45% More Traffic With Zero Link Building

Search traffic had been declining steadily for 5 months on Matthew Woodward’s SEO blog until a technical SEO audit took it to record breaking levels.

The Results

The Challenge

  • Search traffic has been steadily declining for the last 6 months without any obvious reason.
  • The site was previously ranking in the top 3x positions for 1,016 keywords which dropped to 578.
  • The site has some of the highest quality content in the niche.
  • We found a range of technical problems from structure to speed

The Solution

How i Increase search traffic by 45% with an SEO auditI’m going to let you in on a secret:

2018 was my worst year for search traffic.

The numbers went down…

…and down….

and down

…until my blog had lost 33% of its monthly visitors.

my search traffic was slowly declining(if your search traffic is declining click here for help)

This left me with 2x choices:

  1. Keep losing traffic
  2. Do something about it

So, I did something about it.

I performed an SEO audit on my site to see what the problems were.

Then, I fixed them. The result?

 I increased my traffic by over 45% in comparison to my worst month:

MW Blog search traffic increase

Here’s how I did it…

Organic Traffic Was In Free Fall

To diagnose my traffic problem I went straight to Ahrefs.

What I saw was startling.

The number of keywords I was ranking for had reduced dramatically:

Organic Keywords Ranking

In July 2018 I was ranking in the top 3x positions for 1,016x keywords.

By December that was down to just 578x keywords:

Organic keywords ranking decline

That’s 43% fewer.

So, there was one question I needed to answer…

 Why were my keyword numbers declining?

It was time to do an SEO audit to find out.

After doing thorough research and applying the right changes, the number of keywords increased to an all-time high:

Organic keywords ranking increase

In the rest of this post I’m going to show you:

  • Exactly how I performed my SEO audit
  • What I learned (and changed) that increased my traffic
  • How you can do all of this for yourself

Here goes…

The 5 Step Common Sense SEO Audit That Anyone Can Do!

Unless you have extensive technical SEO knowledge, it’s very hard to do a true technical SEO audit.

So I created a simple 5x step SEO audit process and applied it to this blog to show you how it works.

It’s pretty simple for anyone to follow-

  1. Listen to your visitors
  2. Manually observe problems
  3. Perform technical spot checks
  4. Scan your site with tools
  5. Create a plan of attack

If you can do each of these, you will be able to build a solid SEO foundation that will likely have a positive impact on your search traffic.

seo audit process

Sure it lacks the depth of a full audit.

BUT:

Stepping through this process will help anyone that is suffering from declining search traffic or a plateau.

Step #1: Listen To Your Visitors

The first stage in any proper SEO audit is to ask for user feedback.

This should be done before you use any tools to evaluate your website.

So I first wanted to know 3x things about my audience:

1. What content did they want to learn about?
2. How did they want to consume that content?
3. What did they like (or dislike) about my current site?

To find this out, I conducted a simple reader survey where I asked my readers each of these questions.

The majority told said they wanted to learn about these 4x topics:

Reader survey

…and they wanted to learn about them in this way:

Reader survey results

These two questions gave me the foundation for a new content strategy.

To double down on creating high quality:

  • Written content
  • Video content

…that talks about SEO, traffic and making money – it’s what you said you want so it is what I decided to give you.

My readers also told me what they liked – and didn’t – about the blog.

Here are some of the stand-out comments about the site:

What readers liked:

  • Easy to understand
  • Lots of free information
  • Content is helpful first, sales generator second
  • Detailed step by step process
  • Comprehensive
  • Video tutorials
  • Covers both sides of the coin
  • Real life examples/case studies
  • Downloading the videos/posts as PDFs
  • Transparency & brutal honesty
  • Intent on educating readers
  • Original ideas

What readers didn’t like:

  • Design looks dated
  • Cluttered with graphics
  • Thumbnail designs are dated
  • Too many colours, looks cheap
  • Hard to find and refer back to tutorials
  • Search results are terrible
  • Too many popups & popoverst that interrupt learning
  • Some content is out of date
  • Needs more real life examples
  • How to know which post/tutorial to integrate and when
  • Low frequency of articles

All of which are very fair and accurate points which were noted.

With reader feedback complete, we can move onto our own manual observations…

Step #2: Manual Observations

My next step was to manually check each of the observations above.

The most common complaint was things like-

“Your blog is hard to navigate and I struggle to find the content I need. It’s like you have all the pieces of the puzzle, but none of them are joined together!”

I went through the site thoroughly and found this to be true.

There was no clearly-defined path between content for either users OR search engines.

It was a mess:

MW Blog old design

And I was clicking through the blog, I felt like it had become sluggish. Worse still:

It was really slow on mobile with some awful formatting issues.

In comparison to other sites, it felt like my blog had become this guy:

Outdated

I needed to overhaul the site.

However, there were a few more checks I needed to do first.

Step #3: Quick Technical Spot Checks

These quick technical spot checks will help you find some of the most common problems that stop your site from ranking.

There are 4x quick spot checks I like to carry out-

  1. Mobile Indexing
  2. Mobile vs. Desktop Pagespeed
  3. Performance Metrics
  4. Structured Data Review

Each of these tests is performed using 5x URLs from your site.

 These 3x pages are compulsory:
  1. Your home page
  2. Your category page
  3. Your “heaviest page” with the most images or content

And the other 2x are up to you.

I’ll be using these URLs:

download seo audit spot check spreadsheet template

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD MY SPREADSHEET TO TRACK YOUR RESULTS EASILY

The goal of these checks is to spot check and highlight potential problems quickly.

We won’t fix them just yet – just run each of these tests and update the spreadsheet with your results.

Spot Check 01: Mobile Indexing

Google is now a mobile-first search engine.

This means:

  • Your site is judged on its mobile version first
  • Google boosts sites that are mobile friendly

To see if your site is ranked on a mobile-first basis go to your inbox and search:

from:@google.com “Mobile-First indexing enabled”

And you should see an email like this one:

Mobile-First indexing enabled

If you don’t have this email it WILL be coming soon. (So be prepared.)

Either way:

Go to Google’s Mobile-Friendly testing tool and enter your homepage URL:

Google Mobile-Friendly Tool

Click “Run Test”.

This will analyse the page and give you a pass/fail result:

Google Mobile-Friendly Tool test results

Despite all its issues, my website IS mobile-friendly.

But there are obvious issues I need to fix during my manual reviews so you shouldn’t always trust what tools are telling you.

Spot Check 02: Mobile Page vs Desktop Pagespeed

I’ve written before about how critical site speed is. And, Google loves fast websites. Why?

Because they know the longer someone sees this symbol:

Loading

The more likely they are to leave a website.

 In SEO, slow and steady does not win the race.

Google’s PageSpeed Insights can give you a top-down look at performance across-

  • Mobile
  • Desktop

And gives you actionable tips to improve your site.

Head over there and enter your homepage URL:

Google Page Speed Insights

Click “Analyze”.

The first page of results is for mobile:

Google Page Speed Insights test results for mobile

The second is for desktop:

Google Page Speed Insights test results for desktop

These results show me:

  • My site is SLOW
  • Especially on mobile devices

There are lots of areas I need to improve on.

But chin up, onto the next one…

Spot Check 03: Performance Metrics

The last spot check looked at general speed.

This spot check looks at how quickly individual pages load.

A good rule of thumb is that a site should load in under 3x seconds.

page speed

To run this test we’ll be using GTmetrix.

Head there and enter your homepage URL:

GTmetrix

Hit “Analyze”.

The test can take a few minutes depending on the size of your site.

GTmetrix test

Once the test is complete, you will receive a score:

GTmetrix performance report

My website is okay but I could shave some time off.

Spot Check 04: Structured Data Review

Structured data organizes your site’s information.

You can structure data like:

  • Ratings
  • Prices
  • Opening hours
  • Addresses
  • Telephone numbers

That will then display as part of your SERP results. This helps provide more context to users and search engines.

Google says structured data isn’t a ranking factor.

But, it does make pages easier to:

  • Crawl
  • Interpret
  • Assign to keywords

Giving you an indirect rankings boost.

To see if your site has structured data, head to Google’s Structured Data testing tool.

Enter your homepage URL:

Google Structured Data testing tool

This will check to see if you have any structured data present and if it has any errors.

You have passed if your page has structured data and shows zero errors, like this:

Passed test example

You have failed if your page has no structured data or has any errors, like this:

Failed test example

My website got a mixed bag of results.

There was definitely a lot I could be working on:

Structured data test results

If you are following along, make a note of each of these issues and keep them handy – it’s easier if you just make a copy of my spreadsheet.

There’s just 1x more analysis to go…

Step #4: Scan Your Site With A Tool

Now we’re going to use an automated tool to look for hidden or remaining issues.

You can do this for free (or as good as) using one of these 3x tools:

  1. Ahrefs site audit tool: has a $7 trial
  2. SEMRush site audit tool: has a 14-day free trial
  3. Website Auditor: comes with 500 free URLs in SEO Powersuite

The tool you choose doesn’t matter so much. Just pick one and get started.

Then run your site through the tool following one of the steps below…

How To Scan Your Site With Ahrefs
Go to:

Main Toolbar > Site Audit

Select ‘New Project’.

Enter your website information and set your first crawl to run now.

Once complete you will see a page with:

  • The number of URLs crawled
  • Your total health score

Like this:

Ahrefs test results

In the “URLs having issues” results, you can click the number to see individual issues.

You can get a more detailed Ahrefs Site Audit tutorial here.


How To Scan Your Site With SEMRush

Go to:

Sidebar > On Page & Tech SEO > Site Audit

Select ‘New Site Audit’.

Enter the information for your site and set your first audit to run immediately.

This will give you a dashboard with:

  • Health
  • Errors
  • Warnings

That looks like this:

SEMRush scan results

Click each number to see specific information about each issue and its location.

You can get a more detailed SEMRush Site Auditor tutorial here.


How To Scan Your Site With Website Auditor

Set your website up as a new project and go to:

Site Structure > Site Audit

Once the crawl is complete you will see a dashboard like this:

SEO Powersuite Website Auditor scan results

Click on each header in the sidebar to see:

  • Details about the error
  • The severity of the error
  • The specific URLs the error is on

You can get a more detailed Website Auditor tutorial here

Take a note of each of the errors from the tool you used.

Now we’re going to use all the data to create a plan of attack…

Step #5: Create A Plan Of Attack

No 2x SEO audits are ever the same. But one thing is always true:

SEO audits are hard manual labour. It’s impossible to create an accurate template or checklist for them. So, you’re going to need to get your hands dirty.

Because they are such hard work, we need to ensure you have a focused plan of attack that will deliver BIG wins.

SearchLogistics

To do that:

Create a list of all the issues your site is facing.

Rank them in order of issues that – when fixed – will make your users the most happy.

For example:

  1. Display issues (on mobile and desktop)
  2. Site speed issues
  3. Content quality and freshness
  4. Common points from user feedback

A better user experience automatically means a better experience for search engine crawlers. So, tackle them in that order.

Once you have created your list it’s time to start taking action.

How To Use Your SEO Audit To Transform Search Traffic

These are the steps I took after conducting an SEO audit and creating an action plan.

It’s important to note that your steps will be different to my steps depending on what you discovered during the 5x step audit process.

  1. Content Audit And Optimisation
  2. Speed Optimisation
  3. Brand New Homepage Design
  4. Adding 3x Portal Pages
  5. Revamp And Simplify Site Navigation
  6. Overall Site Structure
  7. Fix All Outstanding Technical SEO Problems
 Your SEO audit is the blueprint for fixing your website’s traffic.

In this section:

I’m going to take you through exactly how I used each of these steps to fix my traffic and hopefully you will see that basic SEO audits don’t need to be complicated.

Change #1: Content Audit & Optimisation

Content is the face of my business. So, I started here.

I took two steps:

  1. Content audit: examining what I already had
  2. Content optimization: making it the best version possible

Here’s how…

The Content Audit

To perform the content audit I created a spreadsheet listing:

  • URL
  • Pageviews
  • Search Traffic
  • Ahrefs backlink count

You can collect the data using Screaming Frog or URL Profiler.

If you don’t have access to those tools it won’t take long to put together manually-

content audit spreadsheet template
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE QUICK CONTENT AUDIT SPREADSHEET

I also added two columns:

  1. Review: the status of the post
  2. Notes: specific updates and changes to be made

I then went through and manuallyyes, manually! – reviewed each of the links one by one in my desktop and mobile browser.

My goal was to assign one of these categories in the “Review” section:

  • Pass: gets traffic and has backlinks, no changes needed
  • Content update: has traffic and links, but the content is stale
  • Content update (quick): has traffic and links but needs a quick fix (< 20 minutes)
  • Merge / Merge target: – similar content that could be merged into one piece
  • Delete and redirect: – no traffic, links or content is no longer relevant

Once the first manual review was complete I took care of all the quick updates.

For example, I updated:

  • Screenshots
  • Results
  • Pricing
  • Headers
  • Third-party videos
  • Meta descriptions

Anything that got me a quick-win and required less than 20 minutes of time.

Then I moved onto the big bulk of content optimisation…

The Content Optimisation Process

The next step was to optimise every URL on the site. (Even the ones that “passed”.)

The process was split into 4x steps that I managed on Trello:

Trello list

Optimisation #1: New Page Layouts

The 1st step was to update all pages to a new page layout.

In 2016 I removed all of the sidebars from my posts because my A/B tests showed they performed better:

A/B test results

But I felt they were too hard to read because of the width. My readers said similar.

So I decided to make the page slightly narrower:

Narrower post column design

I also added a blue background to each of my headers to make them easier to see when scrolling.

Optimisation #2: Featured Snippet Opportunities

The 2nd step was to highlight any featured snippet opportunities in the posts.

This would give me an optimal chance to rank in position zero if (and when) I hit first page rankings.

I found these opportunities by searching for featured snippet “trigger” words, like:

  • Why
  • How
  • Are
  • Will
  • Does

  • Do
  • Can
  • Is
  • Should
  • What

You can do this by going to each post and hitting “Ctrl + F”:

CTRL + F

For example, in my What Is SEO guide I found these opportunities:

  • What is SEO?
  • Why Do You Need SEO?
  • How Much Does SEO Cost?
  • How Long Does It Take To See SEO Results?
  • Is SEO Dead?

I then went to Google to see if a featured snippet existed for each of them:

Featured snippet search

And for each of the featured snippets that existed, I took note of the:

  • Format
  • Number of words used

For example:

Featured Snippet Search

I then replicated – and improved upon – the existing snippet in my post and every other post on the blog.

Optimisation #3: Adding Visual “Pop”

The 3rd step was to add some “visual pop” to the content.

This would make the content more enjoyable to read and help to keep people on the page for longer.

To do this I used the WP Shortcodes Pro Plugin which has lots of effects to work with.

For example…

I felt it would be good if at least one “statement” per post had a Click2Tweet box. So sentences like this:

Click2Tweet Box

Became this:

Click2Tweet Box

Even if nobody ever tweets it, it looks much better on the page.

I also felt the text could use a little “pop” too. Especially in places like my lists:

Lists

So I used these effects:

  • List icons
  • Highlight
  • Bolding

To give these often overlooked sections a much better feel:

List stylin effects applied

Finally…

I looked for important sentences in my posts, like the ones with facts and figures:

Higlighted text

And used the highlight shortcode and bold to make them stand out:

Higlighted text

Much better, right?

These changes are so easy to make but drastically improve the flow and readability of your content.

Optimisation #4: Adding A Table Of Contents

One of the staples of my blog was the “What You Will Learn” section and you’ve seen many other popular blogs in this niche start to use it.

It was a cool feature, but it was outdated.

So I decided to replace it with an interactive table of contents but under the “What You Will Learn” banner-

Table of contents

The table of contents has 2x great benefits:

Users can click and be taken to specific locations on the page:

Table of contents

Google can show these links alongside my search result:

Google showing table of contents as links in the search results

All you need to do is install the free table of contents plus plugin and then use the [ toc ] shortcode before the first H2 tag in your post:

TOC shortcode

It will automatically pull and create internal anchor links for all of the header tags in the post.

Combining the steps of featured snippet optimisation with a table of contents has allowed me to get a featured snippet AND site links on the same results page:

Featured snippet

So now the pages look good and are optimised, it’s time to make them fast…

Change #2: Speed Optimisation

One of the biggest problems that “crept” in was site speed.

page speed affects your business

Not only was the blog loading slower than ever before, but it was also:

  • Performing poorly on Google PageSpeed
  • Delivering a below average mobile experience

This is how it was performing before:

Site speed performance

To improve these numbers…

I started by removing or consolidating any non-essential:

  • Plugins
  • Scripts
  • Tracking pixels

That provided little value and a lot of “weight” to my site.

I then used ShortPixel to compress all of the site’s images:

ShortPixel tool

Finally…

I installed WPRocket to optimise the loading of each page:

WPRocket

After tweaking some of the settings the speed improvement was significant!

Here are the numbers now:

Site speed performance

And the major improvements across the site:

  • Average page size reduced by 62% (2,262KB vs. 843KB)
  • Average number of requests reduced by 59% (166 vs 68)
  • Average load time reduced by 41% (6.4 seconds vs 3.8)
  • Average mobile Google page speed score increased by 78% (28 vs 50)
  • Average desktop Google page speed score increased by 29% (72 vs 93)

The improvements were so great that I’m embarrassed that I allowed it to get out of control.

Change #3: Brand New Homepage Design

The biggest change to the site has been the new homepage design.

The old homepage was focused on ME as a blogger and not YOU as a reader.

The homepage was just a list of my latest posts…

Old homepage design

The site needed a new homepage that focused on YOU.

It needed to help you to solve YOUR problems, quickly and easily.

So I updated it to look like this:

Not only does it help connect peoples problems to solutions quicker, it also helps control the flow of link juice from the homepage across the site.

And so far the results (and reactions) have been mostly positive.

Change #4: Adding 3x Portal Pages

User feedback showed me that it was IMPOSSIBLE for users to find the content they needed.

So, I used my KISS! mantra – (keep it simple, stupid!) – to improve navigation.

I wanted users to be able to match problems to solutions as quickly as possible.

Based on the results of my survey, I created 3x portal pages:

Each portal helps a different sub-section of users to rapidly find the content they need:

Portal page example

These portal pages also provide a huge SEO boost. Why?

Because they:

  • Provide an easy-to-crawl site structure
  • Share link-juice across multiple internal links

The portals will now form the basic framework for all my future content.

Change #5: Revamp & Simplify Site Navigation

I felt like the site’s header had become dated and confusing.

This is how it used to look:

Old site navigation design

So I asked the MyThemeShop team to redesign both:

  1. My header design
  2. The primary navigation

And this is how it looks now:

New site navigation design

It’s much simpler and easier to use with a cleaner look AND a call to action!

Change #6: Overall Site Structure

All of these changes had a massive impact on the site structure.

I’ll be honest…

My original site structure was a hot mess!

The optimal site structure is easy to crawl and has ALL pages within 3x clicks of the homepage.

But…

…my pages were scattered…

Old site structure

…and the majority of my pages were 7x to 10x clicks away from the homepage:

Site structure - number of cliskc to get to the posts

Meaning they were getting zero internal link juice. (And were SUPER hard to find.)

But just by-

  • Using my homepage as an “anchor” for all pages
  • Adding the portal pages
  • Improving the primary navigation

I was able to bring order to the chaos:

Updated site structure

And put the majority of pages within 1x to 4x clicks from the homepage:

Updated site structure

I still have some work to do here especially with migrating to a new URL strucutre – but there has been huge improvement so far!

Change #7: Fix All Outstanding Technical SEO Problems

The final step was to fix all of those pesky technical issues.

Earlier I showed you how to check for these problems using 1x of these tools:

I found that I had a number of underlying problems:

Ahrefs

I then spent the next few weeks working through each of the problems on the list.

Once I fixed all the problems I re-scanned my site to check I hadn’t created any new issues in the process.

It was a HUGE task. But, as you’re about to find out it paid off big time…

The Results: My Best Rankings EVER

The results of all this hard work?

 My website is ranking better than EVER.

Updated ranking stats after the changes

Here are the headlines:

  • 1,284 results in top 3x positions (up from 578x)
  • Beat my previous top ranking by 284x results
  • Added 5,940x ranking keywords to the site

You can see the growth recorded here in Ahrefs:

Ahrefs stats

I would love to know…

When was the last time you did an SEO audit?

Because I’m always shocked by what I find – what about you?

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