Website Case Study – The Gardening Fix

Note: this post contains affiliate links.

I’m going to share my case study on a website that was completely unaffected by the Helpful Content Update and, indeed, all the updates that followed!

Not only that, but it has enjoyed non-stop growth since March this year!

What inspired me to write this case study?

It came off the back of this tweet which really took off!

I hope you enjoy this one and I plan to do more of them. I’d really appreciate if you shared it with others – or you can reply to let me know what you thought of it!

Let’s get started! (You can read the case study online if you prefer).

As of today, I’ve spent hours researching around 50 sites in the gardening niche and creating this case study so you don’t have to!

Of course, the niche doesn’t matter that much. What matters is finding those sites that have survived or thrived, as success leaves clues as we know.

Big clues!

I originally spotted a site that appeared to be surging through the updates. On closer inspection, I saw this was not the case, and so I had to dig further. I even reactivated my Ahrefs subscription to get to the data!

By the way, I found the niche sites using a tool called NicheFinder

You might have an idea on what I’m going to say about succeeding with content sites in 2023 and moving into 2024.

  • Build a brand
  • Diversify your traffic sources and income
  • Don’t write for Google

All the trends and buzzwords we hear all the time now!

And they are buzzwords for a reason – it is all true. I say it myself. You should publish content around a passion ideally, and of course where you have direct expertise and experience.

That’s why I write this newsletter and tweet – I’ve been in digital marketing, SEO and niche sites for almost 20 years now (gulp).

Before I get into all that, let’s get to the sites I reviewed.

First of all, here are some sorry pictures you may recognise:

Yikes.

Another:

I’ll stop right there, as you get the idea. I saw dozens of sites like these – some with more gradual declines and some which dropped off a cliff like the one above.

To say the least, I saw some common themes.

You are surely familiar with these factors but they have to be reiterated:

  1. There was no evidence of real expertise on the sites. You couldn’t identify WHO was really behind the content and why they deserved to rank based on their expertise. Even if they claimed expertise through author bios, a simple google showed no mention of the authors outside the website. One site had a fake profile and another had links to bios on external sites which did not look real at all.
  2. One site was pretty much indistinguishable from the next. If site A covers x, y and z topics and site B covers pretty much the same topics, and both sites have no evidence of author expertise or experience, why should they rank highly? There is no evidence of the E in “Expertise”, and no brand or identity.
  3. Google is very obviously prioritising physical stores like garden centres (I saw many of these) and lawn equipment providers (I saw one of these sites flying high). This makes sense because if a garden centre is writing about caring for a particular plant, Google can safely assume they know what they are talking about! It’s an easy way to satisfy the Expertise check-box.

On to the site!

Now speaking of expertise, let’s get on to the site I saw crushing it. It’s the perfect example of what I’m talking about above.

Drumroll…

The Gardening Fix – Case Study

Here is my review of this website, which is all of 8 months old and has a DR of 11! So much for DR and site age, eh?!

This website has surged from zero traffic in March 2023 to 25K+ organic visits/month in November 2023, less than eight months later.

Ahrefs under-reports traffic so it is likely closer to 30-40K visits/month based on comparisons with my main site and Ahrefs data.

And it looks like it is bound to continue on this trajectory.

How old is The Gardening Fix?

As mentioned, this site is about a week shy of eight months old! The first time stamp in Web Archive is as recent as March 8, 2023.

Who’s behind The Gardening Fix?

This is the “secret” to its success. Again, we go back to expertise. Ben Hilton is the brains behind the site, and here is his is background:

In case that’s hard to see, here is Ben’s bio:

Founder of multiple gardening publications. Ben’s horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997.
Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.

I’ve highlighted the most critical aspects of Ben’s bio for a reason! Look at the experience, expertise and authority he has to talk about the topic…

I believe that Google is now at the stage where their algorithm can scan for mentions relating to expertise across the web and come to a partial conclusion based on that. But on to the next factor…

What other factors are contributing to the site’s success?

Well, the primary way Google determines EEAT is good old fashioned links.

How about this for a backlink profile?

You can see that Ben is a trusted and authoritative voice in the gardening space. Of course, that’s HUGE.

What about the site itself?

There is lots of chatter on SEO Twitter about sites covered in ads, affiliate links, video ads, popups, carousels and so on getting hit hard with these updates.

That does make sense, as it speaks to the first “E” in EEAT – “Experience.”

We all experience landing on a site and feeling crowded in by all of these elements, waiting for stuff to load and seeing the screen skip around the place.

It often feels like you are squinting to read the actual copy among all the other monetisation elements at play!

I think it’s safe to say that big G has to be cracking down on that to some extent. It’s not to say we shouldn’t have these elements on our sites, but I think it’s gone a bit far, you’ll have to agree…

Now how is Ben doing it?

How beautifully simple, clean and clear is that?

How well does The Gardening Fix rank?

This well. All of what Ben is doing and the vast experience he brings for decades is adding up to stacks of juicy ranking keywords:

So there you have it!

To sum up, this site is crushing it for the following reasons:

  1. Hits the EEAT checks with flying colours!
  2. Simple, clean, clear, basic design that makes reading the content a pleasure.
  3. Amazing link profile.
  4. Expert content that answers questions and give people the info they want (but this is only working crazy well because of factors 1-3!).

So am I saying you need to “be a Ben” to see these kind of results?

What if you want to grow your traffic, do well with SEO and build an online business without expertise, passion or interest in a niche?

Well, I reckon it’s best to choose something you either have a little interest in, or where you have some level of expertise.

And being an expert only means being a few steps ahead of whoever is behind you. We all have skills and experience, even if you don’t think you do. When was the last time you showed someone how to do something?

And we all have stories and experiences we can share with others. That’s more important now than ever!

Try to focus on what value you can add. That might start as a 10-page site. That’s fine!

Maybe you can add YouTube, or audio.

Or you can start to build a community around an interest, passion or skill you have.

That said, I don’t think the model of building niche sites where you have little to no experience of the topic is dead. Not at all.

We have to pivot our strategies, and I’ll expand on this in future emails. But I am seeing my traffic start to recover on a site where I am certainly not an expert.

I’ve just made some simple improvements, and the seasonal factor may be starting to kick in too (thankful for that!).

For one of my other sites though, I am looking to hire those who are.

Aside from that, with my main site I am focused on optimising my pages and making sure I am making consistent improvements. Above all else, that is key.

And it’s working.

Keep on improving your sites and your business, and the results will come. Above all else, enjoy the journey and embrace the ups and downs along the way, if you can.

I hope you enjoyed this case study, and I would love to hear your comments. You can reply to this email or feel free to share this case study on Twitter (click to tweet) or elsewhere.

This took me hours to put together, so I’d love to hear if you liked it / found it valuable!

Until next time!

Thanks for reading.

Anton

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Recommended tools I use right now:

Some of the tools I use: https://nicheranger.com/tools/

My favourite niche-finder tool: NicheFinder

My favourite content optimiser and keyword library tool: Rank IQ

The above are affiliate links, and I may receive a commission. I use (or have used) all the products I recommend.