Q1 2024 Changes to This Website

Like everyone since the beginning of the internet, I neglect to pay much attention to this, my personal website. In the past few years, it’s become something of a sandbox, in which I can run experiments and projects that I wouldn’t want to use on a client or business property, but in the real world, in a website with some good age, and no little search engine ranking.

Google’s March Update this year has got everyone a flutter. It’s reminded me a little of a period during 2007-2009 when I was just starting out in business. Back then, we had found great success ranking early versions of shopping and price comparison websites in Google, before Google introduced Google Shopping and coincidentally de-indexed a lot of shopping and price comparison websites (including all of ours).

I learned some lessons back then about how Google’s search engine results belong to Google, and building a business which relies too heavily on ranking in Google is a dangerous prospect.

The March update had a lot of echoes of those times. I’m hearing (third hand) about people leaving the SEO space, quitting their jobs, and businesses lost overnight.

After our experiences in the late 2000s, I focused all web efforts on users, not search. SEO on-page elements should be at 100%. You should focus on page performance – I made the fastest website in the World, remember – as well. But not for Google. For people.

Building websites and web pages and experiences for people has meant that my teams and businesses have ridden out the recent algo shifts with some pleasing results: all our important properties rose in March for organic ranking.

Except for this one.

In this website, I’ve been trialing some AI content. I was also publishing discount coupons and voucher codes here, from retail partners, mostly to try to get a handle on the best way to do this at scale in 2024, with a view to bringing some of this content back into some business properties I work with.

Google’s March update (a follow up to last years Helpful Content Update (“HCU”)) focused on removing (and it feels like applying the old manual penalties, but across the whole web!) low quality, AI content, and also to prevent “authority abuse” which had been happening by large authority websites (which rank very well) doing things like adding coupon sections (hmm, remind you of anything!?) and selling advertorial, guest posts and text links (among other spammy things – which thankfully I’ve never done, and have zero tolerance for in my inbox to boot).

I’d already experienced something of a hit when removing the “translation” service from this website a little while back – I’d been running US English, Australian English, Canadian English “versions” of this site using hreflang tags, which was actually very successful, and helped this website to rank in the USA. The canonical power of the backlinks to those translations was incredibly good, and 301s from the old US version to the UK version of posts has not (yet) brought back ranking on the cornerstone blog posts which had been doing so well previously – but that I knew about and expected.

So I’ve done the following things:

  • Removed the Discount Coupons CPT and all related content
  • This includes updating the menu, home page, sidebar.
  • Removed all the translation system
  • Pruned out most “low quality” content which had been AI-enhanced or assisted – that experiment was a measured success, but all I proved was that we had been right when we made our WP GPT scope to insist on putting human editors at the heart of all content operations, even when AI is involved.

I’ve also continued to insist on scoring 100 (or as close as feasible) for all core metrics I can – that includes:

Google PageSpeed Insights (Desktop) for this very URL, showing a 99 for Performance, and 100 score for Accessibility, Best Practices and SEO

These things done, it remains to be seen if the ranking will recover. The Google Search Console chart looks like this at present:

However, the content which ranked well in the past, does still rank okay right now – and some content is bouncing back to the number one slot already, since I made the changes. For example, “it will take as long as it takes” is still number 1, from back in the Peppa Pig years, and the fastest website post I made still ranks pretty well, but not as well as it used to before the translation changes took out canonical benefit from some big backlinks that post has got.

Some old rules remain true: Google ranks pages (URLs) not websites. Making good content, which meets a user’s requirements (and therefore their search intent) will always win out in the long run.

I’m not alone though, some big casualties of the March update, including my friends and colleagues over at WooCommerce, who had to revert their domain move to woo.com, as this saw a spectacular drop in traffic, as they felt they were caught by the March update too (though perhaps it was 301 issues or other migration problems — who can say from outside!?).

Were you caught out by Google’s March update? Leave a comment below! (I add a phrase of this nature below many blog posts. The conversion of visitors to comments in 2024 is spectacularly low, so please do leave a comment if you are in any way interested in these subjects! This is a safe and attack-free zone, unlike most of Social Media, and you can make up a fake name, as long as your comment is sensible!).

About Robin Scott

I'm Robin Scott, a WordPress Consultant and WooCommerce expert developer who, along with three other people, runs a business called Silicon Dales Ltd remotely, from a base in the North of the UK. I enjoy using my talents for programming to track and interpret sporting, political or retail data - and therefore you'll see me posting some content in these spaces in this, my personal website. If you're interested to talk about leveraging this for your business (in sport, entertainment, retail, etc) please contact me.

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