13th March 2024

Google’s biggest algorithm update in a decade?

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James Gardner
Head of SEO
Read time: 3min
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Google is advising that the March 2024 core update is a bigger-than-usual update.

Its focus is improving the quality of search results which have become much spammier in the last 12 months. This is a huge concern to Google because if we can’t trust Google to find the best websites for a given search, then we will go off and find another search engine.  If we don't use Google, we won’t click on Google Ads. Google Ads made up 78% of Google’s parent Alphabet’s revenue in 2023.

The urgency for Google is even stronger, with both the count down to the ending of third-party cookies (which enable precise targeting of advertising) by the end of 2024 and arrival of AI engines entering the search arena. Indeed, Google's Search Generative Experience (SGE), its experimental integration of AI in its search engine is already available as a beta in US and India. See my introduction to SGE.

Remember those Pandas and Penguins?

To veteran SEOers like me, these two words do not bring to mind cute animals, but Google’s aggressive spam efforts from yesteryear. The 2011 'Panda' algorithm updates targeted content farms and two years later its 'Penguin' updates banished link farms. Hand-in-hand with these updates, Google issued the dreaded manual penalties to domains that it judged to have violated its webmaster terms by using these content and link farms to game its ranking algorithm. A manual penalty entirely removes a domain from Google’s search results and is very difficult to recover from. 

Coinciding with this March 2024 core update's release, Google issued a swathe of manual penalties for the first time in a decade.

History repeating itself

When explaining this March 2024 Core Update, Google talks about countering low value content primarily for the purpose of manipulating links and ranking signals; link spam and re-purposing of expired domains. All of which sounds familiar language from a decade or more ago.

  • Most interesting of all, Google has changed its guidance from “Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.” to “Google uses links as a factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.” [my emphasis].  Removing a single words de-emphasises the links as a ranking element that has been fundemental to search engine's algorithms since they were the inventive step proposed by Google's founders Brin and Page in their seminal 1998 PhD paper.
  • It continues to amaze me that even as an SEO agency, equimedia receives regular unsolicited offers for cheap “link building” and “content generation”. Clearly link manipulation schemes are still thriving. It is good news that Google is taking strong action.

Be the best on the web for your target audience

For many years, equimedia’s SEO advice has been to focus on :

  • creating content that aspires to be the best on the web for your target audience.
  • curating and updating your website’s main content above supplementary content such as guides and blogs.
  • attracting links and social shares from partners and authority sites highly relevant to your prospective audience. This won’t be a high number.
  • asking your customers to leave reviews.

If you have followed this advice, then your web presence will be a valuable asset that may rank higher as a result of this core update.

However, be prepared for high volatility in rankings over the next few weeks as this Core update is rolled out and settles. You may want to be ready to increase your media budgets as protection against such events.

Here to help

Over the years, we have helped many businesses who have suffered as a result of poor SEO advice, whether a large ranking drop, high volatility or worst case a manual penalty.

For evidence-based pragmatic advice, please reach out to our team to enquire about our free SEO health check if you have been impacted by this core update or want to be prepared for the imminent rollout of Google's SGE. Delivering our findings in a short report and a 30-minute call with our SEO experts. We’re happy to provide non-judgemental guidance in these turbulent times.

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Author James Gardner
Channel SEM