How We Got a 32% Organic Traffic Boost from 4 On-Page SEO Changes [Case Study]

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My name is Patrick Curtis, and I’m the founder and CEO of Wall Street Oasis, an online community focused on careers in finance founded in 2006 with over 2 million visits per month.

User-generated content and long-tail organic traffic is what has built our business and community over the last 12+ years. But what happens if you wake up one day and realize that your growth has suddenly stopped? This is what happened to us back in November 2012.

In this case study, I’ll highlight two of our main SEO problems as a large forum with over 200,000 URLs, then describe two solutions that finally helped us regain our growth trajectory — almost five years later.

Two main problems

1. Algorithm change impacts

Ever since November 2012, Google’s algo changes have seemed to hurt many online forums like ours. Even though our traffic didn’t decline, our growth dropped to the single-digit percentages. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t break through our “plateau of pain” (I call it that because it was a painful ~5 years trying).

Plateau of pain: no double-digit growth from late 2012 onward

2. Quality of user-generated content

Related to the first problem, 99% of our content is user-generated (UGC) which means the quality is mixed (to put it kindly). Like most forum-based sites, some of our members create incredible pieces of content, but a meaningful percentage of our content is also admittedly thin and/or low-quality.

How could we deal with over 200,000 pieces of content efficiently and try to optimize them without going bankrupt? How could we “clean the cruft” when there was just so much of it?

Fighting back: Two solutions (and one statistical analysis to show how it worked)

1. “Merge and Purge” project

Our goal was to consolidate weaker “children” URLs into stronger “master” URLs to utilize some of the valuable content Google was ignoring and to make the user experience better.

For example, instead of having ~20 discussions on a specific topic (each with an average of around two to three comments) across twelve years, we would consolidate many of those discussions into the strongest two or three URLs (each with around 20–30 comments), leading to a much better user experience with less need to search and jump around the site.

Changes included taking the original post and comments from a “child” URL and merging them into the “master” URL, unpublishing the child URL, removing the child from sitemap, and adding a 301 redirect to the master.

Below is an example of how it looked when we merged a child into our popular Why Investment Banking discussion. We highlighted the original child post as a Related Topic with a blue border and included the original post date to help avoid confusion:

Highlighting a related topic child post

This was a massive project that involved some complex Excel sorting, but after 18 months and about $50,000 invested (27,418 children merged into 8,515 masters to date), the user experience, site architecture, and organization is much better.

Initial analysis suggests that the percentage gain from merging weak children URLs into stronger masters has given us a boost of ~10–15% in organic search traffic.

2. The Content Optimization Team

The goal of this initiative was to take the top landing pages that already existed on Wall Street Oasis and make sure that they were both higher quality and optimized for SEO. What does that mean, exactly, and how did we execute it?

We needed a dedicated team that had some baseline industry knowledge. To that end, we formed a team of five interns from the community, due to the fact that they were familiar with the common topics.

We looked at the top ~200 URLs over the previous 90 days (by organic landing page traffic) and listed them out in a spreadsheet:

Spreadsheet of organic traffic to URLs

We held five main hypotheses of what we believed would boost organic traffic before we started this project:

  1. Longer content with subtitles: Increasing the length of the content and adding relevant H2 and H3 subtitles to give the reader more detailed and useful information in an organized fashion.
  2. Changing the H1 so that it matched more high-volume keywords using Moz’s Keyword Explorer.
  3. Changing the URL so that it also was a better match to high-volume and relevant keywords.
  4. Adding a relevant image or graphic to help break up large “walls of text” and enrich the content.
  5. Adding a relevant video similar to the graphic, but also to help increase time on page and enrich the content around the topic.

We tracked all five of these changes across all 200 URLs (see image above). After a statistical analysis, we learned that four of them helped our organic search traffic and one actually hurt.

Summary of results from our statistical analysis

  • Increasing the length of the articles and adding relevant subtitles (H2s, H3s, and H4s) to help organize the content gives an average boost to organic traffic of 14%
  • Improving the title or H1 of the URLs yields a 9% increase on average
  • Changing the URL decreased traffic on average by 38% (this was a smaller sample size — we stopped doing this early on for obvious reasons)
  • Including a relevant video increases the organic traffic by 4% on average, while putting an image up increases it by 5% on average.

Overall, the boost to organic traffic — should we continue to make these four changes (and avoid changing the URL) — is 32% on average.

Key takeaway:

Over half of that gain (~18%) comes from changes that require a minimal investment of time. For teams trying to optimize on-page SEO across a large number of pages, we recommend focusing on the top landing pages first and easy wins before deciding if further investment is warranted.

We hope this case study of our on-page SEO efforts was interesting, and I’m happy to answer any questions you have in the comments!

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The SEO Quick Fix: Competitor Keywords, Redirect Chains, and Duplicate Content, Oh My!

Posted by ErinMcCaul

I have a eight-month-old baby. As a mom my time is at a premium, and I’ve come to appreciate functionalities I didn’t know existed in things I already pay for. My HBONow subscription has Game of Thrones AND Sesame Street? Fantastic! Overnight diapers can save me a trip to the tiny airplane bathroom on a quick flight? Sweet! Oxiclean keeps my towels fluffy and vanquishes baby poop stains? Flip my pancakes!

Moz Pro isn’t just a tool for link building, or keyword research, or on-page SEO, or crawling your site. It does all those things and a little bit more, simplifying your SEO work and saving time. And if you’ve run into an SEO task you’re not sure how to tackle, it’s possible that a tool you need is right here just waiting to be found! It’s in this spirit that we’ve revived our SEO Quick Fix videos. These 2–3 minute Mozzer-led tutorials are meant to help you get the most out of our tools, and offer simple solutions to common SEO problems.

Take Moz Pro for a spin!

Today we’ll focus on a few Keyword Explorer and Site Crawl tips. I hope these knowledge nuggets bring you the joy I experienced the moment I realized my son doesn’t care whether I read him The Name of the Wind or Goodnight Moon.

Let’s dive in!

Fix #1 – Keyword Explorer: Finding keyword suggestions that are questions

Search queries all have intent (“when to give my baby water” was a hot Google search at my house recently). Here’s the good news: Research shows that if you’re already ranking in the top ten positions, providing the best answers to specific questions can earn you a coveted Featured Snippet!

Featured snippet example

In this video, April from our Customer Success Team will show you how to pull a list of keyword phrases that cover the who, what, where, when, why, and how of all the related topics for keywords you’re already ranking for. Here’s the rub. Different questions call for different Featured Snippet formats. For example, “how” and “have” questions tend to result in list-based snippets, while “which” questions often result in tables. When you’re crafting your content, be mindful of the type of question you’re targeting and format accordingly.

Looking for more resources? Once you’ve got your list, check out AJ Ghergich’s article on the Moz Blog for some in-depth insight on formatting and optimizing your snippets. High five!

Fix #2 – Site Crawl: Optimize the content on your site

Sometimes if I find a really good pair of pants, I buy two (I mean, it’s really hard to find good pants). In this case duplicates are good, but the rules of pants don’t always apply to content. Chiaryn is here to teach you how to use Site Crawl to identify duplicate content and titles, and uncover opportunities to help customers and bots find more relevant content on your site.

When reviewing your duplicate content, keep a few things in mind:

  • Does this page provide value to visitors?
  • Title tags are meant to give searchers a taste of what your content is about, and meant to help bots understand and categorize your content. You want your title tags to be relevant and unique to your content.
  • If pages with different content have the same title tag, re-write your tags to make them more relevant to your page content. Use our Title Tag Preview tool to help out.
  • Thin content isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s still a good opportunity to make sure your page is performing as expected — and update it as necessary with meaningful content.
  • Check out Jo Cameron’s post about How to Turn Low-Value Content Into Neatly Organized Opportunities for more snazzy tips on duplicate content and Site Crawl!

Fix #3 – Keyword Explorer: Identify your competitors’ top keywords

Cozily nestled under a few clicks, Keyword Explorer holds the keys to a competitive research sweet spot. By isolating the ranking keywords you have in common with your competitors, you can pinpoint their weak spots and discover keywords that are low-hanging fruit — phrases you have the content and authority to rank for that, with a little attention, could do even better. In this video, Janisha shows you how targeting a competitor’s low-ranking keywords can earn you a top spot in the SERPS.

Finding competitors' keywords: A Venn diagram

Check out all that overlapped opportunity!

For a few more tips along this line, check out Hayley Sherman’s post, How to Use Keyword Explorer to Identify Competitive Keyword Opportunities.

Fix #4 – Site Crawl: Identify and fix redirect chains

Redirects are a handy way to get a visitor from a page they try to land on, to the page you want them to land on. Redirect chains, however, are redirects gone wrong. They look something like this: URL A redirects to URL B, URL B redirects to URL C… and so on and so forth.

These redirect chains can negatively impact your rankings, slow your site load times, and make it hard for crawlers to properly index your site.

Meghan from our Help team is here to show you how to find redirect chains, understand where they currently exist, and help you cut a few of those pesky middle redirects.

Looking for a few other redirect resources? I’ve got you covered:

Alright friends, that’s a wrap! Like the end of The Last Jedi, you might not be ready for this post to be over. Fear not! Our blog editor liked my jokes so much that she’s promised to harp on me to write more blog posts. So, I need your help! Find yourself facing an SEO snafu that doesn’t seem to have a straightforward fix? Let me know in the comments. I might know a Moz tool that can help, and you might inspire another Quick Fix post!

Get a free month of Moz Pro

If you’re still interested in checking out more solutions, here’s a list of some of my favorite resources:

Stay cool!

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ROPO: 2018’s Most Important Multichannel Digital Marketing Report

Posted by RobBeirne

Digital marketers have always had one drum they loudly beat in front of traditional advertising channels: “We can measure what we do better than you.” Now, we weren’t embellishing the truth or anything — we can measure digital advertising performance at a much more granular level than we can traditional advertising. But it’s not perfect. Multichannel digital marketing teams always have one niggling thought that keeps them awake at night: online activity is driving in-store sales and we can’t claim any credit for it.

Offline sales are happening. Sure enough, we’re seeing online shopping become more and more popular, but even so, you’ll never see 100% of your sales being made online if you’re a multichannel retailer. Whether it’s a dress that needs to be tried on or a TV you want to measure up before you buy, in-store purchases are going nowhere. But it’s more important than ever to make sure you don’t underestimate the impact your online advertising has on offline sales.

ROPO: Research Online Purchase Offline has plagued multichannel retailers for years. This is when awareness and hot leads are generated online, but the customers convert in-store.

There is one other problem hampering many multichannel businesses: viewing their online store as “just another store” and, in many cases, the store managers themselves considering the website to be a competitor.

In this article, I’ll show you how we’ve improvised to create a ROPO report for DID Electrical, an Irish electrical and home appliance multichannel retailer, to provide greater insight into their customers’ multichannel journey and how this affected their business.

What is ROPO reporting?

Offline conversions are a massive blind spot for digital marketers. It’s the same as someone else taking credit for your work: your online ads are definitely influencing shoppers who complete their purchase offline, but we can’t prove it. Or at least we couldn’t prove it — until now.

ROPO reporting (Research Online Purchase Offline) allows multichannel retailers to see what volume of in-store sales have been influenced by online ads. Facebook has trail-blazed in this area of reporting, leaving Google in their wake and scrambling to keep up. I know this well, because I work on Wolfgang’s PPC team and gaze enviously at the ROPO reporting abilities of our social team. Working with DID, we created a robust way to measure the offline value of both PPC and SEO activity online.

To create a ROPO report, multichannel retailers must have a digital touch point in-store. This isn’t as complicated as it sounds and can be something like an e-receipt or warranty system where you email customers. This gives you the customer data that you’ll need to match offline conversions with your online advertising activity.

As I mentioned earlier, Facebook makes this nice and simple. You take the data gathered in-store, upload it to Facebook, and they will match as many people as possible. Our social team is generally seeing a 50% match rate between the data gathered in-store and Facebook users who’ve seen our ads. You can watch two of my colleagues, Alan and Roisin, discussing social ROPO reporting in an episode of our new video series, Wolfgang Bites:

Clearly, ROPO reporting is potentially very powerful for social media marketers, but Google doesn’t yet provide a way for me to simply upload offline conversion data and match it against people who’ve seen my ads (though they have said that this is coming for Google AdWords). Wouldn’t this be a really boring article for people working in SEO and PPC if I just ended things there?

Google ROPO reporting

DID Electrical were a perfect business to develop a ROPO report for. Founded back in 1968 (happy 50th birthday guys!), a year before tech was advanced enough to put man on the moon, DID strives to “understand the needs of each and every one of their customers.” DID have an innovative approach to multichannel retail, which is great for ROPO reporting because they’re already offering e-receipts to customers purchasing goods for over €100. Better still, the email delivering the e-receipts also has a link to a dedicated competition. This sits on a hidden landing page, so the only visitors to this page are customers receiving e-receipts.

They were nearly set for ROPO reporting, but there was just one extra step needed. In Google Analytics, we set the unique competition landing page URL as a goal, allowing us to reverse-engineer customer journeys and uncover the extent of Google PPC and SEO’s influence over in-store sales. Before I unveil the results, a few caveats.

The ROPO under-report

Despite our best efforts to track offline conversions, I can’t say ROPO reporting reflects 100% of all in-store sales influenced by digital ads. In the past, we’ve been open about the difficulties in tracking both offline conversions and cross-device conversions. For example, when running a social ROPO report, customers might give a different email in-store from the one attached to their Facebook account. For an SEO or PPC ROPO report, the customer might click a search ad on a work computer but the open their e-receipt on their smartphone. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the beast, ROPO reporting just isn’t 100% accurate, but it does give an incredible indication of online’s influence over offline sales.

I expect to see improved reporting coming down the line from Google, and they’re definitely working on a ROPO reporting solution like Facebook’s upload system. While our approach to ROPO reporting does shine a light on the offline conversion blind spot, it’s entirely likely that digital advertising’s influence goes far beyond these (still mightily impressive) results.

It’s also important to note that this method isn’t intended to give an exact figure for every ROPO sale, but instead gives us an excellent idea of the proportion of offline sales impacted by our online activities. By applying these proportions to overall business figures, we can work out a robust estimate for metrics like offline ROI.

Results from ROPO reporting

I’m going to divide the results of this ROPO reporting innovation into three sections:

  1. PPC Results
  2. SEO Results
  3. Business Results

1. PPC results of ROPO reporting

First of all, we found 47% of offline customers had visited the DID Electrical website prior to visiting the store and making a purchase. Alone, this was an incredible insight into consumer behavior to be able to offer the team at DID. We went even further and determined that 1 in 8 measurable offline sales were influenced by an AdWords click.

2. SEO results of ROPO reporting

This method of ROPO reporting also means we can check the value of an organic click-through using the same reverse-engineering we used for PPC clicks. Based on the same data set, we discovered 1 in 5 purchases made in-store were made by customers who visited the DID site through an organic click prior to visiting the store.

3. Business results of ROPO reporting

ROPO reporting proved to be a great solution to DID’s needs in providing clarity around the position of their website in the multichannel experience. With at least 47% of offline shoppers visiting the site before purchasing, 1 in 8 of them being influenced by AdWords and 1 in 5 by SEO, DID could now show the impact online was having over in-store sales. Internally, the website was no longer being viewed as just another store — now it’s viewed as the hub linking everything together for an improved customer experience.

Following the deeper understanding into multichannel retail offered by ROPO reporting, DID was also able to augment their budget allocations between digital and traditional channels more efficiently. These insights have enabled them to justify moving more of their marketing budget online. Digital will make up 50% more of their overall marketing budget in 2018!

Getting started with ROPO reporting

If you’re a digital marketer within a multichannel retailer and you want to get started with ROPO reporting, the key factor is your in-store digital touchpoint. This is the bridge between your online advertising and offline conversion data. If you’re not offering e-receipts already, now is the time to start considering them as they played a critical role in DID’s ROPO strategy.

ROPO Cheat Guide (or quick reference)

If you’re a multichannel retailer and this all sounds tantalizing, here’s the customer journey which ROPO measures:

  1. Customer researches online using your website
  2. Customer makes purchase in your brick-and-mortar store
  3. Customer agrees to receive an e-receipt or warranty delivered to their email address
  4. Customer clicks a competition link in the communication they receive
  5. This action is captured in your Google Analytics as a custom goal completion
  6. You can now calculate ROAS (Return On Advertising Spending)

The two critical steps here are the digital touchpoint in your physical stores and the incentive for the customer’s post-conversion communication click. Once you have this touchpoint and interaction, measuring Facebook’s social ROPO is a simple file upload and using what I’ve shown you above, you’ll be able to measure the ROPO impact of PPC and SEO too.

If you do have any questions, pop them into the comments below. I have some questions too and it would be great to hear what you all think:

  • If you’re a multichannel retailer, are you in a position to start ROPO reporting?
  • Does your company view your website as a hub for all stores or just another store (or even a competitor to the physical stores)?
  • Have you seen a shift in marketing spend towards digital?

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