SEO Case Study: 656 Top 3 Rankings

Today I am going to show you how my specialist SEO team built 1,951 first page rankings in the seasonal travel hire niche-

seo case study results

656 of those keywords are ranking in the top 3.

Which has had a significant impact on organic search traffic year on year-

case study screenshot

How did we do all of that?

Well keep reading and I’ll break down the complete strategy for you step by step!

A Closer Look At The Case Study

This is a European company operating in a highly competitive international travel hire niche.

They sell in locations all over the world and offer a multilingual site.

Our main focus was to increase rankings by improving user experience because there is absolutely no substitute for getting the basics right when it comes to SEO.

That meant that we had to:

  • Audit the website
  • Increase website speed
  • Optimize on-site content
  • Become mobile-friendly
  • Resolve technical issues
  • Build high-quality inbound links

It’s safe to say that when we took over the site it was a “fixer-upper”.

And it presented us with several major challenges…

Bringing Order To The Chaos

The travel hire niche is brutally competitive with lots of well-established brands with big budgets fighting for keywords.

All of which have intuitive user interfaces on fast websites with well-written content.

And our website had, well…none of that.

It was complete chaos. We had to deal with:

  • Illogical site structure (especially URLs!)
  • Poorly optimized content
  • Deep-rooted technical issues
  • Zero mobile optimization
  • Harmful backlinks from irrelevant sites

This is what happens when you only focus on link building and ignore the basics of SEO.

So to tackle these challenges and make sure we were building our castle on rock and not sand, we had to:

  1. Perform a technical SEO audit
  2. Fix all the problems we found

Which as I write this, was way easier said than done!

Creating A Plan Of Attack

We broke our strategy down into 7x steps and each of those steps had its own goal:

  1. Keyword research: identify relevant keywords to build content around
  2. Backlink audit: understand the site’s current link profile
  3. Competitor analysis: understand the content structure Google is looking for
  4. Content strategy: create a long-term, research-backed publishing schedule
  5. Onsite audit: uncover all technical issues
  6. Improve user experience: make the website user- and crawler-friendly
  7. Link building: support the site with relevant inbound links

Each of those areas plays a role in supporting organic growth and its important that you address all of these areas to see success.

This can mean different things for different sites but let me walk you through how we did it this time around.

1. Keyword Research

The first step was to identify benchmark keywords.

These are keywords we track daily to show us the:

  • SERP movements
  • Current health of the site
  • Impact of our strategy

If the metrics move in our favor we’re doing our job right.

keyword movements

We then researched a broader set of keywords. These keywords interlink with our core keywords but could also rank on their own.

Then we categorised those keywords into topic-based clusters:

Keywords Database

This provided us with an almost endless database of relevant topics and their keywords that we could attack across the site.

2. Backlink Audit

Backlinks ARE an important part of SEO. There’s no denying it.

So we needed to:

  • Review the current link profile
  • And flag links to disavow

Ahrefs showed us that 96% of their links were of the lowest possible quality:

Backlink Audit Ahrefs

These low quality links were coming from:

  • Spammy web 2.0s
  • Old directories
  • Irrelevant paid links (like those sold on Fiverr etc.)

Thanks to the clients needless obsessive compulsive backlink disorder, there were 1000s of links we needed to disavow.

The Ahrefs “Referring IPs” tool was VERY really useful in this process:

Backlink Audit Ahrefs Referring IPs

Here we could identify harmful links in large batches to disavow them.

However, this isn’t a “one and done” process.

We had to routinely check our link profile because we have no control over WHO links to the site.

This means low-quality links pop up all the time:

Regular Backlinks Audit

So we had to regularly check (and disavow) these links as they appeared.

3. Competitor Analysis

User experience is CRITICAL for rankings because it feeds into and influences so many other signals.

It’s important to remember that Google’s main job as a search engine is to pair users with websites that provide answers.

what search engines want

Which means you must make sure there are zero barriers between answers and users.

To understand what that means in our specific niche, we looked at our organic search competitors.

We needed to create an industry benchmark we could work from-

  • What does Google look for in a well-ranking site?
  • What do our competitors do better than us?
  • What were the most important areas to improve?

To create this benchmark we explored every possible user experience element.

We looked at:

  • Navigation
  • URL structure
  • Page structure
  • Post structure
  • Design elements (layouts, forms, boxes, etc.)
  • Website processes (bookings, payment gateways, customer reviews, etc.)
  • How fast things were on mobile data

Anything that our potential users would come into contact with.

This gave us all the information we needed to create user and SEO-focused templates for:

  • Landing pages
  • Blog posts
  • URLs
  • Bookings

For example, we updated the home page to make bookings available above-the-fold which increased both user engagement signals and conversions signficiantly-

homepage update

We also did some competitor backlink analysis to see how and where they acquired high-quality links.

Using Ahrefs Link Intersect tool we were able to see the most common sites:

link intersect results

Which gave us an actionable starting point for our link building strategies which we will talk about in a moment.

4. Content Strategy

After following the last few steps, we had acquired enough information to build out a complete content strategy.

We knew:

  • Which topics were relevant
  • What keywords to focus on
  • How to structure the content (for users and search engines)
  • How long the content should be
  • Where we could outrank competitors

So before creating any new content, the first thing we did was to address existing content.

On a post-by-post basis we took one of 3x actions:

  • Improve: restructure or rewrite the existing post
  • Remove: delete the content entirely
  • Consolidate: combine multiple pages into one comprehensive post

For example, the site had lots of 300-500 word blog posts that were very light on information and added next to no value.

So we increased the overall length, quality and relevance of those pages by adding extra sections that actually answered related search queries.

Once the existing content was fixed, we switched our focus to creating new content.

We created a monthly posting schedule that looked like this:

Monthly Posting Schedule

This meant we had a growing database of high quality content which we could later leverage for link building.

5. On-Site SEO Audit

It was obvious from the beginning this site had lots of technical issues. But it was only when we performed a complete technical SEO audit that we understood the extent of it.

So let’s take a look at each of the problems we found and how we went about fixing them.

Problem #1: Illogical Site Structure

The client’s site was missing a clear hierarchy which made it hard to understand for search engine spiders. They had:

  • Scattered content
  • Limited internal linking
  • Hard to find “priority” pages

This meant the site was a nightmare for both users and Google to navigate. It was a labyrinth of dead ends that left your scratching your heard.

In the perfect world ALL website pages should be accessible within 4x clicks of the homepage.

 Your priority pages should be within 2x clicks.

Updated site structure

For example…

It’s paramount a travel hire website has easily accessible destination pages.

It should be no more than a 3x click process:

Google > Homepage > Destinations Page > Greece

The website was lacking this logical structure. So we spent a lot of time getting this right.

One process that really helped us was…

Problem #2: Internal Linking

The site was so hard to navigate because there were so few internal links. We found this to be really bad on location specific landing pages.

But internal link building is critically important for a number of reasons-

Internal Linking

Let’s say you searching for something in the travel hire niche and landed on a popular page of our client’s site.

The page would provide internal links to pages about:

  • Mallorca
  • San Sebastian
  • Valencia

But those 3x pages would have 0x internal links. You couldn’t get to:

  • The main “Spain” page
  • Related destinations
  • Booking pages

This meant the user (and Google’s crawlers) instantly hit a dead end!

Which as you can probably imagine created tons of problems like:

  • High bounce rates
  • Low dwell time
  • Awful conversion rates
  • Lower search traffic & rankings

So our process focused on adding logical internal links to streamline the site and make the experience much more enjoyable for both users and Google.

Problem #3: Duplicate Content

To try and combat the navigation issues the client had created lots of duplicate pages.

Now it’s no secret that Google doesn’t like duplicate content-

duplicate content

And they really don’t like it when there are 3x exact replicas of the homepage!

It seemed like the previous SEOs had added a copy-and-pasted page at every dead end.

This was…seriously problematic because it created a ton of issues like:

  • Content devaluation
  • Cannibalization
  • Index bloat

It also made the site INCREDIBLY slow, so to deal with all of this we-

  • Deleted duplicate content
  • No-indexed pages with low SEO benefits
  • Removed “sliders” that created duplicates

Then we could start to optimize the remaining pages to target important keywords.

Resolving these technical issues made the next step possible…

6. Improve User Experience

The user experience was ABYSMAL to say the very least.

Competitors websites performed 1000x better than ours and despite 50% of traffic coming from mobile devices, the site wasn’t responsive.

To combat this we:

  • Increased website speed
  • Created a new responsive website design
  • Added new high-quality images to all pages
  • Built interactive maps and calendars
  • Created a new streamlined booking process
  • Added engaging CTA buttons

I won’t lie…

 This was a massive undertaking.

There are still elements that need to go live. But we have being improving things and deploying them consistently.

I’d say around 75% of the necessary fixes have being deployed to date and the results have been staggering so far.

But there’s still one more step before we get to those…

7. Link Building

Link building was ALWAYS going to be a part of our SEO strategy but there are 5x things this case study should show:

  • Link building is pointless on a poorly built site
  • Your site needs solid foundations first
  • Links can do as much harm as good
  • You need to build strategic links
  • Obsessive compulsive link building leads to wasted budget

This is precisely why link building is step 7 and not step 1 in our case study today because you are not ready for link building until you have built a solid foundation.

And because we spent time revamping a lot of the existing content, link building was mostly a downhill battle because no one wants to link to poor content.

link building win rates

We made sure the link building strategies we used were tailored to focus on-

  • Quality over quantity
  • Relevance
  • Building trust and authority

quantity vs quality link building

It’s easy to overstep the mark here and get excited but you’ll be amazed just how much impact a handful of relevant links can have on a properly built site.

Each link we built came from well-established sites that we considered to be equal (or better) than our own.

link example

Outreach based link building is a time-consuming process.

But we were able to build lots of high-quality links:

referring domains over time

And it is the most sustainable way to build links that ensures the longevity of your site.

click here now

The Results Are In

The site’s growth has been incredible.

Traffic has grown from an average of 9,846 visitors per month to 58,883 at the very peak of high season.

case study screenshot

Overall we have more than tripled organic search traffic and more importantly, increased revenue during the off season as well.

We also increased the number of top 3 results from 197 to 656.

seo case study results

And of course:

This all made for some glorious Google Search Console data-

google search console data

All of which is absolutely fantastic result given how competitive this niche is and how much money is on the line during peak season.

If you want help ranking your website… Click Here Now!

Wrapping It Up

So there you have it.

That is how you can triple organic search traffic in competitive niche by just focusing on the foundations of SEO.

It’s not rocket science. You just need to follow my simple 3 step SEO strategy:

  • Technical SEO: build a logical and healthy website structure
  • Content: understand your user’s needs and optimize for them
  • Link building: acquire relevant links

The 3 Step SEO Strategy

If that sounds like too much hard work, you could always hire my team.

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

I promise you are going to love them!

search logistics

31 Responses

  1. Chris Linard
    4.19.2020

    Thanks, Matthew for a great case study.

    Your approach is very logical and make-sense. You place link-building at step 7. A solid foundation is the first priority: content quality, site structure, user experience, site speed, etc.

    You explained it concisely and to-the-point.

    • Matthew Woodward
      April 22nd, 2020 at 9:26 am

      Thanks Chris – yes many people rush the first steps so they can start building links which is a big mistake.

  2. Bimbo Lawal
    4.17.2020

    It’s always a good thing to get the basic SEO stuff right. Five things are important – Technical Analysis & Fixing, On-page analysis & fixing, Keyword Analysis & research, Content strategy & creation, Link building strategy & acquisition

    • Matthew Woodward
      April 19th, 2020 at 4:45 am

      Thanks for your insights Bimbo :)

  3. Moad Ghazi
    4.16.2020

    Great content as always !
    Thank you Matthew !

    • Matthew Woodward
      April 17th, 2020 at 3:46 am

      No problem!

  4. Prashant Saini
    3.3.2020

    Nice article and very helpful for new bloggers Thanks.

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 5th, 2020 at 12:40 am

      No worries – hope it proves useful Prashant

  5. Jesus Guzman
    3.3.2020

    Hello,
    I scanned your site on Ahrefs, it is a nice page! but for the number of ranked Kws, your traffic is quite low. I can help with that.

    The other thing,

    Your DR 76 is not in harmony with your UR 24 on the homepage, that is a sign of a poor internal linking structure.

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 5th, 2020 at 12:43 am

      My homepage UR is 78

      • Al
        April 16th, 2020 at 2:54 pm

        First time poster, but had to reply as this was golden. Matthew, love the site, it is without doubt my favourite seo source, but now i find you are questioning Jesus i just dont know :D

        • Matthew Woodward
          April 17th, 2020 at 3:45 am

          Cheers Al! haha yeah I’m not sure where he got that figure from :)

  6. Yusuf Bitrus
    3.3.2020

    Thank you, Matthew, for this fantastic case study and strategy you shared.

    I have had issues with auditing for technical SEO fixes. SEMRush shows that I have duplicate headings; meanwhile, they don’t exist in a real sense. Alexa was accurate on the audit part, but I don’t want to choose a winner or jump into the conclusion that Alexa wins :)

    Has such ever occurred during any SEO work?

    My main question:

    Could you elaborate more on image two under keyword research here?

    Thank you.

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 3rd, 2020 at 2:33 pm

      Yes I find problems with SEO tools all the time, just let support now and they’ll take care of it!

      • Yusuf Bitrus
        March 3rd, 2020 at 4:03 pm

        Thank you.

        I think I will need to do just that.

  7. Karol
    3.3.2020

    Hi Matthew,

    I’ve read your case study. I really like how you organized work for your SEO team. I’m most interested how you handle user experience test? Were you and your team perform script based test or you collected data from tools like hotjar etc.

    Looking forward to next case study :)

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 3rd, 2020 at 5:22 pm

      Depends on the client but we like to use Google Optimize

  8. Bilal
    3.3.2020

    I love infographic techniques for the link building. Overall nice efforts to grow the traffic.

    Thanks Bilal

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 3rd, 2020 at 5:23 pm

      Yes it works really nicely if you have a good graphic

  9. David
    3.3.2020

    Hi Matthew,

    Thanks for this great study! There is only one thing that confused me a bit, shouldn’t it be the case that quality costantly increased over time? On your graphic it shows up differently.

    Best Regards,
    David

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 3rd, 2020 at 9:30 am

      Great attention to detail David – fixed :)

  10. Marwa
    3.3.2020

    Thank you Matthew for this post

    You are the best

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 5th, 2020 at 12:45 am

      Haha thanks Marwa – hope you’re well.

  11. Reece
    3.3.2020

    Wow, amazing results in such a short time.

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 5th, 2020 at 12:45 am

      Thanks Reece

  12. Dragan
    3.3.2020

    Great stuff as always… thank you…

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 5th, 2020 at 12:44 am

      Cheers Dragan!

  13. jonathon
    3.3.2020

    Hey Matthew,

    Great little review on how to rank, BUT the disavowing of links has always got me or my clients in trouble. I have done 4 tests and each time its gone pear shaped.

    What did you do differently? Is the site still preforming? Also web 2.0 links work really well right now to rank (I have tested this personally) what made you disavow them?

    Thanks Matthew,

    Jonahton

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 3rd, 2020 at 5:27 pm

      What do you mean by got you in trouble? What was your process?

  14. Bren Murphy
    3.2.2020

    There’s a reason I keep coming back to your #seo updates. Thorough research and detailed explanations. Keep it t Matthew ✨

    • Matthew Woodward
      March 3rd, 2020 at 5:23 pm

      No problem Bren!

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