Amazon affiliate review site recovery, after getting wrecked by Google

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I’ve been putting this one off for a while, mostly because I just wasn’t ready to get back into it. This is for a mixture of reasons really—but ultimately, it’s a little depressing to look at, given where it once was and where it is today, and the thought of cranking out more copy for this project isn’t something I’ve not been too keen on. 

But here I am now, a good 3-4 months since I last looked at it, starting to give my neglected Amazon affiliate site a little love after it was decimated by one of Google’s product review updates back in December last year —which was far from the best Christmas present I received last year!

While I’m aiming to be as transparent as possible with this post, and indeed any subsequent future updates or follow ups, including traffic stats, earnings, and pretty much anything else—I’ll continue to honour the age-old affiliate marketer tradition of a gentleman never tells when it comes to my domain and niche.

The history of this site and its journey thus far

Before I get into anything else, I’ll cover a bit of the history of the site I’m trying to recover – how it started, its peak, what went wrong, and where it’s at today. Much of this is best illustrated with a chart from Google Search Console, which I’ll include below along with a couple of notes.

The first of these notes will be around earnings—as summarized below:

  • Total earnings to date: $9,848.03
  • Peak earnings (Nov 2021): $2,714.91
  • Earnings last month (Jul 2022): $10.27

Next up, we’ve got traffic—as summarized below:

  • Peak sessions (Nov 2021): 34,908
  • Sessions last month (Jul 2022): 584
  • Total traffic loss: 98.33%

Below is a screenshot from my Google Search Console and Google Analytics accounts, showing the gain and loss of traffic for this site over the past 16 months. I’ve drawn a red line on it, marking December 1 2021, which is the second Google product review update—the one that the site got hit by big time.

Google Search Console, past 16 months
Google Analytics, past 16 months

Next is a screen from SEMRush for the same period, showing the climb and eventual fall of the site in terms of organic traffic and visibility.

SEMRush, past 2 years

As you can see, there was a bit of a comeback in traffic around Mar/Apr 2022, which is when I last put any real work or effort into the site. Since then, it’s tanked to near zero, doing around 10-20 visits a day at the current time.

It’s fair to say that at this point I’ve got my work cut out for me, if I’m going to return this site to its former glory—but it’s not a total write-off, and I think a significant improvement from where it is now is certainly possible with enough time and effort.

Google product review updates

There have so far been a total of four product review updates from Google, these being:

  • 8th April 2021 (First update)
  • 1st December 2021 (Second update – the one that hammered me)
  • 23rd March 2022 (Third update)
  • 27th July 2022 (Fourth update)
  • …and there’s another on the way, along with the recently announced “helpful content” update

The updates are all about removing low-quality, thin product reviews from the SERPs—you know the ones, “The Best X of 2022”, with 5-10 products in a listicle that the writer has not only never used, but not even research, with content being little more than rehashed versions of Amazon product descriptions.

While sure, getting hit by one of these updates hurt, I can see the point of them—as Google’s main objective is to connect users with high quality content that provides them with value, which these types of low-effort product round-ups simply don’t do. 

I’ll get into a few of the issues and how I intend to resolve them for my site later in this post, but for anyone with a site that was also hit or is just generally interested in the topic, the best places to start are Google’s quality product reviews guidance and their affiliate program guidance for an overview and a few pointers.

A few things I’ve learned from this experience

While this site didn’t turn out quite as I’d hoped the first time around, it has taught me a few valuable lessons which will help both as I aim to turn it around and with my approach to similar projects in the future. 

  • Avoid putting all your eggs in one basket

    While this is always good advice, in my specific case it was focusing too heavily on the same types of content and backlinks—failing to diversify enough to avoid any potential hiccups along the way with changes to Google’s algorithm. 

    The reason I did this was that what I was doing worked, and it was also fairly low effort, being rinse and repeatable—until it wasn’t. I’ll get into more detail on what these core elements of my strategy were later in the post.
  • Pick a niche you have some sort of interest in, however small your interest

    Perhaps the biggest lesson for me is to pick a niche you’re interested in. You don’t need to be an expert, but you have to have enough interest in the topic to see you through times like these, when your site takes a dive, as it’ll be incredibly difficult to keep yourself motivated otherwise. 

    Having a genuine interest isn’t just useful when it comes to keyword research and content production, it can also make link building much easier—as you’ll be able to convincingly join and participate in the various online communities around your niche, making outreach simpler and much more likely to yield good results.
  • Don’t get complacent! 

    It’s easy to take for granted what you’ve already achieved, assuming that the gains you’ve made will last forever without much effort to maintain, freeing you up to keep going broader on your niche, rather than taking the time to increase and continue to build authority around the terms and phrases you already rank for.

    What I mean by this, is instead of working to build on what I had, I instead opted to go a mile wide and an inch deep, assuming that I’d reached the point that whatever content I threw up on the site—however thin—would, without question, rank quickly and rank well. Sure, it did for a while, but in hindsight it wasn’t sustainable and wouldn’t give the site enough topical authority to weather a Google update.

Why I’m covering this topic and why now

While I’ve read plenty about affiliates with sites who’ve lost upwards of 90% of their traffic as a direct result of Google’s product review updates, I’ve yet to come across any stories from anyone who has managed a strong recovery.

I’d written this site off for a few months now, with the last time I did any real work on it being towards the end of Q1—and with what seems like a constant barrage of product review updates from Google, which consistently hit the site each time they roll out, it didn’t seem like it was worth the effort to try and recover.

It was only recently, when putting together a list of free resources that I published on my ultimate list of no credit card free trial SEO tools, that I discovered just how much value is sitting out there that most of us don’t really tap into—and in particular, AI writing assistants

There are a ton of them, either with a forever free tier or some sort of free trial—in fact, while I knew there were loads of them, I didn’t realize just how much value was being offered by them free of charge. So, I figured why not jump on the AI content bandwagon and see what I can do with 50-60k free words in my back pocket to give this dead donkey of a site a bit of a lift.

Brief overview of AI writing assistants

Here seems like as good a place as any to address the question of AI writing assistants, as I’m aware this topic is somewhat polarizing in the SEO community. The best place to start is to explain what these tools are, how they work, and how best to use them. First, they’re all essentially the same, using GPT-3 via Open AI’s API, which is an autoregressive language model that uses deep learning to produce human-like text. 

Interestingly, Google is on the record as saying automatically generated content, specifically created using GPT-3 is against their webmaster guidelines—but let’s face it, what isn’t? The reality here is that these tools are best used as they’re advertised, as writing assistants—not a substitute for content writers. You still need to fact check, proof, and rework content generated using these tools, it’s just a lot easier and faster to produce content starting from a generated draft, as opposed to a blank page. 

Personally, I’m a big fan of these tools, and plan to utilize them heavily in my recovery plan for this site. They’re far more sophisticated than the content spinners of old, and offer a considerable shortcut when it comes to producing and publishing content at scale, especially for anyone just starting out with next to no budget. 

What’s the problem with sites hit by Google’s product review updates?

These types of sites typically have two big problems:

  • Too much transactional content (“money pages”—mostly buying guides and/or product review listicles) and not enough informational content

  • Money pages are low quality—being made up of mini-reviews that are little more than a rehash of product descriptions from Amazon

While everyone who has been hit may not be guilty of these two things, I certainly was—having 200+ super low quality buying guides that offered little to no value to the user. 

And sure, it’s annoying to have seen such a massive drop in traffic and income from the site—it makes sense, as most of these sites (mine included) didn’t really offer any real value to the user when it came to making a buying decision.

Why did I have so much low quality content?

Well, it ranked!

In the run up to Q4 2021, the site reached a level where any buying guide I put up would rank almost instantly—so instead of focusing on quality, I was all-in on going as broad as possible, attempting to cover each and every possible guide I could before the festive shopping season kicked off. 

It got progressively worse, and by the end, I had a ton of “best of” product review round-ups with 5-10 products that were all exactly the same low-quality Chinese products just in different branded boxes, with “reviews” that offer absolutely no value to the reader—which as you can imagine, we’re increasingly more painful to write. 

I think it’s clear that this misstep in my content strategy is the main reason that the site took such a massive hit, and tackling this issue, by consolidating and/or removing entirely these types of pages from the site is going to be one of the major fixes on my way back to recovering some ground in the SERPs.

What does recovery look like?

Given my strategy of content consolidation, I don’t expect to be able to reach the same heights as I had previously with the 200+ buying guides—not for some time anyway, without a lot more work on scaling up content production. 

That said, in terms of targets, the first would be to get the site back to 10,000 organic sessions a month—just under a third of what it was doing at its peak. I think it’s doable, even with the drastic switch on content focus and site structure, and would go some ways towards clawing back some of the monthly income that’s been lost since the site was hit by the first of Google’s product review updates. 

The real question right now would be how quickly it can be done—which is what I am going to find out.

What does the timeline look like for recovery?

Honestly, I think I’ve waited a little too long for this—given that Q4 is just around the corner, and I wouldn’t bank on a strong recovery within a few weeks. That said, it’s not impossible—I just wouldn’t bank on it. 

The site has reasonable metrics, with a Domain Authority of 19—so while sure, there’s a lot of work to do, both on-site and off, I’m not starting from zero. It also has some age, with the domain being a little over 2 years old, so no Google sandbox to worry about—hopefully it isn’t going to take much more than a content overhaul to get it moving in the right direction again.

Given the above, and the current state of play, I’m looking for a turnaround within a 3-6 month time frame, which would put us somewhere towards the end of Q1 2023.

Summing it up and next steps

While I’ll drop an occasional update on the progress, I’m not planning to turn this into a mini series. I don’t intend on sharing regular income reports or month-on-month progress, but as and when there is some progress to report, I’ll do a brief write-up on it.

I suspect it’s going to be a long slog to put this right, although with any luck I’m wrong, and the content and structure elements of my immediate strategy bear fruit sooner rather than later. That said, I won’t hold my breath, and expect at best to see the beginnings of a turnaround at some point early next week.

If any of you out there reading this have gone through recovering a product review site yourself, and have any tips or pointers for me on this next step of my affiliate journey, pop them in the comments as I’m happy to get as much help as I can with this. Thanks for reading!

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