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Recovering from a major Google update: How UTI leveraged AI and content to reclaim search visibility

Finalist in SEO & SEM


Universal Technical Institute (UTI) is an accredited trade school offering a variety of programs or areas of interest (AOIs) for students looking to pursue a career in the trade industry. Area of Interest (AOIs) programs include Automotive, Diesel, Collision, Welding, Motorcycle, Marine, Energy Technology, Robotics & Automation, Wind, and NASCAR Tech. UTI’s mission is to serve their students, partners, and communities by providing quality education and support services for in-demand careers. Approximately 250,000 students have graduated from one of UTI's 15 campuses located across Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas.

In Q2 of 2023, Google started prioritizing local “map-pack” results above the campus pages on Almost overnight, most of UTI's national organic rankings were immediately pushed down the result’s page (often below the fold), causing significant decreases in organic sessions and new student inquiries from organic search across all UTI’s Core programs. Local plays a critical role in performance because there is significantly higher propensity to convert near their campuses.

UTI tasked NP Digital (NPD) with recapturing the lost organic search visibility, sessions, and inquiries for their Core Programs. In addition to the Core Programs, we were asked to grow search awareness and consideration for all New Programs and UTI’s campus expansion efforts. 


NPD partnered with the UTI marketing team to develop a holistic SEO and local content strategy. Our efforts encompassed in-depth research, on-page optimization, targeted content development, Google Business Profile optimization, digital PR, local citation building and the implementation of technical SEO best practices.

Our roadmap to improve the technical site health included strategies designed to improve Core Web Vitals, influence the number of results that included featured snippets and “People are also asking” results, and ultimately improve the user-experience.

We implemented our proprietary “6Rs” Content Audit methodology to better optimize any existing content to align with searcher intent. This 6Rs Content Audit told us what content should be “reformatted”, “repurposed”, “refreshed”, “retired”, “redirected”, or what content should just “remain” as-is to meet user intent for different search queries impacted by Google’s recent changes. Our initial focus was on updating and re-optimizing all campus pages on that performed well historically.

Next, we shifted our focus to net-new local content, widening the net and expanding UTI’s presence for new location-based queries that were 100% relevant. This would help us recapture any losses we were seeing in national rankings and traffic.

Using specific prompts and Google Sheets ad-ons, ChatGPT was leveraged to quickly identify cities surrounding each campus, prioritized by population, and driving distance. While UTI had amazing content to support queries matching their campus cities (E.g., “trade school in Long Beach”), the site lacked content for other major cities that surrounded each campus (Los Angeles, Riverside, Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, etc.). 

Partnering with UTI’s content team, we ideated, developed, and launched 200+ new local pages with optimized schema-markup that were rich with relevant imagery, video embeds, and other features that matched user-intent for each query. ChatGPT assisted in the localization efforts, providing information about local landmarks, things to do and driving directions to the closest UTI campus. The new pages were integrated with the existing campus hubs on and internal linking strategies were implemented to dynamically tie relevant blog articles to each location and program page.

Local link and citation building for the new local pages helped to develop the critical E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) signals that both Google and potential students were looking for. Our digital PR team developed authority to the new pages with placements on Chamber of Commerce websites, newspapers, and other local authoritative domains. A total of 400+ citations / placements went live, all averaging 60+ in Domain Authority.

Lastly, we wanted to ensure that UTI’s map-pack listings were the best they could be. We optimized all UTI’s Google Business Profiles, claiming local business listings to gain control, updating outdated or incorrect information, adding new information where necessary and removing duplicate or fraudulent business listings that were misrepresenting certain UTI campuses.


In under 3 months, total organic sessions and inquiries bounced back, above pre-Google update levels. Our focus on local results and their associated pages increased organic search inquires by +18% year-over year. Location and program pages that were hit the hardest (Houston, Orlando, Sacramento, Dallas, and Long Beach) saw session increases of 75%+ from their lowest levels in April of 2023.

Our holistic local strategy increased the number of non-brand position #1 rankings on Google by +982.  While many of the national rankings were still below the map-pack, more of them existed and were helping to fill up the funnel. Additionally, all location and program pages saw significant increases in Top 10 rankings (up 66% on average). The locally focused strategy was also able to bolster the New Program Expansion efforts. Despite a lack of awareness in the marketplace, organic search sessions increased by 411% year-over-year.

Lastly, the location strategy, and specifically the use of AI for mundane research and copywriting tasks has helped to transform how UTI’s content team operates. The ability to target the right keywords, improve the user-experience and scale content quickly will free up time for more strategic thinking and have positive impacts on their business for all locations and programs moving forward.


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Entrant Company / Organization Name

NP Digital, Universal Technical Institute


Entry Credits