There’s no worse feeling as a site owner than waking up and finding that all your traffic disappeared overnight. Your rankings are gone, and now you’re scrambling to find out how to recover from a Google algorithm update.
My personal sites have been hit by updates, as have Listen Money Matters and other sites owned by Lasso team members.
There are two things you should know about getting “hit” by a Google update:
- It sucks.
- You can recover. It just takes time.
In this article, I’ll tell you how to confirm it’s actually a core update affecting your traffic and also how to recover your rankings when it happens.
So, take a deep breath, and keep reading to learn how to recover from a Google algorithm update.
How to Know if Your Site Was Affected By a Google Core Algorithm Update
There are many reasons your site traffic could suddenly decrease that don’t have anything to do with Google core updates.
The first thing you should do is determine whether or not there is actually an update to blame.
Confirm There Was Actually a Core Update
Often in the SEO (search engine optimization) community, people suspect there has been an algorithm update when there really hasn’t been.
First, check to see if Google has issued any statements about a new update. When it’s a big core update, they are usually rather transparent.
If you don’t trust what Google has to say about it, RankMath has an updated list of confirmed and suspected updates. It’s a great place to confirm your suspicions.
Lastly, check SEO forums and see if anyone else has been asking about a new update. If your traffic just dropped off, it may be a new update, and other site owners may be asking questions as well.
If none of those searches bear fruit, it’s probably not a Google core update that caused your traffic to drop. You’ll have to put on your detective cap and look elsewhere.
Check Your Analytics Data
Even if there was a core update, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s why your traffic dropped off. Sometimes it’s as simple as seasonality in your niche or decreased search traffic in general.
Look at your Google Analytics data, and see if there is a noticeable break in the trend.
First, look at the last three months. Was everything fine before a steep dropoff, or has traffic been steadily decreasing? If so, then it’s probably not all due to the update.
Then, look at the last couple of years around this time. Does traffic often fall off this time of year, even a little bit? If it does, then there is probably some seasonality baked into your niche that you didn’t account for.
How to Recover From a Google Algorithm Update
After you’ve confirmed that your traffic drop is due to an algorithm update, it’s time to find out what aspects of your site are no longer up to standard and improve them.
Step 0. Don’t Panic
There are two things niche site builders typically do when they get hit by an update. They either throw their hands up and quit, or they panic and start tearing down parts of their website.
Both are the wrong approach.
What should you do when you get hit by a Google update? Go take a sip of whiskey, sit down, and don’t do anything. Just relax.
The first thing you should do after getting hit by a Google update is take a deep breath and relax. Walk away from your computer for a minute and take stock of things. This isn’t the end of the world.
Once you’ve had a moment to decompress, we can start to address what happened and try to recover your rankings.
Step 1. Determine the Purpose of the Update
If Google put out a statement about the update, they almost definitely gave an intended purpose for the update.
For example, in December 2022, Google rolled out the helpful content update. The stated purpose of that update is to ensure your site’s content is written with the intention of helping searchers solve their problems.
If your site isn’t meeting the new guidelines the update addresses, then that’s what you need to fix.
Example: When Listen Money Matters was affected by an EAT update (expertise, authority, trust), we had our writers update their LinkedIn profiles to show their industry experience. This showed Google our writers knew what they were talking about.
Step 2. Identify Which of Your Content Was Affected and Find Patterns
Often an update won’t affect all the content on your site. If it does, that’s because there is a common issue with all the content on your site that needs to be addressed.
However, if you noticed some blog posts lost traffic but not others, then you should be able to find patterns within the bad posts. What separates them from the good?
Identifying and fixing those patterns is what being a successful site owner is all about.
Step 3. Look At How Your Competitors Were Affected
Maybe it wasn’t just you; maybe your whole industry was affected. (This happened to the health and wellness industry in 2018 due to the Medic update.)
If you’re the only one who lost rankings, then your competitors are doing something you aren’t. Find out what it is and implement it.
If you and a bunch of your competitors lost rankings, then it’s possible that those queries have been consolidated under other search terms. Check the SERPs to see if large media publications are now ranking for your keywords.
TIP: If major publications are dominating the SERPs for your target keywords, you either need to find different, narrower keywords to target or find a way to establish topical authority so you can outrank them.
Step 4. Prioritize and Make Changes
Once you’ve got a strong hypothesis about why Google dropped your site, it’s time to determine how to fix it.
This can be super overwhelming when you look at the list of all the changes you need to make and all the posts you need to make them on.
So, slow down, and treat this like creating new content. Identify what changes will move the needle the most, and do those first. Start with your (previously) most valuable article, and move down the list from there.
Don’t try to fix everything in one day. Put a calendar together and be realistic about how much you can get done at once.
Step 5. Give Your Site Time to Recover
Fixing your content is excellent and signals to Google that you care about providing great content to your readers. But recovery takes time.
Don’t expect to update your blog posts and get your rankings back overnight. This will be a slow process.
TIP: Keep publishing new content while you’re waiting to see if you get your rankings back. SEOs have known forever that publishing frequency matters. There’s no better way to cement a dead site than to stop publishing content.
How to Protect Your Site From Google Core Updates
Now that you know how to recover from Google updates, here are some tips to prepare your site to survive any updates Google sends your way.
Focus On the User Experience Before Anything Else
Every update Google has ever published has had an intention related to user experience.
Think about it this way: why would Google send you search traffic if your site doesn’t answer the searcher’s question?
If every piece of content on your site expertly answers a question readers have, Google won’t have a reason to move you down the SERPs.
Diversify Your Traffic Sources
It may sound obvious, but Google updates can’t hurt your site if you aren’t reliant on Google search traffic.
There are many great traffic sources besides organic traffic, like paid search traffic or social traffic.
When in doubt, diversifying everything is the best way to future-proof your business.
Build a Dedicated Audience
Google updates can’t take away repeat readers.
By engaging your audience on social media and building an email list, you’ll be able to get your new content in front of readers without Google’s help.
Also, if your content is awesome, your readers will spend time on your page and click on your affiliate links. These are more small signals to Google that your content is legit, and your rankings should consistently improve.
Recovering from Google Core Algorithm Updates – Final Thoughts
I know what it’s like to have a site’s traffic wiped out by a Google algorithm update. I had a site making a full-time income drop to almost nothing overnight.
Worse yet, I just let the site die. Since then, I’ve seen copycat sites pop up in the niche and stay successful.
If I had followed the steps in this guide, I’d have a niche site making five figures per month.
I hope you can learn from my mistakes and follow the steps in this guide to recover rankings for your own sites.
If you want to see more examples of how to recover sites from Google updates, check out the latest episode of Seeking Profit. Emil and Andrew talk about when Listen Money Matters and Roofstock got hit by updates and how they kept going.
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