Barbehow Case Study 1, Year 2, Quarterly Update: Google Updates and ChatGPT
The final quarter of 2022 was a wild ride, with Google unleashing one update after the other, including:
- A spam update
- A helpful content update
- A link spam update.
Many content creators I follow got hit by those updates (even those who stick to white-hat SEO). One of my websites took a hard hit, too, losing half its traffic. But after a redesign and URL structure change (plus a great deal of luck), it bounced back to new heights in January.
The BBQ website held strong and stayed stable, though. The seasonal dip in traffic — winter grilling isn’t everyone’s favorite thing — wasn’t as serious as I expected.
1. How Did This Quarter Go for the Case Study Website?
Here’s a snapshot from Google Search Console from October 1st to December 31st, 2022:
And here’s a snapshot since October 1st, 2021:
According to Ahrefs, the site lost some keywords. At the same time, it’s gaining keywords that I want it to gain and winning featured snippets, so I’m not worried.
As a website ages, it’s normal to see rankings shift. New competitors come in, stealing some of the long-tail keywords you hadn’t explicitly targeted (but were ranking for). This reminds me I need to do a content audit soon.
Ahrefs also reminded me of how much I’ve neglected link-building — something I plan to change this year.
Overall, throughout the quarter, the website stabilized at approximately:
- 10,000 clicks
- 500,000 impressions
- 2% average CTR in Google’s SERPs
Then ChatGPT came along, and things became even more interesting.
2. My Thoughts on the Effects of ChatGPT
For the first time in two decades, Google’s core business may be at risk.
Google makes money by displaying ads alongside organic search results and serving ads on the websites through Google AdSense and the Google Display Network. If people search less and visit fewer websites, it’ll be a clear threat to Google and everyone in the Internet food chain.
Since search engines became a thing, people have been using them to find answers. Search results pages became as much of a given as the doors and windows in buildings or street stoplights. We looked at them and never thought there would be an alternative to them someday.
And that’s precisely what made ChatGPT so disruptive.
People focus on what ChatGPT can and cannot do — and they get hung up on why it is or isn’t better than Google Search today. But they forget that this is just the beginning of conversational AI.
Large language models like OpenAI’s GPT will only get better and smarter.
The problem is that the notion of conversational AI goes against how the Web works today.
ChatGPT is a middleman who makes sense of the Web for you so that you don’t have to look at search results. Suppose you want to create a WordPress plugin. Before ChatGPT, you had to do a dozen searches and spend minutes, hours, or days figuring out how to do it.
Open ChatGPT and ask it to write the code for a WordPress plugin for you. Need more features later on? Go back to your chat and ask it to add features or make it faster or more secure.
As an individual, ChatGPT has made me wildly productive. As an owner of a portfolio of websites, it got me thinking about the inevitable decline in search demand and consumption of written content.
When you can get to the complete picture in a minute, you have no reason to spend hours searching for it and trying to put the puzzle pieces together.
How will Google respond to this? They’ve announced Bard, but remember: they have the incentive to keep people looking at the search results. They earn through ads.
You’d think that YouTube is the new haven for content creators, but YouTube has its own problems. People flock to TikTok, where only the lucky few can monetize. People are less hungry for long-form video content, reducing the content creators’ ad earnings.
We know that people will keep turning to their laptops and phones for information. And we know that advertisers will keep looking for ways to advertise. But what shape will the intersection of that take?
And how close or distant will it be from the business model content creators have been milking for years?
Your guess, my friends, is as good as mine. And yet one thing’s for sure: the indie content creator economy on the Web — bloggers, niche website owners, affiliate marketers — is built on the motto of “answer it, and they will come.”
Over the next few years, large language models are about to take over a whole lot of the answering, and written content is about to become a commodity.
Once again, we’ll have to find a way to adapt.
3. Metrics Over Time & Learnings
Ezoic Big Data Analytics
|Month||Clicks||Impressions||Average CTR||Average Position|
Note: I put the site into “keep the lights on mode” in October and November of 2022.
Partly because I was curious to see what would happen after a year of churning out content and partly because my team and I were focused on other projects. But then, we published 24 posts in December, and I expect those posts to lead to new peaks when people start grilling again in the summer.
The focus is now on commercial content — the occasional review (with the actual product purchased) and roundup posts.
For the details, check out “Earnings” below.
In Q4 2022, the website earned:
- October 2022: $282.14, of which $222.66 in display ads (ca. 79%) and $59.48 in affiliate programs (ca. 21%).
- November 2022: $338.49, of which $204.57 in display ads (ca. 60%) and $133.92 in affiliate programs (ca. 40%).
- December 2022: $347.04, of which $188.39 in display ads (ca. 54%) and $158.65 in affiliate programs (46%).
In my last few updates, I mentioned that I wanted to boost the website’s affiliate earnings. I published 14 commercial posts last year, all aimed at lower-competition keywords that I had found in LowFruits, and the investment paid off.
This shows that affiliate programs are as important to a site’s monetization as display ads (even if you’re the type of website owner who favors the latter).
This makes less than 10% of the golden 20%/80% rule for commercial/informational content, so there’s room for more.
And, as always, LowFruits has been a goldmine of ideas even in a niche as competitive on these terms as barbecue.
Display ads-wise, the website is monetized with Ezoic Premium’s display ads.
ePMVs, or Earnings per Thousand Visitors, are okay-ish, but not great.
The economy is about to enter a recession, and the world is etching dangerously close to a bigger war. Companies had to cut costs and spend less on advertising, even during the holiday season, compared to the boom in online advertising we saw during the previous years.
This meant lower earnings per thousand visitors in Q4 2022, even during the holiday seasons.
Affiliate program-wise, the website is monetized with Amazon Associates.
In case you’re wondering, the product boxes in my commercial content are powered by the Affiliatable plugin. In my own experience, Affiliatable gives me high conversion rates and lets me link out to retailers and brands other than Amazon (through Impact.com and ShareASale).
However, so far, readers are only buying through Amazon links. As grilling season comes, let’s see if and how this changes.
Who I Am
Thank you for reading (or scrolling?) this far.
Since 2007, I have been building, buying, investing in, and selling websites. I’ve been in and out of this business, sometimes full-time, other times as a side hustle. Wherever life takes me, I somehow seem to find my way back to this game.
How do you know you can trust me?
I have experienced pandas and penguins. I owned Facebook pages with millions of likes back when Facebook pages brought traffic and earned passive income from niche sites before it was cool (back then, we called ourselves “webmasters”).
More recently, I started a website under a new domain name in August 2020 that reached 150,000 monthly page views and a DR of 26 in Ahrefs in May 2022.
Here’s a screenshot of that hockey-stick growth, with a few bumps along the way and followed by a plateau, that everyone likes to tell you about:
I am a Certified Ezoic Expert, an Ezoic Premium Publisher, and a member of Ezoic’s Premium Accelerator Program.
I am not the most public person on earth, and I prefer privacy to the spotlight. However, if you like what I have to say and want to get in touch with me, you can do so on my website AskDim.com (ask as in “ask me a question”).
Great update. So, even with Bard on the horizon, are you planning on creating new niche websites? Or are you going to wait to see how things play out in the next few months?
Here for the answer as well 😁
Good question. I’m not going to build or buy new websites for the foreseeable future.
First, I want to see how Google change their SERPs to incorporate Bard. Based on what they showed, my take is that they will generate longer, more detailed featured snippets for most queries.
If more and more Google users get a good enough answer directly in the SERPs, that’s going to eat away at the organic traffic that online publishers like you and I get to their properties — and that’s a problem, as generative AI and LLMs will only get better at giving helpful, factual answers.
Second, to me, this brings back memories of Facebook. Many years ago, I was a partner in a media company that had Facebook pages with millions of fans. That way back when Facebook pages still had 30-40% organic reach. We took that traffic for granted… until Facebook closed the tap.
If content becomes a commodity, and with text generation tools, it’s on the way of becoming such, and websites get even less organic space than they do today, that may cause many indie that rely on Google as their primary source of traffic to go out of business after a few years.
There will always be room for websites — and somebody needs to keep creating the content that search engines crawl and now aggregate. But the way that these websites get traffic and earn revenue may change.
My question, and the one that only time will help answer, is to what extent?
Are we looking at a 15-20% traffic loss across the board, but better, more targeted traffic being sent to publishers after Google and Bing have already given a high-level answer? Or are we looking at a major reduction in search demand because, let’s be honest, almost nobody these details reads long answers.
Until then, I’ll be growing my existing sites and selling off a few. Yes, I’m fooling around with this case study, the programmatic SEO case study, and an AI-only site that I haven’t written about anywhere. But I’m not investing in new digital properties in this category as I don’t have high confidence in the ROI that they can yield in the long run.
In any case, this is a great time to think about alternative traffic channels and alternative monetization means, such as paid newsletters or digital products, that can offset any losses in display ad earnings or affiliate revenue. New things come in quickly but change takes place slowly, so there should be plenty of time for everyone to navigate this new environment we found ourselves in.
How about yourself, Fred?
would like to ask, how did you implement affiliate disclaimer at the top of the pages?
Thanks and keep this interesting journey up to date 🙂
Ah, good question!
I usually create a child theme of the theme I’m using, then modify that theme’s header file so that it has an HTML element that I can style with CSS.
But sometimes, I forget 🙂 That’s the case with the case study website. So I inserted it with a CSS pseudo-element. If you know your way around CSS, you can do this, too, by going into the “Customize” option for your theme and inserting the disclaimer through CSS.
This tutorial shows you how! ::before | ::after | CSS-Tricks