Is SEO Dead? Adapting to Google’s 2024 Algorithm Updates

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a necessary and inevitable part of doing business and creating content online, but with Google’s latest algorithm updates, winning on search has become harder than ever before. 

Companies are scrambling to keep their traffic numbers from plummeting by leaning into a quality-obsessed, website-centric approach to content. 

Since March, Google has released the helpful content algorithm update, they’ve started punishing third-party piggybacking, and they’re making AI-generated answers, or overviews, visible to the public. Gartner predicts these changes could result in a 25% decrease in search traffic across the web.

This is scary, but it’s manageable. Let’s take a deeper look.

What is Google’s helpful content update? 

In March 2024, Google rolled out the helpful content algorithm update, aimed at cleaning up search results. The algorithm now de-ranks and de-indexes low-quality websites that provide a shoddy user experience or post what Google considers worthless information. 

These are mainly low-quality sites that manipulate search results to gain top placement but don’t provide any real value to users. Google plans to slash these sites by up to 40%. Their announcement in April 2024 claims that following this update, search users will “now see 45% less low-quality, unoriginal content in search results.”

The helpful content update has swept up entire networks of AI spam sites along with some link-building agencies. They’ve either seen a dip in search traffic and rankings or have been removed from search results altogether. And Google’s hammer has dropped quickly, with no warning—today you’re in; tomorrow you might not be. 

What is Google’s site reputation abuse policy?

In May, Google also announced that they were beginning to manually de-rank and de-index sites that violate their site reputation abuse policy. This policy targets websites that host low-quality content created by third parties with little oversight—a strategy meant to take advantage of the higher-ranking possibilities those third-party sites offer. 

Major names like CNN, USA Today, Fortune, and the LA Times have seen their coupon directories stripped from SERPs as a result. However, Google isn’t touching native ads or advertorials with this policy.

What are Google’s AI overviews?

Also in May, Google announced that they were beginning to expand their use of AI-generated answers to a broader public audience through the main search interface. 

In May 2023, Google began testing this feature, called the Search Generative Experience (SGE), which provides AI-generated multi-paragraph answers or “overviews” to search queries. Google reports that SGE is meant to tackle more complex questions that would benefit from synthesizing information from various sources, aiming to deliver more accurate and helpful responses than typical search results.

However, the technology isn’t flawless. Issues like overly lengthy responses, irrelevance, or inaccuracies (hallucinations) in content have been noted. There’s also the obvious worry that SGE’s AI overviews will sideline human-written content on websites, endangering the livelihoods of countless content creators and businesses. 

Google’s AI overviews often rephrase copy from original sources, linking back occasionally, sometimes merely repeating the content verbatim. This threatens to reduce direct traffic to websites drastically, with Gartner predicting that search traffic to websites might drop by 25% by 2026.

With all of these recent updates, Google’s aim is to clean up search results and make sure that when we search for something, we get high-quality, relevant results on performant websites, without the clutter of misleading or manipulative content. 

It’s a worthy cause, but the effects so far have been alarming for everyone. 

Sites across the web are feeling the consequences

It’s not just AI spam sites that are taking the hit from Google’s updates. Even well-established, well-maintained sites are seeing traffic declines. 

To learn more, we sat down with a group of WordPress VIP’s largest media and publishing clients to trade experiences and advice. Here’s what we found: 

Nearly everyone is struggling to maintain traffic, and they’re finding that tactics that used to increase traffic no longer do. Publishing more content used to reliably bring in more search traffic, but over the past few years, and especially in recent months, that correlation has broken down. 

Only a handful of VIP’s top media clients have seen small improvements in traffic since the updates. The majority have experienced significant dips.

The average breakdown of traffic sources has also shifted. Social media was once a huge driver of traffic for many of these sites, but not anymore. At this point, most no longer regard social platforms as trustworthy partners. 

Google Discover is in some ways replacing the type of traffic that used to come from social, and stories with strong emotional pull tend to perform well there. There’s relatively more confidence in Google, and cautious optimism that the algorithm will ultimately reward those who consistently publish high-quality content and maintain a performant website. 

As for the effects of Google’s AI overviews, our clients reported that some of their content that’s been scraped for answers doesn’t even show up in the resulting SERPs. There are concerns that companies will need to rely more heavily on paid advertising to maintain visibility in search results.

What can we do to adapt to Google’s algorithm updates?

This isn’t just a technical problem or a content strategy problem. It’s all-encompassing: you adapt by taking an integrated approach across code, content, and distribution.

You need to develop a content strategy that focuses on quality. And you need to improve your website experience and performance, with an emphasis on collecting first-party data. 

Quality obsession: focusing content strategy 

Google’s helpful content update rewards content quality over sheer volume. This update has added ‘Experience’ to the existing pillars of ‘Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness,’ now known as E-E-A-T. 

To adapt to these requirements, you need to refine your content strategy, focus on delivering value, and collect first-party data to optimize for quality traffic.

Align your strategy around the core topics you have expertise in and optimize for engagement and conversion. Avoid broadening your spectrum to non-core topics that dilute your focus and expertise for the sake of volume. Laser-focus your content strategy to remain competitive in your niche.

Update and prune obsolete content and keep your evergreen content fresh. Google’s algorithm now favors up-to-date, relevant content that offers value. This means you need to continuously audit your existing content library to enhance or remove underperforming pieces and optimize consistent high-performers. analytics provides out-of-the-box solutions to make these tasks easy. 

The bottom listings report shows you which pieces of content are performing the worst, so you can quickly prioritize your updating and pruning efforts. And the evergreen report automatically identifies evergreen content so you can keep an eye on what needs to be refreshed.

You need a content analytics tool to help you understand not only what content is working, but also what content is not working. This way you can proactively manage content performance, spot trends early, and pivot to what’s working in the wake of Google’s updates.

Use analytics to differentiate traffic sources as well, like Google Search and Google Discover, to better understand where you’re getting the most traction.

And don’t forget to benchmark your success in adapting to the algorithm changes. Use content analytics to keep tabs on the impact of your strategy refinements, and allocate your resources appropriately.

Three quick ways to survive the algorithm update with

  1. Set up a weekly bottom listings report for search traffic. Review your low-performing content and optimize or prune accordingly.
  2. Set a monthly or quarterly search traffic goal. Pin it to your Overview screen to easily see how you’re performing against the goal you set.
  3. Review your top 50 tags for search traffic in the past 12 months. Include smart tags to see what niche topics we identified in your content archive. If you see a pattern, create a tag group to track how those topics perform over time.

Website-centricity: reprioritizing the homepage

The post-platform world is here. The days of gaming algorithms are over. The internet is looking like it did in 2010, where websites, not search, not social, not platforms, are what matter most.

With Google’s recent updates, winning on the SERPs hinges more than ever on the performance of your site and the quality of the experiences you deliver. Now more than ever, your site is your brand, and your success comes from an audience that trusts what you have to say.

Quick-fix technical audits aren’t enough. You need to address this in a comprehensive manner with a CMS built for agility, scale, and performance.

​​With WordPress VIP, technical fixes and performance improvements are the easy part of adapting to platform changes. Own your code and quickly build compelling experiences for your customers. WordPress is open-source, flexible, and easy to manage, so your teams can be more efficient and build resilience against platform shifts.

VIP is built on an enterprise-grade architecture that’s designed to deliver unparalleled performance and load times, even on your highest-traffic days. Our global content delivery network (CDN), with edge-caching world-wide, delivers the fastest time to first byte (TTBF) in the market. And our infrastructure is built, maintained, and enhanced by the most knowledgeable core contributors to WordPress.

With VIP you’re never in it alone. Get 24/7 support and assistance from some of the foremost experts in WordPress with VIP Professional Services. We’ll work with you to find the root causes of site performance issues and execute a plan to address them. We’ll also support your new experience build with expert research and recommendations to solve your complex integration, implementation, and optimization challenges. 

WordPress VIP’s platform enables you to publish better content, faster, and offers the scaled performance you need to consistently publish high-quality content that drives traffic. 

With the volatility of Google and third-party platforms in general, it’s more important than ever to adopt a quality-obsessed, website-centric approach to your content strategy. You’ll never be able to control the platforms. What you can control is how you show up for your audience. 


Andrew Butler, Content Strategist, WordPress VIP

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