Niche blogging in the new Google reality: 5 strategies to thrive or die

Niche bloggers hit hard by recent Google updates have seen minimal recovery. Here's what to do instead of giving up.

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If you are a niche blogger focused on building a site on which the majority source of your income is display ads from Google, 2024 has not been kind to you.

From Facebook to Reddit to X, the talk of the Internet in blogging has been the utter wasteland of decimated traffic patterns caused by Google updates. Thousands of blogs from every possible niche are down as much as 90% in traffic, with no recovery in sight.

How did we get to this point?

First, sites were hit with the September 2023 helpful content update (HCU). This continued with the double whammy of the March 2024 core update, which contained an evolved HCU classifier (now baked within other core algorithmic adjustments), along with a spam update that ran concurrently.

The last HCU update in 2023 was advertised by Google as impacting sites with identified unhelpful content. Those sites had a classifier assessed against them at the site-level causing rankings and visibility to plummet.

Usually, for recoveries to happen, impacted site owners must make dramatic changes to their site, content, UX and bottom-line quality. This allows the site-wide classifier to be removed and the site can then “bounce back.”

For those negatively affected by past HCU updates, data showed impacted sites suffered from a plethora of shared issues that, if corrected, should have resulted in sites bouncing back in 2024 when the classifier was again re-run.

However, when the new March core update was introduced, the previous HCU classifier had evolved, and Google retired that original algorithm and replaced it with multiple systems. These multiple systems were all designed to further assess the overall “quality and helpfulness of site content” as part of the main core update calculations.

Unfortunately, instead of seeing any recoveries for sites affected by the previous September HCU negative classifier, we have seen continued hammering of both existing sites and the addition of tens of thousands of newly impeached sites.

That loss in traffic also means a loss in ad income and for a content creator whose niche blog may be the sole source of income for their family, the effects have been devastating.

There has not been a week in 2024 during which I have not received at least one email from a blogger in dire straits, bemoaning the loss of their livelihood due to these recent updates.

Most ask the same question: “Is there hope of recovery, or should I pack it in and quit?”

The goal of this article is to provide some alternatives while we wait for Google to sort out its issues. I and other SEOs believe Google is “broken,” and this most recent update was overbroad and overzealous and did not improve search quality for the majority of queries.

Hopefully, some kind of rollback in the future is coming. 

But if it doesn’t, I am offering these strategies to put your efforts toward in 2024 to build new traffic sources and keep a blog alive as a viable income stream for you and your family.

Strategy 1: Recognize your zone of genius 

Introduced by author Gay Hendricks in his 2009 book “The Big Leap,” the zone of genius concept postulates that everyone has unique strengths that they should focus on within their business to achieve lasting success. All other areas are best delegated to third parties or qualified professionals.

The average blogger wears many hats. However, the need to do everything can lead to exhaustion, split focus and dashed expectations.

To overcome this, bloggers need to understand their strengths, invest time in those efforts and focus on letting go in other areas.

For example, I am personally terrible with accounting, so I do not keep my own books and I do not do my own taxes. I have professionals for that. It’s the same for email marketing. It’s not my zone of genius, so I rarely speak on the topic and have experts I consult when I have questions.

Instead, my zone of genius is in site auditing and live training of bloggers on accepted best SEO practices. And I spend the majority of my time weekly doing those two things at scale.

A great way to take a personal inventory of individual strengths and find your own zone of genius is to fill out a worksheet that breaks down the areas into competency zones. Here’s a simple Zone of Genius worksheet that is free to download. 

You may want to even go a step further and put a dollar amount next to the issues you like doing and those you do not. Each of us should have an idea of our hourly worth.

Now, apply that figure to those individual tasks. How much would you pay to get those non-enjoyable tasks done?

For example, if your time is worth $199 an hour and something that takes you eight hours can be done by someone else at half the price in half the time, that’s an investment most of us would make.

Understanding your zone of genius is imperative for content creators looking to build new channels for their blog and best invest their limited time and resources into processes and endeavors that will move their niche blogging efforts forward.

Strategy 2: Concentrate on social and non-Google traffic sources

It’s common for Google to be the top source of traffic for the average blogger. The downside is that when things go “wrong” with Google, the hit in traffic and income can be devastating.

Diversifying traffic sources is just smart business.

For the average blogger, the following are just a few of the viable traffic sources that should be prioritized in 2024:

Google can certainly feel like the only game in town for bloggers who lose half their income overnight.

However, investing time and energy into multiple channels above can result in solid returns. And in most cases, it’s easier.

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Strategy 3: Build up that email list

Email lists are incredibly underrated, yet they are one of the only blog assets you “truly” own. Although building up a quality email list takes time, those who do sign up tend to be fans who stay for the long term.

A quality email list can also result in steady traffic that converts at a very high ROI. For every $1 you invest in email, you could get $36 back, per Litmus research

Besides the increased traffic benefits of email, other benefits exist, including:

  • Building brand identity and awareness.
  • Driving sales and downloads.
  • Boosting other channels (driving fans to social media, reviews, etc.).
  • Collecting valuable data on your existing audience.

In my experience, most bloggers have the best success by initially signing up and building their list with a provider like Mailerlite that allows you to build up to 1,000+ people on your list before you start having to pay.

Once you decide which provider to use, consider investing in a quality self-taught email course to learn all the ins and outs of email marketing, including how to set up funnels and email triggers. 

You should also check out Mailerlite’s free guide, which covers everything you need to know to get started and build a decent list.

Strategy 4: Get an SEO or technical audit

Although Google has stated that there is “no fix” for a site that has been hit negatively be a core or other announced update, most SEOs will tell you that sitting on your hands is never a sound strategy.

Google provides site owners with some self-diagnosis guidance via the “Core updates and your website” help page. In particular, Google wants creators to fully self-assess their content to ensure that it is really helpful, reliable and people-first in its disposition.

This advice is focused on presenting a series of questions covering the areas of content quality, expertise and creating “people-first content.” The goal of these questions is to assist affected site owners who may have been focusing more on writing content for search engines and not their audience.

On the whole, though, these self-introspection questions are rarely enough for site owners to find and diagnose why Google would place a sitewide filter on their site for algorithmic consideration.

That’s when seeking out a professional audit should always be considered.

A quality SEO or technical audit can diagnose dozens if not hundreds of issues that can negatively impact how Google perceives a site.

As an experienced site auditor, I know that a site rarely gets hit by an update because of just reason X or reason Y. On the contrary, it’s usually the result of many issues covering content, site architecture, E-E-A-T considerations and much more.

Before you give up the fight, always consider investing in a second opinion from a qualified professional.

Strategy 5: Build up your personal brand

Online success is greatly tied to your perceived value by others. For niche creators, many times their personal identities and that of their blogs are intricately entwined. 

A solid, well-supported brand has many benefits that can propel a site to success online. 

For example, a blogger specializing in gluten-free recipes may be viewed as more trustworthy if he or she is an everyday sufferer of Celiac disease and has gone out of their way to obtain professional certifications that enhance their content to this specific audience.

However, to get to this point, niche bloggers need to invest in building up their own brands.

It starts with conducting a personal inventory of strengths and weaknesses.

  • What is it that you can do better than anybody else?
  • How is that reflected in your blog and your content?
  • Do you have unique credentials, experience, or accomplishments and are those visible on the blog and/or About Me page?

Next, construct those strengths into a brand identify that you can push across your owned media, your blog, your social interactions and more. How do you want to be perceived by those around you?

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is famous for saying, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you are not in the room.” What do you want that message to be?

Finally, promote your brand messaging in everything you do. Be helpful in groups, conduct masterminds and use both your owned media (your social accounts) and earned media (podcasts, interviews) to get your message out widely.

In the end, the goal of any content creator should be to project awesomeness in everything we do, so much so that Google would be embarrassed not to list you or your blog competitively in search.

Blogging is a marathon, not a sprint – don’t stop your race early

Every site, at one time or another, gets hit by a Google update or suffers a setback that stops their forward progress cold. But that doesn’t mean we pack in the blog.

Failure can be a great pillar of long-term success. It can teach you what works and what does not, and more than anything, it can teach you the value of perseverance. 

If you are a blogger who has been devastated by these recent Google updates, the world can seem very dreary and unforgiving. But there is hope and other traffic-building opportunities you can pursue while waiting out possible changes in the SERPs.

Take these strategies to heart and remember one thing: run your own race. Comparison is the thief of joy. 

Do what is best for you and your blog, not what others would have you do. Do that and the only real mistake you can make is not trying. Good luck out there.


Contributing authors are invited to create content for Search Engine Land and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the search community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.


About the author

Casey Markee
Contributor
Casey Markee is the owner of internet consultancy Media Wyse. An SEO for over two decades, he has been working exclusively with food and lifestyle bloggers since 2015. During that time he’s worked with thousands of bloggers across every recipe niche imaginable. He likes long walks to the refrigerator and back and believes bacon and candy corn are gourmet foods.

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