niche surfer - Wave Issue 154

Google Secrets Revealed; Sept. HCU Impact Insights; Dealing With Pirates; Bard Connects to Your Google Apps; DALL·E 3 Announcement; Email Lists; and Much More!


Fair warning…this is probably the longest newsletter issue I’ve sent out in the 2+ years of the newsletter.

Multiple reasons for this, but the biggest is the September Helpful Content Update. There’s also a lot of things being revealed this week that were more rumors than truths - Clicks do matter 🎉 

If you’re looking to talk with others who have been hit by Google’s HCU, come join us in the #surfers-anonymous channel in the Niche Surfer community!

I’ll keep it very short this week in the intro here, but I share some of my thoughts and insights in the different resources below. Let’s get to it…

Dealing with a drastic drop in traffic? You're not alone. Over 18 years in the business, Tony Hill has faced and conquered multiple algorithm updates. He’s put all that knowledge into this course.

Using his C.A.R.E.F.U.L.™ method, he and many others managed to not just recover their traffic but to reach record highs. Tony's insights suggest that focusing 75% of your efforts on updating existing content and only 25% on new content is the key.

This approach is safer, faster, and offers a quicker traffic turnaround. His course, "Content Renaissance", offers a step-by-step guide on how to effectively revive your existing content.

There’s a special launch discount for $200 Off until Sept. 24th (tomorrow). Enrollment will be closed off too after tomorrow!

From Monday, September 25th to Friday, September 29nd (inclusive), there will be a 20% discount on pay-as-you-go credits (not valid on subscriptions).

LowFruits is still my go-to keyword clustering tool because I haven’t seen better performance for the money elsewhere. That includes any lifetime deals I have where I get free credits each month. I also have thousands of paid credits left on various tools, but I still stick with LowFruits.

How many credits do I use on LowFruits? I use somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 credits per month 😅 


Barry Schwartz shares the mixed bag of early results from those across the web. While many are talking about 40-80% drops in organic traffic, SERP volatility tracking tools show very low volatility - which is the opposite of what’s been going on for months.

Thanks to the ongoing Google antitrust hearings in the USA, a significant revelation about the tech giant's search ranking mechanism has emerged - Google uses click data for its search rankings.

This bombshell was dropped by Eric Lehman, a former Googler who spent 17 years working on search quality and ranking. Google had purposefully kept this information under wraps, likely to deter SEOs from manipulating results. Such insights underscore the challenges new search competitors face, as they lack access to vast user click data that Google possesses.

Danny Goodwin recaps an AMA with Google’s Gary Illyes at Pubcon Pro in Austin with moderator Jennifer Slegg.

Call back to the article above - Has the antitrust lawsuit changed how Google answers questions about rankings and algorithms? You bet.

  • First question in the AMA - “Does Google use user click data in ranking?”

  • Gary Illyes answers - “Technically, yes.”

Many interesting takeaways here, here’s a sample:

  • When it comes to helpful content, niche sites often don’t fall into a category Google is looking to promote. Illyes was not referring to all types of niche sites, he was mostly talking about affiliate-type of niche sites that are heavily money-driven. But I only monetize with display ads!

  • One thing Illyes noticed while analyzing the output of ChatGPT and generative AI tools is that it doesn’t have typos. So…make typos?

  • While many websites removed comment sections and forums in the past 10 years, Illyes said that comments can be good. “Especially if I know the site has a strict rule about how users can behave on the site, then I would trust info from those users more,” Illyes said. - Is this why Reddit and Quora have increased rankings and traffic? And time to open up comments on articles again?

  • Google will continue to release updates during the holidays – Google used to avoid doing this, but Illyes called that an “old thing.” Happy Holidays!

  • Links are not a “top 3” ranking signal and hasn’t been “for some time,” Illyes said, adding that there really isn’t a universal top 3. While links are valuable, content remains the king. It's the number one ranking signal. Content is still King!

Dan Taylor dug deep into the effects of this update, analyzing a sample of 103 travel blogs. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Major Impact: The Reddit sphere buzzed about a 9-year-old travel blog that lost a whopping 80% of its traffic literally overnight.

  • Winners and Losers: While 54% of travel blogs observed a month-on-month increase in organic sessions post-update, 45% witnessed a decrease.

  • The Fine Print: Blogs with erratic topic choices, especially those veering off genuine travel advice to blatant link sales, faced the harshest impacts.

  • Content Authenticity Matters: Google is on the hunt for content stemming from genuine expertise or a personal perspective, which means random, scattered topics won't cut it.

  • Reflection Time for Bloggers: If impacted, bloggers should evaluate their content strategy. It’s crucial to balance monetization with authentic, expert, and valuable content, and stay aligned with Google's guidelines.

There are many travel bloggers in the Niche Surfer community, so we started a #travel-surfers channel. Come join us there if you’re interested in talking to others in travel!

SEO Ripples


In the world of digital courses, piracy can be a real issue. Claire Fountain breaks it down in her guide, "What To Do When Your Course Is Stolen." She discusses how to fight someone profiting from your hard work.

Key things covered: detecting theft, confronting pirates and their hosting providers, DMCA takedowns, social media watch, and using experts.

My Take: This has been an issue for Topical Maps Unlocked course and I’ve been battling with it quickly after launch. I used to do a lot of the research, DMCA takedowns, and everything else myself. Another course creator I’ve been talking to about piracy is Geoff Cudd from DDIY. He had enough too and partnered up with Saqlain Saleem to start a Takedown Service.

I’ve been using them for over 30 days now and been impressed with the way they’re approaching everything to get pages taken down. They were able to get certain ones taken down that I wasn’t able to myself. I used to spend so much time on these things and they’ve freed up my time now.

If you’re in the same boat, you’ll want to check out their Takedown Service (info is at the bottom of the article).

Disclaimer: I paid for their services. There’s no affiliate program, so I get nothing if you try them out. I just feel it’s a really good service and important if you have pirates stealing your content.

JC Chouinard shares his Python code to help you diagnose keyword cannibalization.

And if you don’t want to dig into code and do it yourself, Jason Melman from SEO Workflows created a handy tool.


In a recent episode of the "Search Off the Record" podcast, Google's John Mueller and Gary Illyes dive deep into the concept of quality and its implications on search. Here are your key takeaways:

  • Quality's Impact: Quality plays a crucial role not just in ranking, but across the entire spectrum of search functions.

  • Crawl Scheduler: Before Googlebot fetches a page, the Crawl Scheduler makes predictions on what to crawl based on previous knowledge of site quality.

  • Quality Metrics: Quality metrics influence various processes, including crawling, indexing, index selection, and ranking.

  • Homepage Bias: New sites' homepages are usually given the benefit of the doubt and crawled without pre-existing biases.

  • Predictions for New Pages: The perceived quality of the homepage can influence how Google perceives and chooses to crawl subsequent new pages on a site.

  • Focus on Quality: When it comes to predicting what to crawl next, quality is the most critical factor that the systems take into account.

  • Duplicate Content: It's normal to have some duplicate content on a site, but excessive duplication can affect site crawling; however, many site owners over-worry about this issue.

  • Affiliate Links: Google's stance on affiliate links is neutral, as indicated by Gary Illyes' nonchalant response "Meh." Focus more on the content for indicators of quality and have good unique review content. “You should be able to earn a buck…”

  • Removing Low Quality Content: Can help improve Google’s perception of your site. “Less than 7 clicks per page is the benchmark” (not really). BUT, if you’re a site that’s established, gets direct visitors, and has a lot of sites linking to you, you can have all the crap lower quality content you want.

  • Duplicate Content: It's normal to have some duplicate content on a site, but excessive duplication can affect site crawling; however, many site owners over-worry about this issue.

Hassan Ud-deen highlights the significance of content briefs in the realm of content creation. These briefs act as a roadmap for writers, offering detailed guidelines from audience targeting to keyword integration, ensuring content is consistent, strategically aligned, and SEO-optimized.


Yury Pinsky from the Bard squad shares that it now seamlessly integrates with your favorite Google apps like Gmail, Docs, and YouTube. Got questions about its answers? The "Google it" feature lets you verify Bard’s responses on the spot. You can also share Bard conversations, and the recipient can pick up right where you left off.

Here’s an example they share of what Bard can do now - “if you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon (a project that takes up many tabs), you can now ask Bard to grab the dates that work for everyone from Gmail, look up real-time flight and hotel information, see Google Maps directions to the airport, and even watch YouTube videos of things to do there — all within one conversation.”

Coming in October is DALL·E 3, adding even more finesse and detail to text-to-image translations. Unlike older models, DALL·E 3 sticks closely to the text, producing images that truly match the description you give.

Seamlessly working with ChatGPT, DALL·E 3 benefits from refined and brainstormed image prompts.

The results on their DALL·E 3 page are impressive. Here’s an example of a generated image and the parts of a prompt that DALL·E 3 used to create the image.


Sequoia Capital's Sonya Huang and Pat Grady break down the trajectory of generative AI and its implications on various sectors. A great report that actually gives an overview of what’s going on with Generative AI now. They revisit their hypothesis from last year and see what they got wrong and right.

This affects all of us in the content creation, SEO, digital marketing, online businesses and related spaces.

My Take: Use the info in this and its Generative AI Market Map to see what’s out there for you to use and continue growing your businesses and sites:


AI Ripples


Steve Rajeckas writes about how building an effective email list is the secret sauce behind the whopping $10 million in revenue earned by Authority Hacker! With 240,000+ emails under his belt, Steve unveils the intricacies of a result-driven email list for affiliate marketing.

They have a great flowchart describing the journey of an email subscriber:


The video giant is getting serious about ad blockers. Users are now receiving more assertive notifications urging them to "Allow YouTube ads" or to hop on the YouTube Premium train for $13.99/month and a smooth, ad-free experience.

Do be aware of this as it’ll affect your YouTube earnings, especially if your target audience leans toward using ad blockers.


Olga Zarr sits down with none other than the SEO maestro, Cyrus Shepard. Formerly a key figure in Google's Search Quality team, Cyrus dishes out wisdom. Here are some takeaways from their enlightening chat:

  • Start Small: Before diving deep into complex SEO strategies, begin with manageable A/B tests. For instance, tweak the title tags of some pages and observe any changes in the SERPs.

  • Vary Anchor Text: Using diverse internal anchor text can correlate with better rankings. Mix it up for enhanced page relevance.

  • 5 Buckets Philosophy: Shepard categorizes ranking factors into five main areas: Technical SEO, Content Relevance, Backlinks, Page Quality, and User Signals.

  • Embrace "Real Company Sh*t": Go beyond mere shortcuts. Build genuine expertise, offer hands-on product insights, and strive for a solid brand reputation.

Georgi Todorov's latest article gives a detailed guide on extracting easy-to-rank keywords for three distinct niches: Travel, Air Fryer, and Pets. With the aid of a tool called LowFruits, Georgi presents a step-by-step process from establishing a seed keyword to sifting through the competition.

Even if you don’t want to use LowFruits for the research, you can adapt the steps to other tools.

LowFruits also has a semantic clustering feature now in Alpha mode.


HUGE NEWS! Google apologizes for GA4! But then tells advertisers to Deal with it yourself manually.

Google automated the transition from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), to streamline the migration process for advertisers. However, that led to quite a bit of confusion among surprised advertisers.

To address these concerns, Google has been emphasizing the benefits of manual migration for a more tailored and controlled transition. Google told advertisers to stay updated and actively manage their migration for optimal outcomes.


If you’re enjoying niche surfer, I’d love it if you would share it with your friends! I’ve put together some rewards as well:

  • Refer 3: Get a Twitter Shout-out

  • Refer 5: Get featured in an issue

  • Refer 10: Get One Ask Me Anything Question

  • Refer 50: Get 50% Off the Topical Maps Unlocked Course

  • Refer 100: Get a Free copy of Topical Maps Unlocked

  • Refer 150: Get a 1 hour SEO 1-1 Coaching session with Yoyao


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