My Plan to Recover from HCU & Google’s March Core Update (Case Study: Part 1)

Just like it happened to many independent website publishers out there, most of my websites have been affected either by Google’s Helpful Content Update from September 2023, or the March Core Update in 2024 (sometimes both).

Today, I want to start the first case study trip on this blog in what I hope to be a successful recovery of one of my main websites, which was affected both by the Google HCU, as well as the latest Core Update. And it was hit badly:

Search Console Traffic Drop after Google Update

As you can see, my blog dropped from a peak of 12,500 clicks before the Helpful Content Update, to some 4,000 over night, then it kept dripping down to around 2,500 before being hammered hard by the 2024 March Core Update, when the Google search traffic has dropped to around 400 per day.

Things to know about the site I’m planning to recover

The website in question is one with medium-low authority (DR of around 30), but one that has been around for several years in a hobby niche, and it grew nicely until September 2023.

The content here was almost exclusively informational, providing mainly guides to very specific queries, but also more generic guides, question and answer articles and some top/best of lists (with NO affiliate links though).

Yes, it’s not really the solid type of website that seems to be SGE-proof, but this particular hobby actually has tons of very specific questions that can be addressed and it’s in an ever-changing niche, so this was the right approach. There are still many websites that do exactly this and are doing really well.

Of course, before getting hammered hard by the latest core and/or spam update, I did all the “right” things that the gurus and SEO experts recommended:

  • improved EEAT signals (author boxes to show their experience and expertise, links to social profiles, started posting on social media, added new pages like Editorial Policy, improved the About Us page, added address and contact information with real life address and so on: basically, everything others kept recommended)
  • re-designed the home page (from the traditional blog list on the homepage)
  • deleted plenty of outdated content and edited some on the site
  • started writing answer-first type of articles, removed fluff, getting straight to the point
  • zero AI was used in the articles (with the exception of a few meta descriptions that were generated by AI, but they represent 1% of the total articles).
  • reduced the amount of ads shown on the website for better UI

Despite making all the changes and actually being naive enough to be hyped about the upcoming Google Core Update that would bring back the lost traffic… my website was hit again. Nothing that I did seems to have had a positive impact: on the contrary! Things are worse than ever.

My plan for recovery

After analyzing my website and comparing it with the ones that are still standing (or those that have taken over the SERPS), I have discovered some really interesting things, all related to how their content is produced.

Most of these sites are still loaded with ads (more than my site had), some don’t even have a proper About Us page, no EEAT signals and sometimes, even crappier articles than mine.

BUT they have one main thing in common: they are NOT over-optimized for SEO (if they are optimized at all). They still target very specific, long tail keywords with most of their articles, because this is what this hobby niche is all about… but basically everything they teach you at SEO school about writing articles is thrown outside of the window.

I won’t go too much in detail with this, because I might be 100% wrong about it… but I do plan to make changes to my website’s articles, de-optimizing them basically and tracking the progress over the next couple of months. I will report my findings, although there is one main challenge here:

My website is a mammoth one with around 3,500 published posts. I have a team that publishes content (ranging from 1 left right now to 6 during the peak times), and many of the articles are news about various events in the hobby niche we cover, or announcements made by important companies that dominate it.

There’s no way I am going to edit even 1,000 posts right now… so I will start slowly. Since it appears that now the HCU signals no longer apply to the entire website, but on a page-by-page basis, my plan is this:

  • edit 50 articles to start with (maybe get to 100 if I feel confident) and track their progress.

I will edit the top 25 articles in terms of traffic lost (those that were #1 and no longer are), but also 25 random articles from the site.

I will edit them to remove the overly-optimized SEO content (keyword rich H2s, paragraphs targeting the featured snippet, heavy usage of keywords within the article), making sure that the article itself is concise, goes straight into delivering the answer and offers a complete answer for the search query (without getting into other related ones).

This is the last idea I have, but I am very confident that this is it. I’m curious to hear what you think about it – as well as what other plans (apart from diversifying to Bing or other traffic sources) do you have for recovery.

If you want to stay up to date with my results, as well as other articles that I will publish, subscribe using the form above. If you want to talk to me – the contact page awaits.

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