Google's March 2024 updates - the impact so far

Posted by Edith MacLeod on 19 Mar, 2024
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Hundreds of sites deindexed as March 2024 core and spam updates roll out. Here's what we know so far.

March 2024 updates impacts

Image: Pixabay

We’re now two weeks into the March 2024 core and spam updates. The updates are targeting low quality, spammy content and are backed up by new spam policies issued by Google at the same time.

*** Update 20 March: Google announced that the spam update rollout was complete as of 20 March 2024.

The core update may take up to a month to complete as multiple systems are being updated, so it’s too early for a definitive view.

However, it's safe to say they're having a big impact so far. We’ve seen a storm of manual actions to implement Google’supdated spam policies with hundreds of websites deindexed, and ongoing serp volatility caused by both the manual actions and the updates. As SEO consultant Glenn Gabe put it, "it’s mayhem out there".

Manual actions

The core and spam updates and updated spam policies were announced on 5 March. These were followed up by a significant number of manual actions implemented on 6th and 7th March, resulting in hundreds of sites being completely deindexed.

Google’s updated search spam policies on scaled content abuse and expired domain abuse are now being enforced, while the policy on site reputation abuse comes into effect on 5th May.

Google can take a manual action against a site if it doesn’t meet its guidelines and deindex it, i.e, remove it completely from the search results.

A study by published on 12 March looked at the numbers of websites affected, and whether AI content spam was to blame for the manual actions.

It found that 2% of websites examined (1,446 out of 79k websites) had a manual action applied to them in March 2024.

  • 100% of the websites had some posts that were AI-generated
  • 50% had 90%-100% of their posts AI-generated.

Another large study by SEO Ian Nuttal checked 49,345 sites to measure the impact of anti-spam manual actions and found 837 (1.7%) had been completely removed from the search results.

In an update, Nuttall found that some sites had reappeared, showing as always that it's best to let the dust settle before coming to any conclusions.

“I ran my script again to check the sites that were deindexed and 21 of them are showing pages indexed in Google again.”

The notices issued for the most part cite ‘pure spam’ and Google posted a detailed help article on 12th March dealing specifically with this scenario.

Received a ‘Pure Spam’ Manual Action Notice? See what it means for your site and how to address it.

Google advises patience

Google does appear to be mass targeting sites with AI-spam content and simply removing them. There are multiple reports on social media documenting this.

However, there are also many instances of legit sites being hit. SEO Mike Futia cited the example of what he described as “one of the best fitness sites on the web”, which was now nowhere to be seen.

Fitness site.

Source: Twitter

In response to a question from a siteowner who had lost many long-standing rankings, Google’s Danny Sullivan advised patience, saying it would be best to wait until the update had completed before deciding on any changes

He also touched on other factors which might make a site lose rankings and visibility, such as seasonal effects.

“ I would let the update complete before deciding if there are any fundamental changes you might want to make. There might not be any to do at all.

 Your site seems clean and nice. Going through the site, I see [steak pie] as one of your featured recipes. You're in the carousel and second in web links for that. That's a pretty solid sign that we like your content.

If you were previously first, trying to move up from second by doing a lot of technical and content stuff wouldn't be something I'd recommend. Second is super successful. Rankings can also change for various reasons, so you might move back up.

You might also look to see if there's any seasonal change. IE: instead of looking at rankings, look at your traffic. If it was higher previously, what for? Perhaps you had some seasonal recipes a few months ago that people are looking for less. We have a page about debugging traffic drops that talks about seasonality here:

Overlapping updates

With two big algorithm updates, manual actions implementing updated spam policies and a new Core Web Vitals metric there’s a lot going on. It’s confusing, and while the updates are rolling out it’s hard to work out what exactly is behind any changes for your site. There are also numerous reports of reversal of a change seen.

As always, it’s best to wait until the updates have completed and any lingering volatility has run its course before taking a close look at any impact your site has experienced and any changes you may need to make.

Google has said it will open up a feedback form once the update has completed for any specific feedback people may have.

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