niche surfer Wave Issue 180

Core Web Vitals in Ranking Systems; More Update Commentary and Help; Bing Webmaster Tools are Helpful; Mediavine's 10K Plan; SERP Fluffyfication; and Much More!


Welcome to Wave 180 of the Niche Surfer newsletter!

Ever wondered why I call these issues Waves?

While watching a video of surfers ride at Hawaii’s Pipeline, home of some of the most beautiful barrel waves on the planet, this analogy hit me: each week is like catching a wave - sometimes the ride is electrifying, and other times, you wipe out.

In the vast sea of SEO and digital marketing, there are endless waves of opportunities.

The ocean is relentless and ever-changing, just like life itself. We see a wave come our way, we drop in, and hope that it’s a fun, long-lasting ride.

Starting as a spotlight for niche site income reports, Niche Surfer has evolved to cover the breadth of SEO, digital marketing, and web traffic growth.

Week by week, as the digital landscape shifts, so has the content of this newsletter, growing to include a wider range of resources that help us ride these crazy waves successfully.

Much like facing the waves over Pipeline’s infamous shallow coral reef, we tackle risks in the digital ocean, where Google looms as our reef below. If you wipe out and hit the reef, the impact will hurt.

Yet, the thrill of the ride, the potential for learning, and the chance at glory keep us paddling back out for more. 🌊 

Despite the dangers, the lineup at Pipeline remains crowded because of the challenge of conquering one of surfing's most challenging breaks for the ultimate ride - the fight for the top spot in the SERPs.

The path to mastery involves riding, failing, learning, and adapting. Each wave may differ slightly, but with practice and perseverance, we learn to stay on the waves for amazing rides.

Having ridden 180 waves together, I look forward to the next 180 and beyond. But in the future, it’ll be with a new name.

Niche Surfer is going to be rebranded to reflect the expanded scope of our journey. Stay tuned for the unveiling of our new identity, aligning more closely with the breadth of knowledge we now explore.

So, let’s paddle out once more, ready for the next wave and the new adventures it brings.


There’s a common misconception that topical maps are just simple lists of topics - because that’s what they get from ChatGPT or ‘topical map’ service providers.

If you’ve been following me for some time, you know that’s just not the case. Topical maps are meticulously crafted blueprints, organizing a site’s content into a structured hierarchy of main topics, subtopics, and keywords.

Lists of keyword and topic clusters are often used to create ‘topical maps’. I get it, it’s a hot term right now, but it’s also often misused.

You can see from the image below how different they are. Check out the write up where I break down the different types of keyword research that are done and how they compare to topical maps.

If you’re considering a Topical Map service, Mushfiq Sarker has a Top 5 review with being the "Best Overall”! 💯 

I didn’t even know he had this article until I was going through my newsfeed this week!


Lily Ray provides a comprehensive analysis on HCU that serves as a crucial wake-up call for site owners, emphasizing the need for adaptability and a focus on providing genuine value to remain competitive in online search.

She hasn’t seen any recoveries from the classifier yet and the majority of sites she’s seen affected are content sites (aka niche sites). And she says that niche bloggers were at a disadvantage with Google, who went a little too far.

She’s recently started posting more YouTube videos and has another one earlier in the week on the March 2024 Core Update and Spam Updates.

Ryan T, a Community Manager in the Google Search Console forums posted lots of information and FAQs on manual actions for people who received a penalty report. There’s lots of information in here that may answer some of your questions.

Google Search Central has updated their documentation on Page Experience to say that their ranking systems use Core Web Vitals, but don’t mention “ranking factor.” If you’re looking for more on the “it is” and “it isn’t” back-and-forth of CWV being a ranking factor, check out Roger Montti’s article on it.

The documentation also includes a self-assessment of your content’s page experience and FAQs. It highlights the importance of Core Web Vitals, secure browsing, mobile-friendliness, and minimal intrusive ads.

My Take: Just don’t make a slow website.

I tweeted about Bing Webmaster Tools and their Top Insights tool telling me that I have "Inadequate inbound links from high-quality domains." 😂 Barry Schwartz wrote about the tweet and the Top SEO Insights tool last week. Lots of great info from Bing, so definitely check out Microsoft’s ‘GSC’ yourself because Bing provides more helpful information at the moment.

Matt Diggity debunks common but vague SEO advice and dives into the crucial user metrics essential for Google success. He highlights the significance of user interaction with content. From emphasizing goal completion to improving site speed and click-through rates, he shares strategies for optimizing the metrics.

The Authority Hacker guys outline a proactive approach to staying ahead of Google updates and ensuring the resilience of your website through content auditing.

  • Step 1 - Collect a list of all your indexed pages

  • Step 2 - Import your list into the Notion template

  • Step 3 - Grade your pages like Google

  • Step 4 - Make decisions based on your gradings

SEO Ripples


Mediavine is offering the opportunity for smaller websites to join the Mediavine network. Sites that have traffic starting at around 10,000 sessions per month are eligible to apply.

You will need to install their free Grow tool and run it for a minimum of 30 days. They’ll be tracking your traffic and reach out when your site is ready to run Journey ads.

Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media Studios emphasizes the importance of utilizing GA4 for effective SEO and lead generation. He guides readers through seven reports to monitor SEO performance, track traffic and conversion rates, and identify actionable insights for improving organic search results.


Julia-Carolin Zeng shares her insights on leveraging SERPs for content creation. From video and image results to featured snippets and the "People Also Ask" section, she explains how each element can inform and shape your content strategy to stay competitive.


After reading about using the SERPs, read Kevin Indig highlighting the saturation of fluffy content that plagues SERPs and the challenges genuine content faces in standing out. He evaluates the current state of content optimization, stressing the need for a balance between SEO tactics and authentic, original content that provides real value to users.

“Most search content is unoriginal. The problem isn’t that content is optimized for search but that it’s optimized in a lazy way. Google doesn’t crave fast food.”

- Kevin Indig

Patrick Stox tests the effects of adding a "related posts" section to the Ahrefs blog. He shares a detailed exploration of whether this feature influenced user engagement and site traffic. Despite initial mixed results and the complexities of algorithm updates, the analysis revealed positive impacts, such as increased page views and time spent on the site.

My Take: This design is much better look than the standard design from Related Post plugins. I feel it’s a great idea to customize something that works within your site’s overall design and Ahrefs has done a nice job of that.


Joanna Stern dives into OpenAI's Sora with CTO Mira Murati. The text-to-video AI tool is changing the game for video production. See Sora crafts highly realistic videos from simple prompts, showcasing clips that range from whimsical to lifelike.

My Take: Some amazing video clips showcasing where Sora is at now. I used to be in film and animation, so I’ve seen the manpower that used to be required to make early animations like this. Weeks and months of work boiled down into less than a minute. And watch the CTO squirm when answering the question about Sora’s training data. 😅 

European lawmakers have officially passed the world's first significant regulations for artificial intelligence. This new EU AI Act categorizes AI technologies by risk levels, from "unacceptable" to low hazard, aiming to foster innovation while protecting rights. Set to be enacted after May's legislative close, its implementation begins in 2025.

AI Ripples


Patrick Stox from Ahrefs dives into the complexities of comparing backlink data across SEO tools like Ahrefs and Semrush. He discusses how different tools count links and referring domains (RDs) differently, including live versus dead links, and the timing of data updates, which can significantly skew comparison results. He highlights the technical decisions and challenges involved in indexing the web, such as handling duplicate content and prioritizing what to crawl. It’s a vast web out there:

Google knows about 300T pages on the web. It’s doubtful they crawl all of those, and at least according to some documents from their antitrust trial we learned they only indexed 400B. That’s around .133% of the pages they know about, roughly 1 out of every 752 pages.

For Ahrefs, we choose to store about 340B pages in our index as of December 2023.

- Patrick Stox


Adam Heitzman guides businesses without physical locations through the maze of local SEO. He shares tips on using Google Business Profiles, localized content, targeted landing pages, customer reviews, and local citations to still compete effectively in local search results.


Dan Brodnitz from LinkedIn reveals a golden opportunity for anyone looking to skill up in AI: 250 free courses available in seven languages until April 5, 2024. Whether you're starting out or enhancing your expertise, these courses cover everything from AI literacy to specialized training for tech professionals.

Philip Ghezelbash at Empire Flippers explains the often-overlooked aspect of SEO in the due diligence process for buying online businesses. He presents a comprehensive 10-question checklist aimed at uncovering potential SEO pitfalls and evaluating a website's true value. Some of the questions:

  1. What Does the Backlink Profile Look Like — Quantity, Quality, Relevancy?

  2. Is the Site Architecture Allowing Bots to Easily Crawl and Index Important Pages?

  3. Are There Any Red Flags/black Hat Tactics Used That Could Lead to Google Penalties Post-Sale?

  4. How Unique and High-Quality Is the Content?

  5. How Sophisticated Is the Internal Linking Structure?

My Take: Even if you’re not buying a site yourself, you can use the same questions to assess your own site right now as if you’re a buyer doing your own due diligence. Would you buy your site? What would you do to improve it?


Si Quan Ong shares his week-long experience replacing Google with AI for his search needs, exploring the capabilities of Perplexity and ChatGPT. He finds AI good for research, offering summarized answers and a clean interface without ads, though Google still outperforms in providing localized results.

My Take: What got me thinking even more while reading this was what effect it has on small to medium web publishers. Looking at these AI ‘search engines’ and Google, you can see that all the information is from publishers and brand sites.

There’s almost no need for a user to click through to an article. So how will publishers get compensated? If you’re not one of the big boys, you’re not going to get a million dollar data feed deal. So what can small to medium publishers do?

Can you imagine if they (we) all went on strike? What happens when publishers stop publishing or stop allowing bots to crawl their sites? 🙃 

Rand Fishkin explores the misconception that since Google drives a significant portion of site traffic, digital marketing efforts should primarily focus on Google. He challenges this narrow view by distinguishing between demand creation and traffic acquisition.

Fishkin uses data to illustrate how Americans interact with the internet, revealing that while Google may be a giant in referral traffic, it's not the only, nor the most crucial, arena for marketers to engage. He emphasizes the importance of investing in diverse marketing strategies that align with where audiences actually spend their time and engage deeply, such as social media, streaming services, and productivity sites.


Get free stuff for referring friends and family to niche surfer!

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