Ever get a sinking feeling when you check your blog’s traffic and see an extreme dip? Well, in an age of a gazillion Google updates, there are plenty of niche site owners going through the sweats when they see their blog’s traffic and revenue come to a dead halt:
I understand how awful this feels especially when your niche blog is your main source of income. But the good news is: a lot of these niche sites can be recovered. With so many Google updates, this is now a common enough occurrence.
Today, I have a fun case study for you that starts with a heart sinker, y’all.
The client actually reached out to me in August when they experienced a hellish dip in traffic similar to what the site experienced in October. However, in September, the site seemed to have “recovered” so understandably, this niche site owner thought that the bad spirits of Google juju had left his site intact.
But not when October came and the traffic started suffering again. Google Search Console showed a huge decline in clicks and impressions reaching down to a couple dozen clicks at best:
Now, given the extreme dip for the second time and going into November (when Black Friday should have brought more traffic, clicks, and revenue in the winter months but clearly not from what GSC showed), the client contacted me because they had never weathered any storm like this in the history of the site. This niche site was earning revenue in mid to high four figures a month and has always been a steady earner.
The decline in traffic and rankings was so fast that it was alarming. Let’s review some key factors of this niche blog.
Key Factors Regarding This Blog
- 4-year-old domain and site
- A sub-niche within the tech space
- A little over 600 blog posts published
- Dominantly informational articles, less than 70 product reviews
- Before the traffic crisis, the site earned a healthy mid to high four figures a month (monetized with ads, affiliate products, and an email list)
- While the site had slight ups and downs with traffic over the years, it had never experienced anything close to this
Getting Things Started with the AP Deep Dive SEO Audit to Recover Niche Sites & Blogs
To get things started, I performed the Affiliate Phoenix Deep Dive SEO Audit which looks at their niche site from several angles, using several tools as well as a manual audit. Typically, this audit takes 3-4 weeks because of the intensity of the audit (it’s a mega audit where I conduct a GSC audit, technical audit, backlink audit, internal linking audit, and so much more). Conducting a deep analysis of why there’s a steep traffic and rankings drop can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. So, I rubbed the grease on my elbow, grabbed my magnifying glass, and put the site underneath it.
Let’s jump into the audits I performed and what each one revealed.
Part 1: Google Search Console Audit
This should be every SEO expert’s first stop. Google Search Console is your direct line to Google to find out what the fudge is up with your site and what issues they’ve discovered on your blog.
Here are a few important things I noted from GSC regarding this blog:
- Manual penalties: none
- Crawled but not indexed: 219 posts
- Discovered but not indexed: 132 posts
- 404 errors: A little under 100 deleted posts were generating some 404 errors
The crawled and discovered but not indexed pages is a hint that for whatever reason, Google isn’t loving and indexing this content and it’s up to me and you to figure out why. And on another glance, that’s 351 pages or posts that weren’t indexing. The blog had 600 published informational and product-focused articles published. A nice chunk of those had been deindexed. Aye caramba!
I start here because as I mentioned earlier, Google is directly telling you what issues it’s having with your blog and it did in this case: something gnarly was up with the content.
Regarding the 404 errors: there weren’t a lot of 404 errors and you will usually see some creep up over the years when deleting or updating old content. Using the Redirection plugin, I redirected half of them to better resources on the site and implemented the “410-permanently gone” redirect for the rest. With a 410 redirect, Google realizes that a certain resource has been permanently deleted and stops looking for it.
Part 2: Technical SEO Audit
While a technical SEO audit can feel dry and make watching paint dry an adventure in comparison, there can be quite a few technical issues that can impact a site’s overall standings in the search engines that you need to look for. Tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush make it super easy to spot any technical issues so there is no reason not to perform a technical SEO audit once a quarter on your niche blogs.
In this stage, I found a few low-level technical issues but most sites have some of these issues built up over the years.
The issues that I prioritized here were the ones that impact the user experience or contribute to a thin or low-value blog:
- Redirect chains on over 100 pages that were 5 levels deep or more: If you have pages that redirect from one page to another and then another and another, this can really impact your page loading speed and give visitors a negative experience. We live in a world of ‘fast, fast, FAST!’ so make sure your redirects are 1-2 hops at most. It’s super easy to take care of this by updating the redirects and eliminating all the hops in between using the WP plugin, Redirection.
- Over 300 pages were internally linking to unsecured HTTP pages: Once you make sure your site is setup well with HTTPS and that all other versions are loading to HTTPS, make this a part of your clean up. Chip away at pages that are linking to other pages’ HTTP version and add that s for the HTTPS version. Easy peasy.
- A couple hundred images that were indexed as their own pages and contributing towards thin/low value pages: This issue impacted my own blog a few years ago. Basically, you don’t want images to have their own pages indexed in Google because a page that contains only an image is considered low value. You need to make sure that image pages redirect to the page that they are being used on with content. Since my client was using the All in One SEO plugin, I changed the setting in All in One SEO by selecting “Attachment Parent”. The directions for how to do this for the Yoast plugin are here.
Part 3: Backlinks Audit
There are a few things I prioritize when it comes to a backlinking audit but one of the major things I focus on is the anchor text profile in itself and in comparison to the top 3 sites in the space. I noticed keyword-rich anchors as appearing higher than their brand name. While this can happen in certain niches, the brand name wasn’t even in their top 3 anchor texts.
The fun part comes when you take a look at your client’s niche blog vs other blogs in the same space by doing a side-by-side comparison with other blogs. Two out of three competitors had branded anchor as its leading anchor and the third one was an exact match with tons of naked URL as its main anchor text.
This isn’t the only thing to analyze in a backlink audit but it’s one of the major things to look at.
Part 4: On-Page SEO Audit
The on-page SEO audit is where I found some glaring issues.
The first main issue was that when I started viewing the posts themselves, I noticed high keyword density on most of the content.
Not just that but there was also overoptimization of the primary keyword in headings 1-4.
Here’s the thing about SEO: it’s ever-evolving. Your site can be rewarded for the same thing it can be punished for later. That’s the hardest part about SEO: staying up-to-date with the changes.
I have plenty of clients who swear that the reason for their top rankings is being aggressive with their main keyword.
While I understand why they think this (especially when the site is doing well), I now view these sites as a ticking time bomb: you don’t know when Google is going to throw them off a cliff. This may sound extreme but being highly aggressive with using your keyword too many times is known as keyword stuffing. And guess what? Google is going to punish a site if it thinks your blog is trying to game its search engine.
Here is something to think about: you don’t want to be super aggressive with any SEO factor whether on-page or off-page SEO. There is a fine line between simmering water gently or boiling the living f*** out of it. Yes, there are niches where you will need to be aggressive but you need to look at the SEO strategy as a whole: from on-page SEO to how internal linking is done for the site to the anchor text that’s being used for backlinks.
Just like I wouldn’t recommend that your backlinks campaign only use the primary keywords for anchor text, I do not recommend having the highest keyword density out of all pages in the top 10 of Google.
In this case, the client was simply publishing content in the way they had for years until the site got caught in an update.
While all the other issues mentioned so far weren’t flattering and needed to be improved, this was a big ol’ Moby Dick catch.
I designed a plan to deoptimize the articles and bring the keyword density in line with what the top two pages were showing.
Part 5: Internal Linking Audit
This part can be a bit tedious but in most cases, you can take a small sample of posts, gather what pages/posts are linking to them, and look at what anchor text is being used to link to them.
In most cases, I find patterns. For instance, in cases of on-page overoptimization or high keyword density usage, the internal linking can be similarly aggressive in the way the anchor text is being used. This is because the site might be doing okay with this strategy for a while so the next seemingly logical step for the person doing SEO is to do internal linking with the primary keywords.
In this case, the pages that were included in the header or footer menu had the primary keyword as the anchor text. This means that if this site contains 600 pages, now each page with a menu (probably close to 600) will have optimized anchor text to that page. That’s not the best use of the primary keyword as the anchor text. In certain niches, it makes sense to do this but in some, you can make better use of the anchor text by using it in contextual links from other pages on your site.
But also, the internal links from other blog posts that were created contained 70-80% keyword-rich anchor text. And not much diversity, if at all, for certain pages.
So, if the primary keyphrase is “what is aperture”, here’s how the site was optimized:
- Higher keyword density than competitors on the main page for “what is aperture” by 1.5-2x
- “what is aperture” in meta title, page URL, H1-H4
- Linked with 70-80% keyword anchor text
- Sometimes these pages were also linked to in the header or footer menu directly with the primary keyword
That is a lot of over-the-top optimization coupled with internal linking that had little to no anchor text diversity.
Blogs like this can get hit extremely hard in Google updates which is why I have updated my oldest blogs and made sure the on-page optimization isn’t super aggressive and that the internal linking contains keyword variations, synonyms, entities, branded anchors, and a few unoptimized anchors as well.
Part 6: Content Audit
Remember those posts that were stuck in that dusty crawled and discovered file cabinets in the GSC office?
Well, it was time to come back and evaluate those further. The content audit revealed that some of these posts were product reviews but a lot were informational articles. What the hell could have happened that these articles dropped out of Google’s index and got slammed behind bars?!
One of the biggest things I noticed was that the content was thin. This means that a lot of these posts were 500-600 words when they deserved to be longer for what the targeted keywords were. These articles left a lot to be desired.
Here’s what I advised them to do: take a look at what the top two competitors are doing and do it better!
Well, wtf does that mean, Moon? I’ll tell you what it means:
- Don’t create thin content and keep the visitors in mind with their search intent
- Is the article as thorough as it can be?
- Look at related questions to the primary keyword and include those in the article
- Add professional and custom images
- Add other resources if helpful to the visitors
… and a few other things I like to mix in to give articles a higher chance of ranking.
I helped them prioritize the pages in crawled and discovered (but not indexed) and that was around 225 pieces of content in itself! A monumental task!
Majority of these articles were revamped into 1500-2000 word articles. Very few articles were in the 800-1000 word range because sometimes, it can be a challenge to create an article that is 1000 words if the answer is direct and to the point. I also designed a process for them to use when publishing new content that they followed for new articles.
Remember who you are creating content for and serve your audience! You should be conducting a content audit once a year to analyze and improve super old content on your blog. If you have a blog that is over a couple of years old, take a look at the oldest posts and improve your content.
Part 7: E-E-A-T Audit
There is this general notion that E-E-A-T is all about *drumroll please*.. backlinks!
While a part of E-E-A-T is backlinks, there’s a lot more regarding E-E-A-T that you can do on your blog. My client’s niche blog was coming up short on showing expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness with their content and their about page.
They had a very generic about page. I advised him to create a thorough about page detailing the expertise or experience of the authors. I also told him to link to any sites or social media properties where the authors may be talking about this subject. This included content which I had to train him and his writers for new content while I worked on the old content for them.
Once it was updated, allowing visitors to see the awesome humans behind the site and not a shady AI-generated image, along with their detailed experience and expertise in the sub-niche, and linking out to other social media properties, this thing was a beauty. A complete overhaul of the About page that should leave warm fuzzies in anyone’s tummy checking the page out.
Think of this like leaving crumbs for Google to follow to establish credibility for your site through your authors. Feed Big G and your users well. There were a few additional things that we improved on their site which I teach thoroughly in the Affiliate Phoenix Academy Course.
The Main Issues That Were Resolved In 4 Months
- Improved the content quality of pages under crawled and discovered sections and reduced those numbers to under 50 under both
- Fixed 404 errors with proper redirects
- Fixed redirect chains on over 100 pages improving the visitors’ experience and making pages load much faster
- Updated hundreds of pages that were linking to HTTP pages to their HTTPS counterpart
- Redirect images to the main page and removed thin pages
- Lowered high keyword density
- Deoptimized headings 3-4 where the primary keyword was being repeated
- Updated anchor text in regards to internal linking
- Updated About page
- Implemented a better navigation menu (header and footer)
- Ongoing sitewide content audit for the next 6 months
- Advised PR and HARO link campaign
I am super excited to show you these awesome results:
It took four months of dedication and hard work with a very specific strategy to get these awesome results and there’s still a lot more to do! I suspect we will see traffic double in a few months once we round out a couple more topic clusters and create more in-depth internal linking silos.
Here are some key takeaways for your blog:
- Create a well-rounded SEO strategy
- Pay special attention to creating good, unique content combined with solid on-page SEO and internal linking
- Improve your old content by adding more relevant information and sections, updating old information if it is outdated, adding better images/videos/resources
- Create keyword-rich anchor text for internal linking but also, diversify and balance it
- Do technical audits once every few months so you can catch issues in a timely manner
While I’ve summarized a few major takeaways, there are a lot of hours that go into creating good content as well as updating old content. It’s not a matter of adding two lines and moving on. Each page requires an analysis and an understanding of what exactly can be improved and updated.
With all that said, I can not emphasize how important content is and that a lot of Google’s updates have been targeted on-page SEO (and content).
When your niche site gets hit with an update, it’s time to go all in and look at everything on your niche blog on a micro level as well as on a macro level: backlinks, on-page SEO, and E-E-A-T are just a few components you need to look at.
After analyzing hit sites for the last 3 years, picking up on patterns, and recovering sites, (especially detailed content audits and updates which can take months or years), it’s no wonder that bloggers feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. It’s more important than ever to update old content, fix technical issues, and to make sure your site is optimized for the long term (and not use hacks that can land your site in trouble).