Great Plains Travel Guide 3-Year Report
[CASE STUDY]

I’m far from the first one to say it, but it’s been a tough time for bloggers in the past six months. Google released a series of updates in late 2023 that decimated many sites – especially small, independent blogs, like mine – and I was not so fortunate as to escape its wrath.

Some of my sites didn’t show signs right away, and Great Plains Travel Guide was one of them. Because of the high seasonality of GPTG and the fact I was already on “winter break” (I take six months off from publishing on the site between September and March to refill my creative coffer for the project), I didn’t immediately see just how dramatically Google affected this site. Now, looking back at the site’s three-year anniversary, it’s quite obvious.

In this case study, I’ll dig into what happened to GPTG in the last year, what I think it shows about the site I built, and what I plan to do next. I hope that, while not exactly all sunshine and rainbows, this case study update at least gives you the confidence to take an honest look at your own site if it got hit, and to come up with a plan – hopefully your plan is more proactive and successful than mine!

What are these Case Studies?

As a reminder, I do case studies for almost every site I’ve created, at the 6-month, 9-month, and 12-month marks. Then I switch to every six months for the next year; you can expect reports at 18 months and 24 months. If a site reaches its two-year mark and I plan to continue writing, I’ll switch to annual reports. Here are the ages of each site and its current status:

(Links will take you to the full list of reports about that site!)

Fast Facts

Here’s a quick glance at the stats for Great Plains Travel Guide at its second anniversary:

Date First PublishedMarch 1, 2021
Articles Live (as of 03/01/24)80
Publishing CadenceOn winter break
Monthly Pageviews (last 30 days)5,210 (February 2024)
Maximum Pageviews (in last year)29,950 (July 2023)
Total Monetization$4,500

In the rest of this post, I’ll dive more into the history of the site and where I hope it goes in the year to come.

How do I keep track of all these stats? I’ve got an organizational system!

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Site Performance & Strategic Takeaways

GPTG 3-Year Chart
GPTG 4-Year Chart

I don’t normally include two charts in this section, but I thought it would be helpful to see how traffic changed for Great Plains Travel Guide from the “3 Year Chart” (left) to the “4 Year Chart” (right). As you can see, the site was doing very well through the summer (months 27-30) until Google’s Helpful Content Update rolled out in September 2023.

As you can see, the HCU hit this site hard on top of the standard seasonality dip I would have expected; traffic is as low now as it was during the first year of the site’s existence – Google erased two years of work and traffic in about one month. Traffic last month (February 2024) is at about the same level that it was during the summer peak of my first year (2021).

While may of my sites were hit to varying degrees during Google’s barrage of updates, GPTG is among the worst. I think this is for several reasons, which it’s only fair to share here:

  • Minimal E-E-A-T on the site. While I have visited some of the states, cities, and sites I write about, I don’t have nearly the proof of expertise, authority, and trustworthiness on GPTG that I do for other sites. Frustratingly, there aren’t necessarily sites with better EEAT outranking me now, but I can’t control other sites, only mine!
  • Content aiming for keywords instead of people. Google has been really annoying for saying that (basically) “as long as you write for people, we’ll understand and reward that” which – frankly – we all know is bullshit because if you don’t do any SEO, you don’t rank. That’s the way it’s always been. On GPTG however, I definitely wrote content aiming to win keywords; that didn’t always make it the best content or most helpful, which explains why Google demoted it when considering the site’s helpfulness.
  • Content Farm-y content. We all know the content farms out there – they were frustrating before HCU as they would often rank well and clearly be written by people (or AI) that had no business covering those topics and just churned out as much volume as possible. In some ways, niche sites like GPTG did the same across multiple domains instead of just one, and Google cracked down on that.

There are a bunch of other reasons, I’m sure, but the reality is that I built an okay site and when Google decided to try and rank only the “best” sites out there, it just didn’t come up to snuff.

What’s Next?

Since GPTG was already on winter break when the HCU hit and traffic started to evaporate, I decided not to do anything about this change; after all, I was considering selling the site this time last year if the site was worth selling. The HCU seems to have given me my answer about selling (the site has basically no value now).

Then, I thought I might start publishing new content again in the summer of 2024, but I’m not sure that will be worthwhile either unless current Google updates begin to show signs of recovery. I don’t feel confident that creating new content will be worth my time and/or any money I might pay a writer with the EEAT and helpful knowledge Google’s looking for, if the site as a whole is still classified as “unhelpful.”

Additionally, I’ve begun migrating some content over to my main blog, Valerie & Valise, when it makes sense, and deleting low-performing content too. Very little content on GPTG makes sense to migrate, but some does – I’ve already moved two articles as of writing this case study update.

Beyond that (deleting unhelpful/low-performing content, migrating some articles, not publishing new articles), I’m not quite sure what’s next for GPTG. I haven’t been able to let go of any of my sites even as they’ve not performed as well as I’d hoped (another example is Discover Sausalito)… but it seems like at least some of these sites should just be abandoned until they don’t get traffic or earn money anymore.

I might come back this time next year and share that I have done nothing on the site and it has died; maybe Google will start to let the site recover and I’ll recommit instead. See you then and we’ll find out!

Do you have any other questions about this recap for Great Plains Travel Guide? Let me know in the comments – I’m happy to share anything that I forgot to include!

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Valerie has been blogging since 2001, and has been running her oldest travel blog for a decade. You can find her across the internet on her various niche sites, but she started Site School to help fellow bloggers grow and create better content.

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