Google: Can 10 Pages Impact Sitewide Rankings?

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John Mueller from Google addressed a query regarding the widespread effects on a website comprising ten pages, which encountered a decline in rankings during the March/April 2024 Core Update and later underwent a comprehensive downturn in May.

Can 10 Pages Trigger A Sitewide Penalty?

The individual on Reddit shared that among their vast website containing 20,000 pages, only ten were initially impacted by the Helpful Content Update (HCU) in September 2023. After diligently updating these pages, they managed to regain their rankings and traffic. However, the same ten pages were hit once again by the March/April core update, with the specific drop occurring on April 20th.

Remarkably, up to that point, the remainder of the site remained unscathed. It wasn’t until May 7th that the site experienced a comprehensive decline in rankings across all 20,000 pages.

Their inquiry focused on whether (1) the ten problematic pages triggered a broader sitewide impact from the HCU or (2) if the rankings plummet was linked to the Site Reputation Abuse penalties announced on May 6th, which were emphasized as manual actions to clarify any confusion.

A Note About Diagnosing Ranking Drops

The question posed suggests a correlation between ranking fluctuations and specific segments of announced algorithm updates. The individual noted that their website, comprising approximately 20,000 pages, encountered about ten pages affected by the Helpful Content Update (HCU) in September. After updating these pages, they observed a recovery in traffic. However, following the March core update around April 20, the same pages experienced another setback, likely attributed to the HCU. Subsequently, on May 7th, a significant decline in rankings across the entire site was noticed, leading to speculation about the potential application of a sitewide classifier.

The query raises two possibilities: whether the impact of HCU on ten pages could trigger a sitewide classifier for 20,000 pages, or if the reputation abuse update announced on May 7th could have influenced the rankings.

It’s worth noting that while there may seem to be a connection between ranking drops and recently announced Google updates when their timing aligns, the impact of a core algorithm update can be multifaceted, affecting various aspects such as query-content relevance. Additionally, it’s essential to recognize that the HCU is no longer a singular system, further complicating the assessment of its effects.

The person asking the question appears to be following a common pattern of assuming that ranking drops are solely attributed to issues within their website. However, it’s important to recognize that fluctuations in rankings can stem from various factors, including changes in how Google interprets search queries, among others.

Furthermore, there’s a potential mistake in assuming that the problem is linked to a specific algorithm. In this case, the individual presumes that their site was affected by the Helpful Content Update (HCU) system, which is no longer in existence. According to Google’s documentation, the elements of the HCU have been integrated into the core ranking algorithm as signals. Google’s processes have evolved since the introduction of the HCU, and there’s no longer a singular “helpful content system” responsible for identifying and potentially de-ranking pages on specific dates.

While Google continues to prioritize helpfulness in content within search results, it’s crucial to understand that the approach is now more nuanced, with various signals and systems contributing to the ranking process.

Another instance hinting at potentially flawed correlation emerges when a Redditor inquired about the May 7th widespread collapse of the site, speculating if it was linked to penalties for abusing site reputation. However, it’s crucial to note that the penalties for site reputation abuse weren’t actually enacted by May 7th. On May 6th, an announcement was made regarding the commencement of manual actions for site reputation abuse, slated for the near future.

These examples underscore the risk of drawing misleading conclusions by correlating irregularities in site rankings with announced updates. Effective diagnosis demands more than merely aligning traffic trends with announced updates. Relying solely on this method may lead site owners and SEOs astray, akin to fixating on the map rather than the actual road ahead.

Accurate diagnosis necessitates a comprehensive understanding of the myriad technical issues that can impact a site, as well as the potential for algorithmic shifts on Google’s end, including unannounced alterations. Drawing on over 20 years of experience, I possess the expertise to discern anomalies in the SERPs indicative of shifts in Google’s relevance criteria.

Further complicating the diagnostic process is the realization that sometimes the issue isn’t about rectifying a problem but rather recognizing that competitors are simply outperforming other sites. This superiority can manifest in various ways.

Ten Pages Caused Sitewide “Penalty”?

John Mueller responded by initially addressing the specific concern regarding the widespread ranking decline, expressing skepticism that the issues with ten pages could cause a significant drop in rankings for 20,000 other pages.

John’s statement reads:

“The issues that receive more attention in relation to core updates typically affect the entire site, rather than being confined to a small subset. The most recent core update occurred in March/April, so any changes observed in May would likely be unrelated. While I’m not certain how this information assists you at present :-), I wouldn’t interpret the issues with those 10 pages as indicative of necessary changes across the remaining 20,000 pages.”

Sometimes It’s More Than Announced Updates

John Mueller refrained from providing a specific diagnosis for the site’s issue, noting that it’s impossible to accurately assess without firsthand examination. He pointed out a common trend among SEO communities on platforms like YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook, where ranking drops are often linked to recently announced updates. However, as mentioned earlier in the article, such correlations could be misleading.

When addressing a decline in rankings, it’s crucial to adopt a comprehensive approach:


  • Conduct a thorough inspection of the website.
  • Review a diverse set of keywords and observe corresponding changes in the SERPs.
  • Analyze the strategies and performance of top-ranked competitors.


  • Assuming that a ranking drop is solely attributable to a recent update and halting further investigation.
  • Overlooking the possibility that ranking fluctuations may not necessarily be related to SEO factors.

John Mueller emphasized the intricate nature of diagnosing ranking drops, suggesting that sometimes the issue extends beyond SEO considerations, which is entirely accurate.

John elaborated:

“Based on the information provided, it’s also challenging to determine whether adjustments or fixes are required for those 20k pages, or if it’s simply a matter of evolving user interests, expectations, and your site’s relevance.

It appears that you’ve identified areas for improvement on those 10 pages; perhaps there’s a discernible pattern? This is something you’ll need to analyze further – you possess the most comprehensive understanding of your site, its content, and its user base. This aspect of SEO isn’t straightforward; at times, it may not even revolve around SEO.”

Look At The Road Ahead

There’s a prevailing trend among site owners to concentrate on recent announcements made by Google as indicators of their site’s performance. This approach is entirely rational and should continue to be a priority. However, it’s crucial not to confine your attention solely to these announcements, as there’s always the possibility of other factors at play.

Original news from SearchEngineJournal