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 BrowserHow.com 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
Talking about the decline in traffic, BrowserHow has been affected by multiple Google Search Updates over the period.
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.
As pointed out above in the screengrab, here are the corresponding Google search updates.
- September 2022 core update
- September 2022 product review update
- October 2022 spam update
- December 2022 helpful content & link spam update
- March 2023 core update
- Unknown update
- 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 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, WPAQ.com, 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 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).
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.
Apart from the mentioned, there might be a few other spam update factors that I may have overlooked.
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.
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.
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!