Niche site owners are furious about the results from Google’s latest Helpful Content Update but SEO experts are not showing sympathy for the fallout.
- Niche site owners are upset by the Google September 2023 Helpful Content Update due to a sudden traffic loss and unhelpful sites filling the search results.
- SEO experts are showing no mercy to the niche site community for their troubles.
- Important lessons can be gleaned from the update despite the shake-up in Google Search.
It has been a turbulent ride for the niche site community over the last two and half weeks with many niche site owners fuming over the outcome of Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update. In spite of this, SEO experts are showing no mercy to those affected by sudden traffic loss in the search results.
The Google Helpful Content System is designed to surface helpful, people-first content in the search results, but niche site owners are up in arms because they feel the September 2023 Helpful Content Update did everything but that.
Niche site owners attest that Google’s search results are now ridiculously unhelpful for users and littered with AI-generated content, hacked sites, low-quality forum comments, off-topic Reddit threads, generic Quora answers, etc.
Impact On Niche Site Owners
One of the top trending posts on X near the start of Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update was by Elle-Rose, a travel blogger, who has a 12-year-old site. Elle-Rose published genuinely helpful and unique content with passion and knowledge on the subject matter, which is what the Helpful Content System is designed to reward.
However, Elle-Rose’s site lost 80% of its traffic in 48 hours during the Helpful Content Update in September 2023 which left her crying in misery over the severe impact.
A post by Craig Smith in the Ezoic Publishers Facebook Group attracted a number of comments about the latest Google Helpful Content Update. Smith personally thinks the Google algorithm is broken, saying that some sites deserve the higher rankings in the search results but others have no place on page one of Google Search.
Asad Nadeem commented on Smith’s post saying: “Google is now completely messed up since the last year’s update. Gone are the days when quality content was the key.” Nadeem also referred to Google’s algorithm as becoming a “demon” that the engineers are “no more capable of taming”.
James Klopfer chimed on the post with: “I got crushed. Original content and pics in a niche that I am an expert at. How do articles that rank #1 or #2 for years go to #25 replaced by 15 year old forum posts?” Klopfer also expressed frustration that the “big boys” (meaning major brands and/or sites with high Domain Authority) are getting the top spots in Google Search.
On Reddit, Altruistic-Angle-808 posted in the subreddit r/SEO that their site was hit by the recent Helpful Content Update, saying: “It’s the worst I’ve ever been hit by one. I’m in a small niche, I know my shit about said niche, I’ve written a book in the niche and my website is five years old. All that time I’ve been sitting in the top three for all my articles. Now they’ve been spanked way down, some on to page two even. What have they been replaced with? Articles by insurance companies that answer the question in one sentence in an unrelated article, whereas my article focuses entirely on that question, answers the question directly and went into further detail related to that question.”
NicheAlchemist has been vocal on X about the unfair advantage low-quality sites have received in Google Search after the Helpful Content update in September 2023.
NicheAlchemsist said: “Gathered a list of 20 competitors in my niche and checked their traffic. Not kidding at all, the only sites that weren’t hit by the recent update are all AI. Two of the sites are an exact clone of each other with different branding, even the same authors. Horrendous blog roll home page, no real author, half the images not loading, stock images, etc. Me: Professional in the space with decade+ experience, a degree, and other credentials. Well-designed site without a standard blog roll home-page, all unique images, custom videos for how-to guides, every major social platform (active on all of them), the list goes on… What do I even do in a situation like this. ‘Just keep doing the right thing’. No. I have been doing that, while they reward the opposite.”
NicheAlchemist also started a thread on X asking users to share images of their website traffic charts and percentage losses (or gains) from the Helpful Content Update to assess the destruction in the niche site community.
Several X users posted images on the thread from their Google Search Console reports that showed a loss between 50-90% for organic impressions and clicks from Google Search during the September 2023 Helpful Content Update.
Jitendra Vaswani posted a screenshot on X of spammy-looking sites with randomized text in the domains ranking for coupon-related keywords. Vaswani tagged John Mueller, Google Senior Search Analyst, saying “@JohnMu is this really helpful ranking spam websites and destroying good content websites.” At the time of this writing, Mueller did not comment on Vaswani’s post.
SEO Experts Show No Mercy
Despite the fact that a plethora of niche sites took a beating in the search results from the September 2023 Helpful Content Update, some SEO experts are showing no mercy to the niche site owners who were impacted negatively by the algorithm change.
Lily Ray, Senior Director of SEO and Head of Organic Search at Amsive Digital, gave some tough love to the niche site community in this X post, saying: “I’ve looked at hundreds of website impacted by the HCU so far, and I really don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I’ve found almost no examples where I said: ‘Yeah, this was an unfair hit and this site deserves to rank on top.'”
Chris Miles, an SEO with 8 years of experience, posted this on X: “Positive thing about the HCU… All the niche sites fakers get filtered out. While the OGs figure it or and keep trucking.”
Kasra Dash, an SEO expert with 600+ digital assets, showed no mercy to niche site owners by posting this on X: “What if I were to tell you that the HCU update didn’t penalise niche sites? It penalised [poop emoji] sites that were all massive content farms built to generate as much cash as possible.”
Wilk, an X user with over 10 years of experience in ecommerce and SEO, said on X: “TBH if your niche site has been completely tanked by the HCU, you had a weak SEO plan. A solid SEO plan includes diversification across keywords/pages/products/audience-types, and hopefully traffic sources.”
All Hope Is Not Lost for Niche Site Owners
Although it seems like SEO experts and niche site owners are butting heads over the September 2023 Google Helpful Content Update, there are some positive vibes coming from some members of these communities.
Gurl Who Blogs, a user who is documenting the niche building journey, shared a great outlook on X for the niche site community to take note of during this time of ranking uncertainty: “You know what? Sure, I got hit by hcu and lost 40% of my traffic… but my site is still earning me an income. Sure, it’s less than before. But an extra stream of income is an extra stream of income. IT STILL PAYS THE BILLS. And it’s worth it.”
Gareth Boyd, co-founder of Forte Analytica, began a post on X with these words: “SO UNFAIR. I didn’t deserve this.”—referring to a site that was started in February getting hit by the latest Helpful Content Update. But after some objective analysis, Boyd realized the site could use some improvements.
“My team, my brothers, me. WE DID NOT DESERVE THIS,” said Boyd. “Well, actually – to be fair, we did. The content was subpar. There are ‘real’ businesses outranking us. If I look at the SERPs as our average target user, the site’s outranking us is better overall.”
Boyd went on to say: “Thankfully, I know our site can be recovered. I’ve spent the past few days working on sites that have been given a rocket boost. Now this update has completed it’s rollout. I’m fairly confident in what we need to do…”
Personally, I like those outlooks on the situation. Suffering from a traffic drop after a Google algorithm change like the Helpful Content Update in September 2023 can be brutal for niche site owners. But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom if you just change your perspective a bit. However, SEO experts could be a bit more sympathetic with their comments instead of wagging their fingers at the niche site community. Because, frankly, that is not very helpful for anyone.