Google is Killing us: Slowly and Painfully

Published: May. 29, 2024
Updated: May. 29, 2024

German English

If you've been actively following Guided.news, you might be wondering why there's so little new content being produced. Our Co-Founder, Sascha, will tell you what's been happening at Guided in the past few months and why it's slowly coming to an end. Thanks, Google.

It really saddens me that I have to write such a post. But we owe it to you, our loyal readers, to at least provide some clarity on what's going on with us right now. We're not doing well at all right now, but let's start from the beginning.

So, What is Guided Actually?

To cut it short, Guided.news was founded by my colleague Kevin Willing and me, Sascha Asendorf, in 2021. So, this project hasn't been around for very long. However, before that, we gained plenty of experience with the website Survivethis.news, which I founded in 2014.

Both Survivethis and Guided started as hobby projects that we poured a lot of time into alongside our studies and full-time jobs. In 2022, we were finally able to go full-time with Guided and slowly build a small team of dedicated editors. This was a dream come true for us. Survivethis was then put on hold, and we transferred all its content to Guided in 2023.

So far, so good! For more details about us and how we work, you can check out our About Us page.

guided-readers-percentage
With content in both German and English, we've attracted an international readership.

How has Guided Been Doing so Far?

Taking the leap to start a small website primarily focused on video game guides and running my own company has been a huge and daunting journey for me. I've been learning something new every day, working in many different areas, and investing a lot of time to tackle all the challenges. Above all, I've had a lot of fun doing it.

Since the launch of our company, Guided has been steadily growing, and we've been able to compete well in Google rankings with larger sites. The fact that our guides consistently ranked in the top 3 in the search has greatly motivated the entire team. Due to our small team size, we've focused solely on games that we play ourselves, allowing us to regularly assist our community in our Discord with advice and support.

We've primarily focused on editorial work and, unfortunately, neglected a few areas that we intended to focus on more in 2024, such as social media, video production, and other content ideas. But then came Google…

What Happened?

2023 was going great as there were some exciting game releases we had been looking forward to for a long time. These included Hogwarts Legacy, Sons of the Forest, Zelda TotK, Diablo 4, and, of course, Baldur’s Gate 3. Until mid-September, we were averaging about 50,000 to 70,000 daily views and sometimes even hitting 100,000 or more on weekends.

But then in mid-September, the HCU came, and it was a devastating Google update.

The HCU (Helpful Content Update) was a major update aimed at improving the quality and relevance of search results. It introduced a series of algorithm changes aimed at ranking useful and informative content higher while demoting spam and low-quality content. This was intended to help users find high-quality information more quickly and improve the overall user experience. In theory, it's a good thing. IN THEORY…

Unfortunately, the reality was quite different. Not only did the HCU hit harmful sites, but the algorithm also dragged thousands of other sites into the abyss, even those producing great content. This didn't just affect the gaming niche but really everything – including us.

Google itself provides little information on this, and no one knows what can be effectively done about it. Whether you follow well-known SEO experts on social media or connect with other website owners, everyone is sitting equally in the dark. While there are speculations here and there, since Google itself doesn't provide concrete information, everyone continues to be in the dark.

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IF improvements come in two months, it's already too late for most.

In the past 9 months, we've spoken with many site owners who've had to give up because of this. Passionate bloggers who've been running their sites for 10 to 20 years are suddenly forced to abandon their years of work and find another job because their income collapses suddenly and unexpectedly.

Furthermore, numerous other factors are undermining the livelihoods of content publishers, although delving into those would exceed the current scope. However, Google's Search Generative Experience (Google AI) definitely needs to be mentioned. It provides 100% AI-generated answers, with very little acknowledgment of the sources from which Google essentially takes the answers without asking. Moreover, Google artificially boosts various forums, primarily Reddit. Google and Reddit have even entered an official deal to train the Google AI with Reddit posts(!). As the Google AI is currently only being tested in some countries like the USA, you can already see the "helpful" results it generates:

How did the HCU Affect us?

With the arrival of the HCU in September 2023, we experienced an immediate 50% drop in our website traffic, and over the following 9 months, Google continued to diminish our visibility. Currently, we're facing a staggering 90% decrease in traffic compared to 2023, with a continued downward trajectory. This decline has significantly impacted our ad revenue and has pushed us to the brink of survival.

The most notable impact of the crash is reflected in our average ranking, which represents the average position of our posts in Google search results. Before the HCU, our average ranking in Germany was at 5; it has since dropped to 8. In the USA, our ranking was around 9 previously, but now it stands at 40+.

While the decrease in our German ranking is substantial, the larger concern lies in our plummeting US ranking.

Deutschland
Our statistics for German views on German content.
USA
Our statistics for US views on English content.

The blue and purple lines represent the clicks and impressions we've received through Google search, while the orange line indicates the average ranking. The biggest drop in views in both countries came right after the HCU in September 2023. In March 2024, Google dealt another blow to our ranking when we were already struggling.

This situation is taking a toll on us as well. We're losing everything we've painstakingly built. It's affecting the morale of the entire team. The fear of losing our livelihoods only adds to the stress, as does the fact that we're here working tirelessly day and night to mitigate the damage somehow. We're completely drained, but we can't give up! … How I wish I could have a week off…

The Google Helpful Content Update is the most destructive event in the search engine's history to date. At least from the perspective of publishers, it far surpasses all other updates of the last 25 years by a wide margin.

So, What did we do to get rid of the HCU?

One of the first things that came up on Google were statements like "Yes, you can get rid of the HCU Classifier in a few months." However, throughout the year, several of these reassurances were overturned, and no one really believes in it anymore. Rightly so, as the latest leaks show. Some experts also expect that it could take years for a website to potentially return to normal and, above all, be fairly evaluated again.

However, since Google doesn't provide any concrete information about why Guided was hit by the HCU, we did a lot of research ourselves. We consulted with an internationally recognized SEO agency and independent SEO experts to search for possible causes.

After that, here's a brief rundown of what we did:

  • We deleted thousands of irrelevant old posts, mainly news articles dating back to the Survivethis transition.
  • We filled content gaps in our strongest topics and enriched hundreds of guides with current details, including topic silos and clusters with corresponding internal links.
  • TLDRs were added to our posts to share all the important information with our readers quickly.
  • We reduced our ad density.
  • We improved the performance of the site.
  • We completely redesigned the technical framework of our site to have less bloated code and adjusted our design accordingly.
  • Our site's internal search function now delivers better results than before.
  • We integrated more images into relevant posts to make our guides easier to understand.
  • Our new tag pages, such as those for DayZ, provide you with a fabulous overview of the respective topic.
  • Our author pages now provide much more information about our expertise.
  • We also made countless other small adjustments here and there to enhance the user experience.

Did that help? So far, it doesn't seem like it. And it's not just us; so far, there haven't been any documented recoveries. Not a single website has bounced back from the HCU.

Our author pages now transparently convey experience and areas of responsibility.

Is the HCU Unfair?

We'd say: YES!

In our daily work, we put a lot of effort into all our posts, quickly implement reader feedback, play all games ourselves, and include appropriate, self-created screenshots in our posts. We share our expertise with readers and choose our topics ourselves rather than blindly following Google Trends. We're not flawless, but we're definitely not as bad as Google makes us out to be.

We work like other successful German or international online editorial teams. Yet we and thousands of others were hit, while big sites apparently got away unscathed. Why? No one knows—presumably, the HCU spared sites with sufficiently high domain authority (DA).

And that's unfair. I don't want to suggest that the HCU should have dragged the big sites into the abyss as well - that's not my intention! But if we're already providing the same quality, I believe that the same standards should apply to us in Google's evaluation.

What Does This Mean for Guided Now?

Unfortunately, things are looking really bleak for us. It's a really tough time right now, and I've already had to let go of some great employees in the past few months, which truly pains me. Friends who now have to look for new jobs again. But there was no other way, as we've been in the red for 8 months, only staying afloat with savings, and now we're on the verge of bankruptcy.

We have a few ideas that we'll try out to make money - hopefully, one of them will work. Guided won't be given up on, but content production will remain at a low level for quite some time.

Would you like to support us in our future projects?

Finally, I want to thank all current and former employees who have contributed to Guided.news, as well as our friends for their support and encouraging words. A big thank you also goes out to our partners, whom we're rooting for to pull through somehow, and to our contacts at PR agencies, developers, and publishers who haven't lost sight of us despite the content drought.

I hope that Guided will recover from the HCU and perhaps even rise like a phoenix from the ashes one day.

Sascha Asendorf is the co-founder of Guided.news and has been running online magazines in the gaming sector since 2013. Starting with a strong focus on survival games, Sascha now deals a lot with role-playing games and is an expert on survival and RPG titles like Conan Exiles, Baldurs Gate 3 & Cyberpunk 2077.
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