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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.

If you’re unfamiliar with this case study, be sure to check out the full playlist over on YouTube or the previous posts over on the blog.

Posts Published

For August, we published another 26 posts:

Site #6 Posts per Month
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Topic Clusters

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.

Site #6 Posts per Topic
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Traffic

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:

Site #6 Search Console Lifetime
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And here’s one from Google Analytics:

Site #6 Analytics Lifetime through August 2022
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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:

  1. They want to cut down on AI content
  2. They want to see sites that “stay in their lane” (basically having a topical focus on your site)
  3. They want articles to be free of fluff
  4. 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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Passion Posts

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:

Site #6 Search Console Last 3 Months
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And in Analytics, comparing the last 30 days to the previous 30 days:

Site #6 Analytics Last 30 Days Comparison
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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:

  1. Our highly focused posts are being outranked by posts from high authority sites that cover the topic in 1-2 sentences.
  2. 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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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    After spending several years struggling to find a reliable way to make money online, I finally developed a simple system that produces large and consistent results. My small team and I are now generating life-changing income for all of us by building simple niche websites using the basic steps covered on Passive Income Unlocked.

    8 Comments

    1. I love your YT channel and your whole overall approach to teaching us. You guys are very inspiring and are hands down my new favorite blog channel for learning how to succeed at blogging. Please don’t ever stop with these helpful articles and YT videos. You guys are absolutely killin it!

      • Thanks, we really appreciate the kind words. Great to hear that you’re finding all the content helpful!

    2. Hello Jeff. I just notice that one of your sites mybackyardlife is showing bread crumbs on the upper portion of the featured image on each post. How do you add those bread crumbs on those area?

      • Hey Max. The breadcrumb that you’re seeing is generated by the Yoast SEO plugin. If you have it installed, it’s under Yoast SEO > Search Appearance > Breadcrumbs tab. From there, we just have a simple checkbox to enable or disable it within our theme, which is Mediavine Trellis on that site.

    3. Hi Jeff, just thought I’d give you some feedback on how the Helpful Content Update affected a friend of mine. He uses the same business model as you, ie going after low competition questions-based keywords and monetizing his site via display ads. In fact it was him that turned me on to this as a possible business model about six months ago, via which I found your site and YouTube channel.

      He has fives sites built using this technique:

      Sites 1 and 2: Are about 4 to 5 years old and get around 800,000 page views a month between them.
      Site 3: Is his passionate site and is two years old and gets around 150,000 page views a month.
      Sites 4 and 5: He has built in the past year and both are still pretty low in traffic (around 20,000 page views a month).

      Anyway he has built them all using the same technique, and four of them have not been affected at all by the Helpful Content Update. One has been drastically affected and lost about 70% of its traffic.

      It was this third site, his passion site that he has qualifications in and has the most knowledge about, it has dropped from around 150,000 views a month to 50,000 views a month.

      I think he is going through and trying to work out why this site has been affected and the others haven’t when he has built them all the same way, but sometimes you just never know with Google updates…

      Anyway, keep up the good work, love the website and the YouTube channel, it is a goldmine of information, thank you.

      • Hey Steve, thanks for sharing your story about your friend’s site. It sounds almost identical to our story.

        These updates really don’t make sense sometimes. Just like with your friend’s passion site, in many ways, I feel that our case study site is the strongest in our portfolio, yet it was the one that was hit the hardest.

        Up until about a year ago, we really hadn’t been hit by any updates across all of our sites. Within that time, I think we’ve had four sites drop with an update. On a positive note, three of those sites saw significant gains with the September core update.

        It’s hard to say what Google’s doing with these updates, but I do think there’s a lot of testing going on that can potentially lead to changes that don’t work as intended, which end up being reverted with a future update.

        Hopefully, your friend isn’t taking the drop too hard. It’s very possible that his site will bounce back with the next core update like a few of ours have with the latest core update. In our case, I don’t think we’ll be making any adjustments to our approach with this case study site, and I expect to see it rebound at some point in the future.

        Thanks again for sharing!

        • I think that is the key, to trust your methods as they obviously work. Sometimes you can suffer from analysis paralysis I guess, when you think what have I done differently on this one site for it to be penalised by Google when all the others haven’t?!

          I am sure your site will rebound. Good luck and thanks for the valuable content.

          • You nailed it. If you believe in the process, you have to stick with it, while also being open to change as Google changes their algorithm.

            Thanks, and the best of luck to you as well.

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