Small review site lost 91% of its Google traffic to affiliate-focused SEO content

HouseFresh, a small, independent product review website that called out Google after being consistently outranked by larger publishers – has lost 91% of its Google traffic following the March 2024 core update.

In a new blog post, HouseFresh has virtually disappeared from Google Search results. Now what?, Gisele Navarro highlighted ongoing issues with Google’s product search results favoring “affiliate-focused SEO content” from big media brands, what they’ve learned and what’s next for the site.

Why we care. There has been a lot of anger about Google killing websites and industries in the wake of the March 2024 core update – and more is on the way in the form of Google’s new reputation abuse policy, which goes into effect after May 5.

Keyword swarming. Big media brands (e.g., Dotdash Meredith, Forbes) are using a tactic called “keyword swarming” and flooding the web with subpar content, yet dominating Google’s search results.

  • Meanwhile, hollowed-out carcasses of legacy brands (e.g., DeadSpin and Money) pump out commercial (sometimes AI-generated) content, all designed to drive affiliate revenue while squeezing out every ounce of brand value that remains.

Traffic loss. HouseFresh also revealed how much traffic it has lost since October:

  • “Since October 2023, we’ve gone from welcoming 4,000 people from Google Search each day to just receiving 200. And of those 200, most are adding ‘HouseFresh’ to their searches to find us specifically.”

Google doesn’t owe HouseFresh traffic. Navarro acknowledged that “Google doesn’t owe us anything. We don’t simply deserve to get search traffic because we exist or because we say we should.”

  • She also hit back at people for “gaslighting us into thinking that our content is not helpful enough for readers.” (However, from what I saw, this was an honest critique, not gaslighting).

History repeats itself (again). SEO pioneer Mike Grehan discussed a similar experience that occurred at a search conference right after Google’s huge Florida update in 2003:

“So many attendees … felt that Google was putting them out of business.

One guy … explained loudly to the packed room that he had been the number one result at Google in his niche for two years, and his business was booming. Then, after the update, there was no sign of him in the SERP. 

I suggested that he, perhaps, should not have ‘bet the farm’ on this one source of revenue to sustain his business. I also suggested that, yes, we should go to Mountain View and visit Google. And when we see either [Larry] Page or Sergey Brin come through the reception, he should walk right up to whichever one it was, kneel down and kiss his ass ‘because he’s been sending you free customers for two years!’”

Google’s Florida update: 20 years since the SEO ‘volcanic eruption’,

None of this is new. People have complained about Google driving them out of business for 20+ years. That won’t make HouseFresh feel better – but the reality is Google doesn’t owe you traffic, rankings or a living.

What’s next for HouseFresh. Navarro promises to be “relentless” on every platform where it makes sense for them to be. Sounds a bit like diversification, doesn’t it?

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