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We’re now 10 months into the case study site. Up until now, everything had mostly been going according to plan, but that’s about to change as we head into September.
As most of you already know, Google released the Helpful Content update in late August, and unfortunately, this site was hit hard. I’ll jump into that in a bit, but first, let’s take a look at the numbers for August.
For August, we published another 26 posts:
We also finished cluster #10, which was a big one, and started cluster #11.
In you’re currently taking our course where this case study site is revealed, cluster #11 is the one used in the keyword research videos and the first competition analysis video. At the time of this writing, all of those posts have been published and internally linked, so feel free to check them out to see what we did with them.
Our traffic in August was up another 35%, bringing us to about 20,000 pageviews.
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Here’s a screenshot from Search Console:
And here’s one from Google Analytics:
Helpful Content Update Impact
When Google first announced their Helpful Content update, I could tell it was going to be a big deal. Not only did they pre-announce the update, but they literally gave us a list of things they want to see on our sites.
As we read through their list of questions to ask yourself about your site, a few things became clear:
- They want to cut down on AI content
- They want to see sites that “stay in their lane” (basically having a topical focus on your site)
- They want articles to be free of fluff
- They want to see first-hand knowledge
Ben and I discussed these questions and where we thought our sites fell on the spectrum. Since this was expected to be a huge update, we wanted to get an idea of what to expect.
We came to the conclusion that we should be fine overall, but that a couple of our sites (3 and 5) are extremely broad with a lot of random content, and each of our first five sites have plenty of unnecessary fluff in older articles (we’ve improved this over the past year with better writing services and lower word counts).
The site that we thought fit Google’s new guidelines the best was site #6 (this case study site). Afterall, we literally built this site with the goal of creating the best possible resource for visitors.
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We did this by covering topics thoroughly (focused content, no random posts), heavy internal linking, linking to external resources, and limiting fluff by keeping each post on topic with relevant subtopics.
To our surprise, this particular site was hit the hardest by the update, losing about 50% of its traffic, with the decline starting around 8/31.
Here’s what that looks like so far, first in Search Console over the past three months:
And in Analytics, comparing the last 30 days to the previous 30 days:
As far as our other sites go, only one other site took a hit, and that was site #5. The only commonality between sites #5 and #6 are that they are both relatively new and have low authority.
I haven’t researched the drop heavily yet, but there have been two trends that I’ve noticed so far with some of the keywords on the case study site:
- Our highly focused posts are being outranked by posts from high authority sites that cover the topic in 1-2 sentences.
- Forums are taking the #1 spot in some cases.
Shaun Marrs (check out his YouTube channel if you’re not familiar with him) also left a comment saying he’s noticed that “the Google Discussions/Questions And Answers widget has been added to the SERP in 2nd place and is sucking up a ton of traffic.” He stumbled upon our case study site because he has a site in the same niche.
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Like I said, I haven’t looked into this too much yet, so I don’t want to speculate too much as to why this site was hit. However, considering that we built this site with the visitor in mind, I really do wonder how heavily backlinks are being factored as a signal for “helpful content.”
As most of you know, we don’t build backlinks on our sites, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. Backlinks are one of the few things that have been shown to significantly impact rankings, but with low-competition keywords, you can typically rank just fine without them.
And just to give you an idea, our four oldest sites all have domain ratings in the 30s – 40s according to the free ahrefs backlink checker tool. Our case study site is still less than 1. We acquired all those backlinks naturally over time, simply by publishing good quality content targeting mostly low-competition keywords.
Taking a hit from a Google algorithm update is never ideal, especially when you feel like your site shouldn’t have been impacted in the first place.
With this case study site, I think it’s only a matter of time (and maybe backlinks) before things turn around and get back on track. We’ve built this site with the visitor in mind, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t perform well long term.
While we haven’t taken the time to analyze the impact of the update too heavily yet, I don’t anticipate making any changes to our gameplan. We are already doing everything we believe we should be doing to produce a helpful site for our visitors.
What will be interesting to see is whether our growth stagnates after this update or if it continues to climb like it had been. As long as it keeps moving in the right direction, we should be back to where we were within a few months.
This update was a little on the long side, so I’ll leave it at that. Keep an eye out for another update in about a month.