SEO Content Audit Case Study
4 Simple Steps to a 76% Organic Traffic Increase
A well-known digital marketing blog was recently acquired and the new owners reached out to us via our sister company, Smash VC, which is also in the M&A space.
Their acquisition went through in December and in January, the website got over 155,000 visitors.
The traffic was already dipping slightly (less than 5% a month) before the acquisition. The new owners figured that if they upped the content quality and fixed up some of the on-page issues that were present, traffic would go up.
Unfortunately this was not the case. Traffic kept dropping hard and by June they were down to a mere 47,000 visitors from organic search.
Unsurprisingly, the revenue dropped following a similar graph and the asset was already worth less than half of the acquisition price.
Their team was working hard on the content production side, the website was loading fast, and the on-page SEO was largely on point.
They reached out to us for a second opinion on what the issue could be and we started our analysis in June.
The Smashing Findings
This was not their first rodeo in the acquisition space, their team had foundational SEO knowledge, and access to all the right tools.
While everything was good on paper, we’d seen this scenario a hundred times before.
It’s a huge digital marketing blog that has been around since 2009 and over the years, had built up over 1,000 blog posts on their site.
While the new content was high quality and well-optimized, the same did not apply to the hundreds of posts that were published between 2009 and 2014.
They passed through automated site audits because they had meta-data written, images optimized, and a few hundreds words per page.
This type of thin content worked fine back then but with newer Google updates, they really started to take a toll on the organic rankings.
This is a really common issue when it comes to website acquisitions. The original owners do not know about the quality issue and for the acquirers, it’s simply too much work to familiarize yourself with thousands of pages and their quality.
We knew an in-depth content audit was way overdue.
How to Conduct a Content Audit
Content audits can get really complicated when working with bigger sites (10,000+ pages) and it’s generally best to work with an expert to do so.
Sure, the results can be amazing (like you’ll see later on) but on the flip side you can also cause serious harm with simple mistakes.
We’re going to walk you through the three main things we look at when conducting content audits. This will cover all of the bases for 99% of sites out there.
Step 1. Delete Pages With No Traffic and No Backlinks
To keep things overly simple, there are three ways a page can create value to your website.
- Bring in new leads (emails, sales, trial sign-ups)
- Attract backlinks (increase traffic)
- Have traffic (potential leads, brand awareness, retargeting)
We start off by setting “rules” for each category on whether to keep, delete, or merge pages.
You’ll want to start this off simple and on the “safe” side. Look at the aforementioned data for the last 12 months and delete any page that hasn’t:
- Brought in at least one lead OR
- Attracted at least one backlink OR
- Received at least 50 visitors from organic search
Editor’s Note: Depending on the size of your site, you may want to adjust these numbers.
With 5 million page views a month, 50 may be extremely insignificant and having over 5,000 referring domains, a page with one link is worth little..
Use Excel to keep track of this and start marking down pages to either KEEP or DELETE them.
But Karl… The data is telling me to delete over half of my content and:
- I’ve invested a lot of money into this
- It’s REALLY good content
- My users could find this valuable
I hear this every single time we do a content audit.
I get it. This can be hard and counter-intuitive.
Once you see the results (keep reading), you’ll see why this is critical.
After all, where is the value when no one is visiting these pages?
To counter this issue, you can add a third category to your spreadsheet called “Merge”.
For example, if you have a lot of shorter posts on on-page SEO, like an image optimization guide, meta-data writing, and internal linking – you may want to save the content, delete these pages, and create an “ultimate guide to on-page SEO”, redirecting the old pages to the new hub and reusing the content.
In the case of our client, we deleted over two thirds of their pages, from 950+ down to 348:
For each page we deleted, we 301 redirected the old url to either a more relevant page that was being kept or to the homepage.
Step 2. Delete or Modify Pages With Shady Outbound Links
At the peak, their website was getting over 250,000 visitors a month and had an immense presence in the digital marketing space. This came with a lot of requests for guest posts.
The client saw this as an opportunity for free good quality content and accepted hundreds of these posts.
And they did help… Temporarily.
Some of these pages get a lot of traffic to this day, others have attracted decent amounts of backlinks.
With Google placing more and more emphasis on authority and trustworthiness, we wanted to go through all of these guest posts to ensure they match with what Google would want to see from an “authority site”.
What we found was embarrassing. There were close to a hundred posts with links to extremely shady websites, usually from within the guest posts or the author bios.
They were linking to:
- Free essay writing services
- Web design agencies in India
- Buy cheap viagra
- Casino and lottery websites
- Counterfeit Nike stores
- Shady weight loss pills
It’s not that the content was on these topics, but the authors had snuck in these shady links without the owners noticing it.
We deleted all of these pages or in a few rare cases, edited out the shady links (when they were contextual, not in the author bio).
Here’s an easy way to find these shady outbound links:
- Enter domain into Ahrefs Site Explorer
- Click on “Outbound Links” in the left-hand menu
- Filter by “Dofollow” links only
- Sort by DR from lowest to highest
- Find shady links 🙂
Step 3. Delete or Modify Pages With Outdated Content
About 200 pages on the site had outdated content that could in no way create value for a reader for today’s world.
These were posts along the lines of:
- Content Marketing Reading List for July 2011
- Weekly SEO Roundup #42 – March, 2014
- Yahoo Acquires Tumblr for $1,5B (2013)
Again, some of these pages had attracted some links but were not relevant for users today.
The majority of these pages were deleted and redirected to the homepage.
Some bits were taken and put into one comprehensive page. E.g. the SEO round-up had covered most Google updates since 2011 with some commentary so we took these paragraphs out of each article and put them on one page called “Google Update History”.
Step 4. Update Your Best Performing Pages
Google LOVES fresh content, especially in niches like digital marketing where things are constantly changing.
Go through the pages that are currently bringing you the most traffic and make them up to date.
For some of the posts, these were simple fixes like changing 2017 to today’s date. In others it was more comprehensive like updating stats and figures or even adding additional items.
Here’s an example of a 132% increase on one of the posts in the span of a month:
The Results – 76.54% Increase in Site-wide Organic Traffic
This isn’t a super scientific case study as we made all of the changes in a rapid manner. It’s hard to determine whether content freshness or deleting shady pages had the biggest impact.
Our priority was simply helping the client recover their site as soon as possible.
We kept both Google and the readers in mind and simply made any and all changes that would bring more value to either of them.
Here are the results from just two weeks of work, comparing traffic from June to July.
Not only did Google traffic go up by 76%, we saw increases in direct traffic and other search engines as well.
The site is performing even better in August in spite of no additional changes.
We’re now in the process of creating a new content strategy for the site and are currently on track to get the site back to its original peak of 250,000 monthly visitors.
If you feel like your existing content may be holding you back, get in touch with us and let us figure it out.
Updated: October 24, 2022