December Google Core Update: Impact to Website Portfolio and Plans for 2021

Mushfiqur Sarker

There was a massive Google update on December 3rd, 2020. The last one was on May 4, 2020

Website owners and investors dread these updates because you never know what will happen. You could be doing everything right (e.g., no “blackhat” links, quality content, no PBNs) but still get hit. Both of my large sites were hit in the May 2020 update.

For more details on this update, here are some good resources to read and follow:

In this review article, I will be covering the high-level stats of each of my sites that I do case studies on, what was and was not done to the site over the last 6 months, and plans for 2021.

Loser 👎: WordPress Website

One of my largest losers was my WP website. Read up on the case studies here.

This was a DR 58 aged domain in the WP niche that I was building up to be an authority site. My costs to date have been $6,700.

Let’s look at the Google Analytics data:

image 15

Let’s correlate that with Google Search Console data:

image 16

Since the traffic is low, it can be difficult to correlate whether it’s just a single keyword that has been hit or the entire site.

We can utilize AHREFs as a third-party checker:

image 17

From the above image from AHREfs, things get even more confusing. My main keywords that were on the first page (i.e., positions 1-10) remain steady over the update. Some keywords in positions 1-3 have actually increased. However, anything on the second page or lower has taken a nosedive.

What has been neglected on the site?

Let’s recap on what I missed to do on this site over the past 6-months:

  • Fresh content: content was added in April and May 2020. No content was added over the last 3 months
  • Interlinking: no interlinking was done. Only a related post plugin is being used
  • No new backlinks: due to the powerful backlinks already present, I decided not to add any new backlinks
  • No social signals: no social profiles or traffic exists for this site

Plan for 2021: I plan to do a full audit of the website to understand how to implement the above missed opportunities.

Winner 👍: Outdoor Site

My outdoor site has seen an increase in traffic in the December update. This site was significantly hit in May Google core update so really glad to see it get back up there. Read up on the past case studies here.

This is one of my two main websites that received tender, love, and care during the last 6 months.

Let’s look at the Google Analytics data:

image 18

Let’s correlate that with Google Search Console data:

image 19

We can utilize AHREFs as a third-party checker to see what keywords actually increased:

image 20

From the AHREFs snapshot, we can see that all positions moved up overall but there were significant gains in keyword positions 1-3.

What has been done to the site?

Since this site grew in traffic, let’s recap on what I did do:

  1. Content: On average there have been 30 (peak of 70) articles posted onto the site since acquisition in April.
  2. Social traffic: Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest traffic was increased
  3. Email/Direct/RSS traffic: push to get more returning visitors via email, direct, and RSS traffic
  4. Interlinking: using the Link Whisper plugin, I built many internal links
  5. No backlinks were built either manually via outreach or through platforms

Plan for 2021: I will keep putting out excellent content and doing the basics as I have. Nothing needs to change.

Winner 👍: Dating/Relationship Site

The dating site also saw an increase in traffic. The site was significantly hit in the May Google Core update and now it’s showing small signs of recovery. Read the past case studies here.

At the peak in May 2020, the site was receiving 2,100 visitors/day, and now even with the increase after the December update, the site receives 1,200. Still, a long way to go to get back to the peak.

Let’s look at the Google Analytics data:

image 21

Let’s correlate that with Google Search Console data:

image 22

We can utilize AHREFs as a third-party checker to see what keywords actually increased:

image 23

The week-over-week traffic has increased on an hourly basis. We have moved up in keyword positions for almost all keywords as shown in the AHREFs screenshot; that’s a huge win.

What has been done to the site?

Since May 2020 update, we have done the following:

  1. New theme with author bio and archive pages: We designed a theme from scratch and put the focus on the content readability, author exposure, and me.
  2. Content audit: we reviewed content to see if it is ranking or brings any value. If not, the content was deleted or 301 redirected.
  3. Backlink audit: we disavowed any bad backlinks
  4. Interlinking: We interlinked content together. However, more can be done on this front
  5. Fresh content: we added a few articles on content a month to the site to keep things fresh
  6. No backlinks were built either manually via outreach or through platforms

It has been a waiting game to see if the site would grow again. The site has shown some promise.

Plan for 2021: I will do a content audit again to see which articles need to be fixed up or removed. More interlinking will be done between articles. These things should give the site a further boost.

“Semi”-Loser 👎: Lifestyle/Health Site

The website we are doing an investor <> operator partnership on did take a slight dip in traffic. I say slight because the traffic was also ramping up due to the holidays.

It’s hard to tell the proportion of traffic loss due to seasonal keyword position changes versus the evergreen keywords. We can only analyze the data we have now but for this slightly seasonal site, we will have to review month to month to really see the impact.

Let’s review Google Analytics data for December vs a week in November:

image 24

The site took an organic traffic nosedive when comparing the week before Black Friday weekend to the week after the core update in December. However, there is seasonality in play here.

Let’s also compare the Google Analytics data for December vs a week in October:

image 25

In this case, the organic traffic actually slightly increased. The increase is just variability and not enough to say that we actually got a ranking improvement though. This shows that there is definitely an impact to a few high-traffic pages that ramped up in November.

Top Traffic pages

So I dug deeper into the top traffic pages and found one page that was getting significant traffic and was a page targeting a “Christmas” keyword. See the drop below:

image 26

The same page compared to October:

image 14

In short, there was a run-up. It can be one of two things: (1) keyword positions dropped for these keywords, or (2) intent has dropped. I am OK with both since the remainder of the site is doing fine! I prefer non-seasonal sites; I treat those keywords as a “holiday bonus”.

Let’s review the AHREFs keyword position report:

image 27

Keyword positions dipped for the first page. Digging deeper it was the “Christmas” related keywords.

What has been done to the site?

Since the acquisition, the operator has put in significant effort on the following:

  1. Improving old content: many of the old articles were updated with better monetization and fixed content
  2. New content: approximately 4 articles per month were added to the site. Not as much as I hoped but still enough to keep the site fresh.
  3. New theme and on-page improvements: new theme and speed improvements were done to give the site better on-page dynamics
  4. Content audit: articles that were not getting traffic was removed from the index
  5. Backlink audit: low-quality backlinks were removed
  6. No backlinks were built either manually via outreach or through platforms

Plan for 2021: The operator will continue adding content and fine-tuning the site. We will look to sell the site in Q1 2021.

🤝 Wrap Up

I’ve had major wins and major losses through many Google Core updates since 2008. I know many people have been hit during this update. I know the feeling. It can be demoralizing.

I plan to continue growing my portfolio into 2021 and providing you all with the intricate details on each site I work on.

Mushfiqur Sarker

Analyzed by Mushfiq Sarker

Mushfiq has been buying, growing, and selling website assets since 2008. His first exit was in 2010. Since then, he has done 215+ website flips with multiple 6-figure exits. Learn more about Mushfiq.

Join 1,800+ investors in the Website Flip Club on Facebook!

Facebook group

The private Facebook group is an advanced community of website creators, investors, and flippers to discuss strategies, ask questions, and collaborate. Check out the group on Facebook!