Rebel Insights

How Common Dreams Saw SEO Growth After Site Health Audits

Common Dreams site health audits lead to SEO growth

At RebelMouse, we regularly work on site health checks for our clients, always seeking opportunities for improvement. One area we focus on is technical SEO, which is about getting the fundamentals right: Optimizing headlines and descriptions, cleaning up duplicate content, removing or replacing broken links, addressing broken images, fixing taxonomy-related issues, and more.

One client we’ve worked closely with on monthly health checks is Common Dreams, an independent, nonprofit, and U.S.-based news website serving the progressive community. We love working with them because they’re constantly aiming to get better — to deliver the best experience and the best content possible for their readers. And more importantly, they have a wonderful mission: “To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.”

Since beginning technical SEO audits in October 2023, Common Dreams has had great success in building up its search referral traffic, which has contributed to an overall numbers boost.

Common Dreams case study SEO growth after Semrush audits

Common Dreams’ commitment to continuous technical SEO audits over multiple months has been key to that growth. It’s not enough to do a one-and-done health check. We identify issues, prioritize them, work through fixes, and then run a fresh audit to find remaining issues and go through the process again. New issues pop up from time to time, which is another reason why it’s important to stay current on health checks. Common Dreams understands all of these things very well, and that’s why they continue to make improvements every month.

They’ve also been extraordinary partners in collaborating to make the fixes happen, led by the leadership of Executive Director Craig Brown and Managing Editor Jon Queally.

Jon Queally testimonial about SEO and site performance improvements with RebelMouse

“I love our monthly meetings where Craig (from RebelMouse) guides both Craig and Jon from Common Dreams through all of the items and opportunities we have for their site when it comes to technical SEO,” said Zoë von Scharfenberg, Director of Account Management at RebelMouse. “Craig from our team adds clarity to each topic with relatable examples, making every call both enlightening and engaging.”

“What's truly special is the seamless collaboration between Jon, Craig (Common Dreams), and our team as we collectively approve initiatives, leading to tangible growth that's not only rewarding, but also a whole lot of fun and incredibly educational,” she added.

Significant SEO Traffic Growth

Have a look at Common Dreams’ search traffic growth (impressions and clicks from Google Search Console) from Feb. 2023 to Feb. 2024:

Common Dreams search traffic growth chart in Google Search ConsoleGoogle Search Console

The results of the audit work in October, November, December, and January are evident in that sustained growth compared to where Common Dreams was previously.

Each month fixes were made by either the RebelMouse team, the Common Dreams team, or both in collaboration to address certain issues. That teamwork had a real impact.

Craig Brown on the collaboration with RebelMouse and support leading to improvements

The Process

When we started, there were a variety of errors to be dealt with. It can be overwhelming at first, but as we’ve learned, the key is to address one issue at a time and prioritize your work.

Among the issues that we worked through:

Incorrect Pages in Sitemap

This can happen in cases when forced redirects are added to pages which usually return a 200 response. It was an easy task for our dev team to clean those up and make sure the sitemap is fully clean.

Duplicate Content

Whether it was articles that were the same or other pages found to be 85% or more identical, we collaborated with Common Dreams to make the necessary fixes. In some cases, it was declaring a canonical for an article or setting up a redirect. For another instance, we deployed a script to resolve a conflict between uppercase and lowercase tags. We also made a platform-wide change so uppercase tags can no longer be entered.

Duplicate Title Tags

This error flagged duplicate authors and section and tag pages in conflict. For authors who had more than one profile, merges were made to resolve the issue. The Common Dreams team added meta titles to section pages to address the duplicate titles across tag pages.

Broken Links

Over time, just about every website will have broken links, in part because you rely on other websites through external links. This involved many thousands of broken links, both internal and external. In some cases, they could easily be replaced, but for several thousand bad links, a script was deployed by our dev team to remove them. This improves the user experience and makes the site better maintained overall.

Jon Queally on working together with RebelMouse to address errors embedded from old platforms

Images Missing Alt Attributes

There were a few reasons for this one. In some cases, there were old images that were not displaying at all and the missing alt error alerted us to them. Those were replaced and an alt attribute was added. For other images, they were simply missing them and the Common Dreams team went through to fix them.

Too Much Text in Titles

Titles that are longer than 70 characters are not ideal because they might be truncated in search results and they’re not as appealing to click on from a user experience. Becoming aware of this issue has made the Common Dreams team more conscious of their headlines going forward.

Underscores in URLs

Underscores should never be used in URLs because search engine crawlers sometimes identify them as part of a larger word rather than a separator. Our dev team deployed a script to resolve these by switching underscores (_) with hyphens (-) in URLs and adding redirects from links with underscores to the ones with hyphens.

It is important to note that we first check if these pages were ranked well — they weren’t, so it was a no-brainer to fix them.

Internal Links With Nofollow

While “nofollow” can be helpful to tell crawlers to not follow a link, it may be used accidentally for internal links and lead to unintended negative SEO impact. We’re working with Common Dreams to remove the unwanted nofollow attributes on their internal links.

HTTPS Links Directing to HTTP Pages

Any link pointing to HTTP may confuse crawlers and cause a security issue. The audit detected this issue in some areas of the Common Dreams website, and our dev team deployed a fix so that any such links are now correctly pointing to HTTPS.

Missing Meta Descriptions

This issue actually alerted us to the fact that Common Dreams had authors with empty bios. The Common Dreams team went ahead and fixed those, so that all pages have meta descriptions. By doing this, we didn’t just solve missing meta descriptions for author pages — we actually gave more details about their authors so it’s clear to users who is creating the content they read (which helps E-E-A-T!).

Link URL Too Long

A link was found that was excessively long with parameters that had to be cleaned up. The Common Dreams team went ahead and made the fix.

Single Pages With Two or More H1 Tags

Multiple articles were found that had two or more H1 tags, which is not expected. The Common Dreams team addressed all of these.

The Results

Within days, the first fixes were underway and then we just kept at it. Incorrect pages in the sitemap were resolved, duplicate content was tackled, duplicate titles and descriptions were fixed, HTTPs links to HTTP pages were corrected, and other errors were addressed. By January, we had a 65% decrease in total errors and the traffic increase was crystal clear.

Just as important as the success we’ve had, it’s key that we don’t stop now. We continue to work with Common Dreams to address outstanding issues. From a technical SEO standpoint, their site is much healthier now than it was before these audits, and it will continue to get better as more optimizations are made.

Check out another SEO growth success story by reading about our work with Responsible Statecraft. Want to overhaul your site’s health? Let’s connect to chat more about how we can work together.

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