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By Luisa Garcia-Amaya

February 19th 2024


Case Study

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The Google Rankings Mystery: A Clickwire Case Study

February 19th 2024

Over the last six years, I have been working with companies on off-page SEO as a senior outreach specialist; therefore, when I began working at Clickwire as a Digital Marketing Executive, I knew I would face challenges entering the complex world of content and search engine ranking more hands-on, as an all-around expert. My prediction was soon confirmed, but this is digital marketing, right?

Our team has seen a very specific case with one of our clients in the last couple of weeks, and based on the data we gathered and the specificity of the case, I decided to compile some of the information to help you around if you happen to be researching how to rank your local business higher on Google and find yourself in the same boat.

The issue

Our client has been at the top of their market for a few years as a pioneer in affiliate marketing in the fashion industry. Currently, their website has one main domain in their local Dutch language and two subdomains, one in English and one in German.

Generally, the product detail pages (PDP) will rank on the first page of results, not only because of engagement but also because of continuous SEO effort applied to the website. The main issue is to understand how to rank higher on Google organically taking into consideration the variables that I will explain later in the article.

Now, it is important to note that we know that ranking can have a multitude of variables on why it could change over time. With this in mind, the issue our client faces is that the majority of the time in the Dutch region, the PDP pages will show up in first place, while the DE and EN sub-domain PDP pages do now, even tho the information is relatively the same (with its regional specifications)

This so far has a clear explanation (a regional issue with the subdomains), but what set up the alarms is that on occasions, a competitor site, who has our clients' same code, same background schema, and same outline, but with less ranking, less content quality and lower speed is ranking higher. So how to rank higher on Google?

The Explanation

Our client has noticed the aforementioned issue by searching a PDP page via the product code. But you might be wondering what is a PDP page? A product detail page, known as PDP, is a page on a commercial website that gives information on a specific product that can provide more detail about the product to the user. This can be colour, size, material, name, price, reviews, shipping information, among other important information.

In the case of our client, this page contains the product code, a visual image, material, colour, stylecode, brand name, online stores with the availability of the product, and a detailed description of the product, material, design and if relevant collaboration details.

The variables

This specific case made us think about what could be that we could change, as we try to keep all the pages optimised and make sure that the product code (which is the one that is relevant for the client to identify the product) is visible enough for Google to recognize what the product is and its availability within our clients’ page.

However, there are a few factors that we have pinpointed to try and understand where Google and we are not understanding each other:

  • All products need a product description, which our team writes every week according to the release calendar created by our client. The company also has a content team which writes content related to the product and the industry, which is very popular and has multiple product launches per day, as well as writing newsletters about specific launches or collaborations made between a brand and a designer/artist/sports star.
  • The site was founded in 2015 under a .nl domain. In 2021, the site migrated from a .nl to a .com site and dropped 50% in traffic before picking back up to where they were before in about 6 months.
  • Due to the multiple Google updates in 2023, especially the helpful content update, we saw a downward trend in traffic and KW rankings.
  • We cannot see if our clients’ competitors had the same traffic issue they had in 2023, so we have a big question mark in that regard.

Our Questions

Researching the problem brings up a lot of articles on how to rank in SEO and how to check Google ranking, but since we've optimised everything we can, they're of no use. Therefore, it gave us more questions that we had (and led us to write this article). We were able to narrow down the main questions to:

  1. Could it be that the competitors beating our client to the top spot, despite appearing worse on paper, are beating us because they haven't seen major traffic drops?
  2. Regarding the German and English versions of their website, is this likely to be just a case of different search volume competition? Or is it possibly something to do with our /en and /de pages being subdomains of the main .com in Dutch?

Possible Solutions

Due to the specificity and novelty of this issue, a specific solution cannot be identified that proves successful. Considering all of this, it is likely that we will be able to find a more concrete solution in a shorter amount of time. However, there are several possible solutions that we have applied:

Scenario #1

We might be dealing with an internal cannibalisation issue (this means that two or more pages on a site target the same keywords and serve the same purpose, harming each other's search engine rankings). If our clients are writing newsfeeds about a product, but then have a PDP of the same product as well with descriptive text, Google might be confused.

We believe the solution is merging the newsfeed into the PDP page. Our client will still get their content up, for traffic purposes and social media engagement with their community, but they will not compete against themselves because all of the keywords are on one page, the PDP page. Therefore, redesigning the PDP pages would be a great addition, as well as increasing SEO efforts on the DE and EN subdomains, removing excess content, and purging old and unnecessary pages.

In regards to products that do not get in the newsletter as often, we can filtrate and continue to write product description text for those, since are lower search products but it is possibly easier to rank higher if we continue to include the text.

Scenario #2

With regards to why we're not ranking in EN and DE issues, This could also have to do with the same penalisation issue about the merge/Google updates. This could be a potential sub-domain issue but we have not seen anything technical-SEO related that is bad enough to justify the drop on those areas.

We thought that it would be possible to attempt to contact someone on Google to assist with this since is a novel issue for us as SEOs and other than the aforementioned, but we cannot seem to find a specific reason for the drop or a quick solution to the issue.

With the redesign of the PDP pages, increasing SEO efforts on the multilingual sub-domains might work, as well as filtrating old content and purging away old and non-relevant content as well, which are making our clients’ ranking worse because of the excess content.

Our client could be competing with themselves and confusing Google in the process (as stated in solution #1); we believe that the reason the competitor site with less quality ranks higher than our client is that they have less content that is duplicated and just less overall cluttering, perhaps this makes Google see it as a more clean site, so we suggest less content instead of more (as stated above).

Moreover, according to this LinkedIn article and our previous experience, our client should be focusing on the DE and EN sub-domain as much as they do with their main domain. and we need to focus on SEO efforts on-page to increase position per region.

In contrast with subdirectories, which are treated as a part of the main domain, according to SEMRush, subdomains are treated as separate entities. It is harder to rank for a subdomain if it's not taken into account when ranking for the main domain, according to the same source.

These sub-domains can rank alongside the main domain. If your subdomains generate traffic, it won’t be filtered into your website’s traffic, which makes it harder for SEO purposes. You’ll be competing with yourself (as we already deducted).

Moreover, creating internal linking among the main domain and sub-domains has no relevance in this case, because they will not generate any extra value to SEO practices, as they are considered external links.

Potential solutions:

While a definitive solution remains elusive, this article delves into a multifaceted SEO challenge that can be a great scenario for educational purposes. While their PDP pages rank well in Dutch, the German and English subdomains struggle. This raises questions about subdomain structure, content strategy, and the impact of Google updates.

Scenario 1: Merge newsfeed content with PDPs to avoid internal competition and boost SEO efforts on subdomains. Additionally, remove excess content and refine product descriptions.

Scenario 2: Emphasise SEO specifically for the German and English subdomains, considering their separate entity status. Consider restructuring subdomains or migrating them closer to the main domain.

Despite not having a singular answer, we did find valuable insights for tackling complex SEO issues, such as:

  • Think beyond on-page optimisation: Consider content strategy, site structure, and the impact of Google updates.
  • Question "common knowledge": Don't assume more content is always better. Analyse the potential for confusion and internal competition.
  • Experiment and adapt: SEO is an ongoing process. Be willing to test different solutions and analyse the results.

Remember, this is just the beginning of the investigation. While these possibilities offer a starting point, further research and experimentation are crucial to finding the optimal solution for your site’s unique situation.

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