SEO Case Study – A Core Update Recovery

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In this SEO case study, I’m going to show you how we recovered our clients site from the May 2020 core algorithm update:

Google core update recovery case study

Not only that:

But we also increased ecommerce revenue by 53% year on year simultaneously-

Google Analytics Year on Year

We were also able to:

  • Increase yearly organic traffic from 631,778 to 1,204,197 (+90.6%)
  • Increase yearly transactions from 4,377 to 6,163 (+40.8%)

Pay attention, because I’m going to break down the SEO strategy we designed for this site step by step.

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A Closer Look At The Case Study Site

recovering rankingThe client is an ecommerce site in the adult niche competing for highly competitive commercial terms.

However, the site was hit by the Google core algorithm update on May 4th causing a loss of many of the keywords ranking on the 1st page of the SERPs.

This was especially frustrating for the client because they had seen significant growth in business due to Covid-19.

So after the core algorithm update hit, our main goal was to recover the rankings and search traffic by:

  • Auditing the website
  • Clarifying user intent
  • Improving & developing E.A.T
  • Fixing the backlink profile

But it wasn’t easy.

We had to overcome a few challenges along the way…

search logistics cta

The Biggest Challenges We Had To Overcome

I want to remind you that our clients site is competing for some highly competitive commercial terms against major brands and retailers.

On May 4th 2020, the site was hit by the Core algorithm update causing an immediate drop off in search traffic and revenue.

google update May 4th 2020

We have a huge inventory of sites to look at, so immediately after the update had finished rolling out we had noticed that it was mostly affiliate sites that were hit.

This is important because most affiliate sites don’t act like a real business would and tend not to share things like registered business address and/or phone numbers.

On top of that, we also noticed our clients site had a large number of pages that were confusing user intent.

For example, they were trying to rank for terms like-

  • digital cameras for beginners
  • digital cameras for sale

With the same page. Even though there is a clear difference in user intent.

This was widespread across the site, which was reminiscent of the days when Google wasn’t as good at understanding meaning.

So we concluded that Google were-

  1. Viewing the site as an anonymous affiliate despite being a real ecommerce business
  2. Confused by the intent of the content often leading to cannibilization

With that in mind, we formed our plan of attack.

Creating A Plan of Attack

Google penalty recovery is always an uphill battle.

But we know that Google loved the site before, so we put a simple 4 step strategy in place so they would love us again!

Step #1 – Clarifying User Intent

As mentioned, there were a number of ways that the site’s user intent was confusing.

In essence, there were too few pages trying to target too many keywords at the same with absolutely no respect to what the user actually wanted.

But how do you figure out what is the right user intent?


We can just search for our target keyword in Google:

observe search results for user intent

And then use the power of observation to figure out what Google wants.


Search results are an output of the algorithm – this is Google telling you what they want.

So give it to them.

In the example above, we can see that Google is expecting to see-

  • An inner page to rank, not a homepage
  • A list of recomennded products
  • Commercially focused content

We applied that process to a handful of the previously heavy trafficked pages and started to see upticks in search visibility on those pages.

So we manually reviewed the user intent of every single page on the site and adjusted the content to make sure we were giving Google exactly what they want page by page.

Step #2 – Optimizing Content

With user intent taken care of and each page now targeting a specific keyword, we needed to optimize the content around that.

Surfer SEO reviews the current top ranking websites by analyzing over 500 different signals and then comparing them to yours which outputs a handy report like this-

surfer seo audit results

That tells you everything you need to change to make sure you are giving Google precisely what they want based on the current rankings.

Typically we will-

  • Fix any word count suggestions first
  • Then take care of all of the phrase based True Density recommendations

This makes it quick and easy to update all existing content so that it’s perfectly optmised.

Check out my SEO checklist to learn more ways to optimize your website.

Step #3 – Developing “E.A.T” Signals

For those who don’t know, E.A.T stands for:

  • Expertise
  • Authority
  • Trust

This was made famous during the “Medic update” which hit sites that give medical advice disproportionately.

But what actually happened is that Google started to make websites accountable for the content they publish. Google wants to know that they can send traffic to you, and you are going to provide an excellent experience.

They want to know that you are a real, dependable entity that actually exists.

So we made it a priority to build out the sites “EAT” signals in a number of different ways.

Author Verification

Despite our client having a wealth of expertise and was more than qualified to be giving advice on the subject…

..they hadn’t really built out any kind of authority as an author or voice on the topic.

But it’s important we establish expertise and trust so we started to do that by building out an “author page” for all of the published content which included-

  • Photos of the author
  • A write up of who she was and why she was qualified
  • Linked out to other sites she had been published on
  • Links to all of her social media profiles

Then we added an author box to the end of blog posts which linked to the author page:

author box example

And with the help of Rank Math (the best SEO plugin for WordPress)…

…we made sure that we were adding the correct structured data to articles-

author structured data


We created a LinkedIn profile for the author which included her employment history, education history, qualifications and links to other social media accounts.

linkedin profile and links

With all of that in place, we went about verifying the business.

Business Verification

Whether your an affiliate site or ecommerce store you need to let Google know that you are a real business.

The easiest way to do that is to publish your registered business name, address and phone number-

  • In the footer
  • On your about page
  • On your content page

You should also make sure that is all reflected with Organization structured data:

organization structured data

We also created a Google My Business listing which matched up with all of the information above.

Finally, we added a Trustpilot link into the footer:

trust pilot

This not only showed our client was a trusted source of information, but the store itself had a great reputation for providing quality products with great service.

Remember: Whatever your website is about, you must have high levels of EAT in your pages or they won’t rank. This is even more important for website owners with YMYL content.

Step #4 – Fixing The Backlink Profile

Because our client is in the adult niche, it was likely there were a large number of undesirable links pointing to the site (Download our link building checklist here)

So we did a complete backlink analysis to make sure we remove any toxic links:

toxic link risk

What we found was that a lot of links had been obtained from outdated linking practices.

For example, there is a right way, and a wrong way to go about guest posting.

The wrong way is to publish a bunch of guests posts that are clearly labelled as such and placed on sites with “write for us” pages advertising link sales:

bad link example

And if there’s one thing we know for sure…

…it’s that Google doesn’t like this kind of behaviour:

Guest Posting Warning

So after carrying out a complete backlink audit, we created a disavow file to pinpoint these links for removal.

Whilst Google was processing that, we continued to build new links that-

  • Were on relevant authorativie sites
  • Did not have “write for us” pages
  • Had at least 500 organic visitors per month

I recommend that you download my link building checklist to make sure you are only building links that help you.

You can also use these 6x ecommerce link building tips!

Need more tips to remove your penalty? Follow my Google penalty recovery guide!

The Results Are In

As you can see the core algorithm update was absolutely devestating for our client:

Google core update recovery case study

But within 3 months of taking the hit, we were able to turn that frown upside down and put them back on a positive trajectory.

That led to:

  • Organic traffic increasing from 631,778 to 1,204,197 (+90.6%)
  • Transactions increasing from 4,377 to 6,163 (+40.8%)
  • Revenue increasing from $238,914 to $366,098 (+53.2%)

Google Analytics Year on Year

And now the site is running on a solid foundation…

…that growth is going to continue throughout the coming year.

Wrapping It Up

So there you have it.

That is how we helped our client’s site to recover rankings and search traffic after being hit by a Google algorithm update.

Need help growing your ecommerce revenue? Take a look at the resources we put together to help you:

or get in touch with my team now.

Otherwise please feel free to check out some of our other SEO case studies-

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A Google Core Update Recovery

Campaign Challenges:

  • Content failed to address user intent and confused Google’s bots
  • The site was wrongly identified as an affiliate site with zero eat signals
  • Toxic backlink profile
Campaign Results:

Organic Traffic


Organic Revenue

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