SEO Case Study – A Core Update Recovery

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 studyView all our SEO case studies here

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.

Closer Look At The 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

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.

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

…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.

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.

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.

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 clients site to recover rankings and search traffic after being hit by a Google algorithm update.

If you would like us to help grow your revenue and search traffic, please get in touch with us now.

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

30 Responses

  1. Ivan

    Many sites have suffered because of the lack of content. Sometimes, just a simple addition of content changes everything.

    • Matthew Woodward
      April 14th, 2021 at 9:34 am

      Lack of optimized and updated content* ;)

  2. priemtalks

    thanks a lot for sharing with us! very useful article

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 29th, 2021 at 4:01 pm

      No worries!

  3. Ken

    Nice write-up (per usual)! I will definitely be putting this to practice for some of my sites.

    You said not to guest post on sites that have “Write For Us”…

    So what what do you recommend for finding sites that allow guest posts then?

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 26th, 2021 at 1:24 pm

      Well, just pitch websites that are not advertising for guest posts and see what happens!
      Don’t worry, most websites accept guest posts anyways.

  4. Lucas

    Hi Matthew! Thank you very much for this article that makes us think about details that we do not take into account. My question is regarding Google My Business.

    If my site has its target audience in Europe, but I live in Asia, should I create my company profile on Google My Business? Wouldn’t it affect my SEO and the traffic the site receives?

    All the best!

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 26th, 2021 at 1:38 pm

      Google my business is really important for local SEO (in order to improve local ranking).
      However, it also adds credibility and visibility to your business so I suggest you create an account anyways.
      But if you don’t, don’t worry it should not affect you too much.



    • Matthew Woodward
      March 26th, 2021 at 1:26 pm


  6. Den

    So, I understood right that you made a fake author page, with a fake name, photo, etc.? Because usually, webmasters make many different websites in different niches where he not an expert and usually never worked offline in these niches companies.
    Are you sure that Google can’t check it in manually review and find that this is fake information? And as a result, it can hurt for the website even more.

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 26th, 2021 at 1:55 pm

      Yes, Google can check that. This is why we don’t recommend to anyone to run sites under “fake identity” or “fake name”.
      If you do so, you’re putting your site at risk. It’s a fact.
      In our case, the writer is a real/accountable person so we create a real author page with authentic pictures and information.
      Nothing fake.

  7. dilip soni

    thanks for the nice article about SEO Case Study – A Core Update Recovery.

    I really enjoy your article and SEO tips in very easy language.

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 26th, 2021 at 1:57 pm

      No problem! Thank you for reading!

  8. Tom. S

    Hi Matthew,

    This is a great article and very helpful! In a way I’m echoing what the poster above mentioned regarding pseudonyms. Not so much for the site itself, but more for a blog run as part of the site with the intention of increasing organic traffic? If you are running an e-commerce site with a blog page as part of it written by a blogger using a “pen name”, is google likely to penalise you for this? The purpose of the blog would be to write articles in a generally similar niche to the site, writing product reviews and such and linking to them on the main e-commerce site? Could it be better to have the e-commerce site running ‘standalone’ and set up a completely separate blog with a completely separate URL/hosting to do this?

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 12th, 2021 at 9:35 am

      Hey Tom,
      To be honest, I would not suggest you run an ecommerce site under a pseudonym or ‘pen name’.
      Google wants to know that the person behind the store is real and accountable. By using a ‘pen name’ or pseudonym, you’re doing the contrary of what Google wants. So it’s quite risky.
      And, even if you ‘only’ use the ‘fake name’ only on the blog… How do you make this person real to Google’s eyes? This is the question you should be asking yourself.
      And to answer your last question: No, I don’t think it’s better to have the ecommerce store separated from the blog.
      The blog is supposed to give practical information about your products or services. It’s a bridge between the products you’re selling and the information they need.
      If you separate the blog from the ecommerce store, you lose all this.

  9. Justin

    Long time reader and I follow your youtube channel too. Question: What can I do if I don’t want to put my house on a google my business account. What did you do in the case study? Thanks

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 5th, 2021 at 10:39 am

      Put your registred business address.

  10. Green coffee

    Nice an amazing content

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 3rd, 2021 at 9:07 am

      Thanks- Cheers!

  11. Marcello Cardoso

    Fantastic case study, Matthew! It reminds me of when I got hit by Google Penguin in 2013 with an e-commerce site, and disavow links were not enough to bring rankings back. What do you think was the most crucial factor in recovering from that penalty, or was all of them combined?

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 3rd, 2021 at 9:08 am

      Thank you, Marcello- I’ll say all of them combined!

  12. Reece

    Hi Mathew

    Thanks for another great case study to get our teeth into!

    Just one question though: in some case studies you have made links through PBN’s. Now if you have made the pbn’s specifically for the site you are working on then won’t they normally have 0 traffic to begin with? Does this matter when linking to them? As you mentioned in this and other studies that when trying to find a site to link out from through guest posts etc try to find sites with at least 500 visitors per month?


  13. Mark

    What would you suggest when a website is ran under a pseudonym? Would you create profiles under the pseudonym name?

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 5th, 2021 at 10:37 am

      Hmm, that’s a tricky question.
      If you run a site under a pseudonym, then you need to think: ‘how am I going to make that person real?’
      Because Google wants to see real & accountable person behind websites not anonymous spammers.
      So be careful…

  14. Mahbub Osmane

    Matthew, How are you? You did a nice job. How much did you charge to this client?

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 3rd, 2021 at 9:14 am

      Hey Mahbub! Thank you but, sorry, I can’t give you this information-

  15. Jeff

    Great read. I’m interested in seeing your take on a case study from the November core update especially in the affiliate space.

    • Max
      March 25th, 2021 at 11:49 am

      Yes, I second that, that would be great.

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