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Case Study: From Penalty to All-Time High Organic Traffic

A major professional services company was experiencing significant year over year loss in organic traffic and rankings following an algorithm update in December 2022. This client experienced record growth in revenue throughout the pandemic in large part to their organic search efforts, however, the revenue growth declined late in Q4 of 2022 after a significant amount of organic traffic was lost due to various algorithm updates. 

Solution: Content Audit 

When a website gets hit by an algorithm update it’s important to understand what the algorithm is focusing on, you can read what Google says about it in Search Central but more helpful information is found on sites like Search Engine Land and Search Engine Roundtable


In this particular case, I did a full site SEO audit which revealed many things but the top two areas of focus came from missed opportunities with the content strategy and internal linking. 

Search intent content audit

When conducting the audit it became clear this organization focused a lot of time and attention on upper funnel content and over 70% of their organic traffic came from informational and navigational search intent. This in itself is not a big deal but when I dove deeper I found a pattern – the blog topics they were writing about did not relate to their core services. 

This is a mistake that happens all of the time, organizations hire SEO agencies who focus on creating content just so they can check a box at the end of each month and give the clients something to prove they did something. These types of SEO agencies oftentimes focus to heavily on keyword GAP based strategies rather than adding content that supports the client’s core competencies.

For example, if you offer automobile painting services you should focus on blog topics that support that service such as “Top X reasons people re-paint their vehicles” that could clearly add value to painting services. A bad example would be “how to paint your garage” just because both topics have the word paint doesn’t mean it’s going to be helpful to producing leads for the client. The SEO agency will say “look our new blog generated 1,000 clicks this quarter” but none of those clicks will actually drive value to the client since the blog was about garage painting and is not converting traffic to leads. 

The audit revealed many blog articles I deemed as unhelpful content or content that was not relevant to the organization’s sales funnel. 

Action: Repurpose, Remove and Redirect Unhelpful Content

After compiling a spreadsheet of hundreds of blog posts that did not fit the criteria for what I was looking for we analyzed each piece and decided if it could be repurposed into other existing content, if we had to remove the content altogether or redirect the blog posts themselves. 

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Missed Internal Linking Opportunities 

The other area of concern with the content was the surprising amount of blog posts that did not contain any internal links to service pages. Again, all blog posts should be supporting the services this organization offers. Proper internal links can help your website build topical authority which will help your website with E-E-A-T and ultimately your visibility in the search engines.

Another missed internal link opportunity was the blogs with topic similarity not being internally linked together which is another missed chance at building topical authority. 

Pro tip: Make sure when you add a new blog post you go to your existing blog posts and link to the new blog post to help indexing. 

The End Result

As you can see in the screenshot traffic almost immediately shot back to pre-penalty organic traffic levels and a few months later were at all-time highs and remains steady to this day. 

SEO case study - penalty recovery

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a helpful content update?

Google has introduced a new algorithm update type called “Helpful Content Updates” which looks to weed out content that is not considered helpful to users and is designed specifically for search engines, this type of content is often referred to as spam. 

Why did it take 6 months to see results?

When dealing with a penalty recovery situation it’s important to have realistic expectations, oftentimes websites have had less than stellar content accumulating for many years. The more content you have on your website the longer the audit will take and the longer it takes to implement changes. 

Is there penalties for link building?

Your website can get penalized if you are building or buying spammy backlinks. Don’t buy backlinks from anyone, backlinks must be earned! 

Shane Hampson

Shane Hampson

Ethical SEO Consultant

Data Driven Marketer. Fantasy Football Champion. Dog Lover. Foodie.

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Now that you have read about SEO on the blog, it’s time to plan your next move. Please book a strategy session, and we can discuss your plan of action.

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