DEV Community

Cover image for Google's Decision to Effectively Kill-off Small Sites
Michael La Posta
Michael La Posta

Posted on • Originally published at wheresbaldo.dev

Google's Decision to Effectively Kill-off Small Sites

I'm a relatively new blogger, having only started my blog around 6 months ago. I started my blog simply because I enjoy providing helpful information to others, especially when it's from things I've learned or experienced first hand.

In fact, I love spreading knowledge and info so much that I used to write a monthly newsletter for the tech company I worked for, which went out to employees and management across several continents.

Ok ok, I'm making it sound bigger than it really was... the employees I sent it to were limited to the same department as me. But it was still read by several hundred people, and when I decided to retire the newsletter, I received emails from a lot of the employees begging me to keep it going!

Years later, at the same company but in a different department, I joined a team that wrote and maintained the knowledge base for the department, and I absolutely loved it. The employees that used the KB reached out to me regularly to thank me for making the info so well organized and easy to read/follow.

So when I started my blog, I was excited to be able to share my knowledge and experiences with a wider audience, but I made two cardinal sins according to the "SEO gods":

  1. I didn't niche down enough.
  2. I didn't focus on a single, specific topic.

Forgive me SEO gods, for I Have Sinned

What did I do instead? I started my blog writing about two of the most saturated topics on the web ... travel, and tech. 🤦‍♂️

Yeah, I'm that dumb.

But see, I didn't know about the whole "niche down" thing when I started. I didn't even know there were "rules" to blogging and sites in general. I just wanted to write about things I enjoyed, and experiences I learned from. Pfff, what a fool I was! 🤪

And even worse, I'm neither an expert on travel, nor an expert on any tech! I'm just a regular guy who enjoys both, and who has learned a lot about both over the years. But I'm not an expert in either, and I never claimed to be.

In fact, with respect to tech, I consider myself a jack of all tech, master of none. I've dabbled in a bunch of different computer languages, stacks, frameworks, environments, used various different DBs, etc. But I mean, that's kind of a requirement when you're in tech these days isn't it?

But I digress...

The Start of my Blog

So, I started my blog, writing about things I've learned, things I've experienced, things I've found helpful, etc. And I've honestly been enjoying it and having a lot of fun with it. I've been enjoying the process of writing; of researching; of learning new things; and of course most of all - sharing my knowledge and experiences with others.

And in that time, I saw my visibility in Google's SERPs slowly increase. I saw my articles start to rank for various keywords, and I saw my traffic slowly increase.

Google Analytics showing a slow increase in traffic

Now I'm talking really embarrassingly low numbers here... like 10-20 visitors a day, which is pathetic even for a blog. But hey, it was something, and that was enough for me.

The Google HCU Massacre

But then late last year, I think maybe in October or November, I started hearing whispers on Reddit about a Google "HCU" causing some sites to lose 75% to 90% of their traffic. I didn't think much of it at the time, as I was still seeing my traffic slowly increase... until March of this year, when I lost all of my traffic from Google overnight. Instead of 1000+ page impressions a day, I started getting 1-10, and instead of 10-20 visits a day, Google is now bringing me a big fat 0.

Google Analytics showing a massive drop in traffic

"If Your Site Was Affected, You're a Spammer!"

As I've been browsing the subs on Reddit where I've seen this come up, I've seen a number of users commenting things to the effect of "Good, the less spam affiliate garbage the better!", "Your site/content was probably shit", "Try writing actual decent, quality content for a change and maybe you'll rank! 🙄", etc. Basically lumping all sites with massacred traffic into one category: SPAM.

Now, I don't know much about SEO ... I had to look up what the heck a "SERP" was (Search Engine Results Page), forget every time what E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) is supposed to mean literally 2 seconds after looking it up, don't know what short-tail or long-tail keywords are (and frankly don't really give a shit!), and don't use tools to determine my DA (domain authority), which I know is low.

Why? Because I just want to write (hopefully decent and helpful) content, and hope it occasionally helps others.

But Who Has Actually Been Affected?

Well, according a number of redditors, only affiliate-pushing spam sites, or sites with really bad content have been hit by this recent Google search update.

But as other posters on Reddit have been noting, this HCU has actually been killing traffic to some of the bigger sites and players as well, ones with legit helpful content, and instead favouring the really big players like Reddit, Facebook, Quora (really?), and oddly, the news sites with those invasive, pop-up, non-stop adverts every paragraph or so.

Is This the End for Small Sites?

As I've been reading the doom and gloom comments on Reddit about how only bad, poorly written or spammy content has been hit, I've tried to reflect on my own site...

I do have some pretty poorly written content, which I wrote when I first started my blog, and which I've been meaning to go back and fix up.

And I do have affiliate links in each of my posts - but only static ones, and only 1 or 2 per post.

And I suppose my site isn't the nicest looking in the internet world, and has missing features I haven't found the time to add. But surely it's not that bad, is it?

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I don't know. Maybe I'm guilty as charged, and deserve to be buried in the SERPs. But what I do know is that I share an opinion that others are starting to share as well: Google is no longer the search engine it once was.

Google isn't the Only Search Engine in Town

I actually mostly stopped using Google for search sometime last year, before all this HCU stuff started. But for me it was due to something I find extremely egregious: Google's never ending, maddening, "I'm not a robot" captchas.

Google's annoying "I'm not a robot" captchas

I get the captchas because I'm almost always on a VPN, and I'm almost always using Firefox. I also have a bunch of privacy and security add-ons installed, which probably doesn't help.

But I'm pretty sure I'm not a robot (although I suppose that's debatable!), and I prefer not having to prove it to Google every 5 minutes or so. So I stopped using Google for search, and switched to using DuckDuckGo instead last year.

And this isn't even the first time I've been burned by Google's decisions. If you're familiar at all with the Google Graveyard, you'll know that Google has a long history of killing off products and services that people have come to rely on. This has happened to me a number of times, in both a personal and professional capacity, and frankly it's getting old.

Where to Go From Here

So where do I go from here?

I'm not entirely sure. I'm not going to stop writing, which I only do when time permits anyway. I'm just going to do like I was when I started my blog, and before I started trying to "SEO" it: write when I can, and hope that what I write is helpful to someone.


Have you been affected by the latest HCU? Are you seeing massive drops/increases in traffic? Are you considering moving away from Google in general?

Let me know in the comments below!

Top comments (39)

Collapse
 
jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard • Edited

Google clearly has lost his way in many directions.

  • the good will from small websites like yours
  • Facebook & cie have created walled garden outside the reach of Google
  • Google is in a mercyless fight against SEO spammers, and the SEO people clearly have won

Anyway on a practical level, what you need is to have the emails of your favorite readers.
When you publish an article, they then get the the article by email.
That's what Substack offers by default, and this is really powerful.
The combo blog + newsletter, but it's the same content.
It's basically like RSS in the old days, but using the email to PUSH articles to the readers, who can unsubscribe at any time and it's absolutely fine.

👉🏻 Ask the email from your favorite readers

Collapse
 
adaptive-shield-matrix profile image
Adaptive Shield Matrix

Even Email is getting harder to do right, since the most popular email providers do a hard crackdown on email spam -> increasing the difficulty to do newsletter without getting classified as spam and/or getting completely blocked.

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

There's also an issue of being outright banned by the email services without breaking any rules. I had signed up to Sendgrid before I build my blog, and was banned the instant I completed my registration. It was instantaneous!

You'd think they'd have stopped me during the process and said "Hey, sorry ... we can't provide you with our service." But nope, I completed several pages and then finally at the end - boom - "You are banned. Do not try to make a new account. Do not try to contact us."... etc.

There was no reason given, but after dong a bit of research, I think it might have been because I was on a VPN, or possibly they don't allow Canadians? But I think VPN was the culprit. And I heard some other email providers like Sendgrid do the same, although I forget which ones.

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

Hah, funny you mention that, because adding a subscribe to email thing was on my possible to-do list! 😆

Collapse
 
moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

10-20 visits a day is nothing to be ashamed of. It's 10-20 visits more than my sites have ever had.

Collapse
 
brianwaustin profile image
Brian Austin

I looked for a "link in bio" to your site just to give you an extra visitor.

It's tough.. on a good week I might get 10-20 unique if I get links published elsewhere.

Collapse
 
moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

I don't currently have any active sites, but thanks :)

Collapse
 
maddy profile image
Maddy

I so much agree with this article! After publishing over 100 articles and being consistent for over 2 years, Google decided to kill my blog's traffic. My blog traffic reached 15k views a month, and now I lost all my traffic, down to less than 3k views a month. I have over 100 articles on my blog, many of them updated. I'm now focusing more on newsletter and will try to optimize my blog for other search engines.

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

Man 15k view a month to 3k is no joke. That hurts!

In my case, I figured, well ... I wasn't getting much traffic anyway, so it is what it is. But when I see stories like yours I think "is it even worth trying?"

I think the only way to get traffic back up, or in my case, any traffic at all lol, is to employ avenues outside of Google. So for example, getting engagement on sites like dev.to, medium, possibly reddit? But basically making a presence on other social networks and engaging more with the users on those platforms. I'm far from an expert on this stuff though, so take my advice with a grain of salt! 🤓

Collapse
 
maddy profile image
Maddy

Yes, I agree. I'm not a heavy social media user; I often don't promote my blog. But as you said, I'm looking at other search engines/venues.

Until last year, I would have said that blogging was worth it. Now, I'm not sure. I wouldn't say it's a complete waste of time. Last week I received an email from a user who found my blog via a Google search. These little things give me hope.

Blogging is very time-consuming, and the more you publish, the more you expect your blog to become successful. Also, growing an email list is difficult if no one sees your blog. :/

Thread Thread
 
brianwaustin profile image
Brian Austin

For sure. One thing I tried was to funnel everyone to the newsletter. I have a link to the permanent content on the website at the bottom of each post.

It's not the best but at least its measurable. And on sites like SubStack you might pick up subscribers from commenting on other newsletters.

Collapse
 
merri profile image
Vesa Piittinen

I've found it actually helpful to not have any analytics on my sites. I don't need to care if there are people on my site, or how many there are.

I love it much more when I get a random contact on Mastodon telling that something is broken on my site.

That means somebody cares about it. And that is enough. Numbers are meaningless.

Collapse
 
palalet profile image
RadekHavelka

I feel your pain.

The problem with google is that they start to think they are internet. And they decide what is good and what is bad. While themselves are not being compliant with their own rules about layout shift, page optimalizations, javascript minification etc etc etc. Each year they decide something else "matters" and literally the whole world should rebuild their sites to be google compliant, with new measures implemented. Remember the json metadata we should put into our sites, to notify google of who is author, what kind of page it is, what is the title, image etc ... Yeah, it works, but only if you have SOMETHING TO SELL. The library of metadata is way bigger but google doesnt care about rest of this computer- readable data about persons, events etc, only recepies, stuff for sale, tickets .... Internet is not the same as e-commerce, and is full of usefull websites that have no power to rebuild every couple of weeks due to google, they focus on CONTENT, on WRITING actual articles for READERS. And that is what matters. Booo google, boooooo

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

Yup, absolutely! And part of the reason all of this is such an issue is that we have collectively let Google become the gatekeeper of the internet.

They control access to most of the highways, so it's either comply or die. Sigh.

Collapse
 
ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Really well-written.

Honestly, the state of web search in general is in a really weird place.

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

Much appreciated Ben, and I agree things are weird.

What once started as an open and free space (regarding the internet in general), has slowly been devolving into this elite, exclusive, corporate playground of the top players. Kind of like how the world and society itself has been going for some time.

Only time will tell where things go, and if - hopefully - other non-shareholder fuelled search engines can make a dent.

Collapse
 
marissab profile image
Marissa B

That would explain some dips in web traffic on HowToAutoDetail.com recently, which is set up as wiki/informative site that links to a ton of different manufacturers and might look like spam to a bot or something. Oof. You have a well-written article even as the messenger of doom, haha. I need to go fix a few things apparently.

Checked out your site, popped you into my Feedly listing, so you have a least 1 organic reader as a little data point now :D

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

Checked out your site, popped you into my Feedly listing, so you have a least 1 organic reader as a little data point now :D

Thanks so much Marissa 😊

That would explain some dips in web traffic on HowToAutoDetail.com recently

It certainly might. The annoying thing about these "Helpful Content Updates" is that it's not necessarily obvious when you're getting dinged by it, although a decent enough dip in traffic overnight without any changes on your end could very well be a definite sign.

And the other issue is what does Google constitute as "spam"? Google gives some guidance there, but some (on reddit) have pointed out that there are some very spammy, obvious ad-baiting affiliate-pushing sites, that don't seem affected, and are even being pushed higher in the rankings. 🤷🏻

Collapse
 
garrett profile image
Garrett / G66 • Edited

I’m certainly not defending Google but I’ve been seeing all this talk about HCU and none of the sites I manage have lost traffic. Sorry this happened to you :( Google does whatever it wants and particularly does not care about the small sites.

I’ve been doing SEO and marketing since 2009. Seen some nasty drops over the years. The best thing is to start an email list. I use WordPress and MailPoet to run mine for free.

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

Yup, definitely seems not everyone is affected. I actually forgot to note the fact that some sites have seen an uptick since the updates, however some of those that initially saw an uptick in traffic then got the axe several months later as well.

It seems a bit all over the place, but certainly little guys like me with no "clout" don't stand much of a chance. But that's ok though, I'll just keep on truckin' without Google! 😊

Collapse
 
ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke

Another reason to look for Google alternatives.

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

Thanks for linking your post - great points and ideas there!
I've actually been thinking more and more lately about my desire to move away from Google entirely.

Currently I use:

  • Gmail
  • Google maps & nav
  • Google calendar
  • Google docs
  • Google sheets
  • Google analytics
  • Google domains (used to anyway)
  • Chrome (but only for site testing)
  • Android and the Play store
  • Google cloud drive

And I'm pretty sure the list goes on. For shame. 😳

Collapse
 
amin1111 profile image
Amin1111

Which ones? Yandex? But it is not popular in the world, there are many unknown search engines and sites, and which sites will go away, it depends on the content? Here is this resource, you can save it : wunderkiddy.com/materials#material...

Collapse
 
mwlang profile image
Michael Lang

Affiliate links was likely your downfall as it was mine many times. I've learned over the last 20 years that Google REALLY dislikes link building and affiliate links in particular.

To make matters worse, some links you choose to drop on your site can become associated with "bad neighborhood" penalties in Google's algo and once that happens with just one link, it's usually game over for the site and domain that got tossed into the penalty box. That's just my personal experience. I could be wrong about what's really going on these days as I stopped trying about 10 years back with the whole affiliate marketing stuff.

Unless you're earning real money with those links, I'd suggest simply dropping that practice and just focus on informative, interesting content that stokes your curiosity and passions. That at least keeps you out of their radar that targets this space.

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

it's usually game over for the site and domain that got tossed into the penalty box

I think you mentioned a key thing here - the "penalty" box. I'm pretty sure that's exactly what happened, whether due to affiliate links or not.

And I agree with you, and was even thinking before all this happened that I might as well just drop the links, as they're mostly pointless on my site. But as you and others have noted, once you're in Google's penalty box, you're pretty much stuck there for good unless you move to a new domain.

Funny though how Google is fine with their own ads, and fine with big sites trying to monetize traffic though. As usual for Google, "do as I say, not as I do" I suppose!

Collapse
 
lnahrf profile image
Lev Nahar

Great, great article.
I had no idea any of this existed! Just like you, all I want to do is write about the things that I find interesting and learn along the way. That's not enough, I guess.

I would love to contact you with some questions about this whole thing, blogging, tech, and tech blogging. I feel like I have been trying to get something off the ground for about a year or so but it's not going anywhere. I keep going back and forth between extremely niche and extremely mainstream. I know I could write about the topics that interest others the most, if you take a look at my profile you will see I have in the past. But I want to write about extremely niche topics, that most will never care about (all within the realm of tech, at least). Maybe (probably) I am doing something wrong, or looking at this from the wrong perspective.

By the way, wheresbaldo is the best name for a website, ever.
You've earned a subscriber either way.

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

By the way, wheresbaldo is the best name for a website, ever.
You've earned a subscriber either way.

haha, thanks! I'm bald, so it seemed like a good fit. 😄

I would love to contact you with some questions about this whole thing, blogging, tech, and tech blogging. I feel like I have been trying to get something off the ground for about a year or so but it's not going anywhere.

Yeah, I know the feeling! And for sure, feel free to message me about any questions. I'm no expert, but am always glad to help where I can!

Collapse
 
brianwaustin profile image
Brian Austin

only started my blog around 6 months ago

Ever feel like you are 20 years too late to the party? Me too.

until March of this year, when I lost all of my traffic from Google overnight

I’ve seen and read a lot about this and I can’t help but believe this is a further shift toward a less open Internet. My strategy is to design web content that could be added to Common Crawl and potentially included in an LLM response. Thought being that if someone asks a chatbot a question it could potentially turn up my information as a result.

Does that drive traditional web traffic? Probably not but then again monetization of web content has long gone to the wayside. For what it’s worth I saw YouTube creator report the same dip in traffic to the point where the creator was questioning if the channel was sustainable.

So what can we do? Well links are gold and if you aren’t spreading the word on other platforms and using the “link in bio” you’re missing out. I love written content but these days if you aren’t producing video you are largely invisible to new audiences. Newsletters and sites like LinkedIn can work if you can engage with people and get conversations started.

At the end of the day you need to ask yourself why you are creating content. If you are trying to reach people then a blog probably isn’t the most effective. If you do it for personal enjoyment and the art then keep doing it. The Internet has a long history of randos blogging into the abyss.

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

The Internet has a long history of randos blogging into the abyss.

Yup lol, that's pretty much what I am and expect to continue to be!

if you aren’t producing video you are largely invisible to new audiences

Totally agree. Video, especially "shorts" a-la TikTok and such are what audiences these days are looking for. For me personally though, I find that type of content so lacking anything of value.

I also don't know that I have the right personality for video content - short or long. I might give it a shot eventually, but for now I'll just continue blogging into the abyss, with the hope that I might help someone now and then.

Collapse
 
greenteaisgreat profile image
Nathan G Bornstein

Thanks for making this post, I've been hearing a lot of good things about DuckDuckGo and this made me finally switch over to it

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

Awesome! I honestly don't know why more people don't use it, or other open alternatives.

I keep hearing Bing mentioned on so many anti-Google threads, but since when is Microsoft any better than Google? Ethically anyway.

Collapse
 
bart97coder profile image
Bart97coder

I think there will always be a place for small blogs

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

Cheers to that Bart! 😊

Collapse
 
thumbone profile image
Bernd Wechner

Wondering why not blog here, on dev.to. Is that not one of the prime purposes of the site? I mean I'd keep a solid backup of what you write as there's never any knowing when a site goes under but still.

Collapse
 
mlaposta profile image
Michael La Posta

Well, I enjoy having my own space that I can customize the way I want, so that's one thing.

But I also blog about things that wouldn't fit here, like the travel content for instance. So I run my main blog as my own little corner of the net, but then repost the tech content I think is more relevant to dev.to on dev.to, but not even all of the tech content since it's not all dev-related.

Collapse
 
ingosteinke profile image
Ingo Steinke

IndieWeb (own your own content)