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This is day 25 of the starfish site project and things are going along swimmingly. We are continuing to update posts on the site and track how the site is doing. We’re back to 44 posts currently published on the site and 34 of those are indexed in Google.

For this update we’re going over some of the sitemap woes we found on the site. And while these problems likely weren’t the reason why the site was hit with the spam update, it will likely affect other sites that have taken the same approach as we did when attempting to recover this site.

So, when we decided to wipe out this website content and alter that content to provide a better user experience and more helpful content for readers we did so by simply moving all the posts to the trash bin on WordPress.

We knew that the content would be heavily edited so we decided on trashing all the posts rather than changing them to ‘noindex’ in Yoast or Rank Math. We then selected all the posts we deleted and restored them basically putting them in ‘draft’ status on WordPress.

While this method of simply trashing the posts and then restoring them to draft was really quick and easy we didn’t realize what was happening in the sitemap for these posts.

How It’s Handled in the Sitemap

So, while the post were still set in draft, they were still listed in the sitemap since they were once published. This included all the posts on the site. Even the posts that were removed and not going to be restored. This led to a slew of problems when we checked in the Google Search Console as well.

Google checked the posts sitemap file on Apr 4 which was a few weeks ago. It had listed 99 posts submitted on the sitemap which was wrong. The site only had about 40 posts at that point. We started to dig a little deeper and found the drafted posts were still listed in the sitemap.

The Fix Was Simple

Since the sitemap is generated automatically and posts are added by the SEO plugin we didn’t need to go in and edit the sitemap manually. Instead to fix and regenerate the sitemap we simply turned off the sitemap and then turned it back on which generated a new sitemap.

Screenshot of Rank Math SEO Sitemap setting

This is the RankMath SEO setting that you’ll need to turn off then back on again to regenerate the sitemap. For the Yoast SEO plugin, the setting is similar:

Enabling and Re-enabling these settings will reset the sitemap and that only listed the published articles on the site. We verified the sitemap and it had the correct posts listed so we re-submitted the sitemap to Google Search Console.

It still took a few days for the sitemap to update on Google Search Console.

It’s a good idea to do a once over on your site and look for problems such as this every few weeks or monthly just to make sure nothing is amiss in what is usually a set and forget type of deal.

Again, I want to mention that this problem was discovered and created after the site lost rankings so it would not have been the cause for the lost rankings but likely did hinder the comeback of the website.


Google Adsense screenshot showing monthly earnings for the Starfish site during April


Traffic is still a problem for the site. Since the site isn’t being shown in Google results it’s not getting any traffic at all. Just a wayward pageview here and there and those aren’t coming from Google, instead they are either social traffic, referral traffic, or direct traffic. Here’s the screenshot for the past month:

Screenshot of the Traffic for Starfish site project

Google Search Console

We have been working with Google Search Console dealing with the sitemap issues and checking 404 pages and such. But there’s not a lot happening in terms of the site being shown in the search results. Here’s the screenshot for the month of April and the miniscule amount of impressions it got:

Google Search Console screenshot of the impressions and clicks the starfish project has received
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