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.
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:
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.
I didn’t want to remove Nat’s Clearscope recommendation (as it’s what he uses), but admittedly it isn’t the cheapest tool out there. ($300/month!)
So here are a few similar useful tools:
- Ryte.com—TF*IDF analysis tool, and other content optimization features.
- LSIGraph—the “LSI keywords” tool. Honestly, I’m not really a fan of this one, as the keywords it kicks back aren’t true LSI keywords. So take the recommendations with a pinch of salt.
- Hemingway App—readability metrics, word count, etc. Really nice app, and totally free to use.
This tells me a few things:
- My post is probably too long, I could cut some material.
- I’m missing a lot of relevant information, like some background on Joe Navarro and what the book is about.
- I might need to simplify my language a bit (though, I’m just copying from the book right now).
From looking through these two sources, we have a good checklist for the content:
- Make it shorter
- Add an intro section about the book
- Add some of my interpretation and impressions
- Add some images
I focused on cutting out about 1,500 words and adding an intro section about the book. I didn’t want to steal images from the book, even though they’d probably help.
3.2 Optimizing the User Experience of the Content
Next up, you need to make sure people stick around and read the article when they show up there. And right now, this article is horribly optimized for user experience.
Before going through these optimizations, this is what the page looked like:
That is a painful wall of text, and I couldn’t blame anyone for seeing that and immediately closing the page.
So to make it more UX friendly, I went through and added bolding and headers, to make sure it was more readable and skimmable, and to highlight the important information.
Some other things I would check for to make sure the UX is good:
- Fast page load time
- No huge image blocking the initial text section
- No funky CSS, styling, inconsistent headers, anything that makes it look sloppy
- A catchy intro, something to let people know they’re in the right place
3.3 Optimizing the Technical Health of the Content
The last step is to make sure there’s nothing broken on the page.
Here’s Sam Oh explaining how to use this tool:
You’re looking for common technical issues, such as:
- Broken images
- Broken links
- HTTP or HTTPS mixed content
- Images without alt text
- Images that are too big
- Keyword stuffing or underuse
- Too short or too long meta descriptions and titles
- Too large of a page size
- Bad mobile responsiveness
In the case of this page, a few errors stood out:
- There are multiple title tags on the page
- The meta description doesn’t have the keyword in it
- The keyword only appears once in the body
- Four images on the page have empty alt text
Once those are fixed up, this part is done!
The content is ready to be republished, by changing the “published at” date to today in WordPress, and hitting “Update.”
4: Re-Promoting the Content
Whatever playbook you have for new content promotion, you’ll want to selectively run through it again for your newly-updated post.
Some steps won’t make sense to do over again. If you send out an email blast for every new post, you might not want to email about an updated one, unless you’ve changed so much in it that you think it’d be worthwhile to blast it to your list again.
But some of the lighter-weight promotion strategies, like sharing on social media, posting to message boards, sharing in any owned online groups, and sending it to anyone mentioned in the piece (especially newly mentioned people) are definitely worth doing.
Getting a bump of traffic to the newly-updated post should help it start to rank better more quickly.
In this case since it’s not a massive post, I’d probably stick to sharing it on social media and mentioning it further down in my weekly newsletter.
But if I did a big overhaul to a post like the one you’re reading right now, it would warrant another round of more aggressive promotion.
Re-promoting rewritten and refreshed content is something we regularly do at Ahrefs.
For example, if you’re subscribed to the Ahrefs blog, you may remember getting this email in your inbox a few months back:
This was a huge update, so we re-promoted the post.
5: Tracking Results for Further Optimizations
The last step is to keep a record of what posts you’ve optimized, and how well they’re ranking, in a spreadsheet or in a rank tracker like the one Ahrefs has.
Add the keyword that you optimized the post around, and then keep an eye on it every week or so to see how it’s trending.
Based on where the stats are right now, I’d consider re-optimizing the first seven articles if it had been at least three months since they were posted, since they’re hanging out on the second to fourth page:
After around three months it should stabilize at its new position, which will give you an idea of whether or not you need to do further work on it, or try to build more backlinks to it.
Once you have one post optimized, republished, promoted and tracked, it’s time to move on to the next one.
This is meant to be a process for doubling the traffic to your whole blog, not just one article, so you want to keep moving through the list you created in step two until you’re done with all of the posts that have a high potential for getting more traffic.
Once you’ve finished with the list, you can let them sit while you produce new content, and then keep repeating this process every three to six months to make sure you’re getting the absolute most you can from your blog.
You’ve already created plenty of potentially valuable content. You’ll get much faster results re-optimizing it than trying to constantly pump out new pieces.