Skip to content Case Study: Improve Site Quality

Every new Google Search Update impacted, losing a significant chunk of organic search traffic. After months of research and brainstorming, I found that it’s an issue with site quality, which shall addressed over the next few months or might even take a year. This blog post will record the changes made and their impact on performance.

Okay, this will be a long post about how I will work to improve overall site quality. Just grab a coffee or snack, and enjoy the read.

I have been working on for four years as a contributor and editor, and it has seen a continuous decline in the last year.

If you don’t know, BrowserHow is an online content publishing site about web browser how-to guides and troubleshooting browser issues. You can learn more about BrowserHow.

Note: This page was drafted on November 7th, 2023, and content has been added (or updated) over the period.

Impact of Google Search Updates

Regarding the decline in traffic, BrowserHow has been affected by multiple Google Search Updates.

Looking at the data for the past 16 months (the longest the Google Search Console offers), you will notice the Search Update (incidents) and its effects on the performance timeline.

BrowserHow Performance Drop over 16 months - Google Search Console

As pointed out above in the screengrab, here are the corresponding Google search updates.

  1. September 2022 core update
  2. September 2022 product review update
  3. October 2022 spam update
  4. December 2022 helpful content & link spam update
  5. March 2023 core update
  6. Unknown update
  7. September 2023 helpful update

You can find the details about all the search update incidents on the Google Search Status page.

I am not going into details about which search update has impacted the most (it has been covered later), but the performance looks pretty bad. Comparing the first data point to the last, it’s an 85% drop ↘️, wiping out our online footprints.

Historical Changes made on the Site

I’ve made multiple (technical) changes every time the site got hit due to search updates. I can’t recall everything I did. However, here are some significant items (not in the order):

  • Changed the WordPress theme from Blogrow (free) to Neve Pro
  • Customized the front end to make the site look appealing, modern, and user-friendly
  • Adjusted the Site UI for the readers to differentiate between main content and supporting content/elements easily
  • Created a dedicated Homepage instead of a standard post-feed
  • Switched away from stock images to custom-created featured images
  • Reduced the number of display advertisements
  • Added Page Summary section at the beginning of each article post for easy digest
  • Added BrowserHow brand social media links
  • Added Dark and Light mode theme switch
  • Added related topics and social sharing icons after the content
  • Added dedicated Author Bio Pages with their experience, expertise, and educational background, along with social links to authors’ LinkedIn profile
  • Improved the About page to include the purpose and mission of BrowserHow along with details of each author with their headshot picture
  • Improved and simplified the static pages (like contact, sitemap, disclosure, privacy policy, etc.) to easily understand
  • Improved mobile-friendliness and passed all core web vitals in the Google search console and lighthouse test
  • Improved content categorization and added them to header navigation links
  • Removed unnatural interlinking within the page content and site footer
  • Removed sidebar tabs: Recent Posted and Trending Topics
  • Disavowed Spam Links and later deleted the disavowed file
  • Deindexed AI-generated content
  • Deindexed low rank, low traffic, and unhelpful content (based on the research done with Google Search Console data)

I think this list covers most of it; I will add more points as soon as I remember.

I have also made some changes to the backend:

  • Upgraded the webserver to improve loading speed
  • Routed via Cloudflare CDN for better speed and protection
  • Migrated to the latest server operating system for a powerful LEMP stack

All these changes weren’t very impactful. Maybe they played a small role in improving a few low-hanging issues.

About Content Published on BrowserHow

Now let’s address the Elephant, or I’d say Dinosaur!

Most of the content published on BrowserHow is contributed by remote writers and freelancers who are well-versed in the technology field. They either have a technical education background or have been in the tech industry for a while.

I may not say they are tech experts. However, I can indeed say they are tech enthusiasts who love to write. Even I contributed nearly 30% of the total content published on the BrowserHow as of today (November 2023).

However, I modified most of the published content, which was heavily search engine optimized. From a third-person perspective, it was search engine-focused rather than people. Maybe that’s the primary reason for the fall.

In fact, the content published on this blog,, is helpful and reader-focused and does well in the search results.

Note: I’ve partially used the AI-generated content (and published ~30 articles) for a while, but all that content is now deleted or deindexed from the search engines.

Research and Analysis for Traffic Decline

I have professionally worked in research and analysis for most of my corporate job life. I am very fond of it even today and have done thorough research based on multiple assumptions (search engines don’t provide the exact reason why your site had to take a bullet).

research and analysis of website traffic

Every search update is unique and targets specific fundamentals to rank or de-rank the site based on the evaluation and competitor comparison.

Every type of update has hit the BrowserHow in the past. Hence, it was challenging to corner a specific issue on the site or page that caused a downtrend.

But if you look keenly and analyze, Spam Updates and Helpful Content Updates most impacted the site. Now, these two updates are mostly related to the content of the site rather than any off-page/site factor.

After the September 2023 helpful update, we also encountered October 2023 and November 2023 Core updates, but they didn’t have much impact.

So, I can conclude that BrowserHow has passed the Core Update test (at least for now), and for the time being, let’s stick with the other impactful updates – Search Spam and Helpful content.

Search Spam Update

The spam update focused on punishing the sites that heavily rely on black hat SEO tactics to gain the search ranking. I’ve thoroughly read the Spam Policies document to discover a few factors (keyword stuffing and scraped content) that might have impacted our sites.

google search home page on ipad

Apart from the mentioned, there might be a few other spam update factors that I may have overlooked.

Keyword stuffing

As mentioned in the previous section, we have published heavily SEOed content.

It was the knowledge learned from the well-known SEO gurus who have mentioned different tactics to stuff the page with relevant long-form semantic keywords to make it sound natural.

Basically, we will get the keywords from the Webmaster Tools and Search Console, then we will write a few lines to include those keywords and place them in existing content to rank and sound naturally to start getting rank for those missing keywords.

Now, I think it is an absurd tactic and not user-friendly. There was also another tactic:

Add the keywords in H1, H2, H3, and at the beginning of the content, stuffing a few times within the main content body and lastly in the content footer to get the ranked for keywords

Thank you 🙏, SEO Gurus, for your definitive guides that ruined the entire internet ecosystem.

Scraped content

The problem with working with freelancers and remote writers is the authenticity of the content.

In the past, we have hired dozens of freelancers, and most of them have been caught rehashing or rewriting the content that already exists online.

Sometimes, it wasn’t easy to identify if the content was rewritten or original. It has become even worse after AI-generation content at its full pace.

I also admit a mistake; I didn’t thoroughly check the contribution but trusted the authors with authenticity, and now I am paying the price of losing search engine presence.

Haven’t I been lenient, it would have been different today.

Helpful Content System

Moving on, the helpful content update has been the worst for the site.

Of course, the scraped and keyword-stuffed page is not helpful. The content was written, rewritten, and revamped for search engine ranking. Hence, this update has bashed us.

The helpful content system generates a site-wide signal to identify the ratio between helpful and unhelpful content. If the classifier finds significant unhelpful content, it has a ripple effect over other pages and even the entire site.

Given that many pages published on BrowserHow have been deemed unhelpful (assuming from the down-trend of traffic after helpful content update), the entire site has been demoted from the top positions and even removed from the featured snippets.

Yes, we lost all the featured snippets and even got blocked to appear at position zero.

Plan of Action for Improving BrowserHow

Looking at the overall (technical) changes made over the last year and its impact on search results, I can zero down on content quality as a primary issue and nothing else. I haven’t done anything significant to improve the content other than fixing the technical side of the website.

As a plan of action, I need to publish the helpful content and update the existing content to improve helpfulness, ditching all SEO tactics.

Just following the essential SEO guide from search engines will be enough.

plan action write on notebook

I believe the BrowserHow already complies with most of the SEO requirements to be indexed on Google, Bing, and other search engines. Perhaps improving the content quality should bring back the lost shine.

Here are a few things that I’m committing to:

  • Make no changes to the site design and layout
  • Participate in forums and online communities to improve the E-E-A-T factor
  • Continue to add new content and update existing one
  • Deindex and delete the irrelevant piece
  • Lastly, Get BrowserHow back to normal and make it a go-to website for web browser how-tos and troubleshooting guides.

I’ve already communicated to the authors with new content guidelines primarily focused on user experience (not on keywords or SEO optimization).

You can check out our latest articles on BrowserHow, which follow the new content guidelines.

What’s next in my To Do?

As mentioned, I believe the content quality is the major issue with the site. Hence, I will be putting 100% effort into improving the overall content and rewriting everything if needed to make it helpful and doesn’t sound robotic.

It might take a toll on my physical and mental health, but I will give it a try. As I mentioned, completing the page content revamp and seeing the results might take a few months or a year.

Given the current bandwidth and available resources, I can commit at least:

  • Publishing four new articles and
  • updating 12 existing articles per week.

Hence, I am setting a target to complete it by the end of the following year, i.e., December 2024. If things go well, I will continue working on BrowserHow or let it die in peace!

Periodic update about the BrowserHow status

I am adding this section (on Dec 28, 2023) to keep a log of significant changes and their impact on the site’s performance.

Update #1: Dec 28, 2023

  • I’ve stopped adding new content – there is no point in adding new content when your existing content isn’t good enough to survive. Ultimately, the new content will be classified as unhelpful (even though helpful) due to site-wide penalties.
  • Mostly focused on updating the existing content – I am gradually updating it to simplify and remove the fluff. Currently, I have completed almost 25% of the total pending post. I plan to finish the updating task in the next two or three months (as soon as possible).
  • I moved the ads after a sub-topic completion. Earlier, I had reduced the number of display ads on the site. I have moved the ads to be placed after completing the content section (or, we may say, before the <H2> tag).
    Reason: I do not want readers to confuse the ad and the main content. Also, there should be minimal distraction due to these ads while reading the content in a flow. (consider it as a move to improve the user experience)
  • Performance – There has been a considerable decline in the last few weeks. We have now tanked to 95% of the peak traffic. However, I hope things will improve only after the content updation is completed and the new article is restarted which shall take two or three months.
    BrowserHow Performance - Dec 2023
  • Bulk updated the titles and meta description – earlier, our title, meta title, and description weren’t helpful. Instead, it was the keyword-focused writing with word and character limit. Now, I have moved away from all those SEO tactics. The title will give a comprehensive idea of what a reader can expect from the main content. We aren’t limited to 60 characters or 160 characters anymore.
  • Changed table of content section to blend with main content – earlier the table of content was highlight and used contrast color theme to catch the user attention. However, this is now changed to look like the part of content and have similar theme that of main content.

There were few other minor changes made on the sites, however, they were insignificant.

Overall the look of site has been changed to make it uncluttered and simple to use. What really matters is the better readers (or user) experience.

Update #2: Jan 30, 2024

  • Continued to update the existing content – I’ve continued to update the existing content to match with new guidelines that I have set for myself. I’ve updated nearly updated 80% of total post till date. I am planning to complete it by end of Feb 2024 and make some changes in the content that were updated at the beginning.
  • Performance – there hasn’t been any improvement in the performance (instead it dropped further compared to last update) even after making the changes to improve helpfulness. Maybe it will take some time. If the traffic continue to drop at this rate, I guess we will have no traffic by next quarter (June 2024). Let’s wait and see how things will go.
    BHow Performance - Jan 2024
  • Paused with adding new content – in previous update #1, I did mention that I’ve stopped publishing the new articles. It has continued till month, and a single post has yet. I might think of publishing new content only after completing the updating process.
  • No further cosmetic changes – I haven’t touched the site theme or made any changes to the site. I feel this design will stay until I see any chances of recovery. There is no point in draining my energy on something that is not worth the time.

I might need to take a break after completing the content updation.

I am also waiting for a Google search update to see the impact of changes made in the last few months. I hope the results will be positive (fingers crossed 🤞).

Update #3: March 11, 2024

Here we go—Google has rolled out the March 2024 update, which includes parallel Core and Spam updates. The update might take a month to complete and is known to suppress 40% of unhelpful search results. It has been released after a four-month gap from the previous November 2023 core update.

It is said that the March 2024 update is tweaked to impact automated content published to abuse Google Search and gain ranking. There has been a lot of chatter and complaints about the site being deindexed from Google with a manual penalty.

At BrowserHow, we do not use any kind of AI tool to generate content, and all the existing content has been revamped. I have been rewriting it to make it simple and as helpful as possible.

Anyway, I was waiting for the update to decide BrowserHow’s fate. Let’s see how it goes after the update is fully rolled out.

  • A temporary pause in content update—There was an expected temporary pause in the content update process due to my younger brother’s marriage. I had to take a break for 20 days, but now I am back in the flow and have 10% of the content left for the update. I will finish that in the next two weeks.
  • Performance – The traffic from search engines has been very turbulent but has remained in the same range since last month. However, I noticed the impact due to the March 2024 update. I am not sure, as it’s too early to say anything, let wait and hope for the best.
    BHow Performance Update 3 with Google March 2024 update rolling outThere has been a significant drop even on weekdays.
  • Paused adding new content – There has been no content addition in the last few months. The content update was a top priority and I completely focused on it. After completing all the content update work, I will restart with new publishing.
  • Removed featured image from post – I’ve removed the feature image, which was added after the second or third paragraph. I noticed that the image was taking up too much above-the-fold space, and adding no value to the reader. Now, more content is visible above the fold. Feature image as also impacting the Core Web Vitals metrics.
  • Changed the post author to my name* – In the process of revamping the existing content, I realized that the original author’s contribution remained negligible. So, it no longer makes sense to keep them as Authors. Some of the contributions were so bad that I had to rewrite the entire article. While I am really thankful for their contribution, I can no longer give them content credits (but I have fully paid).

* Note for self and every website owner: After reviewing every piece published in the past, I think the biggest mistake I have made is trusting the author and freelancers with the content contribution. They have done the work just to get paid and nothing else.

Always monitor the content that authors and freelancers are publishing. Let the content be proofread with multiple editors and sub-editors before going live.

Prevention is better than cure

As mentioned, it’s too early to comment on anything about the impact of the latest core update that’s rolling out. Given the changes I have made to the site and content, I hope the algorithmic update will have a positive change.

Update #4: April 30, 2024

Both the update Google March Updates: Core & Spam have completed the roll out. And there was significant fluctuation in our site performance over the update process. However, there is a good and a bad news.

  • Good news – has been recovered from the Spam update and we started to appearing in Featured Snippets as well as in Generative results (SGE).
  • Bad news – Our traffic has dropped further post completion of update rollout.

It’s heartening to watch the site being dusted. I have worked really hard over last few month to ensure the content is as helpful as possible.

  • Content Publishing – I’ve completed the updating the old articles, and started publishing the new ones. We are gradually publishing new content which have been lying in our drafts for months of pause. We still have more than 70+ articles pending and will try to publish periodically over the new two months. It will help in catch up with the current contribution flow.
  • Performance – As mentioned, the Google Search update started on a good note, but eventually dragged down the site traffic. We also have the drop in impression. I think the core update was not in our favor.
    BrowserHow Performance Update #4 with Spam Update recovery
  • Cosmetic/layout changes – the site was failing in the core web vitals due to larger page elements in the footer that was delaying the page loading. We have removed the “Recommended On” section from all pages and kept it only on the home page. Now, the web vitals are slowly recovering and page load is much faster due to smaller page HTML size.

Apart from the mentioned, we haven’t made any changes and continue to keep the site content up-to date and smoother.

I am not sure when and how the next update will impact on the site. If it continuous with same rate of traffic drop, the site will be grounded in next few months and I might have to consider quitting the site. 😔

Kushal Azza

Kushal Azza

Kushal Azza is a Google Certified IT Professional, Digital Content Creator, and Go-To Digital Marketer. He has over a decade of experience solving tech problems, troubleshooting, and creating digital solutions. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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