My name is Patrick Curtis, and I’m the founder and CEO of Wall Street Oasis, an online community focused on careers in finance founded in 2006 with over 2 million visits per month.
User-generated content and long-tail organic traffic is what has built our business and community over the last 12+ years. But what happens if you wake up one day and realize that your growth has suddenly stopped? This is what happened to us back in November 2012.
In this case study, I’ll highlight two of our main SEO problems as a large forum with over 200,000 URLs, then describe two solutions that finally helped us regain our growth trajectory — almost five years later.
Two main problems
1. Algorithm change impacts
Ever since November 2012, Google’s algo changes have seemed to hurt many online forums like ours. Even though our traffic didn’t decline, our growth dropped to the single-digit percentages. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t break through our “plateau of pain” (I call it that because it was a painful ~5 years trying).
2. Quality of user-generated content
Related to the first problem, 99% of our content is user-generated (UGC) which means the quality is mixed (to put it kindly). Like most forum-based sites, some of our members create incredible pieces of content, but a meaningful percentage of our content is also admittedly thin and/or low-quality.
How could we deal with over 200,000 pieces of content efficiently and try to optimize them without going bankrupt? How could we “clean the cruft” when there was just so much of it?
Fighting back: Two solutions (and one statistical analysis to show how it worked)
1. “Merge and Purge” project
Our goal was to consolidate weaker “children” URLs into stronger “master” URLs to utilize some of the valuable content Google was ignoring and to make the user experience better.
For example, instead of having ~20 discussions on a specific topic (each with an average of around two to three comments) across twelve years, we would consolidate many of those discussions into the strongest two or three URLs (each with around 20–30 comments), leading to a much better user experience with less need to search and jump around the site.
Changes included taking the original post and comments from a “child” URL and merging them into the “master” URL, unpublishing the child URL, removing the child from sitemap, and adding a 301 redirect to the master.
Below is an example of how it looked when we merged a child…