a lot of them that go after very like.


Lindsie Nelson (18:27.455)



Lindsie Nelson (18:40.536)

There’s a lot.


Jay (18:44.858)

long tail, low volume searches and don’t actually give you an answer. You know, it’s just some AI generated nonsense, uh, that talks about your question, maybe restates your question a couple of ways, but doesn’t actually give you an answer to your question. Uh, or it gives you something like an answer on a page full of ads and links and stuff like that, that is just a bad experience.


So stuff that has been flooding the internet and Google definitely had to deal with just to, you know, I mean, it’s to make Google usable or keep Google usable, however you want to look at that. Uh, but also hopefully to just like get some of these sites off the internet in general, uh, because for a lot of them, it’s like Google search is the only way they get traffic and if they stop getting traffic, maybe these sites stop existing.


Lindsie Nelson (19:31.784)



Jay (19:40.41)

and then you know there’s less chances of you landing on those sites some other way and that would that would be nice.


Lindsie Nelson (19:46.814)

Mm-hmm. That would be good. Better for everybody. Talk to me about this second update that directly addresses parasite SDO.


Jay (19:58.338)

I am so happy about this. So yeah, Google announced that this is the spam update is a two part update. So the expired domain and scaled content abuse pieces of it are in part one. And then May 5th, apparently, which would be two months to the day after the first part of the update rolled out, they’re calling it the site reputation abuse spam update or.


Lindsie Nelson (20:00.572)

Ha ha.


Lindsie Nelson (20:20.995)



Jay (20:27.682)

People are calling it that. I don’t know if Google’s calling it that, but that’s going into effect. So that is going after taking advantage of a reputable high ranking site to publish crappy content. The most famous of these is like Sports Illustrated. They got a ton of heat and press for like publishing articles on their site that were written by AI that had no human or editorial review at all.


Lindsie Nelson (20:29.333)



Jay (20:56.65)

that contain like factual misinformation, affiliate links, links to all sorts of disreputable websites and that continues to be a thing and they just kind of like put a disclaimer on it and say that they edit it but it mean it’s absolute garbage 99.99% well no it’s 100% garbage like it’s it is just trying to make money and there’s lots of other sites that do this and Parasite SEO is just


Lindsie Nelson (21:16.298)

All the time.


Jay (21:26.25)

been one of these things that kind of evolved out of the guest posting thing, which Google tried to crack down on and did in some cases. You know, it’s not as, it’s not as bad as it used to be, but, uh, it turned into something a lot worse in terms of, you know, you would have like the occasional guest post that required some sort of agreement usually to be made. You know, there, there weren’t many reputable sites that like.


you auto submit guest posts. And then it turned into like, well, especially these like journalism sites, you know, they’re struggling for money and they’ve kind of gotten everything they can out of advertising. So like, well, let’s just let people publish articles and just add this section to our site where anybody can write anything basically, and we’ll make some money off of that.


So it took about three seconds for SEOs to get smart to that. And then start publishing articles about, yeah, you know, the, the best protein powders of 2024, uh, 15th edition for, for March, you know, whatever it’s like every three seconds. There’s a new supplement article going on these sites and it’s, it’s a problem, uh, in terms of. Like.


Lindsie Nelson (22:28.91)

And here we are.


Lindsie Nelson (22:47.447)



Jay (22:52.434)

You know these sites shouldn’t do this. They shouldn’t allow this stuff like their Their brand and image should matter and the fact that they are putting their name on stuff that they’re not reviewing and that contains like Factual problems and misinformation Should be something that they care about but they don’t because they’re desperate to make money so Google’s got to come in


Lindsie Nelson (23:01.111)



Lindsie Nelson (23:05.959)

not great.


Lindsie Nelson (23:11.704)



Jay (23:17.786)

And I mean, it is a thing that influences rankings. So that’s where Google really needs to be involved.


Lindsie Nelson (23:24.582)

Mm-hmm. So we’ll see where that lands in May. We’ll have more information, obviously, about this first part of the spam update by that point. And we’ll kind of see what that means as we get there. So let’s wrap things up with impacts that we’re seeing today and what the world is kind of seeing. I will say, from our perspective, validated with a number of our sites that we manage,


There are, there is a variation right now. There is a lot of ups and downs. We’re seeing some one to two day dips in clients around March 9th in some cases, and then like immediate recovery. We’re not seeing any clients that have had major impacts. What are you seeing, Jay?


Jay (24:20.326)

I mean, it’s kind of the same thing every time one of these updates happen. We follow that mantra I laid out of, we just try and like actually help customers and make our clients’ websites better. And so we never see drops for this stuff and we’re not seeing any from this one. Uh, it’s, it’s again early. So who knows, but yeah, like travel seems to be one of those.


those industries that was hit hard and that’s no surprise because there is a lot of garbage in the like travel review and travel guide world so One interesting tidbit is like we have a client that’s an official tourism bureau and they’ve had like a doubling or tripling of traffic in the last week and You know, I think


A piece of that is some of the, the just like auto-generated garbage about their area is ranking lower. You know, we can, we can see those changes and we have, we have some sites where like we have search console access, but they’re not sites we work with, uh, directly or, you know, there are another website that a client owns or whatever it might be. So I think there was three of them. We found that they had been hit by helpful content in the past and they’re showing.


like a pretty sharp decline, 30-40% range in terms of clicks and impressions, but nobody dropping to zero like some of the things we’ve seen, no manual actions at this point. So steady as it goes, I guess.


Lindsie Nelson (26:03.452)

Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of reports of major deindex saying manual actions being handed out left and right, small sites with even just a little bit of AI content being penalized.


We’re not seeing that yet. And so I think there is going to be some movement that we’re going to have to be aware of. I think reporting in March or for March data is going to be messy because I think there’s still going to be more movement as this rollout happens. But it seems as though the average site will feel a little bit, whether it’s up or down, but likely, as you said, not.


dropping down to zero unless you are directly doing some of these actions that are being addressed within these updates.


Jay (26:56.818)

Yeah. And especially when an update is rolling out, but really all the time, you know, when you have a one or two day shift in your impressions and clicks, as long as it doesn’t drop to zero, like it’s usually best to not panic about it and try and understand what’s going on before you jump into like trying to change something or anything like that, or assume that.


that one or two day shift is going to be permanent. Because that stuff just happens.


Lindsie Nelson (27:28.494)

Mm-hmm. Right, right. Let’s not jump into like major recovery efforts yet. We have a month of this rolling out, as we said at the very beginning. So just kind of hold tight right now. We’re going to continue watching how the market fluctuates and different reports coming out.


Maybe we’ll have to have a 3.0 episode of this, depending on how things happen throughout the month. But I think that’s the core of what’s happening here and what we’re seeing. Any final thoughts, Jay, before we call it on episode 13?


Jay (28:08.062)

Uh, yeah, just as, as updates are happening, you know, it’s a chaotic time. Nobody really knows exactly what’s going on in the moment. So just take the long view, uh, you know, be honest with like how you’re doing SEO and whether anything that is like officially coming from Google or.


You know, the majority of the SEO world is seen as a thing that’s happening, like, you know, trying to understand whether that directly relates to what you’re doing or what, what your site is doing. Uh, and you know, don’t, don’t fall for like the hyper panic or whatever else is going on. Like there was a famous tweet by a relatively well-known SEO person that was like.


Yeah, you can recover by just like removing your website from Google search console. And there, there was another like prominent member of the, the parasite SEO world who was just padding himself on the back during the first week of this, like, yeah, you know, new spam updates, nothing about parasite SEO. Like more proof that the way I’m doing things is the way to do things. And then, Oh,


There’s a part two to that spam update. Sorry. So.


Lindsie Nelson (29:30.946)

There’s always a part two and three and four. This is never ending.


Jay (29:35.15)

Yeah, I mean, again, it’s not like it’s not like Google says we’re doing an update today and here’s exactly how our algorithm is changing and exactly what the update is targeting. So it is a process of learning and understanding and there’s a lot of there’s a lot of shysters out there that just like try and jump on the panic and make a name for themselves and make a quick buck in the moment and just.


Be aware of that stuff and, you know, take your time trying to figure out what’s going on.


Lindsie Nelson (30:09.038)

Mm-hmm. All right, well thanks Jay, I appreciate your time.


Jay (30:14.082)

Thanks, Lindsay. Talk to you later. Bye.


Lindsie Nelson (30:15.234)


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