DMS Best Practices & Case Studies

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Overcoming Penguin

A DMS Success Story:

Addressing the Impacts of a Google Algorithm Update to Boost Organic Search

Background, a leading source of information for college-bound students and their parents, is heavily dependent on organic traffic. This portal ranked within the top three results for important, high-traffic keywords in the education space, and organic traffic delivered 80% of site visits. But suddenly, organic traffic began to rapidly decline, dropping 50% in just two months.


A comprehensive review of the the site SEO strategy, including webmaster tools, link strategy and website changes/feature launches, identified issues that had resulted in a linking penalty from Google:

  • Links that were not SEO-friendly were pointing to the site
  • Most links pointing to were from domains owned by Peterson’s 
  • The number of pages indexed by Google had fallen by 75%
  • Rankings for location-based keywords (such as “colleges in Nebraska”), which accounted for 20% of the organic traffic, had fallen

Not enough ethical link building was being performed — especially in comparison to competitors.

DMS Solution

The Digital Media Solutions (DMS) team researched the linking penalty and determined it coincided with the release of Google’s Penguin algorithm, which targeted sites using “unnatural” linking methods. The reduction in traffic was due to the following issues:

  • A tracking feature impeded spidering of the full site
  • A small number of internal links pointed to a set of pages with errors in the XML and HTML sitemaps
  • Lack of user experience/content value on the primary location-based pages

Enhancements were based on providing valuable content and allowing for full spidering of the site:

  • Requested removal of all links that did not meet Google’s standards; disavow files sent to Google for links that were not able to be removed (more than 4,000 sites contacted during this effort)
  • Removed instances of mirrored sites
  • Fixed tracking, XML and HTML issues that impeded spidering
  • Designed templates for location-based pages with unique titles, descriptions, H1 tags and valuable content
  • Implemented new ethical link-building and content marketing campaigns based on target audience personas
  • Created partnerships with top education “authority” and “influencer” websites 


The linking penalty was removed. When the next Google algorithm was released, saw an immediate 30% increase in organic traffic. In the period after, experienced 60% year-over-year growth.

Want to learn more about the impacts of Google algorithm updates for organic search? Contact DMS to get started.


About the Author

Digital Media Solutions

Digital Media Solutions, LLC (DMS), the largest single entry point for scalable and reliable, martech-enabled digital marketing solutions, deploys a robust database of consumer intelligence and leverages massive proprietary media distribution to provide customer acquisition campaigns that grow businesses, offer visibility into the customer experience and provide accountability for every media dollar spent. DMS continues to experience explosive year-over-year growth, with continuous recognition on the Inc. 5000 list, securing its sixth consecutive ranking in 2019, and the Entrepreneur magazine 360 list. Named one of America’s “Best Places to Work” by Inc. magazine and awarded the 2018 Excellence in Lead Generation Award by the LeadsCouncil, DMS brings together some of the industry’s most knowledgeable people, efficient processes and sophisticated technology across the digital marketing spectrum.

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