Technical SEO might not be as fun, or exciting as producing great content and seeing the links pour in, but that doesn’t mean the results can’t be the same.
Before I get into the case study of how I doubled their SEO traffic from simply fixing some technical issues I wanted to give you a little story.
In 2003, the British Cycling team we’re a bit of a laughing stock around the globe. Since 1908 they had only won one gold medal at the Olympics and the at the World’s biggest cycling race, The Tour de France the team had zero wins in a 100 years.
Let me make clear how bad things were for the team, one of the leading manufacturers of bikes REFUSED to sell the British teams any gear as they were worried their poor performance could hurt sales.
I know what your thinking, how does cycling related to technical SEO, well I am getting to it and its crucial.
That all changed in 2003 with the appointment of a new performance director Dave Brailsford. His biggest philosophy was a simple one, it’s all about “marginal gains” what little things can he change to move that needle that little bit.
So long as the measurements improvements even only fractionally then. 1% improvements in a lot of areas would add up to significant improvements in the long run.
I won’t bore you with everything he did, but the one that sticks in my mind is that he hired a surgeon to come in and explain to ADULTS how to wash there hands. His theory was if they don’t wash their hands properly, then the risk of them getting ill increases as well as passing onto other team members, if they are ill it means they can’t train and therefore not improve and go backwards.
It was all about the small victories
By know your thinking, cool story, but how does this help SEO – technical SEO is very simple, its all about the marginal gains, every little thing I am about to cover on their own isn’t going to make much difference on their own, but combined it has led to doubling the amount of organic traffic.
Firstly let me thank the client for letting me publish this, I won’t be revealing who they are – but once again thanks for letting me publish.
They got in touch with me around the middle of March and was saying that their traffic had been flat and would like a complete technical Audit and Server log analysis doing to see if they were missing anything.
Once the audit was complete it highlighted quite a few errors on the site, some basic some a bit more server.
I was then asked if I could make the changes myself – I already knew the site was a wordpress site and the majority of issues I had tackled before, plus the guy said I can use it as a case study, he said he wouldn’t build any new links or update any content I didn’t ask him to do.
The part about the case study got me interested after all – I know this stuff works.
Did it work – let’s look at the results before we get into the go any further – no point in reading what I did if the results didn’t work.
The sites organic traffic nearly doubled, as you can see from the screenshot from his Google Analytics – I don’t really like to use rankings report as success – I have never been able to pay an invoice with rankings or deposit them in my bank account.
I would like to have shown the revenue increase for this site, but the client said NO and he also didn’t want to reveal the % of organic traffic to his site – hence why I had to black it out (but I don’t like seeing graphs for traffic when you can see the segment, so easily could it be cheated simply by buying some traffic and passing it off as organic).
Organic is a huge percentage of the traffic, so it has made a huge difference to his bottom line – something business owners care about. They currently don’t do any PPC or use any paid methods at the moment.
SEO’s care about rankings report, owners care about the bottom line.
So what did I do to make a difference over such a short period of time?
I have grouped these into themes and tactics rather than the order in which things we’re fixed.
The site was slow and I mean really slow – it was on some shared $5 a month hosting. Nothing wrong with this type of hosting but when you are serious about your site and its getting a decent volume you need to pay for decent traffic.
We moved the site to cloudways and configured HTTP2 (the site was already https).
There are other hosts out there, but I like Cloudways, the site was loading in around 16 seconds and this reduced it by around half, just over 7 seconds it took to load.
The rest of the speed work was around, critical path CSS above the fold, removing unused CSS, caching the usual stuff – the site loads in about 2.7 seconds – there is still some work – but without compromising the sites functions it’s about the limit.
One of the other key things we changed and I see a lot of sites making the same mistakes, was that the site used a Google Font, which is great as it means it can loads pretty quick, the problem was by default it imported ALL Google fonts which meant a lot of resources were downloaded which wasn’t needed. So instead I stopped the theme downloading all the fonts and just down the one that was needed, that was a huge saving in file size.
This is kind of related to the above, but I identified that the majority of the images on the site were large and never had been compressed.
As there was a considerable number of images on the site and I didn’t fancy the manual task of downloading each image, optimising and reuploading using something like compressjpeg.com – I just bought a plugin for £4.99 and it worked its magic.
I am not sure quite how long it took, I set if going around 4pm and by the time I got back into the office the next morning everything was done.
While the site had no 404 pages found via the crawl a considerable amount of the pages were going through redirects – in fact, there were some serious redirect chains on this site – the biggest one was 5 levels deep.
It took a few crawls to find every single on and fix them, but as well as saving crawl budget it meant Google wasn’t jumping through hoops. This also can help users as the page loads quicker without going through a redirect.
Non Secure links:
There was just a handful, but there were a couple of links to the old HTTP version of the site. These were quickly fixed. I am not certain but once they were fixed Google didn’t crawl the same pages as often, my theory is they were crawling both the secure and non secure version of the site as they were finding links.
It didn’t help that HTTP wasn’t 301 to https – that was another issue that was fixed.
404 Pages in the Logs:
This one was a bit more tricky to spot and was good I had done some server log analysis. But basically, the site had quite a few external links pointing to 5 different URLs which has been deleted.
The guy had done the correct things and removed all the links on the site which meant they weren’t found via a crawl using Screaming Frog.
It was only when doing some analysis in SEMRush that I realised why Google was crawling these dead pages, after all, I know Google doesn’t guess URLs.
They had external links pointing to the pages but no redirects had put in place so Google was landing on dead pages.
Simple installing the redirect plugin and adding 301 to the new relevant pages and that was sorted.
Lack of Internal Links:
This I think had quite a positive impact, but as so much was being done at once, but this has had a positive impact on the number of people visiting a second page.
This site was one of the worst I had seen, around 70% off all the pages only had one internal link – this isn’t great for Google.
This was a huge task, it took several days work as I didn’t just want to place the links anywhere – I wanted to place them on relevant articles and pages.
The other major thing I did was instal schema on the entire site and real in-depth. Not just a basic schema that comes out of the box.
This I really went full out on and included all the schema which was available to make it easier for Google to understand the pages.
There were some other minor things I tweaked and edited, but I didn’t want to make this article about every minute step I took – after all every site is different.
This post wasn’t to say content or links aren’t important, in fact, they are super important, but that by fixing the foundations the content and links were able to have a great impacter.
The purpose is to show that marginal gains are important and even when a task seems small and you think it will have no impact it more than likely will – whether you can measure it and say this specific task resulted in ‘x’ change, that can be more difficult.
That’s why it’s important to ‘Audit what matters’ that way you know that if there is an issue it will be causing you an issue.
How Successful was Team Sky?
By the way, if you are unaware and I know a lot of audiences isn’t from the UK, Dave strategy was fairly successful:
In fact, they won an incredible amount of Medals including Golds at every Olympics since.
The team also won several Tour de France title’s under the “Team Sky” cycling team.
Dave’s success has since copied by several of the other major nations.
If you really want to see the stark contrast check out the full list of medals won here.
So whether is cycling, technical SEO or anything else – the strategy of “marginal gains” is a successful strategy to follow.
Finally, I really want to thank the client for letting me publish this case study, it has been a great few months working together and I will be keeping an eye on your analytics to see where the numbers end up.