Recovering From a Google Update [Case Study]

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This is by no means a blog post on how to recover from a Google Update. Sorry if the title made you think so. 

BUT, it is a post where I will outline EVERYTHING I’ve done to one of my websites since getting absolutely clobbered by the May 2022 Google Core Update. 

This site is up 138% in Organic Traffic after the April Google Reviews Update. There is still a LONG way to go, but it is a clear step in the right direction. 

Looking to recover from a Google Update? Read on. This is not an exhaustive list, nor a guarantee of recovery. But, pick and pull some of what I did and apply what you think might help your site. 

I’m also candid about what I did, and what I wanted to do (but didn’t get around to). 

Site History

I started this website in 2017. It is in a hobby niche. I had an interest in the topic, so I dove in. It was the 2nd website I had ever started, so you imagine the myriad of mistakes I made in the beginning. Luckly nothing catastrophic. 

This site has had its ups and downs over the years. About a year in, I discovered that the site was getting Pinterest traffic, and dove into that traffic source. That got me enough monthly traffic to be on Mediavine, which was a huge win for me. 

Pinterest traffic dried up, but at that point I had started to get a good amount of traffic from Organic Search. At its peak, the site was getting over 100k sessions per month. RPMs were very good – $40 average with higher during Q4. 

The site earned off of affiliate sales but not much (sub $1,000). The site also has an email list that approaches 10k subscribers and a YouTube channel with almost 2 million video views.

Google’s May 2022 Update

The May 2022 Google Core Update was a big one, and it hit my site hard. Organic Traffic dropped 68%. I lost all featured snippets.

Pageview sample report of a website from May 2022 - January 2023

Perhaps even worse, according to Ahrefs, I lost 98.7% of my keywords. Yes, you read that right. 

Sometimes a Google Update will knock you down in the rankings. For example, maybe you drop from #1 to #4 for a keyword, and #5 to #13 for another keyword. Those kinds of changes can have HUGE impacts on your traffic, but you still rank for the keywords. 

That was not the case here. The vast majority of my keywords were gone. Not anywhere in the top 100. It was clear that Google did NOT like what I was doing with the site.

How I Recovered From a Google Update

After the dust settled, I started by taking stock of my content. Was it really as bad as Google was saying it was? The answer was no. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot ot improve on! But, the content was valuable, unique, and offered a good perspective. With that in mind, I set out to improve the content, with the aim to show Google what its missing out on!

Here’s what I did:

1. Deleted 200 Articles

Wide by not deep. That was this website.

We have started to review a pretty good number of websites at my agency, and this is one of the most common things we see in sites that get hit by a Google Update. And I was guilty of it on this site. 

You see, topical authority wasn’t a big deal to Google back in 2017 and 2018 when I started this site. I mean, it kind of was. But not like it is now. 

Over the past few years, I could tell that my site was thin in certain topics, and my plan was to build these topics out with new content. I just hadn’t gotten to it yet…

I’m very bullish on deleting content when your site has a topical authority problem. I’ve done it successfully on sites before, and we recommend it a lot on our audits at 201 Creative. Time to follow my own advice. 

I had just about 1,000 articles on this site, and I looked at Analytics to find:

  • Articles that weren’t getting traffic before the Google Update
  • Articles that weren’t getting traffic after the Google Update

Any articles that met BOTH of those criteria were out.

I also took a hard look at the various topical silos I was targeting, and axed several. 

In the end, I deleted around 200 articles, or 20% of the site. It wasn’t that big of a cull, I probably could have gone further. The rest of the content was reasonably on point for the website’s focus. 

2. Updated Internal Links

Now that I had deleted 200 articles, I had internal links pointing to 410 pages. Time to clean those up. 

But, in diving into my internal links, I realized… my SOP for my VA on internal linking was too lax. There were lots of internal links pointing to less than relevant articles. And the internal link anchor text was not good. 

I removed a TON of internal links that I just didn’t think were relevant. I cleaned up the anchor text so that it was really descriptive and NOT repetitive.

If you want an internal link masterclass, I interviewed Cyrus Sheppard on the Niche Pursuits podcast – a must listen to episode on this topic.

3. Embedded YouTube Videos

One of the big patterns to emerge from the May 2022 update was the video. YouTube videos were all over the SERPs. And, I noticed that competitors of mine that had videos embedded in their articles saw positive improvements. 

It made sense. This website is in an industry where video really helps. People love to see how things are done in this industry, and video is the perfect way to show this. 

Now, I had already started a YouTube channel for this website in 2020. But, I was a bit lax on embedding the videos EVERYWHERE they were relevant. 

And, there were a lot of articles that didn’t have video embedded. 

So, I tasked a VA to embed my 84 videos into any relevant articles. For any remaining articles, we went out and found a relevant video on YouTube and embedded that. After this was done, we checked the Google Rich Results test to make sure that the video markup was being recognized.

4. Updated Disavow File

Supposedly Google ignores bad, spammy links. Given that they had just handed me my lunch in the recent update, I wasn’t leaving it up to chance.

Now, I’m not convinced at all that submitting a Disavow file does much of anything. But, I decided it couldn’t hurt to try. I certainly had acquired a lot of less-than-great links over time (completely organically). 

5. Removed Redirected Domain

In 2019, I had purchased several websites in my niche. They totaled several hundred articles on them, most of which were similar topics to articles on my website. 

I 301’ed the majority of the URLs 1-to-1, meaning: 

  • Article on my website:
  • Article on purchased website:
  • 301 →

For the home page of the purchased sites, I 301’ed it to an acquisition page on my website, as outlined here by Mushfiq at The Website Flip. 

There were a handful of articles from the purchased sites that I moved over to my website, and set up 301’s. Many others I just deleted, as they weren’t relevant or high enough in quality.

So, once the May 2022 update hit, I immediately thought about this strategy I had used just a few months prior, and wondered if it had an impact on my decline:

  • I had thoroughly analyzed the domains to look for past issues with spam. While the tools aren’t foolproof, I didn’t find any, and felt confident in my skills to identify them.
  • The content on the purchased websites was not all that great, but I wasn’t using the content. I was 301’ing it to my content.

I never really landed on a solid opinion here. In theory, it should have worked just fine. In practice, maybe my website didn’t have a strong enough backlink profile to handle the influx of new links that were branded elsewhere? Maybe there had been a spammy past that I never found in one of those domains?

Several months after the May 2022 update, I ripped off the redirects. Bye bye to all those backlinks I had acquired!

6. Added E-E-A-T Signals

The whole topic of E-E-A-T (formerly E-A-T) is a tricky one. For this niche in particular, I wasn’t overly concerned about it. It wasn’t YMYL, I had a good base of links, we had social profiles, including a successful YouTube account. 

But, after getting rocked by the Core Update, clearly Google didn’t trust our content. 

It wasn’t until my interview with Kyle Roof on the podcast that I really knew what direction to go. Kyle delivered a step-by-step outline for exactly how to get the important E-E-A-T signals onto your website

Bam, I had my playbook. I immediately got to work: 

  • Distinct and well built About & Author pages
  • NAP info prominently in Footer
  • Detailed Schema on important pages
  • Social Media entities built out

There’s more, but that’s the gist. It was more work than I anticipated, but I only had to do it once! You can see my detailed writeup about how to add this detailed schema to your various important pages. 

7. Updated 30 Articles

Throughout the winter of 2022 / 2023, I would update a few articles per week. I focused on articles that USED to rank really well, but now didn’t. 

I would dive into the article and compare it up against what was ranking right now. What topics were my articles missing?

I would add tables and charts, break up paragraphs to make them shorter, add bullet points and improve readability. 

If I didn’t have any, I’d add an FAQ section to the bottom. Of course, I focused on including unique imagery. 

Once done, I’d add a few internal links to the update article with Link Whisper

8. Published 25 Articles

Even after deleting 20% of the website’s content, I still felt like there were some remaining topical silos that were “thin.” I needed to add more content to round them out and truly feel like I was being the authority on the topic.

I love using Low Fruits for this kind of keyword research. You can quickly put a topic into the software, and it will give you a ton of ideas for long tail informational content to publish. And, it prioritizes them by low competition and bigger opportunity.

I hired a content agency to produce 25 articles and published them right as 2023 was starting. These were informational articles, focused on topics in the silos that I thought I needed more content in. 

Things I Didn’t Get To

Link Building

Haha, I can hear everyone screaming right now. No, I didn’t do much link building during this time. But its not because I don’t think I should have!

Link building is essential to growing a website, and I also think it plays an essential role in recovering a website. So much of E-E-A-T actually comes down to links (which a lot of people don’t want to hear), but I’ll save that case for a different day. 

I got the occasional link over the past year, but I never made a concerted effort to get links. And thats only down to one reason: time. I knew there were higher priority areas that HAD to be fixed first.

Going Forward

I’m really glad to see some recovery in the recent Google Update. But, even with this positive movement, my organic traffic is still on back to 40% of what it was at its peak. But, its a great first step. 

The site repairs I made put the foundation back on track, and now I need to keep updating old articles and publishing new content. And yes, I will find time and money to put into link building. 

Do you have a site that has gotten hit in a recent Google Update? What have you done to improve it? Has it worked? I would love to hear from you!

Photo of author

Jared Bauman

Jared Bauman is the Co-Founder of 201 Creative, and is a 20+ year entrepreneur who has started and sold several companies. He is the host of the popular Niche Pursuits podcast and a contributing author to Search Engine Land.