Update: How We Survived A Google Algorithm Update That Lost 80% Of Our Traffic

Published: March 28th, 2022
R.J. Weiss
The Ways To Wealth
from Geneva
started August 2016
Discover what tools R.J. recommends to grow your business!
Discover what books R.J. recommends to grow your business!

Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

I’m R.J. Weiss. I started thewaystowealth.com in 2016. Prior to launching the site, I spent a decade working in financial services. I went full-time with the site in 2017, and it’s been my main source of income since, supporting my family of five.

Organic search is our primary traffic source, and our top monetization methods are affiliate marketing and display advertising. Affiliate marketing makes up about 2/3 of the site’s total revenue.

The Ways To Wealth was created for the Average Joe and Jane looking for help improving their financial situation. Our core content verticals are online jobs, gig economy jobs, making money from home, investing and personal finance product and service reviews.

At its peak, the site was generating revenue of $30,000 per month. Due to some Google algo updates between November 2019 and December of 2020, organic traffic dropped over 80% from that peak. By making consistent improvements over time, the site has recovered and organic traffic is at an all-time high.


Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?

I last shared an update in January of 2021. As you can see in the organic traffic chart above, things got worse before they got better. In January 2021, the site’s 12-month average revenue was still on the higher end, as in most cases, we don’t get paid for 90 days. So, the high numbers of late 2020 and early 2021 were still included.

It’s not enough to just create content and hope it sticks with Google. We’re aiming to create content that nobody else can or will produce.

Net profit hit its lowest level in mid-2021, with the site earning around $2K per month — not nearly enough for me and my family to live on. And it was getting to a point where a few more months at that level would have meant seeking other sources of income.

When you see a hit from Google — or in our case, multiple hits — correcting the trend line means making significant improvements and waiting for another core update. So during this period, our focus was on improving the site’s user experience. That entailed both the technical side (making the site faster), the visual side (improving the layout), and the content side (producing best-in-class articles and).

One thing in particular we’ve been focused on since the start of 2021 is completing the visitors' search journey.

A good example here is one of our most trafficked pages, which is a list of apps to make money. Over the course of the year, we’ve published reviews of nearly every app mentioned on the list. As a result, a visitor is able to not only get the 101 on an app within the list, but also has the option to read a more detailed review. In turn, they can make more informed decisions about what’s right and wrong for them.

After all, the next stage in a searcher’s journey, after first learning about a product or service in a list like the one above, is searching for a review. This idea isn’t new — it’s known in SEO as topic clustering.

Another example of this is what we call our free money vertical. On the main topic pages, we mention ideas like getting free shares of stock or the best swagbucks hacks. In each case, we’re linking to separate articles on that topic. That’s really been our main focus this past year — trying to help users in the best way possible throughout their entire journey.

While I do still drive some paid traffic via Facebook (which I had the chance to write about here), I’ve really doubled down on organic search since last year. The goal is to build that foundation, then branch out into other traffic sources like video and social (which I haven’t yet focused on enough).


What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster. The site saw nothing but growth for the first three or so years. And with its success, my income was at a personal high. Well, things can change fast. I went from an all-time high to an all-time low fairly quickly.

During that period, the hardest thing was maintaining a long-term focus.

Think long-term. Have a clear vision for what you want the future to look like, then work backwards to come up with the strategy to achieve that vision.

For example, I see a lot of sites that drop in traffic decide to double down on monetization by increasing the number of display ads and/or increasing the density of affiliate links. Short-term, this makes up for some of the lost revenue. But long-term, the site struggles because these changes negatively impact the site’s overall quality.

It would have been easy to take on sponsorships, sell a bunch of links, get paid for positive reviews and include affiliate links where they’re not a fit for user intent, all for a short-term boost in income. But these things are detrimental to our readers, and I think that embracing them would have ultimately resulted in lower Google rankings.

So, what I focused on instead — and the resource for this was the book Traction by Gino Wickman — was to clarify my core values, focus and strategy. Then to put those into practice. This included being more transparent in how we make money, having strict editorial guidelines, finding and paying more for writers who are experts in their niche and really care about what they put out there.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

My goal for 2022 is a big one: to increase organic traffic by 50%. We plan to take a much more diversified approach, however, in acquiring traffic, as we begin to leverage both video and social to a greater extent than we have in the past. The idea is to get our core audience excited about the content we publish and to return to the site for multiple visits over time. In turn, that will help improve on-site metrics, which will help improve search.

Personal finance is a competitive space, especially as you start competing with top publishers. So it’s not enough to just create content and hope it sticks with Google; users have a lot of options with regard to where they get information, so this year is all about creating a content moat. We’re aiming to create content that nobody else can or will produce.

I really enjoy what I’m doing. It’s fun, very fun, and I get to work with some great people. So I have no plans other than focusing on the next five years for the site, with every step we take being rooted in our core mission of enriching our audiences' quality of life.

What this will look like in practice will probably change, but my North Star is to maintain that core focus.

Have you read any good books in the last year?

Two immediately come to mind:

Traction has really honed my ability to create a clear vision then see that vision through. I reread it once a year, then revisit my notes quarterly.

Managing a business's finances is a lot different than managing one’s personal finances.

Applying the strategies in Profit First helped me keep going when the site wasn’t earning enough to cover my expenses. Without some sound financial management when things were going good, I wouldn’t have been able to ride out the hard times.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

Think long-term. Have a clear vision for what you want the future to look like, then work backwards to come up with the strategy to achieve that vision.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re always looking for writers who have a passion in certain verticals, whether that’s side hustles, budgeting or crypto. We’re always interested in people who really want to brand themselves as a specialist in a niche.

Where can we go to learn more?

The Ways To Wealth’s homepage* is a great jumping off point.*