That’s not all. Despite not using outreach, it acquired links from sites like The New York Times and Forbes—on autopilot.
How? I spoke with the co-founder, Sol Orwell, to find out.
He shared the site’s entire approach to SEO with me, including how it recovered from a 90% traffic drop and how the business grew to over 30 employees. Here are a few lessons learned from a multimillion-dollar company.
Examine provides evidence-based analysis of supplements and nutrition through its team of researchers with varying backgrounds, including PhDs in physiology, neurobiology, nutrition, and more.
It makes money by selling a subscription service that gives you access to its in-depth research on health conditions and goals. So if you want to learn how to improve osteoarthritis, for example, you can access the most actionable and up-to-date research that exists online.
If you were paying attention, you’d notice I already revealed some of Examine’s SEO secrets. But let me break down the seven specific SEO lessons you can learn from it:
Examine has received dozens of extremely high-quality links from The Guardian. How? Sol attributes it to a by-product of caring about people.
He met someone years before they ever got a link, and that person happened to make a connection with a writer for The Guardian and mention Examine to them—the writer loved what they saw and now regularly links to them in their articles.
Of course, Examine also needed to have content worthy of receiving these links. Relationships alone won’t build links for you, at least not the best links.
But how can you build relationships that lead to backlinks?
Mostly from meeting and assisting as many people as possible. One of the best ways to do that is by going to in-person meetups and events. But if that’s not possible, being active in forums and online communities is also a great option.
Check out these online marketing communities to get started. Just remember—you’re trying to build genuine relationships, not just manipulate people into linking to your website. Be helpful and give without expecting anything in return.
This is where Examine truly shines. It summarizes over 150 studies every month with key findings and actionable takeaways.
Unique data is one of the best ways to capture extremely high-quality backlinks.
For example, Examine’s research page on L-theanine contains all of its findings about L-theanine’s effects on the body in a single, easy-to-digest page with unique data.
This page has attracted over 1,000 backlinks. Some of these links are from strong sites like Psychology Today and The Huffington Post and were acquired organically without outreach.
Don’t worry—you don’t need to create 150 study summaries every month to use this strategy. Instead, just a few targeted statistics summary pages can do the trick.
For example, we created a summary of SEO statistics. It ranks #1 on Google for keywords like “seo statistics” and has accumulated nearly 4,000 backlinks.
Want to learn how we did it? Check out our full case study.
In addition to incredibly strong backlinks, Examine regularly receives mentions on the “Huberman Lab” podcast—one of the most renowned science and health podcasts in the world.
This is because it publishes ridiculously good content.
So what’s its secret?
Well, it lays out its exact content creation process on its editorial policy page:
- Researcher and reviewer create outline to fully address the question/topic at hand
- Researcher writes the article
- Article is copyedited by content editor
- Article is edited by editor
- Article is reviewed by reviewer
- Corrections and clarifications are incorporated at every level
- Article is published on the website
It also discusses how it minimizes bias.
All in all, it has several layers of edits and reviews for each piece of content that’s published on the site.
More importantly, these reviews are done by “a diverse team of researchers who fully read all relevant scientific papers completely and have no conflicts of interest.”
This rigorous process is expensive and time consuming, but it has to be in the health and science space. More lax spaces can get away with much less scrutiny, but you still need to do the work to ensure your content is top-tier.
Here are some ways to make your content better:
- Create content outlines for your articles before you write them
- Do extensive research and give your articles at least one “editorial pass-over”
- Back up your claims with evidence where possible
- Read up on how to become a better writer—and practice every day
- Invest in graphic design, photography, and/or video to enhance your content with media
It may also be worth hiring an editor if you don’t already have one. You can find one on job sites like Indeed or on service sites like Fiverr.
I mentioned earlier that Examine never focused on SEO as part of its strategy.
Yes, it optimized its headings and added schema markup—but it never did extensive keyword research or wrote articles specifically to rank on Google.
Instead, it focused on providing the best possible experience for its customers. This is highlighted in a story Sol told me about his company:
One of Examine’s employees was on her way home from a company retreat. The Uber driver was feeling chatty and asked her the typical question, “What do you do for work?”
When the employee answered, the Uber driver proceeded to pull over and bawl her eyes out.
Apparently, the driver’s chronic health conditions had got so bad that she could no longer work. But Examine’s evidence-based information helped her deal with her health conditions to the point where she felt well enough to work again, allowing her to give that very Uber ride.
She told the employee she was so grateful for Examine and that it changed her life.
Experiences like these with companies are exceedingly rare in a profit-driven, cut-throat world. But what does this have to do with SEO?
It comes back to building a strong brand and a company that people love.
One of the reasons this is important is because it increases your search visibility, i.e., the percentage of people who click on your search result when they see it. This is one of the most important SEO metrics to track because the higher your search visibility, the more people value your result over competing results.
If people know who you are and love your brand, they’re more likely to click on your result over a competitor’s. Speaking of branding, let’s move on to…
Examine was hit with a major traffic loss after a 2018 Google core update related to E-A-T.
After the algorithm hit, 90% of its traffic came from branded searches, such as “examine.com creatine.” This means these people are searching specifically for resources from Examine’s brand as opposed to other websites.
In fact, it was receiving almost 4,000 visits per day from these branded search terms. This is important because even if your site loses on an algorithm update, you will still retain your rankings for branded terms.
But how did it manage to get a “cult following” of people who specifically want to search for its brand? By focusing on the other things I mention in this case study:
- Provide an amazing customer experience
- Create the best content in the world
- Build strong relationships
There’s, unfortunately, no shortcut for hard work in this case.
As mentioned above, Examine lost the majority of its traffic back in 2018 to a Google update related to E-A-T (now E-E-A-T, or experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness).
In other words, Google only wants to display content that is written by people who actually have the qualifications to write about a given topic.
When Examine relaunched the website, it wanted to be more trustworthy. Here’s how it did that:
1. It added a section above the fold of each article showing exactly who took part in researching and fact-checking said article.
2. It deeply expanded its “about” page to add bios for everyone in its company, an explanation of how it is funded, and a section on why you can trust it.
3. It created an “editorial policy” page showing exactly how its team researches, writes, and edits each article before publishing.
Essentially, it is as transparent as possible about where the information is from, who found the information, and why they are qualified to write about that information. This transparency helped the site recover its traffic to the tune of over 1 million visits per month.
The takeaway here for you is that you should have experience or expertise in a given topic in order to write about it and be displayed on Google. You should also effectively demonstrate E-E-A-T on your website, as Examine did in its relaunch.
- Use the products you’re reviewing
- Go to the places you’re talking about
- Speak with real experts if you aren’t one
- Create an “about” page and “editorial policy” page showcasing why people should trust you
While Examine never focused on SEO as a main strategy, it wasn’t oblivious to it either. It runs twice-a-year SEO audits on its site to ensure it’s not missing simple things.
Its SEO audit consists of asking questions like:
- Are there any orphaned pages?
- Are there dead links?
- Are there pages covering the most frequently asked questions from its users?
You can quickly and easily run an SEO audit like this on your own site with Ahrefs’ Site Audit. Just plug your site in, and you’ll get actionable advice on how to fix any issue:
From here, it’s easy to find and fix all the SEO issues on your website. Go through and fix each one to improve your odds of ranking highly.
If you don’t understand an issue, it may be worth hiring a developer to help you make the fix.
There are a lot of reasons Examine has been so successful. But if I had to narrow down to just three that you could replicate, they would be the following:
- Create world-class content by spending time becoming a better researcher and writer and consider hiring people to help you, such as an editor
- Build quality relationships with other professionals in your industry by offering to help them with no expectation of getting anything in return
- Become an expert in your field through research and experience, and create an “about” page showcasing why people should trust you and your website
Sol told me he attributes most of Examine’s success to being an extremely high-quality resource for journalists, doctors and, most importantly, customers.
This level of trust isn’t easily won, but it can be done. I’ve outlined everything you need to do to achieve it in the lessons above.