How I Increased Google Traffic 65% in 6 Months With No Link Building: My Content Audit Process and Results

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content audit processOver the last few months, I’ve systematically deleted more than half of my site… and my traffic went up?!?

One of the most interesting and eye-opening sessions I attended at FinCon last fall was Todd Tressider’s talk on how he tripled his traffic by deleting a third of his content.

Notice how FinCon keeps coming up again and again? It really was an awesome event and I’m excited to be speaking there again this fall!

Todd gave a breakdown of his process and reasoning on a recent episode of the Smart Passive Income podcast.

And I’ll be the first to admit, this sounded completely nuts.

Why would you delete perfectly good content? Each page is an extra chance — however remote — for someone to discover you, right?

Turns out, Todd’s a smart dude. While I didn’t see quite the results he did, I DID see significant growth in Google traffic after implementing some of his content audit suggestions.

The basic idea is this:

If you’ve been blogging for over 2 years, you probably have outdated, irrelevant, or poor quality content hiding in your archives. By improving, consolidating, or removing that content, you can improve the perceived quality of your site in the eyes of Google.

A higher quality site with a tighter content focus is a better resource for users, and should theoretically therefore be rewarded with better search engine rankings.

Don’t have a blog of your own yet? Check out my free video series and start your own blog today.

Summary and Results

This is definitely an ongoing process but I’m excited to share the results I’m seeing so far.

In total, I deleted or consolidated around 650 posts — more than half my site — and am seeing a 65% bump in Google traffic. 

This is my Google Analytics chart of organic search traffic going back to when I started this process.

content audit results

(Click on the image to enlarge.)

We can talk correlation vs. causation, but I’m convinced this massive content cleanup is at least partially responsible for driving Side Hustle Nation to these new plateaus of search traffic.

In real numbers, that’s nearly an extra 500 visitors per day. At a 2.86% email conversion rate (yours may be much higher), that’s an incremental 400 email subscribers a month. Boom!

I did zero proactive link building or guest blogging during this time.

The interesting thing, for you SEO nerds at least, is that the site’s Page Authority and Domain Authority are unchanged over this period. In October, I was at 44/53 DA/PA for the homepage, and today it’s 45/53.

Sold? Let’s dive into the process.

First Steps: Taking Inventory

As you begin this process, take a snapshot of where you currently are:

  • How many posts / pages / categories / tags do you have on your site today?
  • How much traffic are you getting from Google today? (In Google Analytics, it’s Acquisition > Overview > Organic Search)
  • What’s your domain authority? (Visit OpenSiteExplorer to check.)

Also, understand that the results may not be immediate. It was a couple months before I saw a noticeable sustained increase in search traffic.

Todd recommended creating a spreadsheet with all your posts, but I actually skipped that step. Instead, I just used the WordPress admin dashboard to scroll to the very early days of my blog.

Not many readers know this, but while Side Hustle Nation started in 2013, I’d actually been blogging for 4 years on nickloper.com before that. It was mostly a personal blog with random content, some of it was business-related but most of it was not. When I changed directions and domains, I just redirected everything to SideHustleNation.com.

Fun fact: The old blog had the tagline “So Much Cooler Online,” inspired by the Brad Paisley song.

The good thing about that was I wasn’t starting completely from scratch, but it also meant I had an uphill battle to climb in Google in convincing them the site was truly about part-time entrepreneurship now.

Decision Time: Delete, Consolidate, Improve, or Keep

For each piece of content on your site you have a decision to make. Do you:

  • Delete it?
  • Consolidate it?
  • Improve it?
  • Keep it as is?

Deleting Posts

For me, deleting old posts was tough to do. This was my writing — my art!

writing as my art

Even for the content that didn’t make my cut to stay on the site, I couldn’t quite bear to part with it completely, so I dumped all those posts into a giant Word file. That file is over 1000 pages long and has 125,000 words!

Side note: That practice of writing regularly and learning WordPress along the way has helped me immensely, even if very few people ever read my work and it made almost no money.

But I was a digital hoarder on this site, and after I got going it actually felt great to clean up the clutter.

This had the additional benefit of shrinking the database size and disk space the site takes up on the server. I’m not sure if there’s a direct impact here, but the site loads about 20% faster now than it did back in September/October 2015.

I deleted posts that weren’t relevant to the topics of side hustling, entrepreneurship, marketing, online business, and financial independence. Most weren’t receiving any traffic so it actually wasn’t as painful as I thought it might be.

For the irrelevant posts that were still getting some traffic, I deferred those to Round 2 of my content audit in March. By that time I’d seen some positive initial results so it was easier to rip off the band-aid and pull the plug on those too.

Examples? I had posts about Jack Bauer, pictures from various vacations, rants about current events, and a bunch of other random topics typical of a directionless personal blog.

To delete a post, mouse over the area below the post in WordPress and click Trash.

delete posts

This will move posts to a Deleted Posts area where you can wait for them to disappear on their own or manually delete them permanently. Kind of like the Trash / Recycle Bin on your desktop.

Still, I couldn’t part with all of them so a few older ones survived The Great Purge and lived to see another day.

When you delete a post, there are a few more steps to take.

The first is to tell Google what happened to it. You can do that in your .htaccess file, which you can edit via FTP or through your WordPress dashboard with the help of the free Yoast SEO plugin.

There are two commands I used, and they’re easy to learn:

  • Redirect 301
  • Redirect gone

A 301 redirect tells Google that the resource has moved somewhere else, and that it should pass along any users and link juice to the new URL.

For example, I deleted my “Toolkit” page and redirected it to my “Resources” page by adding this line to my .htaccess file:

Redirect 301 /toolkit/ /resources/

(You don’t need to include the “http://www.yourdomain.com” part, only the “/” and the URL “slug”.)

Where there wasn’t a logical redirect, I used the “gone” redirect to let Google know the page is no longer part of my site. For example:

Redirect gone /best-fake-band-names/
Redirect gone /creative-pumpkin-carving-ideas/
Redirect gone /jack-bauer-one-liners/

I told you there were some random posts!

One interesting tidbit is I skipped this step during my first round of mass deletions, and it took a couple of months before I saw any traffic increase. During my second round, I edited the .htaccess file in this way and the traffic bump was much faster.

If you’re worried about sitemaps and crawl errors, I was too. But if you use Yoast, your sitemap should automatically update in WordPress and in your Google Search Console.

Next, you want to delete the images that were tied to those posts. If you navigate to Media > Library in your admin dashboard, you’ll find all your images. Since images are much bigger files than text, deleting these helps remove more of that digital clutter and reduce the size of your database.

Finally, you’ll want to run a broken link test. 

Since I deleted a ton of content, I was pretty sure I had some internal links that were now pointing to dead pages. Instead of manually checking every page, thankfully there are tools to help “sniff” those broken links out.

The one I used was called Dead Link Checker. I used the resulting report to remove the broken links or change them to point to different content.

dead link checker

Consolidating Posts

The next phase for me was figuring out which posts could be consolidated into more authoritative content.

For example, if you wrote a week-long series on how to brew the perfect IPA or the features of an unstoppable flag football offense, it might make sense to consolidate that series into one “ultimate resource.”

There’s a couple reasons to do this. First, it’s a better user experience. Instead of having to jump page-to-page, readers can get all the info in one spot. And second, Google has shown a preference for longer-form content. They may not realize your post is part of a series, so it makes sense to remove the guessing from the equation.

In my content audit for example, I had a long-running series of posts about different business books I was reading. Instead of 30+ different short-form book reviews, I consolidated them into one resource, 33 Books That Helped Shape My Entrepreneurial Education After Business School.

I think it’s much more clickable, shareable, and authoritative than the previous collection of posts.

To get this done, I used the same 301 redirect script as above:

Redirect 301 /book-review-crush-it/ /post-business-school-entrepreneurial-education-books/

Improving Posts

The “improving” step is where you take a look at the content that’s survived the Delete and Consolidate process, but still could be better.

Maybe it’s out-dated and could use updating.

Maybe you’ve learned more about the topic.

Maybe your writing has simply improved.

Maybe you could add images or charts.

In my case, I had a few old posts that were still getting traffic, but not directly tied into the rest of the Side Hustle Nation brand. For those, I tweaked the headlines and content a bit to fit better with the themes of the site.

Keeping Posts

This is the easy part. The stuff you’ve written that’s already awesome can stay as is.

Up Next: Internal Linking

With any site that’s been around for a while, you probably do a decent job linking your new content to relevant older posts.

But if you’re like me, those older posts do a pretty crappy job of linking to relevant, newer content.

I ran a report in Google Analytics for the 50 most popular pages on the site (trying to 80/20 this thing) to look for internal linking opportunities. My theory here is to provide a better user experience and also to encourage people to spend more time on the site, which is a user engagement SEO ranking factor with Google.

The other update I made when it comes to internal linking is adding a “Related Posts” plugin to the bottom of each post. It looks something like this:

related posts plugin example

The one I used is free and called Contextual Related Posts. In fact, you can see it in action if you scroll to the bottom of this post.

Within 30 days, my “average session duration” had improved by 19%.

avg session duration

Future Opportunities

Since your blog is a living breathing thing, taking care of it is an ongoing process. Next up on my “to-do” list:

  • Finding popular posts that don’t have Pinterest graphics.
  • Finding popular posts that don’t have content upgrades.
  • Finding popular posts that could be re-purposed into other content forms.
  • Analyzing the “site search” queries for content opportunities. (What are people searching for and NOT finding?)
  • Creating a “Start Here” page.
  • Running a Heat Map test to see how people are navigating on the site. I’ll use SumoMe for this.
  • Reorganizing the categories and navigation to make it easier for people to find the content they’re looking for. (Perhaps part of a full-scale theme update / redesign.)

Your Turn

Have you performed a content audit on your own site? What were the results?

If you were me, what would you prioritize to make a better reading experience on Side Hustle Nation?

content audit pin

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20 thoughts on “How I Increased Google Traffic 65% in 6 Months With No Link Building: My Content Audit Process and Results

  1. Wow, a 65% increase in organic search traffic from Google is really impressive! I’m planning on a conducting a full content audit once I finish cleaning up some of my on-page SEO issues. Looking forward to seeing your talk at FinCon!

    • A blogger’s work is never done :)

      It was a fun trip down memory lane to revisit all that old writing, and I think removing/redirecting it was the 80/20 of this process, but still WAY more that could be done. Did you see positive results from your audit Stefanie?

      • Hey Nick,

        Same here in regard to, I did an audit but hadn’t thought about the images.

        I should have put the deletes in a word file too. Was heart breaking some content (that none visited) haha.

  2. This is really interesting! I have been going through my old content and deleting some here and there, but I’ve been afraid to do too many all at once. This makes me feel a lot more confident about it. Also, I have not been telling Google what’s happened to it, so will for sure do that going forward.

    Thanks for the tips!

  3. That is great, Nick! I’ve been wanting to delete a lot of the earlier/outdated content on a fitness blog I have but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I am going to try this out. Thank you!

  4. You’re doing a much better job of redirecting … I’m just using aa plug in to redirect all 404’s to the home page, but I am 2/3 of the way done with a content overhaul. I’m reducing over 1000 articles down to no more than 500, and BOY has it had a positive effect.

    I highly recommend this technique. Not only does it seem to bring your blog “alive”, but here and there you find hidden gems that never got the promotion or exposure they deserved. Great stuff, Nick.

    • Hey Dave — thanks for the note! Bringing your blog “alive” is a great way to describe it. You bring up another great point, and that’s to shed new light on some “oldies but goodies” that most of your readership has probably never seen.

  5. Like Aliyyah, I’m a newer blogger (3 months), but this is invaluable advice that I will surely be returning to in the future. It will be tough to part with content, but it looks to be worth it, based on your results.

  6. This post is quite interesting. It is certain that all website and blog owners seek to increase traffic to their websites/blogs. The question is on which is the most effective and efficient way.

    Your ideas on how content can be a source of significant traffic are amazing. It is insightful how to refine your content and even more important to understand what is preferable by search engines like Google.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Well, shoot. I’m actually working on a new website/project right now and was debating between making several smaller targeted pages for each “umbrella” topic or just making one really huge, long one, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I was thinking that the smaller pages would be the way to go (as far as SEO is concerned), but what you’ve written here seems to be saying the total opposite… and I should just consolidate all those small pages into a bigger “ultimate resource” page.

    I think you’ve likely just completely changed how my website was going to look. And probably also just saved me from missing out on a ton of juicy Google traffic. Thanks :)

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