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Google's March 2024 Core Update Aims to Reduce Low-Quality Content

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Google's March 2024 Core Update

Google announced major changes today aimed at improving search quality by reducing low-quality, spam content and surfacing more helpful information. The company is rolling out its March 2024 core algorithm update as well as new policies to combat spam tactics that have emerged.

The March 2024 core update involves enhancing multiple ranking systems to better identify unhelpful, low-quality pages that exist primarily to attract search traffic rather than truly help users. According to Google, this can include sites created just to match very specific queries.

"We're refining some of our core ranking systems to help us better understand if webpages are unhelpful, have a poor user experience or feel like they were created for search engines instead of people," Google explained in their announcement.

The search engine estimates this update, combined with previous efforts, will collectively reduce the presence of low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by around 40%.

In addition to the core ranking update, Google has announced three new spam policies targeting specific deceptive behaviors it has observed growing in prevalence:

1. Expired Domain Abuse

This targets the practice of purchasing expired domain names, often previously owned by reputable brands or publishers, and filling them with low-quality pages in an attempt to capitalize on the domains' past reputations. Google will now consider this spam.

Google Said: Expired domain abuse isn't something people accidentally do. It's a practice employed by people who hope to rank well in Search with low-value content by using the past reputation of a domain name. These domains are generally not intended for visitors to find them in any other way but through search engines. It's fine to use an old domain name for a new, original site that's designed to serve people first.

2. Scaled Content Abuse

Google has long had rules against using automation to generate content simply to manipulate rankings. However, it acknowledges more sophisticated techniques make it harder to identify if humans or software created the content. The new policy allows action regardless of methods used if pages were produced at scale primarily to boost search visibility rather than serve users.

Google Said: This new policy builds on our previous spam policy about automatically generated content, ensuring that we can take action on scaled content abuse as needed, no matter whether the content is produced through automation, human efforts, or some combination of human and automated processes.

3. Site Reputation Abuse

Sometimes sites with established brands and audiences host low-quality third-party content like advertising aiming to benefit from the site's reputation signals. Google says it will now consider such third-party content created without close oversight to be spam if the primary purpose is search rankings rather than serving the host site's regular audience.

Google Said: Sometimes, websites that have their own great content may also host low-quality content provided by third parties to capitalize on the hosting site's strong reputation. For example, a third party might publish payday loan reviews on a trusted educational website to gain ranking benefits from the site. Such content ranking highly on Search can confuse or mislead visitors who may have vastly different expectations for the content on a given website.

The expired domain and scaled content policies take effect immediately, while the site reputation abuse policy goes into effect on May 5th to allow site owners time to make any needed changes.

Google emphasized that its goal is to elevate helpful, high-quality content created for people over content exclusively aimed at attracting search traffic through deceptive means.

"Our goal is not just to ensure that users get great, helpful content. It's also to ensure those producing helpful content are succeeding in Search ahead of those who engage in spam," a Google spokesperson said.

The core ranking update is expected to be completed within roughly a month, with rankings fluctuating more than a typical core update as the various systems are updated. Google will post status updates as the rollout progresses.

For legitimate web creators and publishers, Google advised that no special actions are required as long as they have prioritized making satisfying, high-quality content truly meant to help users. However, those who have focused heavily on chasing search algorithms with thin, repurposed content could see their visibility significantly impacted.

The changes represent a significant effort by Google to combat the persistent issue of search spam and low-quality pages as bad actors continually seek new loopholes to exploit. Web publishers would be wise to audit their content strategies to avoid crossing any of Google's expanding spam guidelines.

While the full effects remain to be seen, the March 2024 core update and new policies appear to be Google's most comprehensive steps yet toward rewarding high user focus over aggressive search optimization tactics that compromise quality and authenticity. The company aims to deliver more truly helpful information and fewer results that feel motivated solely by search visibility gaming.

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