When I started Growth Machine, I thought the most valuable service we could offer businesses was to develop content marketing strategies to help them grow their traffic (and sales).
What we quickly realized, though, was that there are two problems with this from-scratch approach:
- Starting and growing a blog from scratch is SLOW. Waiting six or more months till you see a positive ROI from search traffic is not uncommon.
- Many great potential clients already had blogs—some with hundreds of articles—but they weren’t getting much traffic. And even if they were getting a good amount of traffic, they could get much more if they improved the content.
So we ran an experiment.
What if, instead of creating new content for clients, we focused on improving their old content so it got to the first page of Google?
We reached out to an old client and suggested giving it a go.
In ~3 months, we managed to grow their organic traffic 139%, from 13,800 in November to 33,200 in February.
Then we did it for another client… a 91% increase in ~3 months, from 218,000 visits in December to 421,000 in March.
And another one… a 110% uplift to organic traffic in 3 months, from 1.3M to 2.75M!
In this post, you’ll learn how you can duplicate these results on your own blog.
Whether you’re getting 1,000 or 100,000 visitors per month, you can use this strategy to identify content that’s close to being on Google’s first page, improve it, and get it into those top few results.
Here’s what we’re going to cover:
- Identifying content worth optimizing
- Prioritizing what content to optimize
- Optimizing individual pieces of content
- Re-promoting the content
- Tracking the results for further optimizations
1. Identifying Content Worth Optimizing
For this article, I’m going to use my book notes pages as a sample blog. For understandable reasons, our clients don’t want us giving away their traffic and ranking numbers.
I’ve published these book notes intermittently over the last four years, and in that time they’ve started to rank for some of the book titles or keywords like “[book title] + summary,” resulting in them now bringing in about 44,000 unique visitors per month:
But of the 222 pages, half of the traffic is brought in by just four pages:
All four of those pages rank well for their target keyword. If you google any of those books plus the word “summary,” you’ll find my site in the top 3 results.
This is a fairly typical representation of a blog. Tons of pages, with very few bringing in meaningful amounts of traffic. The steps we’ll follow in this article help fix that.
The first step is to see what other content would be worth optimizing at this time. This is content that’s:
- Starting to rank in Google for a relevant target keyword
- Not currently in the top 1–5 results
- Has a relevant keyword with decent search volume
To figure this out, the first place we’ll go is Google Webmaster Tools.
Once you login and select your site, you need to:
- Navigate to “Search Analytics” in the left-side menu
- Select “Impressions” and “Position”
- Filter by “Pages.”
This shows you all the pages on your site, ordered by how many search impressions they get in Google, along with their average search position.
As you can see from the chart, the “12 Rules for Life” review has a ton of impressions but a low average position. This tells me a lot of people are searching for it, which means there’s potential for that page to bring in much more traffic should it rank higher.
If we order by position, you see that there are some books I rank really well for, like “In Praise of Idleness” and “Who.” But there are also fewer people searching for these particular books, as indicated by relatively low number of impressions.
The goal is to find a set of pages where we’re not in a top position, but are still getting a good number of impressions.
We’ll start by exporting the data (scroll to the bottom and hit “download”) and uploading it into a Google Sheet (you can view mine here if you want):
I’m going to sort it by “Impressions,” highest to lowest, then filter the “Position” column so that we only see rows with a position greater than 10. These are the pages that are, on average, not on the first page.
Next, I’ll add a column called “Target?” and go through and mark a “y” next to the ones that I think would be worth optimizing.
I’m going to use fairly simple criteria for this:
- Any page over 4,000 impressions. This is not a hard number, just an arbitrary relative measure I chose here to filter down the list a bit. Anything over 1,000 is worth considering if you want a longer list.
- Any page I have a Made You Think episode for. For you, this might be pages that are particularly targeted or valuable towards some conversion goal.
Now I have my initial target pages, which for me, came out to 32:
Next up, prioritizing the list.
2: Prioritizing Your List of Targets
Now I need to figure out what the best keyword is that each page is starting to rank for.
I’ll add another column called “Ahrefs code” and paste in a formula that takes me straight to the list of keywords for a given URL in Ahrefs:
This way for each page, I can quickly click into Ahrefs and see what terms it’s starting to rank for:
If you don’t have Ahrefs, you can also look this up manually in Webmaster Tools. It’s just slower and has less other relevant useful data to go with it.
When I click into one of those Ahrefs links, I can see all the keywords a page is starting to rank for.
For “The 48 Laws of Power,” it looks like I’m close to being on the first page for the title of the book and the list of the actual laws, so that might be the keyword I’d focus on optimizing around.
I recommend picking the highest volume keyword that would still be considered relevant to the topic. I’ll add that keyword plus the volume and difficulty to my sheet. I keep going through the other pages until I have all of their target keywords, removing any that don’t have good keywords they’re starting to rank for.
Now I need to prioritize these opportunities. I’m going to do it based on a function of their Volume and Difficulty, using a formula I made up:
SCORE = ( VOLUME / DIFFICULTY ^ 2) / 100
So in this sheet, the formula would be:
=(I2 / J2 ^ 2) / 100
I’ll calculate this for each row, then organize the sheet by it.
The SCORE metric tells us what pages have a very high amount of search volume compared to a very low difficulty. (We square the difficulty since it’s a logarithmic, not linear, rating of comparative difficulty.)
This tells us that pages like “What Every Body is Saying,” “The Goal” and “The Jungle” are very high-potential targets, whereas pages like “Sapiens,” “Defining Decade” and “Daily Rituals” have much lower potential.
If you wanted to filter down to pick a set to start with, the ones with scores above 1 would be a good list. This gives us nine pages to focus on initially.
Now we need to optimize them.
3: Optimizing Your Target Pages
To get the content to rank higher, there are three aspects of the piece you want to check:
- The quality of the content
- The user experience of the content
- The technical health of the page
We’ll start with the quality of the content. I’m going to focus on the first page, “What Every Body is Saying,” for this example.
3.1 Optimizing the Content Quality
The first question you have to ask is:
Can I improve this content to make it more competitive?
The easiest way to do that is to look at the other top results for your chosen keyword and see what they’re doing that you could potentially emulate.
For “What Every Body is Saying,” I’ll start looking through the other top competitors, focusing on the ones that dig into the content of the book similar to how I do:
Some things stand out as potential content improvement opportunities:
- More images
- Better chunking of the material (technically, part of the user experience)
- More personal interpretations of the material, right now it’s just my highlights
But there also just aren’t that many other summaries out there, which makes me feel good about getting this ranked quickly.
The next thing I’ll check is Clearscope, where I can run a report on the keyword to see which related terms are associated with it according to Google, and which ones are missing from my post.