In December 2018, we received a call from a client who was desperate. He had hired an SEO agency in July 2018 in order to improve his site’s rankings in Google search results. During the first four months, traffic was increasing and everything appeared to be good. However, in November 2018, the site’s Google rankings suddenly dropped and it went from 200 weekly visitors to about 10.
We were not able to make up for the 6 months that the client lost because of the previous agency, but we immediately began working on discovering what caused such a sudden traffic drop as well as improving it and attracting new clients.
In 6 months, were managed to remove the penalty and increase traffic to the website to over 1000 visitors weekly.
We will explain our process step by step.
You will learn about:
- The detailed process of on-page, off-page, and technical SEO
- How to remove Google penalty
- Successful link building strategy
The Challenge Ahead of Us
The main challenge was to determine what lead to the site being penalized, how to remove the penalty and improve the website’s general condition.
The first step was to analyze the website using various analysis tools:
- Google search console
- Screaming Frog
- Microsoft Excel
PHASE I – Backlink Profile Analysis
Backlink profile of the client’s website apparently had bad links, but for a detailed analysis and for determining the number of those links, whether they were actually bad and to what extent, we had to delve deeper into the matter.
If the website was penalized due to bad links, it is necessary to pay attention to every link in order to remove the bad ones from the portfolio.
Google Search Console
GSC can show the links that lead to your website. What everyone assumes is that Google will show you all the links that lead to your website which is not the case. With its GSC tool, Google only shows you a certain number of links but not all of them. However, we would not exclude the use of GSC because there is a chance that GSC registered a link that other tools haven’t. Therefore, we will use the list of links that GSC provided and combine it with other lists.
Ahrefs is a No.1 tool for off-page analysis. Go to Ahrefs, type the name of your website and get a list of all the backlinks.
Choose the Full export option because Quick export only provides the first 1000 results.
Once we gathered all the results, we inserted them into an Excel file. We then began examining the links one by one in order to classify them into three different groups:
Safe – these are the good links
Neutral – These are the links that Google might perceive as bad but they usually don’t represent a threat. We mark them in case the penalty remains even after removing the bad links so that we can go back and remove this type of links.
Bad – Spammy and bad links which can affect your website.
Criteria for evaluating backlinks quality:
- Does it appear to be spammy?
- Does the page have too many outgoing links?
- Does the content make sense?
- What type of link is it (spam comment or a sidebar link present all over the website)?
- Is the link relevant to your website?
- Is the connection visible and the page indexed?
- Is there any traffic/rankings for any keywords? Ahrefs’ data can help in this case.
- Is the page/website reliable? Ahrefs’ DR can help.
- What is the anchor text?
- If you have unnatural keyword density, you might have to give up certain links due to keyword preoptimization.
- Is the link dofollow/nofollow? It doesn’t make sense to give up nofollow links, does it?
- Is it a regular link or a statistical tool?
- Is it a porn site link? This is only desirable if you have a porn site. Otherwise, you don’t need it.
If the entire domain is bad and not just one page, then we add the prefix “domain:”
Once we have created a domain and URL list, we use a Google tool (Disavow) to disavow any unwanted links.
PHASE II – ON-Page and Technical SEO
We continued with the detailed site analysis using Google Search Console (GSC) and Screaming Frog (SF) tools. We determined that the penalty was not manual but algorithmic.
The first thing we do is type the name of the brand in Google search to see whether it comes up first.
If it used to appear in Google search but now it doesn’t, that indicates that the penalty is algorithmic.
Another way to check whether you have received a penalty is to select a part of a text and click on Search. You should appear first for the selected sentence. If not, Google has penalized you for manipulating its algorithm.
While you’re on Google search, it would be a good idea to check whether Google has indexed both versions of the site.
Into the search field, type site:domain.com -inurl:https
You don’t want http results because that leads to duplicate content.
In order to prevent your site from being indexed, you need to properly redirect http to https.
https://wordpress.org/plugins/really-simple-ssl/ this WordPress plugin does a great job when it comes to redirecting http to https.
Website speed is of utmost importance. By speeding up your website you will improve your rankings.
Everything below 3 seconds is acceptable but if you can further speed up your website, you should do it.
After we analyzed website speed, we discovered that it was 41/100 Low (Mobile) and 71/100 Medium (Desktop), After our intervention, page speed looks like this.
If when using Screaming Frog, you notice redirect chains, adjust the settings so that they direct to the last one in a row. Redirections slow down your site and what’s more, Google stop following links if there are more than 2 redirections in a row.
Errors due to nonexistent pages can be seen through Google Search Console. Redirect all 404 pages to existing, relevant pages.
Site Structure and Interlinking
Site structure is crucial for page authority.
The basic site structure, a pattern to be followed in order to successfully navigate both Google and the visitor is:
Homepage > Category > Subcategory > Product
The client’s site was messy so with their approval, we had to restructure it entirely.
After deleting unnecessary pages and combining them, the site structure looked much better and page authority appeared simpler and more efficient.
LSI Keyword Analysis
We suggested expanding the keyword list with LSI keywords. That enabled us to reduce the effect of keyword preoptimization and their cannibalization as well as to increase keyword diversity.
You can acquire LSI keyword by using LSIgraph.com tool.
Not enough content on pages can affect your rankings. In its index base, Google wants real results in the form of information it can offer to its users.
We used Screaming Frog to analyze the website and we got a list of all the pages with fewer than 1000 words.
Keep in mind that SF counts the menu, sidebar, and footer as well, so when it shows 525 words, it’s actually around 300 words.
The minimum word count per page should be 500-600.
Duplicate content can also affect your search rankings. You can check for duplicate content using Siteliner.com. Percentage of duplicate content allowable is 10%.
TF*IDF Technique – Advanced Content Optimization
TF*IDF is short from Term Frequency times Inverse Document Frequency, an algorithm that Google uses to determine how important a word or phrase is to a content in a blog on the internet . TF-IDF is an advanced keyword optimization method for which we want to rank or improve our SERP ranking.
TF – Term Frequency
How often the keyword/ keyphrase appears on a page.
Frequent keyword use in a text increases that specific keyword’s relevance. If a word or a phrase is used five times, it will be more relevant compared to a word used only once.
IDF – Inverse Document Frequency
How often a keyword/keyphrase appears on other site pages. Frequent use reduces the value of the keyword or keyphrase.
Length of Content
Length of the text affects TF*IDF value. The longer the text and the less we use the keyword that we target, the lesser the value and vice versa.
We used LinkAssistant tool for TF*IDF technique.
By using the TF*IDF technique, we can optimize and enrich content with relevant keywords more effectively.
The purpose of this tool is to enable us to measure what is the average TF*IDF value for target keywords and then to add keywords and polish the text based on that. Additionally, we can see the relevance of other keywords used by our competitors, use them too and further enrich the content.
Meta Title Optimization
Meta titles are short descriptions of page content. When the meta title contains the main keyword, that keyword will appear bold in search results and can lead the user to click on the title.
By using Screaming Frog to analyze your website and clicking on Page titles, you will get all the meta titles from all the pages. It is necessary to fix the faulty ones and thus increase chances for your site to rank better in search results.
For this client, we fixed keyword cannibalization which appeared in meta titles.
When fixing meta titles, do not stuff your titles full of keywords nor use the same keywords in different meta titles. Make each Meta title unique.
As for title optimization, we recommend that every page has one H1 title. Use H2 subtitle when the title is relevant for the topic and H3 for irrelevant titles. Technically speaking, H3 is the subtitle of H2 subtitle.
This is an important signal to Google which can significantly affect keyword rankings.
Furthermore, you can check for H1 and H2 presence by using Screaming Frog and fix what needs to be fixed.
The meta description does not contribute to search results rankings but it might influence the user to click on your ad in search. Try to include the main keyword and describe the page because it will appear in bold text in search results. Same as with the previous two cases, by using Screaming Frog, you will be able to fix bad or nonexistent meta descriptions.
The website we fixed had plenty of undefined, badly written meta descriptions. It is best to fix meta descriptions for pages of great importance.
Image optimization is crucial because it carries most of the website weight. If images are not optimized, the website will load slowly. Maximum image size should be 100kb-150kb.
Also, you should insert an image description into the “Alt text” field so that Google can understand the content of the image.
In this case, images were far beyond the recommended 100kb-150kb.
Tools that can be used to adjust such images are:
PHASE III – Successful Penalty Removal
After a month of analyzing, fixing, and removing bad links, the Google penalty was successfully removed and website traffic started to return to normal.
Link Building Strategy
The biggest and the most time-consuming part of the entire SEO strategy is link building campaign. Since the website was penalized by Google, we had to focus our strategy on quality, highly relevant links.
The greatest part of the backlink portfolio were guest posts.
We compiled a long list of potential websites and examined each one in detail. Requests were very high. Domain authority had to be strong, organic traffic had to be at least 5000 on a monthly basis, and backlink portfolio of potential guest posts sites had to be clear, without spam and toxic links.
Once we came up with a list of sites that matched our criteria, we began contacting them using contact info or contact form on the websites.
To all the websites which gave us a positive response, we sent a highly optimized article with a link to the client’s website. We tied the link to a keyword or the client’s brand name.
When doing email outreach for backlinks, don’t send generic emails!
The reason why link building is a slow process is that if you want to do the job well, you must take the time to analyze the site you wish to contact. Show them that you have paid attention to their website and that you know what it’s about. That will make it easier to approach them and accomplish your goal.
After 6 months of continuous hard work and patience, the site’s organic traffic began to improve significantly.
The number of target keywords increased as well as domain authority grew.
We hope this article can help you in resolving similar problems. In the article, we showed you how to apply on-page, technical, and off-page SEO (link building) on your website.
If you still have questions about the instructions we provided, feel free to contact Digital Circle so that we can try to find a solution for your website together.