Feel-Good SEO: Helping a Brick-and-Mortar Company Survive the Pandemic

Children sitting behind a laptop blurred out with Google icon in middle of photo

Following these last two insane years, we all need feel-good stories more than ever.

We have been lucky enough to work with a number of courageous business owners during the pandemic. Some of them were people that had never worked with a local SEO consultant before. Others had done some previous SEO work, but recently decided to go all-in on trying to rank. Today, we’re going to talk about a client in the second category. They were a traditional brick-and-mortar business that had never really used SEO as their main sales tool.

Are they a restaurant or retail store? Coffee shop or gym? Nope! Plot twist: They’re a business that teaches coding to children in a classroom setting.

They were basically training the next generation of web designers and developers, yet they had never really focused on their own website until COVID closed their doors. Wild, isn’t it?

We chose to highlight our work for this company for two reasons. 1) We’re simply big fans of their business model and the work they do with kids. 2) Our work with them is a great example of how proven organic tactics can boost your rankings and increase your website’s conversions.

Despite the urgency the pandemic created, we didn’t try any hacks or tricks to boost their SEO. Just good old-fashioned strategy and nerd work.

The Challenge

We had already worked with this client to boost their off-page presence with SEO link building services and a digital PR strategy. Now, it was time to augment that work with a deep dive into their on-page SEO.

After extensive testing and research, we concluded that it was time to update the client’s website for a number of reasons.

1. The Page Experience Update & The Core Web Vitals

Google gave us a fair warning before the pandemic. Their Page Experience Update and the Core Web Vitals would make your page load speeds and your user experience crucial ranking signals, and make these things more important than ever.

We felt the client’s site could improve in both of those areas.

2. The Mobile Experience

We live in a mobile-everything world, which includes Google shifting to mobile-first indexing a few years ago.

To put yourself in the best possible position to rank, your mobile site needs to be as fast (or faster) and well-optimized (or better) as your mobile site.

Once again, we saw an opportunity to improve here.

Two sets of hands holding paper cutouts of mobile elements in their hands like icons section, dropdowns, and text. On the table lies a full page with mobile as the background and logo with two column section to illustrate building user experience.

3. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)

SEO and CRO are different arts, but success in one area can certainly help out the other– particularly following the Page Experience Update.

Their website was about to become their main sales tool, so we had to make sure that their user experience was as frictionless as possible.

Your Money or Your Life

We also faced an additional challenge with this website falling under Google’s Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) category. Google pays particular attention to websites that people need to trust when making decisions about their finances, health, or lifestyle. This being a site that deals with people’s children, it certainly would fall into that category.

In 2021, Google made a few changes to YMYL guidelines. They basically:

  • Expanded the definition of the YMYL subcategory ‘Groups of people’
  • Clarified what constitutes the lowest quality content
  • Simplified the definition of upsetting-offensive content

One of the key rankings signals for YMYL is the content’s EAT score, which stands for:

  • Expertise
  • Authority
  • Trustworthiness

This meant that we had to be mindful of protecting their content’s EAT score.

The Local Angle

A lot of businesses found themselves worrying about local SEO for the first time during COVID-19. All of a sudden, ranking locally became everything. What is local SEO? It’s the specific aspects of SEO that help you rank in your geographic area. It’s ensuring that when people Google “Your town+ Your business,” you show up.

This client is based in Toronto, which is Canada’s most competitive local SEO landscape for every type of business. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a law firm, a yoga studio, or a school for children – Toronto has the most competition.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of citations for local SEO in a hyper-competitive market like the GTA. Fortunately, the client already had a number of 5-star reviews online, which is always helpful.

Step 1: Speed Optimization

As we mentioned earlier, speed has never been more important to SEO than it is right now. You absolutely need to optimize your top pages for speed.

Google knows that our phones are getting faster, our laptops are getting faster, and 5G coverage is nearly everywhere now. This has sent our expectations of fast higher than ever, and our patience for delays to an all-time low.

A good user experience is incredibly complex, but it will always start with the load time. We have been completely obsessed with load speeds for the last two years, since Google announced the introduction of the Core Web Vitals.

We’ve always known that speed has been crucial to SEO. But, the specifics of how fast you had to be was always a bit nebulous.

Fortunately, the Core Web Vitals gave us some finite metrics to shoot for:

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): How long does it take for the page to completely load? Target score of 2.5 seconds or lower.
  • First Input Delay (FID): How long does it take for your page to respond to a user? Target score of 100 milliseconds or lower.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): How long does it take for the page to stop shifting during loading. Target score of 0.1, according to a complex formula.

The good news is we now have clear numbers to shoot for. The bad news is that half of the internet is struggling to meet those numbers. Towards the end of 2021, only about 50% of the top 100 performing sites on the web passed the test. A year prior to that, the figures were closer to 22% of the top desktop and 28% of the top mobile sites hitting the marks.

It’s probably safe to say that more than 70% of the clients we meet with for the first time have some sort of speed issue on their sites. With this client, we definitely saw the potential to increase their speed to boost their rankings and their overall performance.

Of course, speed is only one of the hundreds of rankings signals, but it’s a fairly important one. If you would like to read more about SEO, here are 22 tips to rock your SEO campaign in 2022 and beyond.

The Process:

We began with a full SEO site audit to see what we were working with. From there, we found a number of ways that we could boost the site’s performance without changing the site’s architecture, links, or content (both front-end and back-end), which was very important.

Our goals could be accomplished by changing the layout and structure of the pages.

We began by rebuilding the pages in Oxygen, which is, for our money, the very best page builder you can buy when speed is your #1 priority. It calls itself “the most bloat-free, powerful visual site builder ever,” and it lives up to that promise.

Our team also purged the back-end of any unneeded assets and plug-ins, keeping only what we needed. Remember, absolutely everything stored in the back-end of your site has weight. Too much of anything can weigh you down. The best SEO keyword research and optimization can actually be sabotaged by too many SEO plugins.

In our humble opinion, these are the only SEO plugins you need:

  • Yoast: There’s a reason this is the most trusted and most used plugin. It simply gives you everything you need to optimize your site.
  • NitroPack: We started using this to boost speeds. It basically replaced 3 plugins that we were previously using: WP Rocket, Asset CleanUp Pro, and Imagify.
  • WordFence: Site security is a major ranking signal, and this is a best-in-class site protector.

It’s important to note that their site was only 2-years-old. It was far from outdated, but it certainly wasn’t built with the Core Web Vitals in mind.

The Results:

Two monitors side by side with title above reading "Desktop Performance". First monitor shows a performance score of 65, second monitor shows a performance score of 99.

It’s remarkable what a difference that speed-focused design can do. We saw a dramatic improvement in the Page Insights and GTMetrix numbers right across the board.

The site now ran much leaner and loaded much faster, setting itself up for SEO and CRO success.

Step 2: Mobile Optimization

The Process:

Like most websites built in the last 5 years, this site had a mobile version. It was responsive enough to show up on a mobile device, but it was far from what you would consider optimized. Again, this site was never designed with the intention of being a major sales tool, so the mobile site was never a priority. Now, it had to be.

Not too long ago, Google switched to mobile-first indexing. That means Google will now look at your mobile site before it looks at your desktop site. Even if you think your target audience will never see your mobile site, Google will!

At the same time, your mobile site also needs to be optimized for CRO. How important is it? Consider that:

We take pride in the fact that we can help with on page optimization on both desktop and mobile. And we’re also very proud of how our design wizard worked his magic on the mobile site to ensure that it was optimized for SEO and CRO.

The Results:

Two mobile images side by side with title above reading "Mobile Performance". First image shows a performance score in the red with 12, second image shows a green performance score of 90.

As you can see, there was a lot of room to improve. The new layout and design helped us slash load times and boost the performance to where it needed to be.

Now, moms and dads that are interested in enrolling their kids in coding classes can easily find our client on their mobile phones and interact with the mobile site with no delays, lags, or friction.

Step 3: Conversion Rate Optimization

The client’s site had never been a major sales/lead generator for them. Now it had to be THE sales/lead generator. Before we could make this website the Salesman of the Year, we had to address a few major issues.

1. Bounce Rate:

Google defines Bounce Rate as “single-page sessions divided by all sessions, or the percentage of all sessions.” Basically, the user arrives and bounces without taking any action. Nothing compelled them to click deeper into the site or click a call-to-action.

What is a good Bounce Rate?

According to SEMrush:

  • 56% to 70% is on the high side
  • 1% to 55% would be considered average
  • An optimal bounce rate would be between 26% to 40%

Our data showed that the client had a Bounce Rate above 70%, so there was certainly a lot of room to improve.

2. Avg. Session Duration:

Along with Bounce Rate issues, we also discovered that users were simply not spending a lot of time on the site. Their average user spent just over 1 -minute on the site, which is actually above Hubspot’s 2021 benchmark of 54 seconds. However, most visitors were still leaving without taking any action and we certainly saw the potential to do better.

The more time a user spends on your site, the more interest they are showing, and the more likely you are to convert them.

3. Goal Conversion:

The site only had about a 1.88% Goal Conversion Rate, which isn’t terribly surprising when you consider that their business didn’t depend on these leads or sales. But, like so many other businesses during the pandemic, they suddenly needed this site to be a goal converting machine.

What’s a good Goal Conversion Rate? That can vary quite a bit from industry to industry. But, across all industries, the average is 2.35%, with the top quartile performers converting over 5.1%.

There was definitely work to do. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Please…

The Process:

Now that the site would load faster on both mobile and desktop, we had to make it easier for parents to find the information they need to make a purchase decision, and then take the next steps by hitting the call-to-action (CTA) button.

We began with a little bit of old-fashioned branding. We designed a new logo for the client. The new logo gave the brand a more modern (and dare we say, cool) look, with a strong educational feel. The primary brand colour was also updated from blue to orange because data shows that orange performs better online, particularly when used on a CTA.

Speaking of CTAs, we also noticed that the client was only using a single CTA/ button per page, which can really limit your visitor’s ability to take the next step. You need to ensure that a user has a clear place to click at the moment they’re ready to sign up, contact you, or ask for more information.

Woman smiling holding and looking at a phone. There is a white arrow pointing to the phone that goes to a rectangular box with the words "Sign Up" inside and at the bottom right of this rectangle is a cursor to illustrate clicking on a call to action.

We made sure each page had three CTAs:

  1. Get a Free Trial
  2. Book a Free Online Trial Class Today
  3. A lead form

Notice the microcopy we used on those buttons. Simply adding more buttons won’t help your CRO. You need to ensure that the microcopy is enticing. You need to use an action word (Get, Download, Start, Book, Schedule) and make it clear how the user will benefit from clicking the button. In this case, they will get a free trial or class.

We also added a contact form in the middle of the page and used active verbs: Get, Try, Experience. Of course, the word Free often helps.

The Results:

We were thrilled with these results. But not as thrilled as the client.

1. Bounce Rate:

Cartoon illustration holding up a sign saying "I'm Gone". Text to the left reads Before with 70.93% in red. To the right reads After with 19.35% in green. This illustrates a reduction of bounce rate from 70.93% to 19.35%.

The changes we made to the site slashed the client’s Bounce Rate from over 70% to under 20%, which is even better than Semrush’s optimal range of 20% to 40%.


2. Avg. Session Duration:

Cartoon illustration of woman sitting on couch with laptop and holding a phone smiling. Title reads Avg. Session Duration. To the left there is text reading Before with 1:04 in red underneath. To the right reads After with 5:57 in green underneath to illustrate increase in average session duration from 1 minute and 4 seconds to 5 minutes and 57 seconds.

We were able to increase the Average Sessions time by nearly 6X! The users were clearly more actively engaged and taking the time to digest the content.

Boom, boom.

Of course, all of that reading doesn’t help the client unless these users are clicking the CTAs…

3. Goal Conversion

Cartoon illustration of person standing beside a phone holding a phone. Inside the phone is a wallet with various currency icons floating out of it. To the left reads Before with 1.84% in red. To the right reads After with 5.26% in green. This illustrate an increase in Goal Conversions from 1.84% to 5.26%.

The improvements we made to the user experience and the site’s speeds resulted in a nearly 300% increase in conversions. It also put the client’s site in the top quartile in terms of performers across all industries.

Boom, boom…. Boom.

The bottom line for our client was that visitors turned into clicks, and clicks turned into customers. We were very proud of the work we did on this project, and our client was obviously thrilled.

Why We Love This Project

As we said earlier, we truly love this business. They’re fantastic people to work with, and they do really amazing work with kids. We were thrilled to help them sustain their business over the pandemic, and help set them up for success in the future.

We also love this project because it’s proof that tried and tested SEO works. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes, but organic SEO tactics can pay off sooner than you think. And if you make changes to your site that improve your user experience and speeds, your CRO numbers could improve even faster.

Is the success we experienced on this project repeatable? Absolutely! Find out how we can help you by calling 647-448-4449 or by clicking the green Connect With Paul button at the top of the page.

About the Author

Paul Teitelman - SEO Consultant

Paul is a well-respected Canadian SEO consultant and link-building expert with over 15 years of experience helping hundreds of companies rank for competitive keywords on Google. He is a Toronto-based SEO consultant who is passionate about search engine optimization and link building. Over the years, he has made a reputation for himself as a leader in the industry by consistently delivering phenomenal results to his growing client base.