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Google’s March Algorithm Update: What It Means for the Future of Search

In early March, Google announced a new core algorithm update aimed at improving the content it shows in search results and creating a stronger Search experience. Here are three key things content creators and SEO-interested teams should be aware of.

1. What type of content is going to be affected?

Unoriginal content designed for search engines

Going back to 2022, Google has released several algorithm updates specifically aimed at showing more “helpful” content in its search results. With nearly two years of data collected, Google is placing the full weight of its algorithm into ranking content it feels best serves users’ needs. While past algorithm updates made smaller adjustments, Google has announced that this March 2024 will replace nearly 40% of what it deems “unhelpful” content. Considering the trillions of web pages on the internet, this is a major update.

Spam Content

One of the major issues Google continually addresses is websites spamming and abusing its algorithm. While this might sound like a rare occurrence, it’s actually been a common SEO practice for many years. Even some of the biggest publishers and websites engage in spam content designed only to drive more organic traffic and, in turn, sell more products and advertising space.

With the rise in AI content generators, spam poses an increased risk to Google, so it is taking action against three common spam practicesregardless of whether the content was automated or human-generated:

Scaled Content – Also referred to as “programmatic SEO,” this is where people use automation tools to create content on a mass scale with the sole purpose of driving more organic traffic. There are tools that allow users to put in a list of keywords and create thousands of web pages with the press of a button.

Site Reputation Abuse – This is when major publishers abuse their domain authority by using it to promote affiliate, spammy content. Even recently, some major publishers had entire subdomains designed to sell coupons. Since there are so many otherwise legitimate companies doing this, Google is giving webmasters a 2-month window to remove this spam before it acts.

Expired Domains: Perhaps one of the older spam tactics in SEO, expired domains are old websites that have major SEO power due to their backlink profile but are no longer in use. Expired domains can be bought on marketplaces and then redirected to promote spammy, unoriginal content.

2. What about AI content?

Google has maintained a neutral position on AI-generated content, stating that it intends to rank content that is helpful, regardless of whether it’s written by humans or AI. However, reading between the lines, since most pure AI content is largely regurgitated, it’s more likely to be marked as unhelpful or spam going forward. It is our strong recommendation that content be written by humans and curated to serve people and not computers. We have seen that long-term SEO success is possible with this approach.

a screenshot of a website's traffic drop
A website hit by March’s Google algorithm update that was mostly AI content

3. Do backlinks still matter?

Some SEO communities are reporting that backlinks won’t matter after this update. To answer this question, it’s important to define the quality of the backlink. Poor-quality backlinks from spammy websites that exist to manipulate Google’s algorithm have not been a successful SEO strategy for many years. This is not a deviation from Google’s earlier positions or algorithm updates.

In a good SEO strategy, high-quality backlinks enhance the indexing and authority of high-quality content. Quality backlinks, such as natural links and guest content from authoritative, relevant sites, will continue to positively impact a website’s rankings and domain authority. Read our article on backlinks to learn about the most effective backlinking tactics.

Will my website be affected?

Core algorithm updates always shake up the search results, and this one is no exception. The fact that Google says 40% of “unhelpful” content will be replaced – and that it’s giving site owners nearly two months to remove content it considers abusive – means the changes will be profound once this update completes its rollout.

Your website may be more likely to experience a significant drop in organic traffic if: 

  • You have never invested in developing helpful, high quality content
  • Your website is full of content that was developed for the purpose of gaming the algorithm
  • You have ever engaged in any of the three spam practices listed above
  • Your website has relied on spammy backlinks for SEO

Websites that want to drive more organic traffic and have strong SEO should focus on writing content that is original and helpful to users. If the sole focus of your website’s content strategy is to rank on Google, you miss out on the opportunity to achieve lasting growth in organic traffic.

What does this mean for the future of Search?

For years, Google’s algorithm was a black box; they rarely communicated updates or standards and when they did, they were cryptic. However, it’s clear Google is tired of the low-information content that shows in its search results and is taking a more aggressive stance against it.

The old-school SEO hacks that were designed to subvert great content are losing their ability to influence the algorithm. Publishers, especially those who are interested in ranking their content on Google, ought to closely follow its 
standards for creating helpful content.

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Austin Cline

Austin Cline is the founder and principal at Sitemap.io. He is actively involved in the SEO community and frequently writes about the intersection of great content marketing and search engine optimization. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn and sign up to get his posts to your email by joining our email newsletter.

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