Finding ‘The Main Issue’, An SEO Audit Case-Study

Daniel Cuttridge
Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Earlier this year my ex-agency partner and long-time friend came to me to help him with one of his affiliate sites.

This site was having a mystery issue preventing it from getting the rankings it deserved.

Being that the owner of the site in question was Charles Floate of DFYLinks you’d expect that the links weren’t the problem.

He had top quality links

No surprises there.

The site just wouldn’t get off the ground in terms of rankings. It was a mystery, and oh boy do I like a good mystery. =]

Using the system I use for doing my audits, I manually assessed the site to find potential problem areas. I then setup my auditing tool of choice to seek out more data.

I’ve audited hundreds of sites in the last few years, and with all sites that are suffering from some kind of ranking issue such as the one Charles’ site had, there is usually one main issue.

Main Issue

The majority of sites have many issues, but fixing those issues rarely fixes a downward trending or plateaued website.

When I get new audit customers who have used other services they are often saddened and disappointed.

That’s because most audit services fail to find that one main issue. So audits don’t always result in fixing the issue, let alone an ROI.

There’s also the other side of the coin, where people pay for an audit expecting small technical issues to reverse issues with poor content or link building. In those cases, the main issue is one or the other rather than some error on the site. But I digress…

This wasn’t the issue with Charles’ site.

Framework For Success

What you need is a framework for success, and I’ve talked about this at length in the introductory unit on my facebook group.

What I mentioned in one of the lessons there was macro and micro optimization.

Macro in particular is useful when auditing as it deals with many pages at once. Breaking pages of your site into their constituent types. E.g. Categories, Pages, Posts etc.

This framework is incredibly useful because it allows you to operate in ways that audit tools do not. The errors and issues here are what audit tools often miss, and they are often the “main issue” that can tip the scales in terms of ranking improvements.

So what did I find?

The Main Issue I Discovered

Among a few issues, the main error I found was a persistent linking pattern. This linking pattern being to an external affiliate program.

This external site utilized an affiliate link which redirects users, and since there were at least 10 links per page, that number was significant across the entire site.

If you want to find problems when auditing, look for commonalities and utilize your data to do so. Correlation is the first thing you need to prove prior to proving causation.

These links were not set to NoFollow. So not only was Googlebot having a lot of exit points on the site, not only was link flow being diluted — G was finding redirects and from its own perspective, broken links.

To me, this was a huge issue. It was the “main issue”. It seems so simple, but really this error seems no more important than any other. It’s also quite often simple issues that occur across an entire site that kill rankings.

While this was one issue, it was actually causing multiple problems for the site at once.

  • Crawlability
  • Indexing
  • Link Flow
  • Trust

Since I was always taught to show my workings, let’s do it.

Basically the site wasn’t getting crawled as well as it should be, therefore not indexing as well as it should be. Internal links weren’t getting all the juice they could and the problem with the redirects was also giving Google a reason to question the site as to whether it was trustworthy or not.


All that was left to do was fix the issue.

What did we do?

We simply NoFollowed the bastards. Simple af. #Winning

After The Dust Settled

Discovering ‘The Main Issue’ & Fixing It.

After the dust had settled, and the site was starting to respond I spoke to Charles.

He said he had planned a link building strategy to focus on quality and authoritativeness to combat any lingering issues Google might have with it.

He’s been busy.

The results were quite spectacular considering that it’s only been a few months since the site first started to recover. It’s well on its way now.

Every single site has one main issue holding it back, and you need to find that issue and devise a strategy to fix it and recover from it. That starts with audits, and often includes links later down the line for best results.

Both Charles and I felt that this case-study was something people should see, even if our own respective expertise are different. This is why we’ve worked so well together over the years and continue to seek out one anothers advice. Both sides of the coin are important.

In an industry where everyone and their grandma is an expert now it’s good to show that even legitimate experts like Charles miss things from time to time. Kudos to him for agreeing to publish this since a lot don’t own their mistakes on their sites.

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Daniel Cuttridge

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