March 2024 Core Update is Here And It’s About to Shake Things Up

Site migration update stop sign

○ Updated on 5th March 2024

○ Author: Michael Chidzey.
Designer: Dan Mynard

○ Experience & Research Based

It’s official! Google’s first core algorithm update of 2024 is rolling out now. This one feels different from recent updates, with Barry Schwartz calling it bigger than before.

We’ve been expecting something big, given the mass surge in AI-generated content flooding the web, parasite SEO tactics still working like undetected leeches, the fallout from the helpful content update, reports of Reddit and other forums totally dominating the top search results, Large Language Models changing the way we search, the growing “TikTok generation” wanting more entertaining answers from people over brands, and publications like Rolling Stone Magazine, despite being a reputable music source, now being served as the place to review washing machines over tech websites. Bigger updates, like this, might just be the new norm.

To us, there has never been such an exciting time to work in SEO and web search. However, if SEO is just one of the many things on your plate, this post should cover the things you need to know.

Google Core Updates involve changes to the search engine’s algorithms designed to improve overall search results quality. While each update requires individual assessment, there are general strategies to help your website thrive long-term. Focus on creating high-quality content that provides value to users, and ensure your website delivers a positive user experience.

“But can’t you just fix it?“ And other misguided beliefs about Google updates

If you feel at a loss or lack confidence when confronted by your boss about what impact the update has had or will have or how you’re “fixing it”, you’re not alone. So let’s walk through common gut reactions and what you need to know to stay calm over the next few weeks and prepared for any questions that may come your way.

It’s important to remember: a core update is not an attack on your website or your individual actions.

The March 2024 Core Update has been reported to be more complex than previous core updates. However, what they do have in common is that they are global updates not specific to any region, language, or website category. Not you specifically. The goal behind updates like these is that Google gets better at assessing content and determining what pages serve the best answers to searchers’ queries. These changes may result in boosting pages that were previously under-rewarded, which means some websites may face drops while others will experience gains in their traffic.

Google uses the following metaphor for its core updates:

“One way to think of how a core update operates is to imagine you made a list of the top 100 movies in 2021. A few years later in 2024, you refresh the list. It’s going to naturally change. Some new and wonderful movies that never existed before will now be candidates for inclusion. You might also reassess some films and realise they deserved a higher place on the list than they had before.

The list will change, and films previously higher on the list that move down aren’t bad. There are simply more deserving films that are coming before them.”

“What have I done wrong?”

Wasting time looking for a major technical issue is a common mistake. If you’re seeing a decline in organic traffic it’s not because your website has serious SEO issues but is simply the result of Google finding better results for those search queries.

Google has a history of rolling out broad core updates that better understand factors like user intent, what web pages are about and how those pages are relevant to search queries. For example, if Google determines that searchers want ideas and information on a topic, then that will negatively impact sites that only offer transactional pages with little information.

“Quick! How do I fix it before it gets worse?”

Avoid acting too quickly.

During the initial days of a core update, algorithm trackers may start showing significant fluctuations. This is an indication that a lot of websites are seeing huge increases and decreases in their organic ranking positions, which often leads to marketing teams having panic attacks. However, rather than panic, it’s best to wait for the update to fully roll out across Google’s data centres and to settle. This usually takes between 10-14 days. But in this case, Google has it could take about a month for this update to fully roll out.

What commonly happens after those first few days is a period of relative calm that is then interrupted when Google engineers make adjustments or reversals. This is why jumping to conclusions or making drastic changes is not recommended – anything can change.

Wait until the full update is done rolling out before making any significant decisions about changing your entire website – that is, unless you are doing something that violates Google guidelines and you need to fix it. Stay vigilant and monitor your rankings and organic traffic until the 29th March 2023 and go from there.

“Why is that site outranking me?”

Monitor what is happening.

Watch for websites that are winning rankings and try to understand why those sites have succeeded. Look for patterns and compare this with those that have seen drops. Core Updates are quality updates, so in particular, review the content and overall quality of any website you look at.

“When will this happen again?”

Google is constantly working to improve the quality of its search results. In fact, they release one or more changes every day. However, those changes usually aren’t noticeable. This is the first update of 2024. The last core update was November 2023.

“Well, what should I be doing?”

Google has been explicit about the focus of this update: Always prioritise creating quality content that demonstrates E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness). Use this as an opportunity to take a broader view of your overall website and see what you can do to improve it. It’s best to view the changes through the lens of how your site best addresses search intent. Here are key activities to help…

Analyse Google Search console and site traffic in analytics over the following weeks to further see the impact of this core update

Improve the quality of the content and its authority. Google’s mantra has always been that there is not much you can do about an algorithm update and changes in rankings except to keep improving your content quality

Evaluate whether or not your content is authoritative, helpful to users and formatted in a way to help search engines and users

Make sure existing SEO mistakes are fixed and avoided

Provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis, along with a comprehensive description of the topic

Strive to make your content the most holistic resource on the web for a user’s specific query

“Do I need an SEO agency to recover from this?”

To be clear, SEO specialists can’t pick up a magic wand and make your website magically reappear if you’ve lost rankings and traffic, especially when it comes to the core updates. Core updates are about the relevance of the website overall. Anybody can take a website and rewrite the content to make it more relevant, therefore you don’t necessarily need to be a professional SEO to recover. But, if you are worried, and would like to talk to somebody who lives and breathes SEO, feel free to get in touch with us or submit your challenge to our weekly SEO Office Hours.

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