Is Google on a rampage against review sites?
Updated: Feb 20
With the launch of the latest Google updates (Link Spam and Helpful Content) a lot seems to have changed for review websites. Especially in the website builder, ecommerce and hosting space. Yup, exactly the areas in which Tooltester.com is operating.
Since September 2022 our traffic has more than halved (according to Ahrefs numbers).
Four review sites that have lost traffic
Tooltester (DR* 78)
Reviews website builders, ecommerce software and web hosting mainly
(*Ahrefs Domain Rating)
We seem to have been hit the hardest. Possibly, it still has something to do with our domain change in 2021 because ever since we've seen enormous volatility.
But we're not the only ones. Looking at similar review sites to ours, while not quite as pronounced, it's the same trend. Even for one of the largest sites in this space:
WebsiteBuilderExpert (DR 80)
Reviews website builders, ecommerce software, web hosting and email marketing software
For the next one, it looks like the fall in traffic has at least stopped:
SiteBuilderReport (DR 75)
Reviews mainly website builders and ecommerce software
Another site that took a major hit:
Focussed on ecommerce software but also general website builders
And one more review site that focuses on ecommerce. Also 40% down:
Mainly ecommerce tools and newsletter services
Where did the traffic go?
Understanding a little bit about website builders and ecommerce tools, I know that the aforementioned websites offer solid content and are generally trustworthy. These sites do review the software they talk about, and they have their full focus on software reviews.
But now, Google seems to give one website, in particular, a lot of love: Forbes. They completely dominate the software reviews space. Forbes is not specialised in software reviews at all, since they are much bigger in the insurance and finance space.
Let's take a look at the SERP for "best website builders":
The top 2 results are Forbes and PC Mag. PC Mag does know something about software, and they've been around for quite some time. I can't say I am a big fan of their content, but fair enough, I can see why they are ranking well.
Then we have WebsiteBuilderExpert and an odd one, Popupsmart, that we'll come back to later.
Let's first check out this traffic graph:
Forbes Advisor (DR 94)
Looking at the software reviews category, they've managed to more than quadruple their traffic since July 2022. And they've pulled that off with pretty basic content, to say it politely.
For example, this page ranks #1 for "best website builder". An extremely competitive and also profitable keyword.
The most notable things for me are:
Not a single screenshot or video on the page
The #1 website builder Weebly hasn't received a proper update or new themes in years.
The page repeatedly shows Featured Partners, which is essentially a big ad and slightly annoying.
I couldn't find any real evidence that they've actually tested the products. It's entirely possible that this article was produced just by aggregating what's on the web.
If one of the specialised website builder review sites posted such a piece of content, it would be nowhere near the Google top positions. Especially if they recommended to "use AMP" in 2023 like Forbes does 😅
What else is going on in the SERPs? Two anomalies
Popupsmart (DR 76)
I had already mentioned the website Popupsmart that is currently #4 for "best website builders". And even better, they are #1 for "best website builder for small business" outranking even Forbes.
Not bad for a DR 76 site.
Looking at it, I don't understand how it can rank so well. While the content is better than Forbes', it's also not very detailed and a lot of the information is outdated (e.g. prices). They also don't have any individual reviews for the website builders on their site. Neither do they have a strong domain nor any particular good backlinks to the article.
For me, it's really puzzling. The only thing they have going for them, is the fact that it's the only website in the top 10 that doesn't use affiliate links. I have seen this before, when Google has seemed to give a certain bonus to non-affiliate websites.
The next anomaly has to do with AI-content.
WebsiteBuilderInsider (DR 68)
The final website I'd like to discuss is WebsiteBuilderInsider. It used to be a regular affiliate review website, but changed course in mid-2022. At that time, they started publishing thousands of articles, all of them targeting long-tail keywords:
And the easiest way to generate thousands of pages? AI, obviously.
Look at the example above. They managed to get the featured snippet for "contact Wix by phone" showing an incorrect phone number (I called it, it's definitely not Wix picking up the phone). The thing is that Wix doesn't have a phone number you can call for customer support, they only have a callback service. So, the AI must have fabricated the number.
Large parts of their content are completely ridiculous, really. Just look at the example below:
They have tons of pages that do the same. Make a statement and then say the exact opposite, a few sentences later. But Google doesn't seem to mind it too much.
While their traffic has gone down a little, they are still getting more than 500k monthly visitors, according to Ahrefs.
Let's see how the SERPs evolve with the next Google updates. From my point of view, a few things are going in the completely wrong direction.
It feels wrong that Forbes is getting that much real estate in the SERPs. Their content certainly doesn't warrant it. Personally, I'd be very keen to see that trend reversed, with specialist review websites coming back to the positions that they work so hard for by knowing the tools they test inside out.
Let me know if you have any feedback or interesting SEO insights!