Zach Jackson

Initially planned as a modest 10-day rollout, Google’s March 2024 core algorithm update took a full 45 days to complete  which gives you an idea of just how significant it really was, is, and as we discuss in this article… will be.

Spanning March 5th to April 19th, not only was it the largest Google update we’ve seen; it was one of the longest-running updates in the company’s history.

Here, we explain the implications of Google’s March 2024 core algorithm update, how it is already shaping the future of SEO, and how you can prepare for what’s to come.

A crash course in Google's March 2024 core algorithm update

The latest Google algorithm update focused on removing content deemed a deliberate violation of updated spam policies from Google’s index and, by extension, their SERPs. Most of the deindexed sites featured significant amounts of AI-generated content. However, Google stated that any content - AI produced or not - designed to manipulate their ranking systems would be penalised.

While remaining indexed  unhelpful, low quality, unoriginal, and poor user experience sites and pages were also hit by the update, swiftly dropping through the ranks and losing visibility.

Thousands of websites lost nearly all organic traffic over the course of a few days, adding weight to Google’s claim that, alongside previous efforts, the update would reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40%.’

As it turns out, Google underestimated the update, remarking after the fact that the process has removed as much as 45% of low value content from their SERPs.

Google's next moves

Google has been downplaying the importance of what they’re now simply referring to as 'the spam update'. Yet, it appears to be the beginning of something significant, portending additional, more advanced updates in the not-too-distant future.

Changes to Google’s signals and systems we’ve been observing since the completion of the update suggest they’re very nearly primed to support full generative search, thus explaining Google's recent emphasis on three top line search behaviours: 

  • Voice search
  • Map search
  • Longer tail search queries

These behaviours signify a shift towards more conversational queries and a steady increase in mobile traffic. This aligns with the trajectory towards generative search, where search engines not only understand complex queries but also provide contextually relevant, conversational responses.

Inevitably, when Google SGE gets a full release, organic traffic to websites will drop, as many users will be catered for entirely by AI at SERP level, thereby introducing monetisation opportunities for Google. 

We can already see this trend unfolding: In 2023, an estimated 20% of all web browsing sessions were completely screenless, meaning users either didn’t see or didn’t interact with traditional SERPs results.

… In a nutshell, Google is preparing for the impact of wide-scale conversational search behaviours  and so should you.

What does this mean for SEO?

It’s important to note that well-structured and implemented digital strategies using current SEO techniques are still performing well in the wake of Google’s March update.

However, through full integration of generative AI search, Google is preparing to leverage the uptick in voice and map search to transform its search engine from portal to platform, which will cause a gradual reshuffle of SEO priorities.

For example, instead of vying solely for visibility on traditional results pages, there’ll be a push towards SEO for Google SGE and other generative search assistants, which is where, eventually, we see the majority of users engaging with information.

This has several implications for the future of SEO.

Mobile optimisation will be at the forefront of effective strategy

Although voice and map searches can be carried out on desktop, they’re considered primarily mobile search behaviours  and mobile devices are generating more traffic than ever.

As of 2024, 60.67% of all web traffic is attributable to mobile, an increase of 6.67% since Q4 of 2023. This figure is predicted to rise beyond the 70% threshold by 2025.

The surge in mobile traffic is closely linked to the rise in voice-guided searches, which are carried out by 56% of mobile users in 2024 compared with 27% in 2020. This supports research that found global voice-based shopping expenditure increased by well over 400% between 2022 and 2023. 

What’s more, mobile map searches have also shown remarkable growth, surpassing 500 million per month.

As for user base, voice search is popular among a variety of demographics. However, statistics show that it’s most popular among younger people. This implies that voice search will become more prevalent over time as new generations join the swathes of older mobile phone and smart speaker users.

With these figures in mind, it’s clear that optimising for mobile users needs to be at the forefront of SEO strategy moving forward. By prioritising mobile compatibility, comprehensive device support, and security – as well as website usability in general – you ensure visibility at the source of most organic traffic.

Long tail keywords will be king

Typing is inefficient; it’s why keywords often seem to completely ignore the rules of grammar and the flow of proper discourse. 

For example, you might say to a friend, “Where can I get some good pizza when I come to London?”, but if you were typing your query into a search engine, you’d probably shoot for something along the lines of ‘pizza London’ or ‘best London pizza’.

Talking, on the other hand, is very efficient, even when a speaker is using full sentences. This is why voice search is 3.7% faster than text search and tends to be more natural and conversational. Hypothetically, as this search behaviour grows in popularity, it should invert the search volume status quo, with long tail keywords generating more traffic than head or body keywords.

Consequently, effective SEO in the future will have an increased focus on long tail, conversational, and question-based keywords. At TDMP, we’re already refining our processes to accommodate this new way of working and can acclimate your business to these changes as they come.

Matching content & user intent will be essential

Google has been tuning its systems to understand conversational language. This new system of comprehension will devalue the current system over time, i.e., the use of keywords to signal meaning.

Keywords will still be useful to Google, and thus important to SEO. But with an understanding of conversational nuance, instead of solely using keywords to approximate user intent, Google’s indexing and ranking systems can decipher natural human language and conclusively extract the meaning behind a query. 

In essence, this means that content won’t have to contain a keyword for it to appear for a keyword search. SERPs will be more dynamic, assembling the results that best satisfy the intent at the heart of a search.

The degree to which content matches user intent is steadily becoming one of the most important signifiers of content quality and relevance for Google and SGE. We will be helping clients fully understand and optimise for intent over coming months.

Local SEO will be more important than ever

We have already mentioned the relationship between mobile users, voice search, map search and generative search, but this love square is actually a love pentagon  with the fifth member being local search.

According to Google, search queries with local qualifiers, such as ‘near me’, ‘nearest’, ‘closest’, or ‘[location name]’ have increased significantly. The ‘open near me’ qualifier has shown the most growth of all, with a 400% year-on-year increase.

Meanwhile, local map searches are also spiking, with 86% of consumers using Google Maps to initiate product, service, and location journeys.

Such is the focus on “local” in voice and map search that it is commonly referred to as the fifth search intent. As AI search assistants evolve, we see “local” eclipsing navigational, transactional, informational, and commercial to become the most important intent.

There are two reasons for this:

  1. Upwards of 46% of all searches have a local intent
  2. Studies show that around 75% of local searchers convert. Some even suggest the average could be higher, at around 80%

Local as a means of optimising for generative search

Due to the interconnectedness of these search behaviours and generative search, we see optimising for local audiences as an important aspect of gaining visibility in Google SGE’s AI snapshots. So, if your business has a geographic focus, the potential benefits of optimising for local search will grow as time goes on.

Local SEO is by no means a new discipline; at TDMP, we have always made local SEO a priority for our clients. However, around 56% of companies still don’t optimise for local search, and the negative impact of non-action is going to intensify rapidly.

Local goes global

Local search may not always seem relevant to businesses without brick-and-mortar sites or to national/international outfits, but local searchers still make up a substantial section of your audience, and your website may be naturally more visible to local users.

Not only does this extra exposure help to build brand and product/service awareness; it goes some way in establishing expertise and trust – two of Google’s EEAT signals – which can boost visibility on a broad scale – AI snapshots included.

A renewed emphasis on structured data

With local intent storming the SERPs via voice and map search, structured data, will become helpful in ensuring both human users and Google’s AI systems have access to essential information.

Not just for e-commerce

In the past, proper schema markup was only strictly necessary for sites with complex cataloguing requirements, such as e-commerce websites. However, simple forms of structured data – namely, JSON-LD and Open Graph – are becoming invaluable for boosting exposure in voice search and SGE responses. Here's why:

  1. Although structured data isn’t a direct ranking factor (nor will it become one), it’s an important part of the natural language processing (NLP) voice search and AI systems rely on. As such, a lack of structured data drastically reduces the chances of a website appearing for voice search or in an SGE AI snapshot.
  2. As structured data increases the chances of landing rich snippets (a SERPs feature loved by SGE & voice assistants alike), it can increase visibility in voice search responses and AI snapshots.

Ultimately, this means you’ll need to incorporate more technical SEO into your strategy, as it’s going to have an even bigger impact on visibility than it currently does. Schema markup can be complex, but technical SEO experts such as TDMP can ensure it’s done correctly and that your website reaps the visibility benefits.

Link building will take a different shape

Google’s March 2024 core algorithm update hints at some big changes in the world of link building. Namely, that the ranking power of backlinks will diminish over time to encourage a more organic approach that prioritises natural shares. As such, it’s likely that Google will retire their disavow tool soon  following a similar move by Bing early in Q4 of 2023.

We believe that the further deprecation of backlinks since the March Google update is why the authority scores of websites are no longer as responsive to toxicity levels in SEMRush and other SEO tools.

Quality over quantity

Google now emphasizes the quality and relevance of a handful of links rather than the sheer volume, as indicated in their updated Terms of Service.

The March update also seems to have enhanced the ability of Google’s systems and signals to spot paid guest posting, mass linking from low-quality sites, and spammy anchor text usage. These tactics are now heavily discounted in ranking assessments, with Google resorting to manual actions via Google Search Console for instances of deliberate spam.

The idea is to make the practice of manually seeking out backlinks redundant, thereby forcing website owners to place more emphasis on producing high quality, helpful content that makes Google SGE and Google’s SERPs look good.

The exception to the rule

Local intent signals such as NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) data consistency backlinking will retain potency as trust signals. This implies that strategies focusing on local SEO, such as ensuring consistent business information across directories, will remain valuable in the post-update landscape.

Be ready for the future of SEO with TDMP

Much of what we’ve discussed here today has been alluded to by Google before. But with the March update complete, it appears that the company’s technical proficiencies have finally caught up with their intentions – and real change to digital marketing is on the way.

Those who drag their heels in adopting new ways of working will likely fall behind more nimble competitors , presenting an opportunity for forward-thinking businesses to make significant gains. Prepare for the future of SEO by contacting TDMP today.

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