The March 2024 Google Update Was Massive. Here’s What to Do Next

While I’ve always been the complete opposite of a SEO hypebeast, there are times when you have to call a spade a spade and acknowledge that something big just went down. Between March 5th and April 19th, 2024, Google rolled out its most impactful update of the last decade and it marks an inflection point that will redefine how we do SEO moving forward.

As the update rolled out, reports of rapid organic traffic declines flooded SEO blogs and social media. Most of the anecdotes claim around 80% traffic drops, while some of the worst-affected websites fell 97% the organic traffic department. On the flip side, some website owners who’ve put in solid work on their websites over the years have reported that they’re starting to receive more love from the Big G with some seeing increases of around 50% in organic traffic.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably in the same boat as a lot of other SEOs who are wondering how the March 2024 update changed Google and what we can do to recover or thrive in its wake. There’s plenty to unpack here, so buckle up:

What is the Google March 2024 Core Update?

The March 2024 core update by Google was a major revision of its search algorithms, aimed at enhancing how the search engine evaluates content and user intent. Unlike many previous updates, this one integrated the helpful content update (HCU) directly into the core ranking algorithms, affecting a broad spectrum of search functions and content evaluations.

This integration meant that Google’s algorithms were adjusted to prioritize content that is original, useful, and engaging over content that is designed primarily to manipulate search rankings. The update’s focus was on improving the relevance and quality of search results by enforcing stricter criteria for content helpfulness, originality, and user experience.

In theory, the update is mostly about increasing the likelihood of a searcher’s needs being met head on by the search results. In practice, it’s a little less clear cut. While less useful search results did take a plunge, many webmasters have complained that websites which cater heavily to their audience’s needs were negatively impacted even if they never intended to deceive Google’s algorithms. I recommend reading a post from Glenn Gabe examining such ases.

Google itself has come out and said that the reduction rate for unhelpful content is around 45%, meaning that there’s still a lot of undeserving websites enjoying top placements in the SERPs. This is likely why Google subtly but definitely encouraged webmasters to send in feedback based on their experiences with the last update. Google knows there’s some fine-tuning to be done and it won’t be surprising to see another update in the near future that rolls back some of the March 2024 update’s effects. You can find the feedback form here.

How Does it Differ from the November 2023 Helpful Content Update?

The March 2024 core update represents a significant evolution from the November 2023 helpful content update (HCU), both in scope and in the mechanics of how content is assessed by Google’s algorithms. While both updates aim to enhance the quality of content on the web, their approaches and the specifics of their implementation are notably different.

Integration versus Isolation

The November 2023 HCU was a targeted update focused specifically on identifying and demoting content that was created primarily for ranking well in search engines rather than to help users. This update operated somewhat independently within Google’s algorithm framework, specifically looking at the intent behind content creation and its usefulness to users.

In contrast, the March 2024 core update integrated the principles of the helpful content update directly into the broader core algorithm. This means that instead of functioning as a separate filter or layer, the criteria for helpful content are now a foundational part of how all content is evaluated by Google. This integration leads to a more holistic assessment of websites, where helpfulness is considered alongside other core metrics like relevance, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness (E-A-T).

In layman’s terms, the detection of strong editorial practices are now part of Google’s core functions. Websites with shoddy content that was crafted mainly for search visibility is less likely to dominate moving forward.

Broad versus Narrow Scope

The March 2024 update had a much broader scope, impacting a wider range of ranking factors and considerations. It wasn’t limited to penalizing unhelpful content but also included enhancements to how Google understands and processes user queries and content. This broad approach means that the update impacts more elements of the search experience, from page speed and user interaction to content originality and depth.

Long-term Impact

The integration of the HCU into the core algorithm with the March 2024 update suggests a long-term, permanent shift in how content quality is evaluated, rather than the periodic adjustments seen with standalone HCUs. This shift indicates that Google’s future updates may continue to build on this foundation, further refining how content quality, user experience, and helpfulness are measured.

While I personally suspect that some aspects of the update will be tempered or reversed to mitigate its negative effects on sites that are undeserving of major traffic slaps, it’s hard to see a future where this update isn’t a prime consideration in any SEO strategy.

What Was the Impact in the Real World?

The real-world impact of the March 2024 core update was profound and varied, affecting websites across a broad spectrum of industries. While the update aimed to enhance the quality of search results by rewarding sites that offered high-quality, user-focused content, its rollout was more controversial than the average core update.

Diverse Effects on Websites

 

Many sites that had focused on enhancing their content quality and user experience reported positive changes in their search rankings and traffic, with some seeing increases up to 50%. This boost is in line with Google’s goal to prioritize content that genuinely serves users’ needs and provides value. Some webmasters felt that their websites finally got their just due after years of banking on honest SEO work and taking care of their audiences, only to be ignored by Google.

Conversely, the update also led to significant traffic drops for a number of websites – many of which could be assessed and described to be lacking in helpfulness. However, some hard-hit websites were generally considered to consistently publish good, useful content, leaving their webmasters perplexed. These unexpected downturns sparked discussions among SEO professionals on whether the update is functioning as intended or not. Many sites that were dinged by the November 2023 HCU have seen further organic traffic drops rather than recovery despite their efforts to adopt more user-focused content strategies.

Additionally, most of the ranking fluctuations were observed in the lower half of page 1 search results. The top half remained relatively stable for many industries, which is notable considering that the most impactful positions and the majority of clicks happen above the fold. This suggests that while the update was significant, its effects were more pronounced in less visible positions, potentially indicating a targeted adjustment by Google to fine-tune its SERPs without necessarily flipping the entire apple cart.

Feedback from the SEO Community

The mixed reactions and varied impacts of the update prompted Google to open a feedback form. This initiative allows site owners and SEOs to report how the changes have affected their sites, particularly focusing on cases where the traffic losses may seem unwarranted. Through this form, Google likely aims to gather user feedback to refine its algorithms and address any issues where the update may not have functioned as intended. This step reflects Google’s ongoing effort to tune its algorithms in ways that accurately and fairly assess the value of web content.

Does It Target AI-Generated Content?

This is the big elephant in the room. Some have speculated that the March 2024 core update might be aimed at websites that are relying on content derived from generative AI. While this is certainly possible, I don’t think AI is necessarily the reason for the wave of traffic demotions. Here’s why based on what we know so far:

  • The update is intended to reward websites that have helpful, original and engaging content while striking down websites that are lacking in these areas.
  • Generative AI is certainly capable of producing regurgitated and generic content especially when the human entering the prompts isn’t very savvy at writing content himself.
  • On the other hand, generative AI is also capable of writing original and engaging content. This is possible if the person feeds the machine original information based on his own analysis, studies and first-hand knowledge about a given topic. Basically, you reap what you sow.
  • A human can prompt a generative AI platform to write in a wittier, more personable way by asking it to mimic certain styles. The human’s own writing can even be fed to an AI platform so the AI can write in a similar style to a human author based on his past works. Alternatively, a human editor can simply step in and modify AI-generated content to breathe more life into it.
  • Lastly, humans have been writing bland, unoriginal and unhelpful content long before generative AI came along. Therefore, your content should get whacked by this update regardless if it was written by AI or a bad human writer.

In the end, I highly doubt that AI is the culprit here. While an over-reliance on it can bring you closer to triggering this new update, you can still invoke its wrath by having low content quality standards in your websites.

My Website Was Hit. What Should I Do?

If your website was taken to the gallows by the March 2024 update, it would be insensitive for me to tell you that everything will be fine as long as you apply the tips below. Make no mistake: this is arguably the most impactful Google update of the last 10 years and recovery for those who’ve been burned is a tall, tall order.

I’ll have to confess that none of our websites was negatively impacted by this development since SearchWorks has always prided itself on strong editorial practices. Nonetheless,I’ve been approached by website owners who’ve experienced the update’s effects and I’ll give you the same advice that I gave them after closely inspecting their websites:

Sit and Wait for a Corrective Update

This may sound outlandish but hear me out: Google has been known throughout its history to subtly counterbalance any far-reaching updates that it releases in order to offset any unintended effects that it might have inflicted. If you strongly believe that your website is written for humans and not search engines, and if you honestly think that your content is helpful, then inaction might be the best action for the next several months.

If enough feedback form submissions demonstrate to Google that good websites are being kneecapped, there’s a distinct possibility that it’ll roll out smaller updates in the future to correct this. Of course, this is not a given and no one can say if or when it will happen.

Improve Content Helpfulness

Google’s focus on rewarding helpful, user-oriented content is stronger than ever. Review your content to ensure it provides real value to your audience. This means answering questions directly and comprehensively. It can also mean solving problems and offering insights that are not readily available elsewhere. Use user feedback, comments, and search query reports to identify what your audience truly values. Here are some additional tips:

  • Understand the implicit context of the keyword you’re targeting and the likely intention of the person searching it. Make sure that the content in the webpage addresses that intent head on.

  • Make sure to make the direct answer stand out. If it can be on top of the webpage, position it there. Consider highlighting the text that concisely responds to the keyword phrase.
  • Avoid too much fluff. Having text that doesn’t really address search intent and doesn’t add to the nuance of your points only serves to obscure your content’s perceived helpfulness.

  • Deliver on your title tag’s implied promise. If you labeled a webpage as a complete guide to collecting all the Materia in Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth, your content better make good on that promise.

Improve Originality of Content

Once upon a time, SEOs thought of content originality as simply wording your articles or copy in a way that’s not exactly the same other webpages online. This has led to the proliferation of web content that’s rehashed repeatedly without adding to the state of knowledge on a particul;ar topic. The HCU of November 2023 shattered that notion and it looks like the March 2024 update is the final nail on this notion of originality’s coffin.

These days, we need to think of content originality as an attribute where your content contributes to the overall discourse on a topic online. You can do this by making the following the basis of the content you publish:

  • First-Hand Knowledge. Leverage direct experiences and observations in your content. This involves sharing insights gained through personal involvement or firsthand encounters with a topic. For instance, a travel blogger might share unique experiences from visiting a little-known destination. This not only increases the content’s value but also its authenticity and originality.

  • Your Expert Opinion. Incorporate your professional insights or interpretations into your content. As an expert in a field, your perspectives can offer depth that can’t be found elsewhere. This is particularly valuable in industries like technology, finance, or healthcare, where expert analysis and predictions are highly sought after.

 

For example, I recently finished my post-graduate studies in data science and business analytics at the University of Texas – Austin. Afterwards, I decided to start blogging about my learnings. While there are many data science bloggers out there, mine exudes greater originality since people understand that my insights are based on learnings from one of America’s premier tech institutions.

  • Your Own Studies. Conduct and publish original research or studies. This can be survey-based research, experimental data, case studies, or longitudinal studies that provide new insights into your field. Original research is highly respected and often cited, adding to your authority and the value of your content.

An example of this would be publishing a comparative analysis of 10 websites that were affected by the March 2024 Google Core Update and 10 websites that either were unaffected or have gained greater organic traffic from it. Pointing out the qualitative and quantitative commonalities between the winners and losers of the update will be perceived as a solid contribution to the state of knowledge in the SEO field

  • A Fresh Take on Existing Data. Analyze existing data sets to draw new conclusions or highlight trends that haven’t been widely discussed. For example, using public economic data to forecast trends in real estate or stock markets will be highly valued by a broad audience. This approach not only reinforces your content’s originality but also demonstrates your ability to provide unique insights that benefit your audience.
  • Re-imagination of Knowledge in the Public Domain. Take well-known information and present it in a new light. This could involve combining concepts from different fields to offer new solutions, or synthesizing historical data with current trends to offer a novel analysis. The key is to connect dots in ways that haven’t been done before, thereby offering your audience a different perspective.

An example of knowledge in the public domain would be the process of washing a car. Almost every vehicle owner knows how to do it, but you can publish a guide on how to wash your car using only organic cleaning materials. It’s a novel take on an everyday process that’s sure to catch the attention of a good portion of the topic’s audience while helping you stand out from the rest of the field.

  • Original Media Assets. Create and include original images, videos, infographics, or illustrations that enhance or clarify your content. For example, a tech blogger might create detailed diagrams explaining new technologies, or a fitness guru might produce step-by-step workout videos. These assets not only improve user engagement but also enhance the uniqueness of your content.

By focusing on these areas, your content not only stands out as original but also significantly improves in quality and relevance, making it more likely to perform well under Google’s updated algorithms. Remember, the goal is to contribute genuinely unique insights that provide value, going beyond mere superficial changes to truly enrich the content landscape on your topic.

Improve E-E-A-T for Your Website

To enhance the Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) of your blog or website, focus on strategies that not only bolster your credibility but also directly align with Google’s quality expectations. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown on improving each element of E-E-A-T:

Showcase Experience

Demonstrate first-hand knowledge or direct involvement with your topic to establish authenticity and depth. This can be achieved by:

  • Personal Narratives: Share personal stories or case studies that highlight your hands-on experience.
  • Visual Evidence: Include original photos, videos, or infographics that you’ve created, showing your engagement with the topic.

Establish Expertise

Your content should reflect a high level of knowledge and skill, which reassures users of its reliability:

  • Credentials and Background: Clearly display your qualifications, certifications, or relevant educational background in your author bio.

  • Detailed Explanations: Provide in-depth and well-researched content that covers topics comprehensively. Utilize technical language where appropriate to showcase your knowledge.

Build Authoritativeness

Authoritativeness is about being recognized by others in your field as a leading source of information:

  • Peer Recognition: Encourage and facilitate citations and mentions from reputable peers in your industry.
  • Guest Contributions: Write for authoritative publications in your niche to build your reputation and provide backlinks to your site.
  • Backlinks. As the classic Google basis for authority, backlinks are still essential to strong SEO campaigns these days. Create compelling content that other authors in your space will reference and recommend to their audiences through editorially granted hyperlinking.

Cultivate Trustworthiness

Trust is fundamental to Google and users alike; your site must be seen as trustworthy to rank well:

  • Transparent Contact Information: Make sure your contact details are easy to find and that you have a professional business address if applicable.

  • Security Features: Implement HTTPS to secure user data and protect your site’s integrity.
  • Clear Disclaimers and Disclosures: If your site involves reviews, affiliate links, or sponsored content, clear disclosures are necessary to maintain trust.

Optimize for “Needs Met”

Your content should directly address the needs of your users, fulfilling their intent effectively. Jason Acidre wrote an in-depth post about this and people-first content long before the March 2024 update rolled out. In that post, he highlighted some ways to meet reader needs directly:

  • Intent Alignment: Ensure your content meets the specific needs of users as indicated by their search queries, which you can discern from tools like Google Search Console.
  • User-Centric Design: Structure your content to answer user questions quickly and efficiently — consider features like FAQs or summary boxes to provide quick answers.

High Editorial Standards

Maintain high editorial standards to ensure content accuracy and quality:

  • Fact-Checking: Regularly update your content to correct inaccuracies and include the most current information.
  • Peer Reviews: Have content reviewed by other experts in your field to ensure accuracy and depth.

By systematically addressing each aspect of E-E-A-T within your content strategy, you not only improve your site’s standing with Google but also enhance the user experience, leading to better engagement, trust, and conversion rates.

Content Presentation

The way content is presented on your website can significantly impact how users perceive and interact with it. Good content presentation helps reduce bounce rates and increases the chances of users engaging with your content.

  • Consider Having a TL:DR Section. This stands for “Too Long, Didn’t Read.” Having a short section at the top of the page that concisely delivers the key points of the content piece can make your webpage even more useful. It helps meet the reader’s intent in one glance rather than having him skim and scroll through a webpage, hoping to find the answers he’s looking for.

  • Table of Contents. Another way to make information easy to find is by having a table of contents above a page’s fold, complete with jump links to different sections of a webpage. This allows readers to scan the table and go directly to the part that meets the needs behind their search intents.

  • Use Headings and Subheadings. Proper use of headings (H1, H2, H3) helps break up content into manageable sections and aids in navigation through the article.
  • Short Paragraphs: Use short paragraphs to make content easier to read and understand. Large blocks of text can be daunting and may deter users from reading.
  • Bullet Points and Lists: Use bullet points or numbered lists to present information clearly and concisely, making it easier for users to scan and absorb information.

And there you have it. Hopefully, this post helped you understand the method behind Google’s machinations as of late. If you already have a strong editorial; foundation, this update probably didn’t affect you negatively but if your website is anemic in that area, applying the tips here might help you turn the ship around.

Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal is the founder and CEO of SearchWorks.Ph. He has been doing SEO since 2008 and is consistently featured in mainstream media and industry conferences. His core skills include SEO, SEM, data analytics and business development.
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal is the founder and CEO of SearchWorks.Ph. He has been doing SEO since 2008 and is consistently featured in mainstream media and industry conferences. His core skills include SEO, SEM, data analytics and business development.