Google Core Update March 2024: Reducing low-quality, unoriginal results

As part of the never-ending work made by Google to present high-quality and useful search results, the company continuously releases changes in policies and systems. Those changes are modified from time to time depending on the specific challenges faced by the company and its users, and lately, the headache for the company hasn’t been other than AI-generated content. That is why this is probably their main focus of the first core update of 2024 made on the 5th of March, which is claimed to reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40%.
  • Mel Gibbons

    13 March, 2024

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Why is AI-generated content a problem?

The first thing we need to understand is that this practice is problematic for both users and Google. Despite being a convenient and useful tool for content creation purposes, the AI-generated content, as well as other practices considered to be spam by Google, has caused a major disruption in search results by making low-quality websites reach high positions with misleading information. It is the result of those contents being created with the specific objective of over-performing on the quality ranking, but leaving behind the actual aim of providing useful and high-quality content that responds to users’ searches.

In response, Google has been working on those issues since 2022 when they began “tuning ranking systems to reduce unhelpful, unoriginal content”. They expect that the algorithmic enhancements to their core ranking systems as well as the new and improved spam policies, will help them to have a meaningful impact on the negatively affected quality of results they identified on its search engine. The main targets for this update will be websites with lots of AI-generated content, ones with poor user experience, and those that pretend to have answers to popular searches but fail to deliver helpful content.

How do I know if my website will be affected?

Despite being very clear that their goal is to identify and penalise websites with low-quality content that go against Google’s guidelines, the reality is that the changes might affect a big proportion of the current sites on the Internet. Part of the new policies were focused on three specific cases that now will be considered to be spam starting from May 5th and will be directly affected by the Google March 2024 Core Update

  1. Scaled content abuse: This consists of using automation to generate low-quality or unoriginal content at scale to manipulate search rankings. Most AI-generated content falls into this category and new policies will focus on this abusive behaviour, regardless of whether automation, humans, or a combination of both are involved.
  2. Expired domain abuse: It is the practice of buying expired domains and repurposing them to boost the search for low-quality content. That could mislead users into thinking that the content is part of the previously trusted site.
  3. Site reputation abuse (aka Parasite SEO): In this case, trusted websites host low-quality, third-party content to capitalise on the hosting site’s strong reputation.

Nevertheless, even if your website doesn’t happen to include any of these penalised practices, it is still possible to have some impact on its performance. The recommendation regarding this matter is very clear, it’s necessary to understand that this is an ongoing situation and what we see today might not be true next week, so it’s important not to panic. Instead, website owners should have a look at the content being created and follow Google’s advice on how to improve the website’s ranking for future core ranking updates. To do so it is necessary to ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the content provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis?
  • Does the content provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does the content provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • If the content draws on other sources, does it avoid simply copying or rewriting those sources and instead provide substantial additional value and originality?
  • Does the headline and/or page title provide a descriptive, helpful summary of the content?
  • Does the headline and/or page title avoid being exaggerated or shocking?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Would you expect to see this content in or referenced by a printed magazine, encyclopaedia, or book?

What to do if you were negatively impacted?

It could also happen that your content is clearly affected by Google’s Core Update as a result of using any of the previously described practices. In that case, it is recommended that you realise the following step by step:

  • Step 1 – AI Content Cleanup: Delete any content on your site that was created using AI and ensure that the URL returns a 410 “content deleted status” instead of 404.
  • Step 2 – EEAT Signals: Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness are key characteristics that your content must have to perform better and be prioritised by Google to hold a higher position in the search results.
  • Step 3 – Integrate Modern Schema: Google works to understand the content of a page and the better structured it is the better its performance will be. That’s why we should use structured data markup on our websites and apply modern schema including speakable, howto, faq, dataset, service, product, review, organisation/local business, video, and more.
  • Step 4 – Update Existing Content: Something that Google likes is when aged content is updated. That’s why you should try updating content that has not been modified in a long time. The inclusion of a FAQ schema is probably one of the best options because it allows you to update one question every 6 months and this will improve your performance on Google.

As we have seen, Google’s Core Update is likely to generate a massive impact on most of the websites currently on the Internet, but it is also an opportunity for high-quality and human-made content to stand apart as the option to go. From now on, the priority for website owners and developers is to understand that purely ranking-focused content will be hunted down by Google and human-created content will be benefited as a result. Even though this journey has been happening for some time already, there is no doubt that what we are seeing is just the beginning, and much more is yet to come.

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