In 2017, I started a coffee website called Coffee In My Veins. The site primarily focused on espresso and espresso machines, and it grew steadily into early 2020, peaking at 60,000 unique visits per month until the May 2020 Google Core Update happened.
I worked day and night to recover the site, throwing the kitchen sink at it, until I finally saw results for my hard work, and I sold the site in December 2021 for $115,080.
This is the story of how I recovered the website, and how I can help you grow your own coffee website.
Losing Traffic In the May 2020 update
I’ll never forget that fateful day in May 2020 when my affiliate business was literally destroyed. I woke up one morning to check the previous day’s analytics, and there was a sharp downward sloping line.
I panicked and thought there was some technical issue with the site. I looked around and found that the site was OK.
Then I headed over to Search Engine Journal and read that Google had just released their May 2020 core update. This was the first of many core updates that Google would start releasing.
While Google had released updates before this that targeted thin content and spammy links, this was the first “broad core” update that targeted a much wider range of (unclear) issues.
I saw that I had been knocked out of the SERPs for most of the keywords that were bringing me most of my traffic. I went from getting 2,000 uniques per day to just 500, and my revenue dropped by 75%.
What was really frustrating was that my content was objectively better than the new stuff ranking, so it took a week or two of going through the five stages of grief before I got back on track and decided to start working on the site again.
Trying to recover the site
I figured that the usual suspects were probably responsible, so I got in touch with Rick Lomas, the GO-TO guy for backlink audits.
He made a rather comprehensive disavow file for me and I uploaded it to Google Search Console(which was still Google Webmaster Tools back then), and…
It’s worth noting that I had not done any black hat link building. Most of the links I had were either natural or relevant guest posts with evenly distributed anchor texts.
Next, I tried updating each of the posts that were hit, one by one.
I’d study the posts that were currently ranking on page 1 for my keyword and make my pages super-sets of them, covering all of the content under the sun for that particular keyword and making sure I left no stone unturned.
This was still 2020 when search intent was an industry secret and long form content was king.
I’d update some posts, wait a few weeks, and see if there was any difference, but Googler Analytics and Ahrefs showed no change.
It was like playing a game of cat and mouse, except this cat wasn’t getting anywhere near any mice!
This was also when Core Web Vitals was becoming a thing, so I used WP Rocket and followed all the best practices to really speed up my site. Ads were still causing it to be a little slow, but it was a lot better than before.
I then dissected some of the websites that were ranking high for coffee-related terms at the time and downloaded a huge list of all of their backlinks to try and reconstruct some of them to boost my rankings.
Over the next 3 months, I ran an outreach campaign with a $2000 budget and built around 50-60 DR40+ backlinks spread out over various pages on my site.
Safe to say, it was INCREDIBLY frustrating that everything I was doing was running up against a brick wall.
I even showed the site to many of my SEO buddies and they were all stumped, too. They all said the content seems good, the site looks professional, and they couldn’t figure out what wasn’t working.
By this time, it was around March 2021, exactly four years after having started the original website.
Another site that was hit and never recovered
When I was researching the coffee niche back in 2017, there were three sites that were dominating the SERPs. Of those, two still stand, and one is gone.
DrippedCoffee was huge back in the day, ranking for over 100,000 keywords. They also had a really high domain rating thanks to a really clever infographic they had made about which airlines serve which brands of coffee that got reposted by many authoritative websites.
Their content was also pretty decent.
They were also hit by the May 2020 update, and even though the owners tried many different things to try to recover the site, it just never recovered.
The road to recovery
By this time, I had a hypothesis that Google tends to “blacklist” certain domains for whatever reason, which was why none of my efforts were having any effect.
To test this hypothesis, I decided to rebrand the site under a fresh (not expired) domain and restructure the whole site into a hard silo structure to better organize the content.
A hard silo is where the URLs are nested within one another as subfolders: https://super-coffee-site.com/coffee-makers/breville/
I bought the new domain and to start, I just migrated the old site onto the new one, keeping the old one online. That’s because I needed to restructure the whole site before implementing 301 redirections.
Using a hard silo
To enable a hard silo structure on WordPress, you have to save the content as pages. Then you can add a new page and set its parent page as the first one, and your URL structure will automatically update to /parent-page/child-page/.
All of my content used to be saved as posts in WordPress, so I used a handy plugin called WP Post Type Switcher to change all of the posts to pages in a few clicks.
I then exported all of the URLs into a Google Sheet and reorganized the 300-odd pages into families of posts, putting the would-be parent page at the top and child pages below it.
I also highlighted each silo with a different color to help me keep track.
The silo structure was quite simple: broader keywords became parent pages, and longer tail keywords were child pages.
For example, the article on “best coffee beans” became a parent page, and articles on “best coffee beans for espresso,” “best coffee beans for drip,” and so on became child pages.
How-to articles that related to each parent also became child pages.
After restructuring nearly all of the pages into silos, I exported the URLs again and merged the two spreadsheets to create a redirect file.
I imported the redirect file using the Redirection plugin for WordPress and uploaded it to the original site. The migration was now complete!
I had also made some aesthetic changes in this time, including the theme(I used GeneratePress back then, though I’m now a fan of Kadence), updating the logo, updating the About Page and other necessary pages, and redoing the main navigation to reflect the silo structure.
I also deleted a lot of posts that I felt were not contributing much to the site and weren’t getting much traffic anyway.
I also combined pages that I felt were covering similar topics, even though they weren’t actually “cannibalizing” keywords.
Why the silo structure was important
Before implementing the silo structure, my internal links were all over the place and I suspected there was no clear connection between one post and the other in Google’s eyes.
Up until then, I had gotten away with “winging it” with internal links, but I think that as the site grew, the links began to get messy.
The silo structure helped organize the content in a sensible way and demonstrated to big G that my site was comprehensively covering topics in the coffee niche.
Redoing the content
Now that the new site was up and the redirects were live, it was time to update the content.
300ish posts would take a long time to completely redo, especially when there was no ChatGPT back then, so I implemented some very basic changes to all of my content.
I created standardized formats for all my content types: roundup reviews, product reviews, how-to posts, and info posts. I then worked down the list and did these basic changes to each piece of content.
I spent extra time on the parent pages, completely overhauling them, redoing a bulk of the content, and making them very visually appealing with lots of CSS and graphics.
In roundup reviews, for example, every product got its own box with a styled image and large CTA.
I also tried adding infographics to info posts where relevant.
And of course, along with linking to and from parent pages, I very carefully added new, relevant internal links.
Building HARO links
As this was going on, I also signed up for HARO and started to religiously answer any and all coffee-related HARO queries. I’d send a fairly brief answer of around 150 words on average, which was usually enough for what they were asking for, and for credibility, I’d note that I was a coffee blogger for the past 4 years and link to my website.
Even though the website was still not ranking highly in Google, the content itself was very good, and the site looked really professional, which gave me enough credibility.
I also tried to think of really out of the box answers that would catch the reporter’s eye.
This resulted in some mentions and backlinks from authoritative sites like Insider, HuffPost, and MyFitnessPal. Even though some of these links were nofollow, they went a long way in establishing authority and getting my name out there as a coffee expert:
[insert images here]
Experiencing growth again
By July/August, the new site began to grow quickly, and November was the highest traffic and revenue month, getting over 60,000 visits and nearly $5,000 in revenue from display ads and affiliate sales.
While the site was growing, I didn’t rest on my laurels: instead, I continued to add more content(about 3 posts per week) and work down my list of content to update.
At this point, I wasn’t doing much outreach link building, but I did continue to respond to every relevant HARO query.
I had now recovered everything I had invested into building and recovering the site, so I figured I’d sell the site while it was still at its peak.
Getting a 6 figure exit
My average earnings for the past 6 months had now crossed $3000, so I was hoping to get at least a 35-40x multiple and sell the site for 6 figures.
First, I tried to sell it privately on Authority Hacker’s Facebook group. I got a few bites but the sale didn’t go through.
I also tried listing it on Empire Flippers, where I had sold 3 to 4 sites earlier, but they didn’t give me quite the multiple I was looking for.
I finally tried listing with Investor’s Club, and they valued the site at $115,000. I was stoked, and proceeded with the listing.
The site must have been up for about 2 weeks on the marketplace. I received a few messages from interested parties, but no sales.
Then, a lady approached me, interested in the site. She was impressed with the growth of the site and the quality of the content, and we finalized the deal in a few days.
Hindsight: what I could have done better
Hindsight is always 20-20, but there are lessons to learn from every experience.
In 2017, I was still gaining experience in affiliate marketing, and made quite a few mistakes in building the site, which I feel were contributing factors to the site tanking in the May 2020 update.
In 2023, these feel like classic rookie mistakes, but this was back when Google Updates weren’t a thing and SEO was much easier.
Outsourcing writing without knowing much about the niche
When I started the site, I outsourced most of the content and didn’t bother diving really deep into the niche. I was familiar with coffee, but not obssessed with it to the extent that I am today.
So to speed things up, I hired a few writers to help me create the content.
The writers were native speakers, but they were by no means coffee experts or even enthusiasts.
This resulted in medium-quality content that was nothing to write home about(pun intended).
I also used many different writers with noticeably different writing styles and skill levels, and instead of attributing each post to the writer, I had them ghostwrite under my name.
As a result, the content was all over the place and it seemed like I was switching personalities from post to post!
Not updating old content
If using mediocre writers wasn’t bad enough, I didn’t bother updating the old content or even changing the publish date. As a result, there were posts that still had a 2017 publish date in 2020!
It’s common practice now to constantly update your old content to maintain freshness and demonstrate to Google that you’re still working on your site and care about your content.
Not focusing on growth
Once the site started getting some traction, I should have invested some revenue into building links. Instead, I rested on my laurels and didn’t put enough work into further strenghtening my backlink profile.
And if I didn’t want links, I should have at least had a higher content velocity.
Not focusing on topical content creation
Coffee is a huge niche, and there are plenty of sub-niches within coffee that I should have comprehensively covered before moving on to other sub-niches.
Instead, my content creation was kind of all over the place, resulting in a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
While you should cast a wider net at first to see what works, once you find a winning set of keywords, it’s best to double down on those keywords until you’ve reasonably covered the topic.
This builds topical authority, which the top dogs understood intuitively back in 2020 before it became a buzzword.
My journey of building the site, growing it, losing nearly everything, and growing it again helped me discover a passion for coffee and honed in my writing, link building, and SEO skills.
This was the biggest challenge of my online marketing career and I was able to turn around a losing, dying site into a thriving, profitable site that I exited for 6 figures.
Let me use the experience and lessons from growing my sites to help get YOU more traffic to YOUR coffee business.