Google’s latest Core Update Aims to Eliminate Spammy Content

On March 5, 2024, Google announced its latest core update, aimed at reshaping SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages), with particular attention placed on spam and the growing impact of AI on content development. 

This update, which Google says is more complex than previous updates, aims to prioritize content that provides genuinely valuable content for users, over clickbait and keyword-stuffed content that is created for the purpose of fooling crawlers. Coupled with new spam policies, Google's latest move underscores its commitment to enhancing search quality. 

Let’s unpack the details of this update, the spam policies and best practices for creating content. The good news is - if you’ve been following Google’s best practices from the start, this update shouldn't hurt too much.

The Need for A Major Update

In a recent article in The Atlantic, Charlie Warzel put into words what we’ve all recently felt in our hearts. He said, “Using Google once felt like magic, and now it’s more like rifling through junk mail, dodging scams and generic mailers.” A quick search (ironically on Google) shows more than 5 billion searches just for the particular question, “why is google search so bad now”.

So Google needed to change something. AI and an algorithm that had been serving it so well for so long was no longer putting the user first. 

Luckily, Google has taken action.

Understanding the March 2024 Core Update

This latest Core Update signifies a leap in how Google assesses content helpfulness, employing new signals and methodologies. Unlike previous updates, this one doesn't rely on a singular signal or system, marking an important evolution in content evaluation.

Key Highlights:

  • Spam Policies: Google's new spam policies are designed to maintain the quality and reliability of its search results. 
  • Rollout Duration: The update's rollout is expected to span up to a month, potentially causing more ranking fluctuations than usual. 
  • No Special Action Required: Content creators focusing on producing genuinely satisfying, user-first content need not adjust their strategies.
  • FAQ Page: Google has introduced a new FAQ page to clarify the changes brought by this update.

Let’s dive into these a bit deeper.

#1 Understanding Google's Spam Policies

  • Cloaking: Presenting different content to search engines than to users. It's deceptive and can lead to penalties.some text
    • Example: Showing a page about sports gambling to users but presenting a sports fan page to search engines.
  • Doorways: Pages created with the sole purpose of ranking high in search engines for specific queries, leading users to similar pages in search results.some text
    • Example: Multiple domain names or pages funneling users to one destination.
  • Expired Domain Abuse: Purchasing expired domains to capitalize on their previous authority by hosting low-quality content.some text
    • Example: A domain once belonging to a healthcare site repurposed for promoting online casinos.
  • Hacked Content: Unauthorized content placed on a site without the owner's permission, often for malicious purposes.some text
    • Example: Injecting malicious code or adding spammy content to a compromised site.
  • Hidden Text and Links: Using text or links that are invisible to users but readable by search engines to manipulate rankings.some text
    • Example: White text on a white background or positioning text off-screen.
  • Keyword Stuffing: Overloading a web page with keywords or numbers to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results.some text
    • Example: Unnaturally repeating the same words or phrases, or listing cities you're targeting.
  • Link Spam: Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results.some text
    • Example: Buying or selling links that pass PageRank on to your site.

#2 Timeline for Rollout of March 2024 Core Update

Google has told us this update is going to take longer than previous updates because of its complexity. You can keep track via the Rollout Dashboard. 

#3 Creating People-First Content

My advice has always been to create good, honest SEO content you’d be proud to tell your grandmother about. If your granny is anything like mine, she’d have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about, but the point is - create content with integrity. If it feels slimy, it probably is. 

Of course Google has a bit more specific instruction than that, starting with the ever famous E-E-A-T.

Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) are more crucial than ever. Content that demonstrates these qualities, especially on YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) topics, will be prioritized in search rankings.

If you want a refresher on E-E-A-T read below, if not, feel free to skip ahead.

SIDEBAR: E-E-A-T: The Cornerstone of Content Quality

E-E-A-T stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. It's a framework used by Google to assess the quality of content on the web. Here are some bullet points to help understand each component:

  • Demonstrates the content creator's personal experience and hands-on knowledge of the topic.
  • Content should convey a depth of understanding that comes from actual use or interaction with the subject matter.
  • Examples include detailed product reviews, personal narratives, and case studies.
  • Reflects the level of knowledge and skill the content creator has in a particular field or subject area.
  • Expertise is especially crucial for YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) topics, where accuracy and depth of knowledge can impact readers' health, happiness, safety, or financial stability.
  • Credentials, formal training, or extensive experience in the field can indicate expertise.
  • Measures the credibility and reputation of the content creator and the website where the content is published.
  • Authoritativeness is built through endorsements from other authoritative figures in the field, citations, and links from reputable sites.
  • High-quality content that is frequently cited by others in the same field can enhance authoritativeness.
  • Assesses the reliability and honesty of the content, the content creator, and the website.
  • Secure sites with clear privacy policies, easy-to-find contact information, and transparent about the author's credentials or site's purpose score higher in trustworthiness.
  • Accurate, well-researched, and unbiased content contributes to a site's trustworthiness.

#3 Creating People-First Content (Continued)

Content and Quality Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • Does your content offer original insights, analysis, or information?
  • Is your content comprehensive and detailed, providing a complete understanding of the topic?
  • Would you bookmark or recommend your content to a friend?
  • Does your content contribute substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?

Expertise Matters:

  • Showcase clear expertise, whether that’s through your own experience or via thorough research of your topic.
  • Ensure your content is free from factual errors and is coming from trustworthy sources, with links to original sources.

Providing a Great Page Experience:

  • Optimize loading speeds and ensure your site is mobile-friendly.
  • Design your site with user navigation in mind, making it easy for visitors to find what they need.
  • Secure your site with HTTPS to protect users' information.

Focus on People-First Content:

  • Aim to create content that fulfills the user's search intent, offering them the answers or solutions they seek.
  • Engage your audience with content that reflects first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge.
  • Ensure your content would be useful to your audience if they came directly to your site, without relying on search engines to find it.

Avoid Search Engine-First Content:

  • Don't produce content with the primary goal of ranking in search engines.
  • Avoid writing on trending topics unless they align with your site's purpose or your audience's interests.
  • Refrain from using automated tools to generate content that lacks depth or value.

#4 FAQ Overview: Google’s Helpful and Unhelpful Content

These FAQs give information about how Google identifies and deals with unhelpful content. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Evolution of Helpful Content Identification: this system has been evolving since 2022. Currently, there isn't a singular system for identifying helpful content; instead, Google's core ranking systems utilize a multitude of signals and systems to assess content.
  • Assessing Content Helpfulness: You can use things like the guide above or go straight to the source with Google's guide on creating helpful, reliable, people-first content, which includes a series of evaluative questions.
  • Page-Level vs. Site-Wide Assessment: Google's core ranking systems primarily evaluate the helpfulness of content on a page-by-page basis, although some site-wide signals are also considered in the ranking process.
  • Impact of Removing Unhelpful Content: While Google's ranking systems primarily focus on individual pages, having a significant amount of unhelpful content on a site can negatively affect the performance of other content. Removing unhelpful content may help improve the ranking of the remaining content.
  • Timing of Ranking Improvements After Content Removal: Ranking improvements following the removal of unhelpful content are not tied to core updates and can occur at any time.

Other Things Worth Considering

Although not explicitly mentioned in this update, keep in mind Google still cares about your website’s technical SEO, backlink profile and accessibility, among other things. 

Your keyword strategy should be one small part of a larger digital strategy that not only helps your website get noticed, but get it noticed by the right people, during the right moment of the sales funnel, and engage them in such a way that you achieve your online goals. 

Not sure what your online goals are? Check out our recent blog, Mastering Website KPIs: The Blueprint for Digital Success to help you nail them down. 

And, as always, if you need help with pretty much anything that happens online, reach out and say We’d love to hear from you.