Last week Google released their latest algorithm update, and it's a big one. In this post, we’ll cover what this latest algorithm updates targets, and how it could affect SEO on your Shopify website.

What Is The March 2024 Core Update?

The March 2024 Core update is a change to Google’s search ranking systems designed to improve the quality of the search results. The algorithm has been updated to give higher rankings to websites with helpful content and to suppress the rankings of sites that do the opposite.

Google's description of this update says it is:

“designed to improve the quality of Search by showing less content that feels like it was made to attract clicks, and more content that people find useful.”

Google releases a few core updates yearly, but this one is more impactful than previous ones.

Here are the main changes:

The Helpful Content System Is Now Part of the Core Algorithm

Since 2022 Google has released several “Helpful Content Updates”. Before the March core update, there was a separate “Helpful Content System” and this system would evaluate “content helpfulness” and apply any changes to rankings.

With the March core update, the “Helpful Content System” has effectively been integrated into the core ranking system. Google won’t release any more standalone “Helpful Content Updates” as these are now part of the core algorithm.

The March Core Update Will Impact Rankings

This update will cause more fluctuations in rankings than normal core updates. It will take a month to fully roll out and during this time different rank systems will get fully updated and reinforce each other. Expect lots of ranking instability as sites go up or down.

New Spam Policies

An interesting aspect of this update is three new spam policies that Google have introduced. These policies target spam EO tactics that become popular recently.

Expired Domain Abuse

A common SEO tactic is to use an expired domain for a new website. Any authority signals attached to the expired domain would give the new website an immediate SEO boost. This was an easy to get a new site ranking quickly.

A spam website could leverage the strength of a legacy domain that had genuine authority.

This won’t work any more. It’s ok to use expired domains, but you won’t gain any SEO benefit unless the new website is close in contextual relevance to the old site.

Scaled Content Abuse

There’s nothing wrong with content automation and programmatic SEO so long as these techniques are used responsibly and with a people-first approach.

But in recent years, easy access to generative AI tools has made it easy for anyone to quickly produce content at scale. This has resulted in websites churning out huge amounts of AI-generated content to rank for lots of keywords. As there’s often minimal human oversight of this content, the quality is often very poor.

The update will target sites that go too far in their use of content automation.

Site Reputation Abuse

The update will target some websites that host 3rd party content. This isn’t all sites that host 3rd party content, only those where the site owner doesn’t have oversight of that 3rd party content.

This is because of a relatively new SEO tactic called “Parasite SEO”. Parasite SEO is when content is published on a 3rd party website that has higher authority. That content can leverage the authority of the host website and perform better on search. The content almost acts like a parasite on the host website.

Website owners should have oversight of any 3rd party content, and that content should be relevant and valuable to normal site visitors.

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What To Do If Your Site’s Been Effected?

If there are quality issues in your content, or you haven’t taken a helpful people-first approach, you might see reduced organic visibility. If your site has applied any of the three spam examples above, you might receive a manual action.

A manual action is applied when a real person at Google has reviewed a site and decided it’s in serious violation of Google’s guidelines. In this scenario, there will be a significant loss of rankings and traffic, and the site will probably be removed from Google’s index.

If a site is hit by a manual action there will be an alert message in Search Console. The site will need to address the cause of the manual action and then submit a reconsideration request to Google. Google will then review the site again and decide whether the problem that caused the manual action has been resolved. In which case the penalty will be removed.