How we turned a client into a friend – this could be another title of this case study. But first things first, get to know the project:
Niche: online courses
Situation: 70% traffic drop with Google’s June 2019 Core update
Here’s what we were facing at the beginning:
Our client had a stable traffic below 10K users per day, mostly organic traffic from Google, coming in for the exceptional content they had on the page.
Everything had been going well for years, with more content bringing in more traffic … until it didn’t.
Losing more than 70% of traffic from one day to the other essentially meant losing the business he had been growing over many years in the blink of an eye.
On top of that, a quick analysis showed us that there were hundreds of spammy links pointing to our client’s site.
The result, compared to the previous year, was devastating:
Our action plan was clear:
- Link audit
- Site audit
Although we suspected the Google update to be the cause of the ranking drop, while auditing the entire site, we also took a close look at the shady backlinks using the industry-leading tool Link Research Tools to analyze every single backlink’s link profile and numerous other factors.
The links were really bad, but …
After some analysis, we found out that the overall penalization risk was extremely high – however, the links were so obviously put there on purpose, that we did not think they were actually affecting the site’s traffic at that point in any way – Google could easily see they were automated and created with a negative intend – Google would most likely ignore them directly, which is why we quickly focused all our attention on the site audit.
The reason why we call our audits Deep Dive Audits is that we analyze a website from all different angles: from standard optimization and best practices, to the theme’s technical implementation, site performance, usability, content structure, cannibalization issues, and many more factors.
What’s so special about Google’s Core updates anyway?
Core updates are applied to readjust Google’s results to users’ expectations. If you drop with a core update (like with the May 2020 Core Google Update we have just seen) you really need to better figure out what Google thinks your audience wants to see.
Thanks to the collaborative work of our entire team, the audit could be finished within a few days. The main findings were:
The site’s layout was quite outdated, with big images / banners on the top, and users had to scroll down to see the content. this was especially annoying for mobile users, and made it really hard for them to find what they were looking for. Our suggestion was to get rid of the leading big banners altogether in favor of more usability.
Still one of the most underrated elements you could focus on in my opinion, especially now with the new Web Vitals Google has just announced will be a ranking factor soon. You don’t only want your website to be fast, you also want to avoid strange jumps in the design, and make it interactive as soon as possible.
Our client had to do quite some speed fixes to be done on their site, which we strongly recommended as one of the main priorities.
Our client had a very conversational style on his blog posts, with sometimes 150-200 words of introduction before actually coming to the point. When analyzing the competitive landscape, we found that top ranking websites got to the point really fast, without any fluff or “hello”, “hi”, or “great you’re interested in this topic” at the beginning.
We suggested to directly get rid of intros on the main traffic losing pages, and get straight to the point.
This had the potential to also bring down bounce rates, as users would directly understand that an article really covered what they were searching for (and avoid that they went back to Google to click on another result).
Cannibalization and content structure
Part of our audit is a visualization of the content structure of a site. On this site, there was practically no structure – hundreds of articles were just uploaded, very little had internal links placed, and we had huge categories with long paginations.
Impossible to have Page Rank (link juice) flow through the site properly.
We suggested restructuring the site, connecting topic-related articles, and thus also avoid cannibalization.
Cannibalization and Internal linking
Cannibalization occurs when you have multiple articles targeting the same search intent (or at least Google thinks they are). What happens then is
- they don’t rank on page 1
- Google might pull different URLs in different markets for the same search query
With internal linking and some clean-ups, our client was able to get rid of numerous cannibalization issues and make it clear to users which articles were intended for which queries.
The (almost immediate) result
I’d like to state here that not even the initial results (not to talk about what happened later) would have been possible without the 100% dedication of our client to execute on our suggestions.
Within 3 weeks, he recovered his traffic:
You can imagine, that someone who thought he would lose his business and then gets it back, quickly turns from a client into something quite close to a friend.
Thinking that about 10.000 visitors a day would be his site’s “ceiling”, and to avoid getting hit like this again, this client jumped on to our ERICA consulting program, which gave us the chance to streamline his growth with 2 strategy calls per week and additional guidance by e-mail.
10.000 users were to stay the “ceiling” for a few months, until our client / friend did it again: he went in hard in implementation, and managed to double his organic traffic within a month by executing all our suggestions that got left unexecuted in the 4 months prior to this point.
Here’s what happened:
Our friend did it again – he doubled traffic by following our outlined principles of internal linking, and a consistent approach to CTR optimization (aiming for getting more clicks from Google maintaining the same rankings).
It’s been a great pleasure working with Joe (I’ll stick to that name) and we still get together every 2 weeks and streamline the effort – he’s at about 20K visitors / day (organic) now, and now knows that the real ceiling for his organic traffic is much higher, (maybe around 60-100 K per day. We’ll definitely happily guide him on the way!
Founder / CEO