Where's Baldo?

Google's Decision to Effectively Kill-off Small Sites

6 min read
BloggingGoogleOpinionSEOSearch Engines
Article author: michael
Cover Image for 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 webtravel, 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 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!

Until next time,
michael 😀

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