Errors To Fix To Gain Search Traffic After the Update

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This site was smashed by the March 2024 Google update (the HCU, part 2). Since the update we have seen some recovery, there is a graph of that recovery on our post on how to make money travel blogging. Another site we own saw a significant traffic gain after the update. You can see that in the graph on this page.

In this post, I’ll give you some pointers on errors to fix which may help you regain some of your traffic. So far, fixing all of these errors has helped me recover, somewhat. It’s early days. I’ll keep you posted on the results.

I don’t want to give anyone false hope of recovery. Up to the 10th of April 2024 there was recovery, and traffic and rankings were rising. On the 10th we took another hit and traffic has been in decline ever since. It seems there’s nothing more to be done. Google has destroyed our industry and the livelihoods of thousands of families like ours. Not spam sites, legitimate, real sites, crafted with love and expertise. One or two sites escaped, I can’t find any reason for it and I’ve put hundreds of hours into analysing data. Luck, a glitch, whatever it was, it was nothing obvious and those sites run the risk of being wiped out at any second too. I’ve had a good run, 12 years at the top of my game, hundreds of thousands earned. It’s time to quit. Volatility in the SERPS is sky-high again today (9th to 12th of May 2024) This could be the Google recovery update. It’s dropping our site even more so far. This site is not as badly affected as a lot of others, but I fear our traffic is heading towards zero. The following was written between March 6th and April 10th, I was seeing good results at that time.

Errors To Fix

I identify these errors, daily, using SEMRush, but SEMRush is very, very expensive. It has an audit tool. Getting SEMRush is still going to be a lot cheaper for you than paying for an SEO audit. If you need a site auditing, shoot me an email, I may be able to help and I won’t charge rip-off prices. I’m a good guy, I’m “helpful”. I’m here to feed my family not become rich.

I’ve been calling this update the “end of SEO update” and I think, at least in part, this is what it is. The strong-arm SEO tactics that used to guarantee ranking highly just don’t work any more. This site is DA50, even this site can’t compete with Google’s preferred sites these days. But I will never quit trying and I’m seeing some good results after fixing and updating.

You’re going to have to agree to using Grow to read the rest of this post because that way I may earn a bit of extra cash and be able to buy myself a coffee this week. Sign up, it’s worth it, you’ll join our “bloggers only” list and I rarely email you. Or buy me a coffee, I need the cash!

These are absolute basic website maintenance tasks that we should all be on top of. You can use a free broken link checker tool, use the free version of Diib, use Bing Webmaster Tools, there are loads of ways to find errors like these. Broken links are often a problem in the comments section where readers have added their links. Both outgoing and internal links may be broken.

If, like me, you’ve switched from Yoast to Rank Math to Yoast (Pro), you may have lost meta descriptions in the process, I did. I really didn’t like Rank Math, I’m sticking with Yoast.

If you’ve changed themes there may be errors. I’ve changed from Studiopress to Mediavine Trellis to Generate Press, there were errors caused by these changes. I’m very happy with Generate Press and I use this theme on my Mediavine and Ezoic sites. My Ezoic sites are faster than my Mediavine site.

Fix your site speed too, that goes without saying.

During the change from WordPress Classic Editor to Gutenberg Blocks, errors were created. Some of my images suddenly became H2s or H3s. That seems to have happened during the process of “converting to blocks”. I don’t have a way to find these, I’ve found them by chance when I’ve been updating old content.

Images configured as links is a bad one. Years ago there was a Yoast glitch that caused this. I thought I’d escaped, but I’ve found a few of these recently. A SEMRush audit will find these for you. The image above shows what this looks like. The link will be to the image file, creating a page for that image. This is thin content and will get you penalised, it’s a waste of your crawl budget too.

I’ve created redirect loops from time to time. For instance I redirected mysite/category/Asia/Nepal to just /Nepal, and then back again, creating an endless loop so that no page will actually display.

(By the way, having very specific categories like this does help UX and ranking, in my experience.)

I’ve made a lot of redirects within my categories over the last 12 years and some were still on my site, when they shouldn’t have been. I’ve removed them and asked for removal in Search Console. There is a URL removal tool there.

A lot of redirects is bad, it can cause confusion. It’s not a critical error, but still it’s worth fixing. In old content I may have linked to mysite/Category/Asia/Sri-Lanka, whereas the actual category address is now mysite/Category/Sri-Lanka. It’s worth changing those links so that they point to the actual page, not the redirect.

I’ve also taken content from this site, put it on a new domain (niche specific) and redirected. That created a “wrong” page in my sitemap. That’s an error that SEMRush picked up for me. I had to unpublish those posts.

I’ve been disavowing toxic backlinks for years, I’ve seen gains after disavowing. Others will argue that it’s unnecessary because “Google is smart.” I’m still disavowing.

There is an art to disavowing, you can’t just disavow everything that may be toxic, you have to make a judgement call on each link. If you get it wrong it can be damaging. I would never disavow for somebody else, it’s too risky, but I do disavow on all my own sites.

Do You Write Like AI?

Surprisingly, yes, I write like AI. There are free AI checker tools you can use, just paste in a few paragraphs in and they will give you a score out of 100. My writing often comes back as 50% likely to be AI. It’s not, that’s just how I write. Which kind of goes to show how useless AI is. I’m trying to make myself sound more human than machine.

That could be a reason I took a slap in the update.

My site that went up is also written by me, but a lot of the posts are much older, pre-SEO, they may sound less like AI. Both sites are around 12 years old. When we started them we’d never even heard of SEO, that skill came later.

Are Your Images Big Enough?

Google has guidelines on image size. They actually state in black and white now that images have to be big and high definition. A lot of mine aren’t, still. There is an image search tool here, by Google, that finds small images, I haven’t tried it yet, I only just found it.

My first theme took images at just 500 px wide. I’m adding bigger images today and I always see a positive effect if I add 2+ large images (including the featured image) to a post. These rules simply didn’t exist years ago, what you have to do to rank is much tighter today.

This site now takes images at 1400px for the featured image on desktop. It’s above the fold, it has to slow the site, but I’m keeping them for now, I like them. I’m passing CWV on desktop, but not on mobile, interestingly. (including INP)

I could disable those featured images and A/B test with and without. I haven’t yet, it’s on the “to do list”

Google keep changing their mind on this. A few years ago, when Google introduced the “sponsored” attribute, they told us not to worry about adding rel=”sponsored” to old affiliate links created before that tag came into existence.

Now Google says it has to be added. I’m adding it. I know one site that wasn’t hit by the update has all affiliate links marked as “sponsored”. All of my sites are a mix of with and without, but still, I’m adding it.

These on-page elements used to be a guaranteed way to get a page to rank more highly. There has been some speculation that these elements are “for Google” not “for humans” and may be negatively impacting your rankings.

I’m trying to tone these elements down and make pages more “human”. I have no results on this yet, but I can tell you that my site that saw gains in the update does use TOCs, I’ve never added FAQ schema and my affiliate links tend towards the “natural”.

In some posts, where I’ve stuck affiliate links in buttons and coloured text blocks, I’m taking them out and making them fully natural. They were too “in your face”. Heat maps are a very good way to see if real humans click on buttons over text links. In my experience they don’t. I use heat maps in Affilimate, and previously in Hot Jar. I love Affilimate, it’s expensive, but I think I’d get rid of SEMRush before Affilimate. (This is an affiliate link to Affilimate, it’s marked “sponsored”)

Which Posts Are Up, and Which Posts Are Down?

Run a Search Console (GSC) comparison from 6th March, the start of the update, to now, vs the previous period. See which posts are up, and which are down. Some of mine did go up. If you can identify a difference between these two groups (I could) you have a starting point.

My posts that went up were much more “human” with barely any aggressive SEO. I love SEO, it’s my jam, but I don’t think it’s my friend any more. At the very least SEO has changed, and nobody can tell you how as yet.

As Google said, sites that are poorly maintained, or written for Google, not humans, were penalised. They’ve obviously stuffed up and a lot of the outcomes of this update seem to be not much more than luck, but I think we have to read what they say and act accordingly. The spam sites that were taken out in the September update by the site-wide penalties are gone for good, I think. Nobody has recovered from that update yet. (source) But if, like me, you were only hit in March, I think there’s some hope of recovery. Google say that if the “unhelpful” content is removed and they see long-term improvements, rankings will recover. (this is all in the link above.)

At the lowest point of this update, I had two days where I made just $17 on Mediavine ($500 is my best and was normal a few years back). Since then, about 10 days ago, that number has about tripled and is rising. My hotel sales are still very strong but Amazon is dead to me, at the moment, I may work on bringing that back. The pittance Amazon pays out is barely worth it. I’m hopeful we can get back to making a living, not pocket money, from our websites. That said, the structure of the SERPS, with Google’s own (and Google’s friends’) results at the top of the page, are here for keeps. I doubt we’ll ever get back to the glory days of 2019. In the meantime, if recovery doesn’t happen. I’ll move a lot of content to new domains or my existing, unaffected, domains, work harder on my list, and maybe even do some Pinterest. No, only kidding, Pinterest is dead to me too. And I’ll be using Bing.

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

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