I've recovered after the Google December 2020 update.
I know a lot of people are interested in this topic, so here's my main point:
Recovery is always possible.
Before the update, my website was bringing in more than 100k users per month.
And it was a real pain to lose that traffic.
The first thing I said to my team when I saw the site crashing was "don't panic."
I needed to keep a cool head. So my first action was to observe the situation.
Observe and analyze.
After the update, sites were divided into two categories (as always): those that grew and those that fell.
My task was to find some common features of both.
People love to analyze sites that fell. Why don't we pay attention to those that grew after the update and see how they managed it?
In April 2021, Google rolled out an update that was directed exclusively at affiliate websites. This update meant my site could recover after all my hard work.
Enough time passed and suddenly Google rolled out an update that was directed exclusively at affiliate websites.
But let's move on to the main topic: How I recovered from the December 2020 update and what it cost me, with practical tips and thoughts that will help you to do the same or even think about if you're good now.
The Steps I Took:
Now let's take a closer look.
1. I implemented silo.
The structure of my site was a big surprise for me.
I thought it was set up well and easy to use.
But from a web crawler's view, it wasn't.
Thankfully, WordPress showed me the power of a crawler's logic.
Here's how my site looked before the update:
The first thing I wanted to implement was silo architecture.
If you're not familiar with silo, it's a way to group content and link structures in a way that crawlers love.
For example, before silo a page would be located at myhealthysite.com/paleo-diet-recipes/. After silo it would be located at myhealthysite.com/nutrition/paleo/recipes/.
I was thinking about implementing silo around year ago, but it's hard to do and there was "never enough time."
Now I had the time. 😂
Here's how my site looks now:
How I did it:
I copied all my posts from the posts section in WordPress into pages in the pages section and created parent pages for each silo.
But changing my site architecture wasn't enough, so I kept working.
2. I categorized my content in a different way.
As I said, I thought my site was logically perfect.
But to fix my site's structure and create a better user experience, I had to rethink all my content from a categorization perspective.
And it was a real pain in the ass.
I made a decision: to focus only on commercial content for my silo pages.
It's like using best practices in e-commerce.
I took inspiration from one affiliate website in particular: NerdWallet.
NerdWallet is great at categorization.
Just take a look at their credit card structure:
How I did it:
I did in-depth research on my competitors and created a spreadsheet of all possible ways to categorize my content. It's not as big as you might think, but it has really helped me look at my website in terms of categories. After that, I implemented the best chains for my silo pages.
3. I implemented breadcrumbs for better navigation and Google crawl.
Breadcrumbs are everywhere in e-commerce.
But not in the affiliate and blogging world.
They're simple navigation elements that help Google crawl your site properly, and they also help your users.
Implementing breadcrumbs not a hard technical task, but if you're struggled with it, here are some ways you can do it. About 99% of modern WordPress themes have an option you can enable. It can also be easily done with the Rank Math plugin.
4. I created brand-new category pages.
Almost all categories in the blogging world are awful—and not just on affiliate sites.
Seriously, could you find a quick example of a nice category page (and not from big sites like NerdWallet)?
Creating new category pages was hard, but it was a nice continuation of my silo architecture.
Imagine that a visitor lands on the category page of your site. Will they be satisfied? Can they find something easily?
Poor category pages are a common mistake, so I wanted to find a good template to help me improve.
And I did.
Now my pages are more serious and more useful for users.
It's really hard to change category pages in WordPress. It's rarely possible in theme settings. I recommend using Elementor or Thrive Themes (as I do). They make life much easier.
5. I rewrote stolen pieces of content.
One more thing that blew my mind was how Google ranks my pieces of content.
If you put your search query in quotation marks (""), Google will search specifically for this part of the text. It's a simple and powerful way to find duplicates of your content—to find who stole your content.
And here's the truth:
If you find your content anywhere else, it's not your content anymore.
Because Google thinks you stole it (even if someone else stole it from you) and will decrease your search ranking.
Unfortunately, generic websites (doorways) will rank above you.
I know a lot of people who complain about this point, but I'm 90% sure that if your content doesn't rank first when you search it in quotes, you're in a bad position in Google's eyes
It's like when you Google your own brand and aren't in the first spot.
BTW, if you know of any research about this type of duplicate content, please leave it in the comments.
I would be happy to check the research and bust this myth if it is one.
Place your most important pages (or the pages where you've seen a drop in rankings) in plagiarism checker and find the most-copied paragraphs. Google some of the sentences within quotes. If you're in first place, you're good. If you're not in first place, rewrite some content.
6. I fixed internal links issues.
A few months ago, I was listening to The Authority Hacker Podcast (if you're in affiliate marketing you must pay attention to it) and the hosts were talking about the evolution of niche sites.
A guest (Spencer Haws) said one thing about internal links that caught my attention:
If you place an internal link, make sure it's relevant and correctly optimized.
Sounds so simple that everyone would already understand it, right?
Not exactly. It's all about attention.
I'll give you an example.
A writer created an excellent article about grills. It covered a broad topic that would fit under the best grills keyword.
When the writer was describing budget models, he made an internal link to another best budget grills article with the anchor text "best budget grills." Later, he linked to an article about best grills under 100 with the same anchor text.
All of these links describe budget models, but Google doesn't understand which one ranks for the "best budget grill" keyword.
I see a lot of people making this mistake—even experienced content creators—just because other staff members did so or because they didn't pay enough attention.
I've even seen this mistake on my own site.
So I decided to fix it.
The solution is to place relevant anchor text with keywords you want to rank for. For example, if you want to rank for "good grill under 100 bucks," make that your anchor text.
The best and fastest way to do it?
With automated tools it's really hard to tell whether your anchor text is understandable in the context of the complete text or not.
7. I removed low-quality informational content.
What happens when one of your best copywriters starts screwing up and missing things like uniqueness and on-page optimization?
You get poor stats like these:
1. When you target a keyword with only 1,800 searches per month:
2. When you target a keyword with only 14,800 searches per month:
And so on.
When it comes to search results and traffic, it's doesn't matter if an article is well written and easy to read if it's not optimized and unique.
It just won't rank, or it will rank the same as low-quality duplicate content.
Sadly I didn't realize this earlier, but I worked to fix the problem.
How I did it:
My team rewrote all our low-quality content and optimized it with Surfer and by understanding user intent.
8. I added 41 pages of useful content.
But there was one problem with rewriting old stuff.
We removed a lot of informational content when we started rewriting.
In March, Matt Diggity published a video about the December 2020 update.
If you didn't see it, here it is:
Most of my site content was "best" pages—articles about the best products in certain categories.
In the video, Matt gave me some things to think about, and new theory came into play.
My team needed to add more informational content.
So we added 41 new pages of how-to posts and other informational content, all in a very short period of time.
We didn't do anything special to add the content—we just hustled. But I do want to mention that I've seen Google starting to hit affiliate websites really hard. The way forward I see for myself in this business is to start concentrating more on informational content.
One more thing:
I've checked dozens of affiliate sites in the hosting niche. There's one I still remember to this day because it was really good.
Nice links, awesome content. But 80% of its content was reviews and "best" lists. It made me think about this again.
9. I deleted annoying affiliate signals.
The next theories on how to improve my site came from researching sites that lost traffic in the Google update and also more potential reasons why websites got hit by the update.
Here's an important question for affiliate sites:
When you go to the website's index page, how do you understand whether it's an affiliate site or a real business?
These sites will have huge numbers of links from the index page to "best" reviews. It's annoying.
Seriously, it takes like one second notice if something is an affiliate site or if something looks like a real business. If you use spam techniques, you just show Google that you want to make money, not help people.
Let's take a closer look:
Pet Life Today
PS — Pet Life Today removed this block and now the links on their index page only go to their informational articles. Nice job! 🙂
So I removed the block too.
We all know an index page is really powerful for link juice. My recommendation in this section is just a theory, so why am I doing all these crazy things? Because I needed to help my website recover, and to do that I wanted to implement every single theory.
10. I implemented the first screen theory.
My next theory had to do with the first screen visitors see on a website.
I'll give you an example because big sites are already trying to implement clean first screens.
Let's look at Gear Hungry again:
This is even being implemented by REALLY BIG SITES.
Seriously, let's take a closer look.
They all have clean first screen without annoying "Buy now! My best offer is here!" ads.
I understand it's confusing to compare small affiliate sites with such giants.
But my sites had the same problem.
They had a first screen with a big offer (or even two or three). Then after a simple introduction, there were more offers.
When you try to sell like crazy, it probably indicates to Google that your site is a spammy affiliate site.
So I removed the offers and created a clean first screen.
PS — Some of you will find this theory funny or even crazy. But I'll repeat: It's just a theory and I wanted to try every single one for recovery. Maybe it was helpful, maybe it wasn't. But it was important to try. 😉
11. I improved site speed & prepared for core web vitals.
Everyone talks about web vitals right?
But I also understand that I need to prepare before the core web vitals update releases in May.
Because I understand that the only way to check if your changes will help your website recover is to wait for Google's next update.
Here are the results:
One of our review articles
12. I disavowed 482 links.
This step is simple but effective.
It won't help you recover too much, but in the long run it's a nice move to help your site grow.
13. I gave my site a completely new design.
To roll out all my changes—silo, new category pages, etc.—I decided to completely refresh my website's design.
To make it unique and keep it from looking like an affiliate site.
And here's an important tip:
Remove all old tech stacks and make one from scratch for all other projects. Now I don't need to worry about tech things on other sites because my main tech stack is good enough for at least 80% of my other projects.
14. Bonus tip: Diversify your links!
This is my last theory, which I love.
Not only can it potentially save your site in the affiliate world, but it will also give you more commissions.
Just take a look:
You need to give your readers choices.
All the big sites are doing this. They diversify links.
They link to a product on Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.
And I will do the same for my projects.
So there are my theories and my results.
In fact, I've seen a 611% traffic increase. And this keeps growing.
Do you have any questions?
Or maybe you've already implemented some of my theories.
Maybe you have more ideas to share.
Feel free to leave a comment—I would be happy to discuss this with you!