Case study: 324% surge in search traffic with On Page SEO

This is how I helped a budget constrained small business owner boost search traffic by over 300% by focusing on solving critical on page SEO problems.

Client background

This client that hired me last year. My responsibility was to find out how to improve the search visibility of the client’s website, and work with his in-house team to rectify problems.

The client is in the private alternative education industry, in business for over 10 years. He has an in-house developer/web designer, and he handles content himself.

He did not have enough budget for prolonged SEO campaign, so we opted for short 3 month SEO consultation period.

Key problems identified

Broken links. There was quite a significant amount of broken links on the site. Some were pointing to pages that have moved, some of them were generated poorly by the CMS, and the rest were just input errors by the webmaster.

Site-wide broken links were the reason for the large number. Though the broken links represented only 1.6% of all links, some of those links were crucial to the site.

This meant PR link juice was wasted, and the large number of broken links can cause bad user experience.

broken links

404 error pages. Due to the broken internal links, a number of 404 error pages turned up.

crawl availability

These pages are what users see when they click on a broken internal link. They aren’t useful, and will harm user experience. In fact, the home page rotating slider had links to 404 pages… which was bad.

Terrible On Page SEO. The site had a myriad of On page SEO problems. Title tags, headings, meta tags were not keyword optimized.

structure problems

Worse, the CMS caused huge duplicate content issues. That’s why there was so many pages with duplicate page titles. Many pages could be reached via 2-3 different URLs.

Many URLs were a direct copy of page titles, which meant URLs were quite unsightly, and even contained funny characters due to mandarin page titles.

The www and non-www versions of the site could be reached separately. Another potential duplicate content problem. Links were also pointing to both versions of the site, so there was definitely a loss in link PR authority.

Site structure and layout.

Overall, the site structure was messy, and the home page design was cluttered without a logical flow. There were too many links to unimportant pages of the site. The animated sliders on the homepage could not be controlled, and pointed to relatively unimportant pages. (Also some links on the slider were broken)

Priority solutions

Minor website redesign

Due to budget constraints, the client could not undergo a total site revamp. Instead, we focused on changing the home page layout, and took away distractions from the home page.

Following my suggestion, the site was structured into themes. Each main course types became the main themes, and each main themes were supported by the various sub courses and lessons. This created a neat website silo structure.


To improve the navigation and internal linking of the site, I recommended breadcrumb links.

Other recommendations I made was to improve the main menu. We removed unimportant links, and added dropdowns to inner pages.

Broken links and 404 errors

I gave the developer the entire list of broken links: where the links originated, and what broken pages they were linking to. We manually hunted down all the broken links, and either corrected the hyperlinks or 301 redirected old pages to the new ones.

Duplicate content

We did a site-wide 301 redirect to redirect all non-www versions of the site to the www version. This solved much of all the duplicate content issue. Anything not meant to be redirected were “canonicalized” to the correct pages.

Other On Page SEO factors

This took a lot of man hours. We had to manually rewrite page titles, headings, meta descriptions, permalinks, and different copy all over the site. This could not be done without extensive keyword research. I provided them with a naming protocol so they only have to follow the guidelines the next time they upload something.

Off Page SEO

Although less focus was placed on link building this time around, efforts to build links were fruitful.

1. By researching competitor’s links, we were able to find outreach targets to send requests to sites that linked to competitors but not the client.

2. The client had a number of unlinked mentions on the internet, through press stories about the business, or interviews that the client gave. We reached out and requested links for articles that did not link back.

3. Identified other websites, web properties, and profiles that the client owned, and built links from there.


Once all the improvements were completed, we saw pretty good results the following month .

The client did not have Google Analytics installed initially, so we compared raw traffic data from the client’s web server. We compared the current data against the traffic from the same month last year.

One month

One month after my consultation ended, the number of monthly unique Visits (compared to the same period a year ago) increased by 23%. The number of Pageviews increased by an astonishing 114%.

One year

Now with Google Analytics installed, we can compare the latest monthly traffic figures compared to the monthly traffic before I was hired to help them a year ago.

324.58% increase in Sessions from search traffic, almost 300% rise in the number of Users, and 324.90% increase in Pageviews.

324 percent increase search traffic

That’s mighty impressive, considering everything was done under low budget conditions, and without investing too much in off-page SEO marketing. Thus is the importance of having good On-Page SEO, and a good website structure.

*Most of the targeted keywords are now in the first page, and many are in top 5 of Google SG results page (I can’t show you for confidentiality’s sake). To be honest, the actual keywords rankings aren’t important at all.*


Never underestimate what good On Page SEO can do for your site. This particular client’s website had already built up some authority and good links over the years, but was bogged down by poor design, inefficient navigation, and just plain bad on-page optimization.

So before you seek out an SEO consultant to do link building, make sure your site is well optimized to reap the full rewards of a good SEO campaign.

My analysis: How can small sites become popular?

matt cutts small site outperform

Can a small business beat an established brand on search engines?

This week, Matt Cutts answers the question : How can small sites become popular?

Dan asks:

How can smaller sites with superior content ever rank over sites with superior traffic? It’s a vicious circle: A regional or national brick-and-mortar brand has higher traffic, leads to a higher rank, which leads to higher traffic, ad infinitum.

Matt’s short answer:

The small guys can absolutely (out)perform the larger guys as long as they do a really good job at it.

While listening to his answer and rationales, I realized that you can interpret his points as him subtly reinforcing Google ranking factors. That was an ‘aha’ moment for me. So what are the ways which small sites can outperform big sites?

Let me break down his points, and add some of my own.

#1 Use content “freshness” to your advantage

sites that are smart enough to be agile, and be dynamic and respond quickly, and roll out new ideas much faster, can often rank higher in Google search results.

What I think Matt means, is that smaller sites can use their smaller size to adapt faster than older sites. Adopting new ideas, new technologies and new methods in a business can give you advantages.

However, how I interpret this is that smaller sites can use “query deserves freshness” to rank high on certain terms. Whenever there is a sudden trending search topic on Google, and you are one of the first to tackle the topic on your site, Google will help you rank higher for those search terms.

Google Trends   Web Search interest  crimea   Worldwide  Past 12 months
A sudden surge in interest in the keyword “crimea” means it may help with QDF

By staying on top of news in your industry, small businesses can quickly launch a content to tackle a trending topic. Using this “freshness” factor, small players can easily beat the big boys.

#2 Focus on User Experience and adding value

they do a better job of focusing on user experience, they return something that adds more value… Whatever area you are in, if you are doing better than the other incumbents, then over time, you can expect to perform better and better…

Matt Cutts gave the example of AltaVista and Google. People tend to forget that in the 90s, Google too was a young upstart trying to shake up the search engine industry.

Smaller sites tend to be able to have their own personality on the site. Having a unique “voice” on your small site will help you attract readers, and provides a more personal user experience than big, boring sites.

Besides this, we can also make sure our content provides more value. Make it more unique, more entertaining, and more useful, such that users will flock to your site instead of the bigger players.

The Huffington Post

Did you know that Huffington Post, the number 1 most popular political site/opinion blog in the US started off as a 2-person blog? They got to where they are now by offering content that was superior to the other established online news media at the time.

#3 Becoming an authority on a niche topic

think of concentrating on a smaller topic area or niche, and say, I’m a subject matter expert in this particular area, and make sure you cover it really really well, and then you can sort of build out from that smaller area until you become larger and larger..

Matt Cutts used the “Katamari” example to explain how a small site can slowly grow larger, and expand their reach to cover more topics. In case you are wondering what a “Katamari” is, please look at the attached video. It’s a rather unique video game, but it represents the point well.

Referring back to the Huffington Post example in point 2, when HuffPo first started, they were a small blog that focused on liberal news and opinions. They focused and became an authority on that topic, and after time, they were able to branch out and cover topics of every kind.

Google does use certain data to determine whether a site is an authority. One of these is Author Rank, and it ties very closely with Google Authorship. Matt Cutts did state that Google takes into account the authority of an author, and gives a ranking boost for in-depth content written by authoritative authors. (I also made a small mention of this here)

#4 Content is king

Don’t stop trying to produce superior content because over time, that becomes one of the best ways to rank higher on the web.

After all, it all boils down to having superior content. Users keep returning to a site that has quality content that they cannot find anywhere else.

Matt does say, that if you run a one man team, it’s definitely going to be hard to beat a company with many employees. That doesn’t mean we don’t stand a chance.

If we can’t produce content that tops the quality of an established site, we can strive to come up with content faster. At the very least, we must do what it takes to differentiate ourselves from the competitors – whether it’s being funny, insightful, or controversial. It also helps to know how to make the content we create SEO friendly. It’s a shame if a great piece of content can’t find found.

What do you think?

Do you think we as the Davids of the internet, truly stand a chance against the Goliaths? Or is Matt Cutts just giving us false hope?

Personally, I believe I stand a chance. Do you?