Google’s Explosive March Updates: What I Think

Woman working on laptop, holding a cup of coffee.
On March 5, Google launched its first core algorithm update of 2024, in addition to unveiling updated spam policies and a spam update. Plus, its helpful content system was integrated into its core algorithm update system.

Google told Search Engine Land it would reduce unhelpful content in the search results by up to 40%.

In addition to sites that were negatively impacted by the core update, Google unleashed a slew of manual actions on sites that violated its most current spam policies.

Some sites were completely de-indexed. Many of these sites were likely driven by AI content.


After an initial analysis of the updates and Google’s documentation, I am going to share what’s going on with a large part of the latest updates. In this article:

The Focus Is Largely on AI Content

Are you using AI content for your website? Now is a good time to evaluate your methods (if Google hasn’t already done that for you in its latest core update.)

If you sailed through this last update, does that mean you are immune? Probably not. Google’s algorithms continue to evolve, and Google’s main goal is to take out the trash.

With the rise in popularity of AI content in recent times, Google knew it had a looming problem on its hands.

I discussed at Search Engine Land a while back that AI content could create a world where the quality of an answer in the search results would be average at best — only as good as the AI would allow.

If you consider that many AI content tools are connected to the web, the AI is reading its own generated content to come up with ideas for more generated content.

Google has faced quality problems like this before. Over the years, Google has combated many different tactics that degrade its search results.

This is just another example of something that has become “spam” – AI content. But there are still ways to do it right.

What Google Is Now Saying About AI Content

So what did Google have to say about AI content in its recent announcements?

Here, Google talks about how it is addressing the “abusive behavior” of using AI content:

To better address these techniques, we’re strengthening our policy to focus on this abusive behavior — producing content at scale to boost search ranking — whether automation, humans or a combination are involved.

There’s a lot to unpack in that one statement. Let’s break it down.

Producing Content to Rank: Is It Spam?

Google says it is targeting content at a scale that’s intended to boost search rankings.

But isn’t all content created for SEO intended to rank?

Google has an opinion, but doesn’t go into too much detail:

There are some things you could do that are specifically meant to help search engines better discover and understand your content. Collectively, this is called “search engine optimization” or SEO, for short. Google’s own SEO guide covers best practices to consider. SEO can be a helpful activity when it is applied to people-first content, rather than search engine-first content.

It sounds like what Google is saying is that SEO is an afterthought.

Google seems to downplay SEO so that people follow its guidelines for creating helpful content first, then tack on SEO to make it perform better.

Sounds logical.

Except we all know that SEO isn’t just an add-on and that we first start with keyword research and trending topics to capitalize on the success of content before creating new content.

So, again, the question is: Aren’t we already producing content to boost search rankings?

Here’s what I think: Automated mass production of content with no regard for adding value is the problem.

Human-Edited AI Content: Is It Spam?

Google says it’s targeting websites with content that is totally automated, written by humans or a combination.

So AI content can be bad even when there is a human touch to it. That means if you are using AI tools, tread carefully.

AI tools are not inherently bad but abusing them is.

Here, Google talks more about the idea of “scaled content abuse”:

Examples of scaled content abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • 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 synonymizing, 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

The first bullet is key: You can use AI tools all you want, and you can edit AI-generated content all you want, but if you’re not adding something unique – an expert perspective, personal experience, etc., then your content could be a fair target for Google enforcing its spam policies.

The third bullet elaborates: Don’t use AI tools that merely stitch together the information in the search results into a new article without adding some extra value.

It is fine to take keywords, make a list, make a unique outline, and from there devise your own content … just do not plagiarize or create generic content.

Even before the use of AI, content creators would look at the top-ranked pages as research for what they write.

However, even that has potentially caused an existential crisis for Google. Others have written about the downward spiral of the quality of the search results, and Google has been ramping up efforts to surface better content.

In a nutshell, you need to have something original, regardless of how you create the content.

The main point here is to differentiate your content. What is happening with AI content is generic content that doesn’t add anything new to the conversation.

So, What Is Content Spam Now?

Google’s job is to weed out the garbage no matter how the content is created. So it will lean heavily on its algorithms to identify what is quality content.

Google has taken many approaches to this in the past, and it will continue to evolve. In its latest iteration, Google has clarified what spam content is, and had this to say recently about AI content and new spam policies:

Our long-standing spam policy has been that use of automation, including generative AI, is spam if the primary purpose is manipulating ranking in Search results. The updated policy is in the same spirit of our previous policy and based on the same principle. It’s been expanded to account for more sophisticated scaled content creation methods where it isn’t always clear whether low quality content was created purely through automation. [Emphasis added.]

What methods might Google use to further determine quality?

Many things. Perhaps high bounce rates, poor sentiment in reviews, low site trust, a high degree of similarity to other documents, no inbound mentions and lack of website maintenance.

Google also had this to say:

This will allow us to take action on more types of content with little to no value created at scale, like pages that pretend to have answers to popular searches but fail to deliver helpful content.

SEL spoke to Google, and a Google rep clarified:

What are examples of pages that pretend to have answers but fail to deliver? Tucker [a Google rep] explained that those are the pages that start off by stating it will answer your question, lead you on with low-quality content, and never end up giving you the answer to your questions:

  • “Our long-standing spam policy has been that use of automation, including generative AI, is spam if the primary purpose is manipulating ranking in Search results. The updated policy is in the same spirit of our previous policy and based on the same principle. It’s been expanded to account for more sophisticated scaled content creation methods where it isn’t always clear whether low quality content was created purely through automation.”
  • “Our new policy is meant to help people focus more clearly on the idea that producing content at scale is abusive if done for the purpose of manipulating search rankings and that this applies whether automation or humans are involved.”

Surviving Google’s Algorithms

We are in the midst of another shift in SEO, where we continue to define quality.

There is no room for flying low under the AI radar or it’s a certain crash. It’s vitally important that organizations remain white-hat current on changes related to SEO requirements to remain visible and relevant within search results.

Assess and Pivot

For the near future, protection is job No. 1. Navigating changes in search algorithms requires businesses to periodically reevaluate their SEO tactics.

We recommend comprehensive SEO audits to surface any current or potential threats.

Adjusting to algorithm updates, adapting to rules as they change, and abandoning manipulative tactics even if they once worked are all key parts of maintaining high rankings in search engines.

Adopt Best Practices

Adopting best practices is indispensable to top rankings. Just because it is an SEO practice in your industry, doesn’t mean it is good.

Yes, that’s a bit obvious but if everyone did it then there would not be chaos over these updates.

The zone of acceptance is like a water balloon – shifting shape as the rules change. Adhering to core principles can make you almost immune to algorithm updates.

Create Quality Content

Quality content remains key in building a lasting online presence.

By producing user-centric content that offers something unique and of value, you can build trust, authority and credibility within your niche, not only helping with algorithm changes but also strengthening your overall online presence.

Spend time thinking about and creating helpful, people-first content.

Relevant topics are key for maintaining audience engagement and producing high-quality content that resonates with audiences.

By understanding your target audience’s needs and conducting extensive research using SEO tools, you can quickly locate trending or pertinent subjects that resonate with them.

But just be sure you are adding something unique to the conversation, and it’s not a “copy/paste/reword” approach.

See my AI content beginner’s guide if you want to continue leveraging AI’s benefits in your content creation.

Track Progress

Taking a set-it-and-forget-it approach to publishing content will harm you in the end.

As Google releases core updates, you need to understand how your site is faring after the dust settles.

You must use analytics tools to see what is working. Monitor progress, identify issues and pivot as needed.

Have you been impacted by Google’s March updates? Our SEO experts can help you get your SEO program back on track. Reach out to us today.

FAQ: How can businesses search rankings survive Google’s explosive March core and spam updates?

Google’s constant algorithm updates can wreak havoc on a business’s search rankings. But there are strategic tactics you can implement to ensure your website survives the explosive March core and spam updates (and any future update). Let’s go over them:

Understand Google’s updates: Familiarize yourself with the specific changes introduced in the March core and spam updates. Stay updated on the latest algorithm adjustments to align your SEO strategy accordingly.

Enhance website content: Craft high-quality, engaging content that caters to your target audience’s needs. Provide valuable information, incorporate relevant keywords (including variants and stemmed versions) and consider search intent to rank higher.

Focus on site speed: Google prioritizes fast-loading pages, as user experience is paramount. Optimize your website speed by compressing images, minifying code and leveraging caching techniques.

Improve mobile experience: With mobile devices dominating search, ensure your website is mobile-friendly and responsive. Design intuitive navigation, optimize images and make sure your content is easily readable on smaller screens.

Build authoritative backlinks: High-quality backlinks from reputable websites signal trustworthiness to Google. Implement a robust link-building strategy, focusing on acquiring links from relevant and influential sources.

Optimize on-page elements: Pay attention to on-page elements like meta tags, title tags, headers and URLs. Include primary and related keywords naturally, providing search engines with clear signals about your content.

Leverage social media: Engage with your audience on relevant social media platforms. Sharing and promoting your content can increase visibility, reach and potentially attract natural backlinks.

Monitor and analyze performance: Utilize web analytics tools to track your website’s performance and make data-driven decisions. Regularly monitor keyword rankings, organic traffic and user behavior to identify areas for improvement.

Businesses need to be proactive and adaptable to survive Google updates. Implementing these tips will help safeguard your search rankings and maintain visibility.

Step-by-Step Procedure:

  1. Stay up-to-date with Google’s algorithm updates, including the March core and spam updates.
  2. Analyze your website’s content and improve its quality, relevance and optimization for targeted keywords.
  3. Conduct keyword research to identify primary and related keywords to incorporate throughout your website.
  4. Evaluate your website’s speed and optimize it by compressing images, reducing server response time and leveraging caching techniques.
  5. Ensure your website is mobile-friendly and responsive, providing a seamless experience across all devices.
  6. Implement a comprehensive link-building strategy to acquire high-quality backlinks from authoritative websites.
  7. Optimize on-page elements such as meta tags, title tags, headers and URLs, incorporating target keywords effectively.
  8. Engage with your audience on social media platforms, sharing and promoting your content to increase visibility and attract natural backlinks.
  9. Monitor your website’s performance using web analytics tools, tracking keyword rankings, organic traffic and user behavior.
  10. Analyze the data to identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments to your SEO strategy.
  11. Continuously monitor and stay updated on the latest trends and best practices in SEO.
  12. Regularly audit your website for technical SEO issues, such as broken links, duplicate content, or improper redirects, and resolve them promptly.
  13. Stay proactive in optimizing your website’s loading speed by regularly monitoring and optimizing page elements.
  14. Constantly evaluate and adjust your content strategy to match search intent and deliver valuable information to your target audience.
  15. Stay engaged in your industry by participating in relevant forums, guest blogging, or collaborating with influencers to increase your online presence.
  16. Consider hiring a reputable SEO agency or consultant for professional guidance and support.

Remember, surviving Google’s updates requires continuous effort and adaptation. Follow these steps to ensure your search rankings remain strong amidst algorithm changes.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

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Google’s Explosive March Updates: What I Think

One Reply to “Google’s Explosive March Updates: What I Think”

Great (and timely) article Bruce :-)


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