Google Core and Spam Update - 2024

Google Updates
Google Core and Spam Update - 2024

As many SEOs agree, we were all waiting for Google to announce a major update to be released, with the last major update dating back to November 2023. 

This time, an update lasting for most of March and combining a Spam update and a Core update is bound to shake up some search engine results pages. 

In this article, we quote some excellent writing by Search Engine Land’s own Barry Schwarz and add some of our thoughts on the horizon. 

We’ve linked the Google Release notes and the original SEL article at the bottom of this piece for reference. Here are some notable points from the article with our thoughts and breakdowns:

1. Core Update

Elizabeth Tucker, Director of Product, Search at Google, told Search Engine Land that the update will help reduce unhelpful content in Google Search by 40%.

The rollout of the March 2024 core update may take as long as a month. Multiple systems will be updated and released during the update.

Google enhanced its core ranking systems to show more helpful results using a variety of innovative signals and approaches.

Google said this update has refined how it understands which webpages are “unhelpful, have a poor user experience or feel like they were created for search engines instead of people.” This “could include sites created primarily to match very specific search queries,” Google added.

With this March 2024 core update, Google will stop announcing new helpful content updates, since the helpful content system has been incorporated into the core update system.

2. Scaled Content Abuse Search Spam

Google said producing content at scale to boost search rankings – whether with automation, people or a combination – is against its guidelines.

What is considered a low-quality page? Pages that start 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 Thoughts; 

This part of the update aims at the aggressive AI content generation inflating the internet. 

However, it is interesting that Google is calling attention to the fact that they aim to target “more sophisticated scaled content creation methods.” We assume that this refers to content that may be AI-generated and then edited or created by AI writing tools that have more sophisticated inputs than others. 

However, AI content can still answer the question directly and give readers meaningful information. In that case, I am highly sceptical that Google can detect this form of content or that they become incentivised to detect and eliminate it. 

The scenario may become far more complex and contextual – is the content spam on a website that adds value overall? Or is the entire website created to generate traffic using content that Google has deemed spammy?

3. Expired Domain Abuse Now Considered Spam

“Expired domain abuse” – the practice of buying expired domains and repurposing them with the “intention of boosting the search ranking of low-quality content” – is now considered spam.

This is a specific and clear message to content creators to not purchase expired domains with the intent of repurposing those domains with the goal of ranking in Google Search.

Google will start to take action against expired domain abuse both through algorithmic spam systems and manual actions this week.

Our Thoughts; 

This part of the update sounds quite reminiscent of threats of past updates released by Google. There is a finite number of domains that are available to register. With many expired domain marketplaces booming (think Godaddy or Odys), we are struggling to see a sensible way that Google would punish using an expired domain for a new site.

One theory might be that they will devalue 301 redirects from expired domains that have come back to life.

Our clients only need to worry about this if a previous agency has deployed questionable SEO practices. 

4. Site Reputation Abuse (Aka Parasite SEO) Is Spam Too

Google has a new policy for “site reputation abuse,” some SEOs have been calling it “Parasite SEO,” where third-party sites host low-quality content provided by third parties to piggyback on the ranking power of those third-party websites.

This new policy clarifies that “third-party content produced primarily for ranking purposes and without close oversight of a website owner to be spam.”

But this new policy doesn’t consider all third-party content to be a violation. Google said “only that which is hosted without close oversight and which is intended to manipulate Search rankings.”

Google said they are giving two month advance notice of this policy and will start to take both automated and manual actions on this abuse in two months. The specific date is May 5.

“We know that for some queries, people are really seeking out content that comes from other people with relevant experiences. We want to surface content that people are looking for, in cases where it’s helpful. There is high-quality and low-quality content across all content types – including user-generated forum and discussion content. Our goal is to surface the best of the web, and we believe these ranking improvements will help us surface higher-quality discussion/forum content for searches where it’s helpful – and will help us get better at detecting when such content is truly helpful.”

Google said the ranking changes were done prior to any relationship with Reddit.

Our Thoughts; 

One of the most interesting parts of the announcement is a two-month warning for another significant update rolling out to punish parasite SEO. 

For those readers who don’t know what this is, allow us to explain; 

In recent updates, a few user-generated content websites (UGC) have shot up in Google rankings. Reddit is one of the biggest winners. 

Here is a screenshot of the estimated keyword rankings and traffic growth for Reddit in the last 12 months, according to data analysis company Ahrefs. 

As you can see, Reddit suddenly gained millions of new keyword ranking positions with its subreddits. SEOs knew how to exploit this and quickly identified the websites that benefitted from this adjustment and started spamming them. 

In recent tests, many, if not most, Reddit posts ranking highly for buyer keywords are also full of SEO spam (people linking to affiliate links or product pages). 

But what’s fascinating is this line here, “only that which is hosted without close oversight,” which sounds to us a lot like they are already carving out a reason not to punish sites like Reddit, which have many moderators who are supposed to combat the search spam. 

Why does that make sense? It could be because Google agreed to licence Reddit content at $60m annually to train its AI. 

As it stands right now, we are sceptical of what this update will look like, and we suspect that it will trigger a manual review process to target sites that Google deems too spammy specifically. 

Some More Thoughts on Content Quality

1. The Search Quality Guidelines provide examples for lowest, low, medium, high, and highest-quality pages.

https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/guidelines.raterhub.com/en//searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf

They come with explanations as well (starting from 4.0). Although you may want to skip the lowest part, which refers to primarily deceptive, misleading, ads-heavy and/or YMYL articles.

2. In an example, they said that “the article includes meaningless statements such as “water therapy is one of the easiest ways of beauty regimen since it will give enough moisture on the skin.” 

This is important to highlight since many website owners still believe that content needs to be lengthy to rank well, and assigning long word counts can often force writers to fill the content with useless sentences to reach the word count target. Our writers train in writing articles to answer questions directly and to avoid all fluff. 

3. In the 4th example, they expanded in more detail regarding the point above “There is a large amount of “filler” or meaningless content and a complete lack of effort in editing. In addition, the MC (main content) contains only commonly known information with no expertise or first-hand experience shared by the content creator.

The common theme for low-quality pages are:

4. The 3rd example for medium-quality pages (under 6.2) mentioned original images as one of the characteristics associated with high-quality pages.

This is something to keep in mind for sure. If a client has unique images, then it’s (kind of) confirmed that they’ll help increase the page quality. However, suppose the Helpful Content Update gets incorporated into the core algorithm. In that case, I’m still trying to figure out how they can differentiate unique photos from stock photos other than determining where an image originated. However, this may be a guideline for human raters for now.

The common theme for medium-quality pages are:

5. Getting to the high-quality pages, other than original images and in-depth content, they even mention things the websites are known for (won awards, well-known papers, government agencies, etc.)

However, under point 7.2, they mentioned that “Many smaller websites and ordinary people have little reputation information available. A page can still receive a High rating without reputation information.“. Someone who doesn’t have a Wikipedia page doesn’t mean they’re not trustworthy. 

Even a page like this (https://guidelines.raterhub.com/images/O0izMnB3u1xXedqrsCuV.jpg) can be a high-quality page as long as it:

6. For highest-quality pages, the distinction between them and high-quality pages is “quality of MC, the reputation of the website and content creator, and/or E-E-A-T.

Looking at their explanation, other than very satisfying MC and very high EEAT, the main focus here appears to be the reputation of the publishers.

7. Under the Page Quality Rating FAQs, they provide many answers to common questions. One of them is my question: what is the difference between Expertise and Experience in Google’s Eyes?

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, everything you need to know about the March 2024 Spam and Core algorithm update.

We are, of course, monitoring our client’s websites closely during these times, though we are not concerned that our clients should be affected by this specific update.

Let us know your thoughts and interpretations of this announcement. We’re keen to start a conversation and see what your thoughts are. 
Also, we’re in the market to onboard some clients. Do you have anyone in the eCommerce space that could benefit from our expertise? What about needing help with a site migration? Get in touch with us via our contact form. We’d love to hear from you.

References:

SEL article with an excellent summary: https://searchengineland.com/google-released-massive-search-quality-improvements-with-march-2024-core-update-and-multiple-spam-updates-438144

Official Google Notes: https://status.search.google.com/products/rGHU1u87FJnkP6W2GwMi/history

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