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I put the call out to the Twitterverse to see who might be interested in offering their site for a public teardown…
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… And Austin, growth at Geniuslink, answered the call:
|Anyone notice the first problem?|
So his site, OtterAquatics.com, is going to be the subject of today’s niche site teardown.
|Seems pretty clear so far, eh?|
Stick around until the end of this email to find out what Austin said about my teardown!
When you first check out Otter Aquatics, it’s quite difficult to see anything “wrong with it”.
It looks like a great affiliate based website. But…
|Maybe it’s not all heaven in the aquatics field?|
…Clearly something isn’t completely perfect.
I asked Austin to provide more context, and he sent me proof of the site dropping out of Google’s favour:
|The decline coincides EXACTLY with Google’s February 2023 product reviews update!|
So let’s figure out what’s going on, or at least try to!
The homepage achieves most of the key goals for a solid landing experience:
- Highlights exactly what the site is about in the top 20% and what to expect
- Links straight through to the most important categories (Liveaboard reviews, Dive Location Spotlights, Dive Gear Reviews) — this tells users and Google that these are important
- Includes listings for new content in different categories/types (e.g. info & product)
- Offers something unique in homepage calculators for the niche
- Validates authority with an “As featured in” section
- Deepens the brand quality with embedding YouTube & Instagram content
All good signs that this is a genuine website, set up to provide information about a particular subject and that you can TRUST it.
But it’s not the perfect homepage.
Here’s what I think it’s missing:
- The current background header image looks like a fish tank — I thought this was a scuba/diving site? I want to see Austin underwater with his thumbs up blowing bubbles at me
- No “Meet the team” introduction section while linking straight to the about us page (p.s. I have to dig into the footer to get to the About Us page from anywhere on the site, that’s an issue)
- It’s not highlighting “Featured” content which is an opportunity to pick out what articles you want users and Google to define as important
- It’s not highlighting “Most popular” content which solidifies your best ranking articles as important, and keeps them juiced up
- “As featured in” would probably be better served higher up the page, especially when other writers are considering to link to you
Some of these ideas are impactful for ranking purposes and ‘spreading the juice’.
Some of them are more user experience based and may not have direct impact on improving SEO necessarily, but I always try to think that if the user experience is at its best, then so is the Google bot prioritization.
Takeaway: Always make sure your site is optimized with BOTH Google and users in mind. It is a balancing act. But your site will be served better when things make sense from the homepage for both to crawl/browse.
Let’s move on to the next point…
It’s clear that this is a passion niche site.
What I mean by that is Austin actually is a scuba diver which is what the site is about.
He’s listed as the founder, face-showing and all, and as a divemaster on the about us page:
|The EEAT force is with this one|
He’s also plastered over the sidebar across all posts, even when there’s other authors (who also have high expertise in the field).
And even the author archive pages are slightly customized to highlight the personality and affirm their experience in scuba stuff.
I alluded to a problem earlier: why is it so hard to get to the about us page?
The About Us page isn’t linked to from the homepage content.
Although Austin shows up on the sidebars in articles, it links to contact and not to about us.
It isn’t linked in the main menu.
It’s only linked in the footer menu.
I consider that a problem. If you think about it, we know that the “about us” page is important to Google and if it’s hard to get to it then couldn’t that be giving Google a challenge to accept the EEAT signals which are on it?
Takeaway: Just make “About Us” an important page by linking to it from the homepage (a custom CTA box with a brief introduction, then link) as well as somewhere important across posts like the main menu or the sidebar.
Moving on to the content…
I have a specific issue with some of the product recommendations going on with this site.
It’s an affiliate site, and it does a good job of covering plenty of products and purchase options in the niche.
But sometimes, it offers too much up front.
The site is using Lasso* for product boxes, which look great of course, but I see too many product options being added to a Lasso table inside the introduction which forces a horizontal scrolling on desktop:
|Do I need this many options up front?|
And when you move to mobile, every option drops to its own line showing one after the other vertically.
Which is a pretty awful experience.
What I think Austin is trying to do here is be helpful by “giving all the options up front”.
|Do I need this many options up front? I’m confused which is the BEST for ME|
But, I don’t think that’s helpful.
What is helpful is providing the top three options up-front, max.
It’s a smart move to list all of the product options high up, too, just not like this – in my opinion.
And on the advice of an affiliate master like Jamie I.F. (Increasing.com & Lasso), a better hierarchy looks more like this:
- Introduce the article briefly
- Reference the best options, then show a “top 3” table and differentiate each (e.g. cheapest etc) — on desktop, all options are visible on mobile, this won’t demand as much space
- Start a H2 section that will include a simple text list of all the options and what each is best for — you can also use this as an opportunity to add jump links
- Make each product option in the article as a H3 and then add the complete Lasso product boxes per product plus extra context for full detail
This achieves several things.
It HELPS the user by saying “these are your best options” up-front.
Still high up on the page, you have the opportunity to list even more options as well as summarize why they are included and add extra affiliate link possibilities.
Then you have the rest of the article to get into the details about each offer, somewhere where 60% (?) of users will never even look.
Takeaway: You can be helpful when recommending products by giving the most necessary recommendations up-front. Then elaborate on all the options quickly, then give the whole detail for those that want to scroll for it. I like to always give the top 3 in a roundup, 4 at a big push.
That’s one consideration with product/affiliate focused content.
But there is another, which also appears to be an issue with this site.
And that is the balance between products and information.
But I’m not going to BS you about the affiliate-to-informational content ratio.
I don’t think that actually exists.
It isn’t about the number of posts that have affiliate links, versus those that don’t.
If you scan the sitemap for the site, though, there is clearly a lack of informational-focused posts.
A quick scan of the posts sitemap for keywords like “why”, “how”, “where”, etc and I only find a dozen or so posts like it.
Add on some destination and tips guides, and maybe you’ll get to 20% of 140 posts focused on purely informational.
That’s just one way to validate the balance. As I said, it’s actually about the balance of information vs recommending stuff to buy.
A super article with product recommendations can also have a ton of valuable information to maintain balance.
In some posts, this is done rather well, and some could use some beefing up.
Takeaway: More could be done to ensure that the knowledgeof this niche exists on the site, not just products. The best niche site is like an encyclopedia for that subject. If there are important topics completely missing, then why should Google and users trust the site as a source for not just information, but product recommendations?
Alongside many product posts, are FAQ sections:
I’m always concerned about using code to hide elements that are an important part of the page’s content and rankability.
But why give it this task at all? Is it to offer the user a better experience… I’m not sure it does that on a post where you want information (the FAQs are at the end anyway, so they’re not slowing the user getting to the most important information).
Would it perhaps make it easier for Google to crawl a page and understand what its about without this? Maybe so. I could be over-thinking this, but I just want to ensure everything is simple for users and for crawlers to understand.
As a side note: If you’ve read previous emails by me, you might have seen me say that FAQ sections suck and don’t offer unique value anymore. They’re kind of lazy page structure and I feel that Google is using this as an easy way to target “over-optimized” content. This is definitely one of my tin-foil hat takes, but what do you think — do you actually find FAQ sections helpful or is it just stuffing keyword phrases in?
Takeaway: Consider why you’re adding content to an article, is it just because you find some “People also asks” phrases to add as an FAQ? Or is it because you have a deep unique understanding of the topic at hand and you know what subtopics need to be answered in that post.
Looking around some of the informational content, I picked out a mild SEO over-optimization that I think many are still doing wrong:
|What looks weird here?|
Listen, I think it’s important to get your primary keyword in three places in every article:
- First 10% (introduction)
But only when natural to do so.
Sure, you can stuff it in there by asking yourself the question like with this article example, but isn’t that kind of weird?
We’ve been warned about keyword stuffing and I feel that it’s beginning to become a targeting factor for Google. Most of the time they just care about high levels of stuffing, but I wonder if being this obvious to get your keyword in is also in a similar boat.
Personally, I’ve been removing unnatural reiterations of the primary keyword inside the introduction of my own niche sites. I know it’s unnatural because I’ve had to force it in there, and the most common situations are keywords that involve questions, or “how to”, etc.
And I am one of the examples that got the snippet ban somewhere round late 2022, and I believe it’s because of this over-optimization for snippets.
When writing, asking yourself the keyword and then immediately answering it seems a bit too obvious.
But you can still be helpful by just stating the answer in the introduction and win snippets that way.
For example, here’s what it could say:
Scuba diving usually costs around $500 for beginners who aren’t certified and need to rent all the gear.
It’s a direct answer to the question and it’s concise. It’s helpful. It does the job. It’s inside the introduction of an article titled “How much does scuba diving cost?” — it makes sense.
Takeaway: Be careful about stuffing the keyword when it’s unnatural to do so. You really don’t have to do it every time. Just add plenty of other variations in the content and use similar language when writing answers.
Phew, that’s a lot of takeaways.
Let’s wrap this up with a final summary of what I’d do to grow this site:
- Perform a detailed scan of how much content is actually providing information and knowledge in the niche — look for opportunities to add knowledge (new posts, updating posts, and adding more to product posts)
- While scanning content, look improve consistency between article styles as there seems to be some irregularity between authors
- Because the site was clearly affected by the February 2023 product reviews update, I’d improve every product/affiliate article using Google’s guidelines for high-quality reviews
- Make About Us more prominent — link from homepage and menu/sidebar, and make EEAT signals from all the experienced authors direct on this page e.g. linking to socials and other validation (currently it links to author archives)
- Improve the homepage with my suggestions; adding an About Us introduction for certain
- Clean up overuse of Lasso product options high up a page and reduce the use of toggle boxes and unnecessary UX features
- Try to reduce the use of stock photos or product photos that are not original and look to replace them with genuine fresh ones
After Austin read my teardown, here’s what he said about it:
“Looks good! Already made some changes you recommended.
I think it’s important to mention that the site is four years old, previously existing under the domain ScubaOtter.com, so 301 redirects could be part of the problem here but that was over a year ago. 🤷♂️”
Check out the newer homepage, which seems improved:
|Austin and the diving aspect are now much clearer up-front on the homepage.|
I definitely think that the site needs a content analysis, likely with a topical mapping, to uncover what informational queries aren’t covered that are important to the niche of scuba diving.
The site has a lot of affiliate content, that is still helpful, but it looks like much more can be done to create supporting informational clusters surrounding affiliate pages.
That means answering more queries, in unique articles, like how-to’s, questions, guides, tips, etc.
I hope you enjoyed this teardown and found it helpful for your own niche site progress!