Home » The Google March 2024 Core Update & Necessity of Helpful Content

The Google March 2024 Core Update & Necessity of Helpful Content

Google began rolling out a core update in March 2024 that seemed to affect sites using AI-generated content. Is AI content now a threat to your SEO? Not exactly – it’s junk content you need to be wary of. Here’s what business owners need to know about this algorithm update & how to avoid huge penalties from Google.

You may have heard about Google’s core algorithm update released in March (2024). In the aftermath of the update, sites with high-quality content experienced rankings growth, while sites with lower-quality content faced declines. Websites filled with unhelpful AI-generated content received the most severe declines or stopped appearing in search results altogether.

Many now speculate that AI-generated content is a detriment to SEO, but that’s not the main conclusion to draw from the update. In this article, I provide an overview of the March 2024 update, how it impacts search results, what this means for the future of AI content, and how business owners can improve their search rankings by providing users with helpful content that meets Google’s quality standards.

What is the Google March 2024 Core Update?

Google’s March 2024 update aims to improve user experience by significantly reducing the appearance of unhelpful content in search results. Upon completion of the rollout, Google estimates that it will have removed up to 40% of low-quality websites that fail to meet quality standards or provide any value to users. 

The March 2024 update contains algorithm revisions, stricter spam policies and a modified ranking system that are designed to reward helpful content and penalize irrelevant or unoriginal content. Helpfulness is now determined on the page level using a combination of Google’s core systems. This marks a shift away from sitewide assessments that have been standard since August 2022.

What happened because of the March 2024 Core Update?

Search results are even more likely to elevate helpful content and less likely to display low-quality, spam or filler websites. By nature, the parameters set forth by the March update led to widespread removal of machine-generated content, especially pages that were created for the sole purpose of matching keywords. 

Here are the specific consequences of the update:  

Did the March 2024 Core Update target AI-generated content?

Not necessarily. The real target is bad filler content, regardless of whether a machine or a human is responsible. That said, AI-generated content has a hard time meeting many of Google’s quality standards. Chat-GPT or a similar AI tool can quickly generate 1000 words on any given topic, but copying and pasting that output on your website rarely qualifies as helpful. 

Robots inherently struggle to achieve a Google-approved level of experience, expertise, authority and trustworthiness (EEAT) no matter the topic. Human-generated content provides a point of view and can effectively authenticate an author’s EEAT. This is crucial in order to demonstrate helpfulness.

What is “helpful content”?

Google released a Self-Assessment Guide to help website owners evaluate the quality and helpfulness of their content. However, this guide does not pinpoint exact ranking factors. Analyzing sites that earn the top organic search rankings can help fill in the blanks and reveal Google’s parameters for determining content value. 

Content that reliably earns high rankings includes many of the same user-friendly components. In other words, the proof is in the pudding. 

From what I have observed through competitive research and client SEO campaigns, here are examples of elements that qualify as “helpful”: 

  • Bullet points and/or numbered lists
  • Tables
  • Infographics
  • Charts depicting data
  • Interactive tools
  • Directly asking and then answering questions
  • Breaking content into sections
  • Using proper heading and subheading tags (H1, H2, H3) 
  • External linking to relevant, authoritative resources
  • Videos and/or images that enhance comprehension
  • FAQs

Was it more helpful to scan that bulleted list than to read a paragraph and pull out the highlights yourself? Google thinks so.

What does helpful content look like?

Helpful content satisfies the user’s query in a format that is easy to comprehend. The copy provides relevant and thorough information to answer the user’s question. The layout, colors, and visual aids work together to make the information more accessible. Helpful content is not a one-size-fits-all scenario, so the actual design choices should vary depending on the topic, type of query, and visitor avatar. 

This guide presents complex information, but the user can easily grasp the concepts because of well-crafted content and formatting. As a result, the page currently ranks in the top 10 for 6 different organic terms with a combined search volume of 500 searches/month. These rankings were achieved within a few months of the article’s publishing date and continue to climb. 

  • Here are the key elements that help this page earn high rankings:  
  • Opening paragraph establishes expertise and experience as an HVAC provider
  • Bold infographic simplifies the information into numbered and bulleted lists
  • Content is organized into short, easy-to-read segments
  • Visually dominant headlines tell the user exactly what each segment talks about
  • Brightly colored external links connect to high-authority resources

What I appreciate most about this guide is that it strikes the right balance between providing high-value to the user and achieving high rankings with Google. It’s important to keep your content development strategy focused on the user and to resist the temptation of throwing the whole kitchen sink of helpful elements at every page you build.  

How to Develop a “Helpful Content” Strategy

  1. Look at the competition.

Identify opportunities for growth and establish realistic goals for your content strategy by examining competitor websites. Spend some time typing your priority keywords into Google and study the pages that rank in the top five. What helpful elements do they utilize? How do these pages differ from yours?  

  • Example: Client A sells rugs and wants to target the keyword: “what size rug for king bed”. First, I would type that query into Google and analyze the search results. Now, let’s compare and contrast the #1 page with the #8 page to determine this keyword’s potential. 

#1 Organic Result | Spruce

The #1 ranked page sets a high bar. The infographic answers the query immediately in a simple, practical way that helps the user decide what type of rug to choose. The entire page features a nice mix of user-friendly graphics and helpful elements like bullet points and an FAQ section. 

The 8th result has much room for improvement. The content is very text-heavy, the headings don’t segment the content in a meaningful way, and half of the page is dedicated to queen-size beds which provides no value to the user’s query.  

Ultimately, this research tells me that Client A has a strong opportunity to rank in the top 7 for this keyword.  

2. One-up the competition.

The bottom line is that you only need to do better than your competition. Keep this goal in mind while developing your content strategy and optimize your content enough so that it provides more value and more satisfaction to the user than the websites you’re trying to outrank.

3. Be thoughtful about which helpful elements to utilize.

Helpful elements are only helpful when they provide actual value to the user. More is not always more. Flooding a page with infographics or bullet points that don’t serve a purpose is counterproductive and potentially damaging to your brand.

  • Example: Client B is a stylist working on a blog post about how to style open-toed shoes at work. Including images or videos of recommended outfits would help the user visualize the stylist’s advice. On the other hand, including a chart with measurements of women’s shoe sizes would provide no added value. Tables are helpful, but only if the data they contain supports the user’s query in a meaningful way.

4. Plan content for a person, not an algorithm.

Put yourself in the user’s shoes and design a page you’d be glad to find. Strong SEO strategies maintain the human perspective and consider the real-life context of a keyword. Remember that Google’s latest update is focused on separating the helpful content from the trying-to-appear-helpful-just-for-ratings junk.  

Case Studies: Helpful Content with High Search Rankings

Websites that properly execute the “helpful content” best practices I outlined above will benefit from improved search engine rankings. Digital Dynamo helps clients get higher organic search results by purposefully creating helpful content. 

Here are 3 case studies:   

  1. Quantifying the Value of Financial Planning | F5 Financial

  • Organic Position: #2 
  • Helpful Elements: 
    • Clear sections with bold headings
    • Numbered list 
    • External citation to a reputable financial authority 
    • Well-organized table 

The hero element on this page is the table. Tables improve rankings because they signal to the algorithm that users can easily understand the data. 

Each column serves a distinct function and satisfies the reader’s query without forcing them to digest dense paragraphs of financial information. The middle column quantifies the value of a financial planner with actual dollar amounts and then the right side column helps the user visualize those numbers with more subjective, real-world equivalents.

2. How to Do Keyword Research for Small Business | Digital Dynamo

  • Organic Position: #2 
  • Helpful Elements: 
    • Images
    • Jump links
    • Proper headings 
    • External citations
    • Bulleted list and numbered sections
    • Author bio establishes High-EEAT
Person Reading Guide to Small Business Keyword Research

This page doesn’t just tell the visitor how to do keyword research, it shows them. Each instruction is complemented with an image that shows the user exactly what to expect. Jump links allow visitors to create a personalized user experience and external links make it easy for them to take action on the advice.

3. Medical Malpractice Payouts by State | MEDPLI

  • Organic Position: #5 | 600 searches per month
  • Helpful Elements:  
    • Interactive tool
    • Data displayed as a table and bar charts
    • High-EEAT external link

This page ranks so well because the interactive tool provides incredible value to users. Digital Dynamo custom-built this tool using data from the National Practitioner Data Bank. Users select a state and year and then instantly receive the data formatted into a simple table and bar charts.

Conclusion

The best way to show Google that your site is helpful and worthy of a high ranking is to forget about how the algorithm works and focus on your users. Try to empathize with what they are hoping to find when they hit that search button. 

Present them with information and visuals that are relevant and easy to understand. Your brand will benefit from the extra effort and satisfying the user is exactly what Google wants to see. 

Does your business need SEO, or help developing a content strategy? If you’d like to engage with our professional SEO content creators, please contact Digital Dynamo for a free consultation.