Google Algorithm Update + Rankings Dropped?

Sometimes you can do everything the “right” way with your sites, just for a Google update to roll out and crush your site. And sometimes you do everything the “wrong” way, and you actually get rewarded when a Google algo update rolls out.

So, what does this mean? Here’s the thing – every single time Google rolls out a new algorithm update, there are sites that take a beating that shouldn’t and vice versa.

And sometimes, you have a site that gets kicked down the SERPs that you think shouldn’t have…but an deep audit reveals that maybe it deserved it.

Getting Hit By Google’s May 2020 Core Update

Guess what? One of the sites in my portfolio took a hell of a beating when the core update rolled out in May.

The rollout of this update officially started on May 4th, but if you’ve been in this game long enough then you were able to recognize that it actually had a trial run a week or so earlier (like these big updates always do).

Here’s what my Google analytics looks like for this site:

may 4th google update traffic drop

What you don’t see in the previous months is that traffic to this site really took off and kind of exploded when the stay at home orders started in the U.S. In fact, it was up to over 10K daily traffic.

What happened was some keywords that I’d been targeting finally moved to the top of page one. And, since the broad niche is entertainment, the search volume was around 10x of normal volume.

So, getting that #1 spot (featured snippet) right before things started getting bad in the U.S. boosted traffic. Then, the traffic really shot up with everyone at home wanting to be entertained.

Other data about this site:

  • aged 2+ years
  • minimal link building, but links are all high quality & white hat
  • the DA is high 20s
  • most traffic from organic search, but some from Pinterest and Facebook
  • content quality is good because I wrote 90% of the articles on the site & edited the other 10%

And this is just a sample of the carnage in Ahrefs for this site once the update hit it:

ahrefs lost rankings

Within a few days this site had zero keywords ranking in the top 100. None at all.

The only traffic the site was getting was via social and non-Google search engines.

While I’ve had sites take small beatings from algo updates in the past, and I’ve had manual link penalties, I have never had a site with all of the keywords gone from the top 100 due to an algo update.

What To Do About It?

You can imagine the alarm I felt upon seeing all those rankings vanish. Fortunately, I’ve been struggling with finding a monetization offer that converts well for this site, so there wasn’t a big income loss when this site disappeared from the SERPs.

The first thing that I did was check Search Console to see if I’d somehow gotten a manual penalty. It really looked like a manual penalty.

But a penalty never appeared in Search Console.

Then, I checked to make sure the site was still indexed in Google. It was.

Since I’d seen the Google announcement about Core Web Vitals before anyone else was really talking about it, I figured speed played a part in the core update. So, my next plan of action was to check site speed.

core web vitals slow speed

As you can see in the screenshot above, the site was having poor speed on mobile. That first red day is April 20th and the last on June 8th.

This is despite me fixing the speed prior to June 8th – it just took Google that long to actually validate the fix.

Here’s a screenshot of the problem:

LCP speed issue

Though I’m not sure why it says it was first detected on May 28th when the graph clearly shows April 20th.

Fixing the poor Core Web Vitals issue was a really easy fix. All I did was move the site from WPX to Cloudways. That’s literally all I did.

And I haven’t done anything else to the site at all, so far.

Typically, these Google updates roll out and something gets fucked up, so a correction comes about 10 days later. So, I always tell people to wait for that correction to see if things go back to normal.

They did not go back to normal for this site.

Though, the fact that it took Google until June 12th to validate my page speed fix could have something to do with that.

So far, the lowest traffic day for this site since the May 4th core update was on June 12th (which is weird since that’s the day they validated the page speed fix). And traffic was 146 for the day.

But if you refer back to the Google Analytics screenshot above, you’ll notice that the most recent traffic trend seems to be rising back up.

Yesterday’s traffic to the site was 266 and I’m starting to see keywords popping back in Ahrefs. I’ve even reclaimed a featured snippet.

That being said, I have every intention of going through this site and doing all the things I’ve detailed in this post. But I likely won’t have time to do that for another three weeks.

Final Thoughts

I wrote this post to be transparent about the fact that anyone can get hit by one of these Google updates. Even when you do everything the “right” way.

On a side note, don’t you find it interesting that you never hear any of the big gurus admitting that they have sites hit by the algo updates? (With the exception of Spencer Hawes back with the RankHero fiasco)

In fact, I know one white hat guru who got absolutely hammered by a core update a couple of years ago, and then lied about it when asked if he’d gotten hit by it. He still maintains that he’s never been hit by an algo update.

Mental.

Anyways….Even though I was doing everything by the book with this site, it still got hit.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement on my site. Because I know there is simply because it’s an aged site with content that hasn’t been updated in a while.

The truth is that once I get through my audit, I know that the site will be stronger than ever.

So, if you’ve got a site that’s been hit by an update – I know the panic, confusion, and anger that you’re feeling. All you can do is audit the hell out of your site and keep on working on it until the site bounces back.

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5 thoughts on “Google Algorithm Update + Rankings Dropped?”

  1. Hi Shawna,

    I recently also got hit really hard by the May update and lost about 80% of my traffic literally overnight and still haven’t recovered.

    All of the serps for my main KW’s are all filled with huge authority websites such as Pinterest, reddit, Quora, facebook, youtube, gettyimages, shutterstock, medium, or just utter crap.

    I used to be ranked #1 or in the top 3 for a lot of KW’s because I have really good content and engagement.

    The site was mainly white hat too!

    The only two issues I see are the authority of the site and page speed.

    I’m currently running ezoic and it’s slowing my site speed by quite a lot.

    I’m not sure what I should be doing.

    Should I try to build more backlinks to boost the authority, get rid of ezoic for good, or should I just wait it out?

    This site is my main source of income and I’ve spent over a year on it, and it saddens me to see all of my work get flushed down the drain overnight like this.

    Please help!

    Reply
    • Hey Kevin, sorry to hear about your site also taking a beating. Sadly, I haven’t had the time to dig in on this one yet as I’ve been crazy busy. But I did notice that my hit site has started a slow recovery with the small update people were talking about last week. Another person I know who also got hit by the May update is also seeing some positive movements. And neither of us have done anything to the hit sites! I hope you’re seeing positive movements as well.

      I think fixing page speed is definitely a good idea, but I’m not sure that this alone is your problem. The site of mine that got his has zero ads on it and my Ezoic site did not get hit.

      I also think that getting good, quality backlinks is always a safe play as well. If you’re on a tight budget, then try HARO for free links or nobs.links for cheap links.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  2. Hi Shawna. I would start off by saying that this website of yours and the content you put here has been a real eye opener for me.

    This is Dhananjay Bhardwaj. I run a website in a tech niche that I started back in 2017. I know how people would suggest not diving into the tech niche as it’s ridiculously competitive. But I got into blogging because of my interests in tech (have been writing about it since 2012). I was made aware of SEO in 2018 and had no idea something like that even existed.

    Anyhow. My site ran pretty solid up until June 2019. I was outranking a majority of my competition because of the quality of the content I post, compared to others in my niche. At least that’s why a lot of my readers told me.

    I have never indulged myself in any shady SEO techniques, and yet my site was hit hard back in June 2019 with the core update. Thankfully, it resurfaced automatically with the September 2019 update.

    Only if I knew it would get hit again in January 2020 core update. Ever since then, my website has only lost traffic gradually.

    There’s something common between these two traffic loses. After the June 2019 update and after the January 2020 update, a majority of all my articles lost ranking and no matter how much I improvise them in terms of the content, their position won’t improve. All the new content that I published after the update last year, as well as this year wouldn’t get ranked either.

    I somehow believe it’s an algorithmic penalty in play. Why? Because despite the amount or quality of content I have written since January, the traffic never increases. I am not saying that all the pages should rank. Some keywords may have low search volume, etc. But there’s no way that none of them brings traffic. I know you would think that I might be writing on topics people won’t search for. But that’s not the case.

    For the past five months, I have tried and dig into the site, to find the cause of this. There must be something, right? Something that led to the downfall of my site two times within an year’s time frame.

    Trust me, I went over every aspect, be it the quality of content, the site speed, excessive ads, on-page SEO, and what not. With no luck.

    So, that’s what I want to ask you. Would you be able to help me track the root of the drop and help me fix it?

    I don’t know where else to go. I have followed up tips from SEO gurus (which I never trust), I have tried playing along Google’s guidelines, and yet my site fails to rank and all I see ranking are sites that stuff keywords, scrape content, and have manipulated their backlinks (in a way that Google can surely figure out, and yet).

    Please help me out a bit Shawna. I like your approach towards SEO and Google, I see some resemblance when it comes to that.

    Waiting for your reply. Be safe.

    Reply
    • Hey, thanks for the kind words! And sorry to hear about your site taking a beating. If you’ve done a comprehensive audit yourself, then it sounds like you need to have someone else take a look at it. Unfortunately, I’m super busy right now and don’t have the time. You may want to see if Glen Allsop at Detailed/Viperchill has any openings – he’s really the only person I can think of that I’d recommend for this sort of thing.

      Reply
      • Thanks a lot for the heads up! I will try and get in touch with Glen and see if I can really afford his services. 😉

        Reply

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