SEO Case Study | 100 Percent Traffic Increase in 3 Months
Earlier this year, we began an SEO campaign for a client in the online education industry. This space is notoriously competitive; one of the top 5 competitive spaces in Google, with millions of backlinks and thousands of keywords per highly-ranking site.
Our client was going head-to-head with major players like udemy.com, who had over 40,000,000 backlinks, a domain authority of 87, and 2.7 million clicks worth $3 million in monthly traffic at the time.
An NDA prevents us from divulging identifying details, but our client was already somewhat established and performing in the same space. They had 129,000 monthly clicks worth $192,000 before our campaign began and wanted to increase that before the end of the fourth quarter 2017.
Unfortunately, our client also had two manual Google penalties which were pushing their rankings down with an estimated lost revenue of $10,000 per day and growing. Additionally, on-site issues were present that impacted their rank, such as not having a clear path from their homepage to the target pages. Most of their backlinks were pointed to the homepage, which meant SEO authority wasn’t correctly passed to smaller pages.
Their class pages were split into multiple URLs, causing duplicate page issues. If any content was on the page, it was short and relatively poor quality across the board. Any non-class content was served dynamically through Ajax, typically with an infinite scroll feature. Neither of these come recommended and can be challenging to set up and maintain in a way that makes them SEO-friendly.
Upon inspection of their sitemap, we discovered it had not been updated in years, rendering it obsolete. Additionally, we found that the pages with multiple URLs were creating duplicate content issues, indexing multiple iterations of the same pages.
They clocked over 300,000+ pages in their sitemap index, and while an individual sitemap can only include 50,000 URLs, they routinely had 67k per map. This resulted in many of their submitted pages being broken, not found, or duplicate.
The Research Phase
In almost every campaign, we find it necessary to do both keyword research and competitor research.
In this case, our client was ranking for approximately ten thousand keywords. However, they were not reaching the ballpark range their closest competitors ranked for. We analyzed their top 10 competitors for keywords, ranking pages, content, and backlinks. We ended up with over 300,000 keywords before we began manually paring down the list to a shorter, more valuable list of top keywords to target. We removed duplicate queries and sifted out any branded or nonsense keywords. We also trimmed any keywords that were below a reasonable traffic volume, or above a certain competitive threshold. Our final list of keywords showed 1,630 keywords which we would able to analyze for our linkbuilding and content strategy. Of course, ranking for these targeted keywords would drive ranking for many additional similar keywords.
Our Path Forward
To determine our linkbuilding strategy, we used the data we previously gathered to choose a subset of topics and classes with the highest traffic potential and reasonable competitiveness. Due to the tens of millions of backlinks our competition had, and lack of proper internal linking our client had, linkbuilding to the homepage would have proven futile. Out of hundreds of pages that could be ranked for relevant keywords, we decided on a list of 20 education categories and 144 total pages we would linkbuild to. We then took another look at our keyword list, categorizing the keywords to match our targets, setting aside any that did not match a class. Our goal was to choose the smallest number of pages possible, while maximizing the keywords we would rank for and minimizing any keyword cannibalization. Cannibalizing keywords tends to hurt rankings.
Our client would not agree to place any content or plain HTML links on their homepage. Without plain HTML links, maximum SEO authority could not be passed. To get around this hurdle, we developed a content strategy to produce 2,000 words of class content for all 94 courses (a total of 188,000 words) over three months. We would also provide 6,500-word pages for each of the 20 targeted categories showcasing several of the classes within that subsect. The total content that we would need for this strategy was over 300,000 words in three months.
Our content strategy would hit two birds with one stone. Each category would have a link from the homepage, and each category would have a link to the classes within it, so we would be providing a direct path to our target classes within two clicks of the homepage, allowing the authority to pass. Secondly, we would be adding long-form, high-quality and relevant content to their website to get them indexed for more keywords and push ranking up for keywords they were already indexing.
The immediate concerns we had involved two manual penalties we discovered at the beginning of the campaign which were costing them over $10,000 per day. The first penalty was for improper Schema markup.
We kicked the Schema project off at the same time as our initial research phase, diving into their site issues and figuring out what was in their Schema markup. We investigated what went wrong and developed a code-perfect Schema to replace their current markup. Within a week of starting our campaign, the new Schema was submitted and we walked our client through sending a reconsideration request to Google.
Their second penalty was for spam. Because the client allowed user-generated content, many pages they held on their site were spammy, irrelevant, or gibberish advertisements. This would be fixed retroactively by the client manually reviewing and removing spammy pages. This temporary fix would allow them to submit a reconsideration request, but our work couldn’t stop there. Our job was to prevent another, similar penalty from popping up again. Retroactive, manual review of user-generated content can be difficult to keep up with the users and result in a second penalty (especially over major holidays).
The client implemented a plan where all new user-generated content would receive a noindex tag until it was reviewed and determine to not be spam.
Next, we needed to address the sitemap issues with this client. We would first consolidate thousands of pages of content into a single page and fix many duplicate content issues.
We secured an allowance in their firewall which would let us ping their site for several days, crawling and locating each URL that existed under their domain. Over the next week, we performed this test, finding more URLs than we expected to and maxing out the number of new URLs we could crawl four times over. We took this data and analyzed it, categorizing which of their pages were 404s, 302s, 301s, duplicates, and so on.
The second week consisted of putting this data together to present and introducing a new sitemap strategy which would allow them to periodically and dynamically update their sitemap, removing depreciated or duplicate pages. We created a document intended to walk their engineering team through the sitemap, explaining precisely what was going on and where the issues were. We also presented our new sitemap strategy, how to implement it, and the benefits it would derive for their site.
By month two of our campaign, many of these onsite issues had been addressed and we could focus on implementing our content and backlinking strategies. We had already started securing backlinks to important pages on their site, but the long-form content was vital to achieving our link targets. Long-form, informationally-rich content tends to receive backlinks easier. We would then drive SEO authority to the pages we wanted to rank via editorial links in the long-form content.
Using our network, we secured links from Forbes, Entrepreneur, and others to pages on their domain – both directly to pages we wanted to rank and to the long-form content.
With these on-site fixes, massive content strategy and a successful strong backlink building campaign, in a three-month timeline, we increased our client’s traffic to 257,000 monthly clicks worth $404,000, doubling both the traffic and value of that traffic. Our client’s progress continues to climb as we pursue the high-quality content and strong backlink campaigns.