Can a Handful of Pages Improve Your Entire Site’s Rankings?

  • June 10, 2024
  • SEO
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John Mueller of Google recently addressed a query regarding sitewide impacts after a site with ten problematic pages lost rankings during the March/April 2024 Core Update, followed by a complete sitewide ranking drop in May.

Can Ten Pages Cause a Sitewide Penalty?

A Reddit user detailed their experience of having ten pages (out of a total of 20,000) that were negatively affected by the Helpful Content Update (HCU) in September 2023. After updating these pages, they recovered both their rankings and traffic. However, the same ten pages once again lost rankings following the March/April core update, specifically on April 20th.

Initially, only these ten pages were impacted while the rest of the site remained unaffected. This situation changed dramatically on May 7th when the entire site experienced a significant drop in rankings across all its 20,000 pages.

The main questions posed were: (1) whether the ten problematic pages could trigger a sitewide HCU impact, or (2) if the sitewide ranking collapse was a result of the Site Reputation Abuse penalties announced on May 6th. For clarity, the Site Reputation Abuse penalties were announced on May 6th as manual actions to be implemented in the future.

Insights on Diagnosing Ranking Drops

In addressing the query, Mueller noted the user seemed to be correlating ranking drops with specific algorithm updates based purely on timing.

The user’s exact words were:

“Our website has about 20K pages, and we found that around 10 pages were hit by HCU in September. We updated those articles and saw a recovery in traffic, but after the March core update around April 20, the same pages were hit again, likely due to HCU. On May 7th, we saw a sharp drop in rankings across the board, and suspect that a sitewide classifier may have been applied.

Question: Can an HCU hit on 10 pages cause a sitewide classifier for 20K pages? Or on May 7th reputation abuse update may had an impact?”

It’s logical to connect a ranking drop to a recently announced Google update if the timing aligns. However, core algorithm updates influence various factors (e.g., query-content relevance). Additionally, the HCU is no longer a standalone system; its elements have been integrated into the core ranking algorithms.

Google documentation clarifies the transformation of the HCU:

Is there a single “helpful content system” that Google Search uses for ranking?
Our work to improve the helpfulness of content in search results began with what we called our “helpful content system” launched in 2022. Our processes have evolved since. There is no one system used for identifying helpful content. Instead, our core ranking systems use a variety of signals and systems.”

Thus, while Google does target content helpfulness, the specific helpful content system no longer exists in its former capacity.

The query also revealed another common error: closely linking ranking drops to specific announced updates. For instance, the site’s complete drop on May 7th couldn’t have been due to reputation abuse penalties since these were only announced on May 6th and weren’t in effect by May 7th.

Such misconceptions underline the risk of attributing site ranking issues solely to correlation with Google updates. Effective diagnosis requires a holistic view, considering technical issues and potential unannounced algorithmic changes.

Understanding that competition may outperform those who lose rankings is also crucial. It’s not always about fixing something but sometimes about recognizing and adapting to what the competition does better.

Ten Pages Spark a Sitewide Collapse?

Addressing the issue succinctly, John Mueller stated he does not believe ten pages could cause a sitewide ranking drop for 20,000 pages.

John commented:

“The issues more folks post about with regards to core updates tend to be site-wide, and not limited to a tiny subset of a site. The last core update was March/April, so any changes you’d be seeing from May would be unrelated. I’m not sure how that helps you now though :-), but I wouldn’t see those 10 pages as being indicative of something you need to change across 20k other pages.”

Beyond Announced Updates

Mueller did not diagnose the specific issue, noting that such conclusions are impossible without thoroughly analyzing the site. SEOs must avoid simply attributing ranking drops to recently announced updates, as such conclusions can be misleading.

Diagnosing ranking drops effectively involves:


  • Inspect the website rigorously
  • Analyze a range of keywords and related changes in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages)
  • Evaluate the top-ranked competing sites


  • Assume a ranking drop is directly related to a recent update without further investigation

As John Mueller highlighted, ranking issues might not always relate to SEO.

John elaborated:

“Based on the information you posted, it’s also impossible to say whether you need to improve/fix something on those 20k pages, or if the world has just moved on (in terms of their interests, their expectations & your site’s relevance).

It sounds like you did find things to make more “helpful” on those 10 pages, maybe there’s a pattern? That’s something for you to work out – you know your site, its content, its users best. This isn’t an easy part of SEO, sometimes it’s not even about SEO.”

Look at the Bigger Picture

It’s becoming common for site owners to focus on Google’s recent announcements when diagnosing issues. While this is reasonable, relying solely on these updates could cause oversight of broader, more significant factors at play.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/vovan

Join the discussion on Reddit:

If 5-10 pages are hit by HCU, can it cause a sitewide classifier to be applied?

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