This post is my attempt to explain when the troubles with this affiliate website began, how they unfolded, and why I think it is *steadily recovering* from Google’s March 2024 helpful content update (HCU).

When I say *steadily recovering* I mean that if I apply all the efforts and changes I made to the example silo, as you will see in this article, I simply believe that this website will recover from the March HCU.

Further, Google made the HCU part of the core algorithm, so I think it is very likely that more partial and full recoveries will be seen from this point forward.

Lastly, I don’t have any previous experience with algorithmic penalties, as this is the first time I have experienced a hit on my content properties by Google. So, I am still learning as I write this article.

A few notes regarding this website:

  • This is an affiliate marketing website
  • Doesn’t serve ads
  • Even on the info articles, I have affiliate boxes
  • Only manual link building/outreach I’ve done myself
  • Built on a brand-new domain
  • Before the March HCU, the website was growing and making an average of $1000/mo

When Did the Troubles Begin?

In October 2023, I noticed a change in rankings. I wasn’t losing keywords; instead, Google ranked the featured images from the article for the primary keyword instead of the article itself in the SERPs—and not just for one article but tens of articles. The result was fewer clicks to my website, fewer affiliate clicks, and fewer affiliate commissions.

When I dug further into Ahrefs, I saw thousands of spam links linking to the featured images, mainly with my primary affiliate keyword as an anchor.

Of course, I decided to ignore these toxic backlinks because Google said they ignore them, just like most SEOs.

Today, I’m pretty sure that’s a lie. You can believe in whatever you want Google to say, but I believe in what data says.

“In God we trust. All others bring data.”

Google March HCU: Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, the Airplane Is Going Down

A few days after the HCU was reported to be happening, I saw the traffic doubling in a day.

Spike in Traffic on 5th of March during March HCU
Spike in Traffic on the 5th of March during March 2024 HCU

Little did I know what would happen during the entire month of March, plus April and May.

The airplane was going down. I have no doubt that the March 2024 HCU hit this website.

See it for yourself.

Steady Decline in Traffic during March HCU
Steady Decline in Traffic during March HCU 2024

I didn’t make any changes during March.

I continued publishing content as before and reading the observations of more experienced marketers than myself.

The Changes I Implemented in April and May

When you have 300+ articles, you can’t just start making random changes on a large scale. You take a sample. I chose one silo that was declining in rankings and worked only to improve those articles.

Only after that I worked to improve the website in general. Let’s see the process.

1. The Process of Improving the Silo of 8 Articles

The silo had 8 affiliate articles, and I made the following changes:

1. Bottom post internal links

At the bottom of each article, I had a section called “Recommended Articles” with manually created internal links. Honestly, many of them were irrelevant. I removed the entire section and the links.

2. In content internal links + anchor texts de-optimization

I’ve created new in-content internal links, mainly between the articles in the silo. Further, I used exact anchor text match 1 or 2 times max per article.

I used LinkBoss to suggest the most relevant anchor text and places for the internal links. I also asked ChatGPT/Gemini/Claude to create a transition sentence between the two articles—the one I’m editing and the other I want to link to.

The prompt is: “Create for me 1 or 2 transitional sentences between the topics “X” and “Y.”

This way, the partial match anchor text was naturally used for the internal link, and it was surrounded by text matching the context of the article.

3. Article intros

I rewrote the intros for the 8 articles. There is nothing special here except that I was trying to demonstrate how I was using the product and, whenever possible, sharing a short personal story related to that category of products.

4. Affiliate boxes/links

I pushed down any content above the affiliate box list, except for the intro.

5. Indexing

Only after I improved the entire silo, I’ve submitted the 8 links for indexing. I used GSC + IndexMeNow.

What I Didn’t Do?

  • I didn’t change H1/meta titles, meta descriptions, or featured images.
  • I haven’t added any new media or text other than rewriting the intros.

2. The Process of Improving the Presence of the Website

Here are the two weak links regarding this affiliate website:

  1. There were many weak spots related to this website’s authority/E-E-AT (whatever you believe it’s called).
  2. The number of the growing toxic backlinks was expanding with the speed of a black hole.

Improving website authority signals

My website didn’t have any social media accounts (ouch). I created and immediately started bulk posting on:

  • Pinterest
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • YouTube (I used it only to link to my other SM accounts)
  • LinkedIn
  • Flipboard

Then, I followed Jamie I.F.‘s recommendations on building brand signals by creating brand profiles on seven platforms. I have access to this information as I am a member of his Conversion Collective private group.

Out of respect, I won’t share the seven platforms. But think of it as building profiles on Crunchbase (yes, this is one of the platforms). It’s not about whether the link is do-follow or not.

Further, what I did is to cross-post my articles on different platforms, such as:

  • Medium (as a business)
  • LinkedIn articles (as a business)
  • Hashnode (as a business)

Also, I found a few active niche-related forums, where I spent a few hours a week participating in discussions (under my personal profile) and mentioning the name of the website whenever possible.

I wasn’t dropping any affiliate-related content; I just mentioned the website’s name whenever it was natural.

Mass Disavowing Toxic Backlinks

Well, here we come to the most heated topic of the March 2024 HCU.

Here, I must say thanks to GrindstoneSEO for sharing his process. I can’t go super deep into details out of respect for him, but here is roughly the process:

  1. Identify all bad backlinks (use tools such as Ahrefs)
  2. Submit the list to Google’s Disavow Tool
  3. Repeat the process every 3-4 days
  4. There is a step for recrawling/reindexing in the process

Ensure you read the last part, where I explain why I think toxic backlinks are real and should be disavowed.

Improved my website structure

I’ve improved my website structure:

  • I’ve added all categories to the menu (category -> sub-category)
  • I’ve added post-sharing buttons
  • I’ve improved all categories by adding descriptions to the category page. I saw Michal Barus doing it for e-commerce category pages, and since my affiliate website’s main competitors are e-commerce brands, I’ve decided to act like one. 😀

Collecting emails and sending a weekly newsletter

I installed Grow by Mediavine and started collecting emails. After that, I signed up for ConvertKit. I’ve connected Grow to ConvertKit and am sending a sequence of welcome emails.

I’ve also created a subdomain, connected to my ConvertKit creator’s profile, and created a beautiful page.

Then, I added a new section to my website’s menu called “Newsletter,” and I added the link to my ConvertKit’s creator profile. I submitted it for indexation via IndexMeNow.

My Observations after the 2nd of June

On the 2nd of June, something started to change. 

For the past week, the website’s daily traffic has doubled compared to the previous month, and it looks like it is heading to 1K clicks per day (fingers crossed).

Here are the major traffic and ranking changes I see:

  1. The silo I optimized and another related silo have spiked in traffic.
  2. I am seeing a shift in rankings between articles and their featured images. Now, the images are being substituted with the article on top positions, improving the CTR. This is why I think disavowing toxic backlinks works (if you don’t remember, read again the first part where I explained when the troubles began).
  3. At one point during the March update, I woke up and found that many of my highest-traffic info articles had gone to zero traffic. When I checked in Ahrefs, I had lost all the keywords I was ranking for overnight. Basically, I wasn’t ranking for anything anymore. Over the last week, these articles have started ranking again in top positions.
  4. Another shift in ranking I’m noticing: let’s consider this example: before the March HCU, I was ranking for “best flip flops” (this is only an example keyword). After the March HCU, the main keyword changed to “best flip flops opinion/s,” and now again, the main ranking keyword has changed to “best flip flops.”

The end result is not just more traffic but more affiliate link clicks and more commissions. I’ve basically quadrupled link clicks and tripled the income per day (since the 2nd of June).

My Conclusion (Partial, I Guess)

If I have to make any conclusions based only on one week’s results, it looks like this is a partial recovery, most likely because of the following changes I implemented:

  1. Mass disavowing toxic backlinks
  2. Improving the relevancy of internal links
  3. De-optimizing anchor texts
  4. Building more brand/authority/E-E-A-T signals

Of course, it could be a false positive. If it is, then I believe what will come is the end of this website.

Anyway, what follows is to repeat this process for the rest of the articles, work batched in silos.

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  1. Hey, is there a link to the GrindStoneSEO instruction on how he disavows the links? Can't seem to find it.

      1. Thanks, I did pretty much everything you mentioned in the article, now want to try removing the toxic links. Could you please share the steps you did on disavow (perhaps privately in the email) because I am desperately trying to find the guide. I will highly appreciate it.

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