I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

SEO doesn’t have to be complicated.

One of the things I notice as a digital marketer is that people are always looking for the “secret sauce”.

But truth be told:

There isn’t any secret to SEO.

If you want to increase your search traffic it is as simple as:

  • Conducting an SEO audit
  • Creating content
  • Building links

That is the exact approach we used to 14x organic search traffic in this case study!

We took traffic from 2,732 visitors per month to 38,420 in just 8x months.

How did we do it?

Well it was simple really…

The Client

The client is an affiliate focused website that reviews weight loss supplements targeting the United Kingdom & USA.

Our client’s website provides a platform for users to access trustworthy, specialist reviews and decide which diet supplement is best suited for them.

The main focus of the campaign is to:

  • Increase the website’s authority
  • Push rankings to the first page for high volume terms

It sounds simple when you write it out like that right?

That’s because it is!

Except one tiny detail…

The Challenge

The weight loss supplements niche is one of the most competitive niches in SEO (to say the least!)

Most search results are dominated by huge brands like Holland & Barrett:

Competitor strength

Or massive content based sites like HealthLine:

Healthline stats

Those are some pretty terrifying metrics.

I mean, just take a look at some of the top results for one of our target keywords:

weight loss serps

In the SERPs there are also:

  • Sponsored product results
  • 4x Google Adwords results
  • 1x Featured snippet
  • 1x People Also Ask box

And those kind of results are common across this niche.

But if you pay close attention to the green boxes in the image above you’ll see an opportunity!

Because many of the top 10 results are ranking purely out of domain authority rather than individual page level metrics.

That means we have a solid chance of competing with the big boys.

The Plan

When forming your SEO strategy, there is one thing to keep in mind.

Keep It Simple!

People tend to over complicate SEO.

Our strategy was broken down into 3 stages:

  • Technical SEO –  Build a solid and healthy website structure
  • Content – Create relevant content that helps people
  • Link Building – Acquire links from relevant websites

But of all of that is easier said than done right?

So let me show you how we did it…

What We Did

To help you understand our process:

I am going to step you through the core SEO strategy and precisely what we did.

The strategy was broken down into a number of pieces:

  • Keyword research
  • Competitor analysis
  • Content strategy
  • Onsite audit
  • Site structure
  • Link building

And it is the combination of these pieces that were responsible for 14x traffic in 8 months.

Often when clients come to us they are completely obsessed with link building.

They ask us things like:

“Yeah but how many links will you build per month?”

But link building is just a single component of a complete SEO strategy.

Let me ask you this:

How many links do you think we built to 14x traffic to this site?

Just 76.

76 links to take this sites traffic from 2,732 visitors per month to 38,420.

How?

By addressing all of the moving parts of SEO rather than only focusing on the number of links we build.

(I’ll share the link building strategy with you later)

But first:

You have to get the basics right…

Step 1 – Keyword Research

The first thing we do with any new client is conduct detailed keyword research.

First we asked our client for a list of seed keywords that are important to them.

Then we use various tools like Ahrefs, Semrush, and KeywordKeg to expand on these terms.

Seed keyword list

Once we pulled all the keywords from there…

…we expanded on them further with AnswerThePublic:

Once we had a large list of keywords we started to filter them down:

  1. First we removed duplicate/similar terms
  2. Then we mapped out topic clusters of keywords with similar topics
  3. And thought about the “type” of keywords to focus on

These were the types of keyword we were looking for:

  • Money keywords that drive traffic to key affiliate pages: [brand] review(s)
  • Generic keywords related to different forms of the products: best [product] / best [product] [supplement|brand|pills], most effective [XYZ], weight loss [XYZ]
  • Questions: does [XYZ] work, how to use [XYZ]
  • Strictly informational keywords: [XYZ] information, [XYZ] pros and cons, [XYZ] side effects.

We also paid close attention to search intent when selecting our final keywords.

It’s important to avoid keywords that return different user intent than the site can satisfy.

The final spreadsheet included additional data pulled from Google Keyword Planner and our rank tracker:

keyword research spreadsheet

But:

There’s 1 part of keyword research people usually miss.

Whilst you’re doing keyword research, make sure to take a look at the SERPs for each one.

Pay attention to the sites that popup and make a list of common competitors.

We will be using that list to our advantage later in the case study!

Step 2 – Competitor Analysis

I can not stress how important this stage is!

It is absolutely critical for your success.

At the moment we have a good list of keywords that are:

  1. Topically relevant
  2. Match the sites user intent

Now we need to take a closer look at who our SERP competitors are.

Do some searches and pay close attention to the first page of results.

You want to look at things like:

  • Content length
  • Page purpose and intent
  • What types of pages are ranking (inner vs homepage or product vs category)
  • How strong the domains are (is it Amazon or just an average Joe)
  • Page layout (e.g. CTA and banner placements)
  • Monetisation

Just by looking at the results, you can get a good idea of the type of SEO elements, structure, intent and content you need to create.

The power of observation is often under utilised in SEO.

Here’s an example of what we’re looking for:

It’s not everything:

But you can see what kind of signals we’re looking at.

Why is this important?

Because Google have been using machine learning algorithms since 2015.

And by looking at the search results we can see what the machine learning algorithm is expecting to see.

You might not realise this:

But every time you search this is what is happening behind the scenes:

  1. You enter your query into Google
  2. Google chops the query into individual words
  3. Google applies natural language processing to figure out meaning
  4. Then it analyses the intent of the query (eg informational or commercial)
  5. This generates a list of relevant results
  6. Additional filters are applied (eg Pagespeed)
  7. The final search results are displayed

Here’s a shot from Rad Paluszak’s Chiang Mai 2018 presentation to help visualise that:

Machine Learning - query steps

But what is most important here is the final step of the process…

Results Satisfaction Analysis.

Because this is the machine learning part that is automatically analysing the efficiency of the results and tweaking the algorithm.

What’s that got to do with competitors?

Well:

The machine learning algorithm is telling us what types of things it expects to see.

We just have to look for those things…

Step 3 – Technical SEO Audit

Now we know where we want to go with the SEO campaign…

..It’s time to figure out where we are starting from.

To do that we conducted a comprehensive onsite audit that typically spans about 30 pages.

The goal of this is to identify any issues that might hold it back from performing at its full potential.

It includes things like:

  • Site Structure – Are we using the best site structure to maximise link juice?
  • PageSpeed – Does your site load quickly for Google and visitors?
  • Index Management – Do you have unnecessary index bloat?
  • Duplicate Content – Caused by improper use of tags/categories
  • Internal Redirects – Wasting crawl budget is bad for your site!
  • Internal Linking – Very powerful but underused tool.
  • Trust Signals – Are you sending the right signals to Google?

This site had a range of problems that we needed to address.

Here’s how we fixed some of them:

Issue 1 – Page Speed

One of the main problems with the site was that it had almost no page speed optimisation.

The site was loading very slowly in our tests.

We use 2 plugins to fix that-

  • WP Rocket – to optimise pretty much everything, BUT images.
  • ShortPixel – to optimise images.

Issue 2 – WordPress Taxonomies vs Duplicate Content

WordPress is a great platform to build a website.

But it can also make Google index a lot of rubbish.

All this indexed bloat decreases the overall SEO value of the site.

Not only do you risk duplicate content problems but you also waste valuable crawl budget…

To put it simply:

If you have 50 pages indexed, but only 5 that Google should pay attention to…

…you should consider pruning the site.

If the remaining 45 pages are not useful for your users, get rid of them.

Issue 3 – Internal Redirects

When we conducted the technical SEO audit, we spotted a few problems with internal redirects.

This was caused by a variety of things:

  • The site had recently migrated from HTTP to HTTPs (poorly)
  • A lot of the internal links were pointing to old HTTP urls
  • Some pages were renamed or deleted and redirected
  • The theme had some hardcoded redirect loops

All of this was wasting significant crawl budget.

But luckily:

It’s all pretty simple to fix!

With HTTP -> HTTPS URLs, we just tracked all of them down and changed all http:// to https:// manually.

And to fix the redirect problems we just fired up Screaming Frog:


  1. Crawl the site
  2. Go to Response Codes at the top
  3. Select “Redirection (3xx)” Filter
  4. Type your domain – this will ensure you are looking at your internal links only.
  5. Click on the URL you’d like to review
  6. This is what the URL is currently.
  7. This is what it should be.

In our case study site for example:

We could fix a lot of the errors by updating hardcoded links in the menus and sidebars.

But every site is different!

Issue 4 – Thin Content

Whilst conducting the audit, we found a BIG issue with thin content.

Over 50% of the website pages had under 500 words.

Every niche is different!

But after looking at search results and competitor sites…

…It was clear this is a content heavy niche.

Don’t forget:

Google rewards fresh, long form content that addresses user intent. So we adjusted our content strategy to support the main campaign goal.

With that in mind:

We increased the length of the homepage from 1,500 words to 10,911 words by answering over 20 of the most popular questions around the main affiliate product. That helped increase visibility of the homepage which now ranks for over 11,200 keywords:

Homepage visiblity improvements

Following the same strategy:

We increased the average word count per page from ~500 words to 2,216 words per page.

In addition to expanding the website’s copy, we also reviewed and optimised:

  • Page titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • Headings

All of which worked in harmony with each other to pull the sites pages up the search rankings.

Step 4 – Content Strategy

As soon as you have a keyword strategy and healthy site foundation to build on…

…It’s time to get your hands dirty with content!

You should start crafting the content as soon as possible because this is often a bottleneck for many businesses.

editorial calendar

This is how we approached it-

  • First we selected our primary target keywords
  • Then we reviewed our competitors in Google for each keyword
  • That allowed us to create a “content specification”
  • Which was then sent to our writers

Based on what we had learned about the thin content issues during the SEO audit…

…we made sure that all new pieces of content were at least 2,500 words.

We continued to produce 2 new pieces of content per month throughout the campaign.

Step 5 – Internal Linking

Once we developed our killer content and restructure strategy…

We needed to help Google navigate the website easier to discover all the pages we updated/created.

The goal of our internal link building strategy was to distribute link value throughout the site, from pages with authority to others with less authority.

We used a balanced combination of targeted, branded and generic anchors to help Google determine the relationship between them:

target keyword percentage

We also ended up using is Yuzo Related Posts because it helped us customise the display on the front end of the site:

related products display

This meant we could cross link key pages across the site structure automatically.

Very handy!

Step 6 – Link Building

There is no doubt about it:

Backlinks are the most important ranking factor in Google.

But that is amplified by 10 when you have built a good site structure backed with solid content.

With all of that in place we started to build the overall domain authority using links from relevant websites in the fitness, health and lifestyle niche.

We took the backlink profile from 27 referring domains to 374 referring domains:

number of referring domains growth

How did we do that?

By keeping things simple!

First we scraped a huge list of relevant websites with SEO value, traffic & authority.

Then we published high quality content targeted at their audience to secure a backlink where possible.

We didn’t do anything beyond that.

This is the exact link building strategy and schedule we used to meet the clients budget:

Month 1

  • 12x Guest Posts
  • 1x Resource Page Link

Month 2

  • 10x Guest Posts
  • 3x Resource Page Links
  • 15x Quora Links

Month 3

  • 12x Guest Posts
  • 3x Resource Page Links

Month 4

  • 10x Guest Posts
  • 3x General Outreach Links

Month 5

  • 4x Resource Page Links

Month 6

  • 3x General Outreach Links

The strategy was simple:

  • First build authority and topical relevancy as quickly as possible with guest posts
  • Drop links on Quora to drive traffic and justify links built
  • In month 5+ the site starts ranking & picking up links naturally to fuel growth

And that’s all we did.

In month 7+ we didn’t build any additional links to the site.

Once the site started to rank it was picking up links naturally and rankings have continued to improve.

The Results

The site has had 8 months of amazing growth.

Traffic has grown from 2,732 visitors per month to 38,420.

Let me put that in different words…

14 Times. In. Eight. Months!

14x search traffic

If we take a closer look at things…

…we managed to increase:

  • DR from 45 to 59
  • UR from 10 to 41
  • Referring domains from 27 to 374
  • Backlinks from 45 to 2,540

Metrics – Start of the Campaign

Metrics at the start of the campaign

Metrics – End of the Campaign

Metrics at the end of the campaign

That increased domain authority also increased keyword visibility.

At the start of the campaign there were-

  • 68 top 3 rankings
  • 345 top 10 rankings

But at the end of the campaign…

There are now 637 keywords in the top 3 positions!

And 2,221 keywords in the top 10:

Homepage visiblity improvements

Although throughout the campaign we were only monitoring 48x core keywords…

..they had a net increase of 894 positions in Google:

ranking progress

And a number of those keywords…

…had high search volumes and were dropping into the #1 positions:

tracked keyword rankings

With a number of other high volume search keywords breaking into the top 10.

All of which made for some really pretty Google Search Console data:

google search console growth

Not bad right?

Especially in such a competitive niche.