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8 min read

March 2024 Google Algorithm and Search Industry Updates

This article was updated on: 18.04.2024

This month we bring you some exciting developments and updates from the world of search including new features, deal announcements and a potential algorithm update. 

First and foremost, Google rolled out the March 2024 Core Update which has caused a large degree of ranking volatility. This was released alongside the Spam Update, which was designed to stamp out low-quality, unoriginal and unhelpful content. The Spam Update has finished rolling out and it seems to have hit AI-generated content the hardest.

Google has also added the INP metric to the Core Web Vitals Report in Search Console. It is now easier than ever for website owners or web developers to measure their website for INP and optimise accordingly.

In addition to these updates, Google is testing out several new features. One of which is the usage of separate ‘Product’ and ‘Product Listing’ tabs that are a new way products can be shown in search results. The other is that AI overviews are being shown to users in the US, meaning that even those users who have opted into the search generative experience (SGE) are able to view its features.

Allow our traffic light system to guide you to the articles that need your attention, so watch out for Red light updates as they’re major changes that will need you to take action, whereas amber updates may make you think and are definitely worth knowing but aren’t urgent. And finally, green light updates which are great for your SEO and site knowledge but are less significant than others

Keen to know more about any of these changes and what they mean for you? Get in touch to find out how we can help.

On 5th March, Google started to roll out their first core algorithm update of the year. 

The main purpose of this update was to tackle low-quality, unoriginal results. As part of this the search engine has updated some of their core ranking systems to help them better understand if websites are unhelpful, have a poor user experience, or were generated to satisfy search engines instead of people. 

Google also announced that this update is more complex than usual as it involves changes to multiple core systems. As a result, they expect that this update will take around a month to complete rolling out.

When are you most likely to see changes?

With core updates, you are likely to see fluctuations while they roll out and shortly after they have been completed, as Google recrawls and reranks sites based on these changes. 

The below graph from Semrush shows how volatile the SERPs have been during March.

In the SEO community, it was hoped that the March 2024 Core Update would offer relief to websites impacted by the September 2023 Helpful Content Update. However, this does not seem to be the case.

Glenn Gabe provided an insightful look into recovery patterns after helpful content updates. In his analysis, he shows how none of the websites impacted by the September 2023 Helpful Content Update benefitted from the March 2024 Core Update. This is an unusual trend as he highlights how typically sites impacted by a helpful content update have tended to recover with the rollout of a core update.

Source: Glenn Gabe on X

After nearly 15 days, the first Spam update of 2024 concluded on 20 March. This update coincided with the core update which at the time of writing has not yet finished rolling out. 

The day after this update was released, a swarm of manual actions were also imposed and as a result, some sites were completely or partially de-listed. However, these manual actions were not directly related to the spam update. 

This update was announced alongside an update of Google’s spam policies, where they introduced three new spam policies including: 

  • Scaled content abuse
  • Expired domain abuse
  • Site reputation abuse

Whilst the first two policies came into effect immediately, the last policy will not come into effect until May. We’ll take a closer look at each of these below. 

Scaled content abuse search spam

This update replaces the old “spammy automatically-generated content” policy. It has been adapted to include any method (created by humans or AI) that aims to produce content at scale purely for ranking in the SERPs. 

The example that Google gave includes pages that pretend to answer popular questions but fail to deliver helpful content.  

Expired domain abuse

Expired domain abuse is the unethical practice of purchasing expired domains and repurposing them in the hopes of boosting search rankings with low-quality content. Again, Google is likely to view this content as spam as users are misled into thinking that the content is part of the older, trusted domain.

Site reputation abuse

Site reputation abuse also known as “parasite SEO” is where third-party sites host low-quality content provided by third parties to piggyback on the ranking power and authority of those third-party websites. This means that websites that host low-quality content on a domain with a strong reputation are likely to be penalised. 

In the aftermath of the spam and policy updates, many honest websites did feel the brunt of the changes, whilst AI spammy websites continued to climb to the top of the search results. This example referenced in Search Engine Journal, was a subdomain which was launched on the same date as ChatGPT. Following the completion of the spam update, this site saw improvements in its search queries in the top 10 rising from 14.9k to 15.6k.

Following its announcement back in 2022, Google has now officially replaced First Input Delay (FID) with Interaction to Next Paint (INP) as a Core Web Vital.

As we’ve discussed previously in our other algorithm updates, INP measures the time from user interaction to screen rendering, offering a more thorough evaluation than FID. 

This change reflects Google’s commitment to enhancing user experience metrics and this transition aims to provide a more comprehensive assessment of a website’s interactivity. 

Web developers and website owners should assess and optimise for INP using tools like PageSpeed Insights, as it may impact search rankings and user engagement. Prioritising interaction readiness in development practices may become essential. 

In line with the Digital Markets Act (DMA) which we previously discussed in February’s algorithm and search update, Google has implemented changes to its shopping results. As part of this, some users have noticed the introduction of  ‘Products’ and ‘Product Sites’ tabs which feature distinct results.

In the ‘Products’ tab, users are shown results from various websites that sell the product. Whereas the ‘Products Sites’ tab seems to spotlight specific websites that offer a selection of products related to the search query, These results are often displayed in a carousel format, allowing users to scroll through the product listing.

On X, Brodie Clark discusses this further. While he does not have conclusive evidence, he speculates that the ‘Product Sites’ could be related to the new Carousel (ItemList) structured data, though there is no definitive data to support this.

Source: Brodie Clark on X

Google is currently testing AI overviews in the main Google Search in the US. This means that users who have not opted into the Google Search Generative Experience Labs feature may see these new AI answers. 

By rolling this out to more users, Google plans to test different variations of these AI overviews and gather feedback from users who haven’t specifically opted into the SGE labs.  

These AI overviews are currently being displayed on certain complex queries where Google believes generative AI can be particularly useful with the aim of providing users with helpful information from a variety of web pages. 

Screenshot taken from Search Engine Land

Despite these changes, ads will still be displayed alongside these AI overviews. This update may impact organic search results and standard ads, potentially leading to changes in website traffic. 

The long-term effects of these AI overviews on search results and website traffic remain to be seen as Google continues testing them. However, it appears that results shown in the new AI overviews tend to pull results from websites with a high Domain Rating (DR).  

Why does this matter for SEO?

The wider rollout of SGE has potential implications for the visibility of organic results which may result in less website traffic. As queries or questions are answered using generative AI, users are less likely to click on a website to get further information on that query as SGE has already answered it. The chances are that as SGE rolls out into the wider population, organic traffic on impacted terms will decrease, but only time will tell.

A study by Authoritas suggests that SGE is a top threat to brand and product terms

A recent study by Authoritas suggests that Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE) poses a significant threat to brand-related search terms. The study examined 2,900 keywords for 251 U.S. brands across 15 industries.

Key findings include:

– SGE was triggered for 91.4% of all search queries analysed.

– On average, SGE answers contained 10.75 links from 4.3 unique domains.

– Quora and Wikipedia emerged as top performers in SGE, potentially affecting organic traffic for brands.

– Over 50% of keywords featured paid search ads, which appeared above SGE half the time.

Overall, the analysis suggests that SGE could lead to a decline in current traffic levels for brand-related terms, opening up opportunities for third-party sites and competitors to rank for these terms.

Keep up-to-date with our dedicated algorithm and search industry round-ups. For any further information about these posts, or to learn how we can support you, get in touch today.