SEO Case Study: How to get an Excellent Health Score in just 8 days.
A technical SEO guide for beginners.
This case study is intended to be a useful guide for SEO beginners who want to learn about Site Audits and how to gain quick technical wins. Moreover, it can be of great interest for Shopify store owners who are struggling with their website traffic and don’t know why.
Either if you’re looking to learn about technical SEO or if you’re looking to learn how to improve your website, I’ll show you how to optimise your website to boost its performance and what role technical SEO plays in it.
Before I start, you might wonder what a website’s Health Score is?
The Health Score is simply a metric that tells you the percentage of mistakes concerning the URLs on your website. As you can imagine, the more errors you have, the lower your score is. What you might not know is that these errors directly impact your rankings on search engines.
Now, I’m going to show you how I managed to improve Ella’s Wool’s website Health Score from Fair to Excellent in just 8 days by using technical SEO.
On day one, Ella’s Wool’s Health Score was 65, which is Fair as you can see in the picture. Below, I’ll show you how just a few techniques and fixes made it Excellent. What’s more important, without an Excellent score it wouldn’t have been possible to achieve the many positive results shown below.
I want to highlight that I was able to accomplish these results despite the fact that it was my very first project as an SEO specialist and I had no practical experience with SEO before. How did I do it? Here I’ll show you the entire process I followed, starting from my initial research, the tools used and technical SEO wins explained in detail.
Where to start?
When entering a new world, it’s easy to feel disoriented and lost and it’s likely you’ll find yourself thinking: “Well now, where do I start?”
If you’re starting a new project and you’re feeling the same way, don’t worry! You’re not the only one and you will get through it, I can assure you.
I learned that the best thing to start with is exhaustive and detailed research.
These are the 4 questions that get me started on my journey at Ella’s Wool:
- What’s the Niche? Discovering the world of kids and babies wool clothing;
- Who’s Ella’s Wool’s? Looking through its story, products, presence and goals;
- Who is its main Target Audience? Exploring the main Geo-locations, Age, Gender and Interests;
- Which are the main areas of opportunity? Analysing website optimisation challenges.
Which tools to use?
As you might already know, there are several tools you can use to analyse the optimisation of a website and to collect important information on its audience, traffic and much more. When it comes to SEO, you will find out that you never work only by using one tool, but don’t despair! I only used two tools to achieve my results, Google Analytics and Ahrefs. Sure, they might seem a bit complicated when you first approach them, but I linked some beginners’ guides to help you get started.
Bonus: They’re both completely free for you to use at this stage.
One of the must-use SEO tools is certainly Google Analytics as it tracks lots
of useful data. It provides a clear view of your Audience, Acquisitions and Behaviours reports. It’s great as you can easily keep track of your Organic traffic as well.
Check out the Google Analytics for beginners guide to get you started.
Ahrefs is a well-known SEO tool that, in a few words, it helps you to get higher Google rankings. You can use the free version of Ahrefs to get started and, even though it has some limitations, it will do the work just fine to begin with. You can set up daily, weekly or monthly audits to track your website Health Score, analyse errors and get essential insights such as Keyword rankings, Backlinks, Internal links and much more. You will find instruction on each section but to get an overview you can check this Ahrefs guide.
Results achieved with technical SEO
Below are the major impacts made possible by technical SEO wins. Scores have been achieved in just 8 days while Keywords, Organic traffic and Traffic value show the increase since technical improvements:
- Health Score increased by +30% ~ from 65% to 95%
- Decreased of 93.5% of Red Alerts ~ from 228 Errors to just 15
- Decrease of 90.8% of Yellow Warnings ~ from 1088 Warnings to 101
- +247 Keywords increased within a month from the improvements
- Organic traffic increased by +10.6% within a month and also a clear YoY increase
- Traffic value overall increased by +13% since technical improvements
How I addressed the technical challenges
Ahrefs’ Site Audit was my starting point. The initial score was 65%, as shown above. With a closer look, here’s a split into errors, warnings and notices of the first audit:
As you can imagine, the errors are the most important ones affecting your overall website optimisation and, that’s exactly where I focus on first.
The major errors on Ella’s Wool website concerned:
- 404 pages
- HTTPS pages having internal links to HTTP
- Pages that had no outgoing links
- Orphan pages
- Redirect chains
- Meta descriptions missing or too long/short
- Missing Alt text
Let’s have a closer look at how I fixed each one of them.
Probably one of the most common 4xx, a 404 page is also known as a “not found” page, which simply is a broken page. Has ever happened to you to click on a link and see something like this?
That happens because an URL has been removed and doesn’t exist anymore. If you delete or modify an URL you should always be extra careful!
Federica’s tip: Make a habit of keeping track on a spreadsheet of every change you make to URLs.
Having 404 issues disrupts not only the overall user experience, but it can directly affect your pocket as users might lose interest in your website by feeling lost.
Fixing 404-page issues is relatively easy, first of all, you need to check the number of in-links to a given 404 URL so that you can access the list of pages that link to it. Then, you should review every internal outgoing link to all the 404 pages reported. At this point, you can either remove these links or replace them with relevant links to active pages.
If you find that a 404 page has a high number of external backlinks, I’ll encourage you to perform a 301 redirect, so that you won’t lose all those important backlinks.
What to do if none of the above options apply? Get creative and build your own 404-page and put some style into it. By creating an ad hoc 404-page, the site audit won’t give you a 4xx error as it will recognise it as… well, a page!
Here’s the page I created to replace the old conventional 404-page:
HTTPS pages having internal links to HTTP
This is a harmful issue as it might affect your website's trustworthiness, authority and once again, your users' experience. If you’re not familiar with HTTP protocol, here’s a quick read about the difference between HTTP and HTTPS.
Generally, if you have a page with an HTTPS protocol and it links internally to a page with HTTP protocol or if elements in that page have an HTTP source, modern browsers will show a warning that you’re assessing a non-secure page.
Nowadays, we know how much security is important and people will think twice before continuing on a link with that kind of warning.
So how do you fix the issue? I simply checked the “Internal outlinks” column on Ahrefs’ report for each URLs starting with http://.
Then, I manually edited the links on the affected pages so that they point to HTTPS versions.
Federica’s tip: Make sure you link to HTTPS pages where possible and avoid too many redirects. Also, if you need to link to an HTTP page, make sure that the content on it will have an HTTPS source.
Pages that had no outgoing links
It’s important that pages aren’t a “dead end” as this affects both users and web crawlers. So I recommend having at least one outgoing link per page to lead the users through to another page on your website.
To fix this issue I created a list of every page having no outgoing links and made sure to add an internal link to keep the flow while browsing through the website.
That means that a page has no incoming links and this makes it difficult for the users and crawlers to even know such a page exists. These pages can only be discovered through the sitemap file or external backlinks. You can imagine how that hurt the user experience and traffic to such pages.
To solve it, I created a list of all Orphan pages and reviewed link architecture to discover linking opportunities.
For Ella’s Wool, the biggest opportunities concerned the Collections pages which I solved by editing the Homepage Hero slide including a link to the orphan pages while before every slide was linking only to the same collection.
And here’s some example of how I linked the rest of the collections with a quick and easy edit:
Bonus: This offers the opportunity to review H1s and to include more relative Keywords.
A redirect chain is simply a series of redirects on your site, meaning a redirect link points to another redirect link. That could potentially slow down the page loading speed and it creates multiple jumps affecting the users' experience and crawlers.
From Ahrefs you’ll need to click on the number of in-links of a given URL, so you can access the list of pages that have a link to the first URL in a chain.
Wherever possible, I replaced the redirecting URLs with a direct link to the main destination URL.
This improved the user experience on the page by avoiding the users and crawlers waiting a long time to get to the destination URL.
Meta descriptions missing or too long/short
Probably one of the most common SEO issues concerns meta descriptions
tags missing or not optimised. Even though they’re not one of the main ranking factors, they can indirectly affect it. Without them, you’re missing
the opportunity to present the summary of your page content to the search engines.
I started by collecting all the missing or unoptimised tags from Ahrefs’ report and provided the relative description following the optimisation criteria.
Federica’s tip: Length recommended between 50–160 characters.
Write compelling descriptions and avoid tools that create duplicates.
Each page with a different content should have its own description.
Missing Alt text
The alt attribute is simply a description of your image. Search engines will use it to understand the content of your image files. Nevertheless, this is the text which will be displayed if your image cannot be shown for any given reason.
Depending on the platform your website is in, you can either fix it by clicking on the image and simply adding the Alt text (e.g. Shopify), or you might have to manually add the alt text on the HTML code. I used a mix of both for Ella’s Wool as some images present on blog posts required an HTML fix.
Manual HTML alt text edit
Federica’s tip: When working with images always make sure to optimise them and to reduce their size, so as to avoid slowing down pages. If you’re not an expert editor, you can use Tiny png to optimise images without affecting their quality.
Even though issues can differ from website to website, the above examples include some of the most common issues. By using a technical SEO tool like Ahrefs you will be able to run technical site audits and gain useful insight for the pages needing technical optimisation. By focusing on the quick wins first, you’ll be able to gain quick results and, from there you’ll just have to maintain the health level which requires way less work.
Here you can see how the Health Score has increased to 97% after the first 4 weeks and it has been consistent ever since:
As best practice, make sure to export all of your findings and edits to a sheet for each issue. This will help you keep track of your work. Furthermore, you can access it for future use.
Furthermore, technical SEO should always be aligned to On-page and
Off-page SEO to achieve such results as previously shown. Starting with technical SEO will support the implementation of content optimisation and authority. If not, all your other efforts will be useless to rank on search engines like Google.
I hope you find this case study inspiring and useful for your future projects.
Feel free to comment with your thoughts or simply connect on Linkedin :)
Author: Federica Baiada
Specials thanks to Ella’s Wool for the collaboration in the past months and particularly to Christian Nordtomme for his high-quality guidance offered on this project.
Ella’s Wool was founded in 2012 by Becca Johansen, a Norwegian-born mom of two kids. After she moved to Brooklyn with her family and heard the term “indoor season” for the first time, she realized it was nearly impossible to find the kind of warm kids clothing she was used to from Norway in New York and took it upon herself to solve that.