What Marketers Should Know About Google's March Core Update

What your team should be aware of (and do) given Google's expected 40% reduction in low quality content appearing in search..

Published on Mar 18, 2024

Earlier this month Google announced its annual March core update, setting the SEO and content marketing communities ablaze. While the March update's impact is always pretty substantial, this year's will bring about crucial changes to the Google algorithm, adding more volatility to an already volatile SERP.

As is usually the case, the really big updates tend to point toward organic traffic patterns changing. And, as is usually the case, this doesn’t mean that SEO is dead or that you should panic and axe your efforts. It means you should adapt to the new wave and make sure your strategies align with the search giant’s updates.

We want to help marketers adapt, so we put together a series of helpful tips to help your team adjust to the changes. Read on for some advice from the pros (and even an AI prompt or two that can save your impacted rankings).

The basics of Google's updates

Google often refines its core ranking systems to better understand if webpages are unhelpful, offer a poor user experience, or are seemingly created more for search engines rather than users. The search giant is also updating their spam policies to address new and evolving abusive practices, which lead to unoriginal, low-quality content appearing in SERP.

The focus: high-quality, original content

The core idea of these updates is to curtail the amount of low-quality content on search engines and direct more traffic toward helpful and high-quality sites. Marketers should take note as Google expects these updates, combined with previous efforts, to reduce unoriginal, low-quality content in search results by an astonishing 40%.

Google is also making moves to combat manipulative behaviors. The use of automation to produce low-quality or unoriginal content at scale will now face stronger policies. Additionally, third-party content produced mainly for ranking purposes without close oversight of a website owner will now be considered spam. Even expired domains purchased and repurposed to boost search ranking of mediocre content will now be branded as spam.

AI content won’t be penalized so long as it’s helpful 

The big takeaway for marketers is clear: High-quality, original content that provides value to users is key. As Google continues to prioritize user experience, marketers must align their tactics accordingly. Websites that consistently deliver high-quality, user-centric content will be rewarded with better rankings on Google. This essential fact will remain true whether or not AI helps produce content or not. 

“Much like previous updates, AI isn't being targeted specifically, but Google is punishing low-quality content across the board,” said Chris Tweten, CMO of SEO agency SpacebarCollective. “More specifically, low-quality spam content created solely for monetizing search traffic seems to be hit the hardest.”

Google has actually been offering guidance on the validity of AI-assisted content for a while now — well before this recent announcement. Check out this statement on Google’s Search Central Blog from February 2023.

“However content is produced, those seeking success in Google Search should be looking to produce original, high-quality, people-first content demonstrating qualities E-E-A-T [expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness],” read the Google Search Central Blog. “Evaluating your content in this way, whether you're using AI-generated content or not, will help you stay on course with what our systems seek to reward.”

[.blog-window]Google will not penalize AI-assisted or AI-generated content so long as it’s helpful, engaging, and high-quality.[.blog-window]

Garrett Sussman is the demand generation manager at digital marketing agency iPullRank, which specializes in enterprise SEO. Following these latest SEO updates, he offered some candid insight. 

“Google's main concern is helpful content,” said Sussman. “It hasn’t indicated that using generative AI is the problem. It's the value of the published content that matters, regardless of how it's constructed. Unhelpful AI content that's generated without human editing is problematic. Some of the folks who publish raw gen AI content at scale give the rest of us a bad name.”

In a recent webinar, Jasper’s VP of Marketing Meghan Keaney Anderson reinforced that idea and also emphasized the importance of keeping humans in the editing loop.

“They [Google devs] hate content that is designed to trick search engines and doesn't really serve the end reader or customer,” said Anderson. “So use AI, but use it in combination with an editor. Use it with a creator who has a point of view, who has done research, who has added substance to that [content]. Use AI as an accelerant. Don't use AI to automate a bunch of content that you publish without checking.” ‍

Ultimately, Google's latest announcement marks a clear doubling down on the continued importance of investing in content that is both valuable to readers and unique. Now more than ever, marketers who fail to adapt and who publish vapid and formulaic SEO content run the risk of seeing their search rankings and web traffic drop significantly. The focus moving forward should be on creating content that is helpful, engaging, and high-quality.

What marketers should do following Google’s latest updates 

Now that you’re aware of Google’s adjustments to search, we put together a few tactics you and your team should consider as next steps. We believe these tactics will allow your team to not only adjust to the SERP updates but capitalize on them.

Accept that the goalposts have moved

SEO is at an inflection point where quality is seemingly being prioritized like never before. This is not a bad thing. However, it means that SEO is less paint-by-numbers than it once was. Now companies and marketers have to figure out the best way to make more of the helpful content that engages audiences, which engages Google’s algorithms in return. 

Combining elements like Google’s 40% reduction in spam/unhelpful content with other search features like Search Generative Experience (SGE) and Perspectives means the organic traffic patterns we’re all used to may never be the same. In fact, Gartner estimates that by 2028, certain industries will see a roughly 50% decline in organic traffic. This is of course speculation and impossible to know right now. However, it does point to the expectation that tides will change, and get lower, in overall organic traffic. Marketers have to adjust and accept the ebb of this flow. 

One of the first things marketers can do is spread the word about these changing tides because information about big changes like these shouldn’t be siloed. 

“Educate your company on what's happening here,” said Anderson. “Get them focused on: What's the most important thing that we can do through SEO now? What are some of the ways that we need to diversify our marketing strategies to compensate for some of the changes that we've seen in SEO?”

Basha Coleman, Hubspot’s principal marketing manager of blog audience development, also said that it’s important for marketers to recognize that this is uncharted territory.

“Marketers will need to think very experimentally because you're starting from net zero,“ said Coleman. “AI has never happened before. These changes have never happened before. You can't look for industry standards because there aren’t any yet. You have to make one for your business or your brand.”

[.blog-window]Google’s latest update is expected to reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40%.[.blog-window]

Get back to the basics

In our analysis of how SEO is changing and how enterprise marketers can protect their organic search traffic, we’ve heard many experts say, “Get back to the fundamentals.” 

This can mean a few different things depending on who you ask. For Sussman at iPullRank, it means: “Create helpful and authentic content. Focus on topics in your wheelhouse. Build out your topical authority. Infuse your content with your brand's (or your own) experience and expertise. Nurture the signals that make your brand trustworthy.

“In other words, build content that embraces E-E-A-T [Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines of experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness]. If you want to understand what matters to Google, read and obsess over the Quality Rater Guidelines as your Northstar for quality content that serves the searcher. Don't use any tactics that are manipulative or sketchy. Getting all of the basics right is simple, but not easy.”

For Coleman at Hubspot, going back to the basics means “literally the textbook basics of what marketing is: generating demand, driving conversions, and driving value to the business with a goal. 

“Take SEO and the blog out of your mind and think, ‘If my goal is to sell this product, how do I work backward from that?’ I guarantee you'll find new ideas and new opportunities that you've probably ignored because you're so focused on doing the things that you've gotten really good at. From there you can niche back down if you want to,” she said.

SEO isn’t your only marketing channel: demand creation over capture

As we’ve noted, organic traffic from SEO likely won’t offer returns as high as what we’re used to. This is tied to a theory Zapier CMO Kieran Flanagan raised in a recent post on our blog: that the era of hyper-analytics-focused demand capture is under pressure from the changes to the SERP page. So it’s time to focus more on demand creation

“Swing back to demand creation: social media content, YouTube videos, podcasts, and sources like that,” said Flanagan. “We likely need to go back to when positioning won and dominated markets. That’s why we have shows about (M)ad men because they were the market creators.”The shift in organic traffic theory creates opportunities to invest in non-organic sources to a greater degree. According to Coleman, this is an important best practice to keep traffic sources diverse. 

“Non-organic is going to be really important,” said Coleman. “A lot of folks think SEO is going to solve all their problems, or at least they thought that in the past, and it's been true to a certain extent. But you don't want to be beholden to one traffic source. So having different channels and diversifying your traffic sources is going to be really big.”

Flanagan also predicts that influencers will play a key role in this renewed non-organic landscape. Marketing teams should invest in influencers’ reach and increasing value in search results (via Google Perspectives). 

“Lean into things that are harder to measure, like influencer marketing and collaborating with creators,” said Flanagan. “I think that over time, creators will become a much bigger part of nearly all markets…They are just better at creating content. And a lot of platforms are much more motivated to elevate creators over brands.”

Interested in learning enterprise strategies for adopting AI? Check out our CMO's Guide to Responsible & Results-Driven AI

“Audit. Analyze. Rebuild your content strategy. Execute.” 

Sussman said that Google’s update will, in a way, hold a mirror to companies’ SEO efforts up to this point. He recommends that everyone assess where their content stands once the dust of the updates settles, then get back to work with a renewed game plan.

“Audit. Analyze. Rebuild your content strategy. Execute,” said Sussman. “If your site was classified as 'unhelpful' by the Helpful Content System, which has been integrated into the core algorithm as of this update, you'll need to work twice as hard to get back in Google's good graces. 

“The harsh reality: These updates are your grade for all of your past work and a syllabus for next year's test. There's rarely an immediate fix that can restore all of your traffic. The best thing you can do is assess where you lost traffic, analyze who won that traffic, and put together a plan to create better content that serves the intent of your targeted keywords.”

Tweten offered another way to consider the same idea.

“The March Core Update seems to use sitewide classifiers, so recouping traffic lost to content quality issues will require fixing sitewide issues,” Tweten said. “Wait until the update is fully rolled out before making major changes, but once it's complete consider pruning low-quality content or doing a content refresh to meet a higher bar for editorial standards.”

Use these AI prompts with Jasper to help with your renewed SEO efforts

Jasper solutions engineer Liz Betson was kind enough to offer two prompts — one to get SEO advice on our content based on Google's Quality Rater Guidelines and another performing a content gap analysis — meant to help marketers get better SEO-driven content from Jasper based on what's ranking in the SERPs. 

There are a handful of ways to use these prompts: 

  • Jasper Chat: Upload a copy of Google’s QRG doc to your Jasper Knowledge Base. Upload the articles you want to analyze to your Jasper Knowledge Base as well. Open a Jasper Chat window. Apply both the QRG doc and your target articles to the chat from the Knowledge Base. Lastly, copy/paste your chosen prompt into the chat (be sure to adjust your target keywords for the SEO rank breakdown prompt). Generate the report.
  • Custom template: Create a custom template where either prompt below is the foundation of the template. Allow the template to tap into your Knowledge Base library. Add both the QRG and the articles you want to analyze. If applicable, create another custom field to add your target keywords. Generate the report. 

Jasper prompt: Analyze competitor articles based on target keyword and Google's Quality Rater Guidelines

Based strictly on the guidelines or principles outlined in Google’s QRG, analyze these articles based on keywords [“Top SEO Agency”] and compare them in terms of the depth and detail of the content, the demonstration of expertise and credibility, and how well they fulfill the user's intent. Provide a list of specific action points for improvements that could potentially enhance the ranking of my article strictly based on areas where you verified through the text that the other articles are performing better. Please exclude any generic SEO advice. I only want action points based on where one article is outperforming the other.

Jasper prompt: Content gap analysis

Based strictly on the guidelines or principles outlined in Google’s QRG, create a gap analysis of the articles, noting any missing keywords, and compare them in terms of the depth and detail of the content, the demonstration of expertise and credibility, and how well they fulfill the user's intent. Provide a list of specific action points for improvements that could potentially enhance the ranking of my article strictly based on areas where you verified through the text that the other articles are performing better. Please exclude any generic SEO advice. I only want action points based on where one article is outperforming the other.

A screenshot of Jasper working based on a prompt given regarding SEO assistance.

What impact will generative AI have on SEO?

Yes, but not in the way you might think. As we mentioned, stories built with or by generative AI will not inherently get penalized if behind the piece. However, Google’s overall search experience now has generative AI on its backend with SGE. Answers to queries that may have traditionally appeared in Google snippets, fit with an SEO-driven backlink to a specific site, are now sometimes replaced by generative AI responses that are agnostic of any one SEO story or brand. 

Sussman explores this further. 

“The way SEO may potentially change with generative AI revolves around Google's deployment of the SGE,” he said. “Factual information has become commodified. If anyone can publish a fact, you're not entitled to that search traffic. 

“The future of SEO will revolve around opinions and new information that's unique to your organization. What will be interesting to follow is how conversational search like SGE and Microsoft’s Copilot will transform the way we search to include more natural language in our queries. The longer a search query, the more specific and granular [your marketing content] needs to be.”

Currently, it’s unclear whether it’s possible to directly influence what Google’s AI surfaces in the SGE. The best bet is to test the system by asking it questions that your users/audience members may ask (e.g. questions about your brand, your industry, their pain points) and analyzing the results. Then you can work to build content that fills those gaps. Then, hopefully, the SGE recognizes your value and offers your brand as a source, boosting your brand exposure. Zapier’s CMO Kieran Flanagan said these efforts may not increase quantifiable website traffic, but they will work toward generating demand over demand capture.

[.blog-quote]“Future-proof your site against upcoming algorithm updates by studying the first page of the SERP for your target keywords and making sure your content satisfies search intent. So long as you're giving readers what they're looking for, you should be in the clear.” — Chris Tweten, CMO of SEO agency SpacebarCollective[.blog-quote]

Google’s updates make one thing clear: SEO and the digital marketing landscapes we're used to are evolving quickly in this AI age. New challenges are unavoidable but they also create new opportunities for innovation and reaching audiences in more meaningful, impactful ways. Google wants all the content in its SERP to offer supreme value to users. The companies with winning marketing efforts and SEO tactics will be the ones making that happen.

Meet The Author:

Alton Zenon III

Alton Zenon III

Jasper Content Marketing Manager
Marketing Strategy

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