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A Simple SEO Strategy for 2019 (The ‘Middleman’ Method)

Joshua Hardwick
Head of Content @ Ahrefs (or, in plain English, I'm the guy responsible for ensuring that every blog post we publish is EPIC). Founder @ The SEO Project.

Article stats

  • Referring domains 148
  • Organic traffic 382
Data from Content Explorer tool.
    Looking to boost organic traffic to the pages that really matter? Below is an SEO strategy for doing precisely that.

    Everyone’s SEO goal is the same: To rank for keywords that drive traffic and revenue.

    If you sell insurance, ranking for “what is insurance?” is good, but ranking for “buy insurance” is better. That’s because traffic from the latter is way more likely to convert and increase your bottom line.

    But ranking pages that have commercial value is difficult.

    In this guide, I’ll introduce an SEO strategy to help. It’s called the ‘middleman’ method.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=433XlvMl508

    How the ‘middleman’ method works

    Before we dive in, let’s get on the same page:

    SEO success comes largely as a result of two things: Backlinks and content.

    Content is crucial because you can’t rank without it. Backlinks are important because they act as “votes” and show search engines that your pages are worth ranking.

    NOTE. When I say backlinks, I’m talking about both internal and external links.

    Most websites have two main types of content:

    1. Informational: Think blog posts, interactive tools & calculators, and any other useful non-commercial content.
    2. Commercial: Think “money pages” that drive revenue. For ecommerce sites, that’ll be your product and category pages. For other businesses, it’ll be your landing pages.

    Generally speaking, people don’t want to link to commercial content like sales pages. Those have little to no value for their audience.

    But they often link to informational content like guides and reviews to:

    1. help support a point or statistic they’re mentioning.
    2. direct their visitors to helpful content that they may not want to expand on.

    A prime example of this theory is Hubspot.

    If we take a look at their top 50 most linked pages, we see that 88% of them are blog posts and free courses.

    Via the Best by links report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer

    … and therein lies the problem:

    Because people usually link to informational content, it’s difficult to get enough external backlinks to your “money” pages to rank.

    That’s where the ‘middleman’ method comes in.

    Here’s a neat animation of the process:

    Confused? Here’s how it works:

    1. You have a bunch of websites who might be interested in linking to your content. Let’s call them “linkers.”
    2. You have your money pages.
    3. Because the vast majority of these people won’t be linking to your money pages, you add a ‘middleman,’ which is a relevant blog post or informational resource.
    4. The ‘middleman’ (e.g., blog post) builds “authority,” which can then be passed onto money pages using internal links.

    The result? More powerful money pages that should help you rank and hopefully bank.

    Now, at this stage, you might have a few questions, like:

    Which pages do I link from and which ones do I link to? And how do I use this technique if I don’t have any authoritative pages on my site!?

    Those are good questions. So let’s go through this, step-by-step.

    Step 1. Choose a “money” page to boost

    This is the easy part. You probably already have a page in mind that you’d like to boost.

    If not, use this Venn diagram to choose:

    how to find the best money pages to boost

    You want to look for pages that fall somewhere in the middle.

    With such pages, a small SEO boost has the potential to lead to significantly more traffic and maybe even revenue.

    If you’ve set up goals and conversions in Google Analytics, then finding pages that fit the bill is as easy as pie. However, not everyone is an Analytics whizz, so here’s a quick hack for the rest of us:

    Paste your domain into Site Explorer, then go to the Organic Keywords report. Filter for keyword rankings in positions 2–10.

    organic keywords ahrefs

    PRO TIP

    It also makes sense to exclude as much informational content as possible from this report. The easiest way to do that is to exclude URLs containing /blog/ (or whatever subfolder you use for the bulk of your ‘informational’ content) using the exclude feature.

    exclude organic keywords report

    Looking at this report for ahrefs.com, I can see that we rank #9 for “keyword generator” and #8 for “keyword rank checker.”

    Both of those have commercial value for us, so they could definitely use a rankings boost.

    Step 2. Find relevant ‘middleman’ opportunities

    Now that you’ve identified a page to boost, you need to find strong relevant ‘middleman’ pages from which to add internal links.

    There are two ways to do this.

    Use a Google “site” search

    Head over to Google and search for: site:yourwebsite.com + “topic of your ‘money page’”

    Change the website and keyword phrase as required.

    If we were looking for places from which to link to our Keyword Generator landing page, we’d search for something like site:ahrefs.com/blog/ + “keyword generator”.

    The results are blog posts that mention the target phrase. In this case, “keyword generator.”

    site search google keyword generator

    Here’s an excerpt from one of the results:

    6 Best Keyword Research Tools for SEO

    You can see that while this page mentions the phrase “keyword generator,” it doesn’t link to our Keyword Generator landing page.

    That’s a perfect contextual internal linking opportunity if ever I saw one!

    But there’s a small problem: there are only three pages that mention the phrase “keyword generator.” So let’s change the query to search for the topic, “keyword research,” since it’s related to the page we want to rank.

    We now have a huge pool of blog posts to choose from:

    keyword research site search

    Seeing too many results and aren’t sure which to prioritize? Here’s a quick trick:

    First, set the number of Google search results per page to one hundred.

    google 100 results

    Next, install the Ahrefs toolbar, then hit the download button to extract all the results to CSV.

    ahrefs toolbar export

    The CSV contains the search results plus a bunch of Ahrefs’ SEO metrics.

    Because there’s a clear correlation between a page’s URL Rating (UR) and its organic search traffic…

    … the best way to find the pages with the most “authority” is to sort by UR.

    Use the ‘Best by links’ report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer

    Enter in the domain or subfolder you want to analyze in Site Explorer, then head to the Best By links report.

    best by links ahrefs blog

    This report ranks the pages from your target by URL rating (UR).

    Sidenote.
    If you prefer, you can sort the report by the number of referring domains to each page.

    All we need to do is skim this list for relevant internal linking opportunities.

    For example, say that the “money page” we want to boost is our Keywords Explorer landing page.

    Looking at the Best by links report, it doesn’t take me long to spot this page:

    best by links kwr

    Let’s take a closer look.

    internal link opp

    Bingo. That looks like a perfectly-relevant contextual internal linking opportunity to me.

    And if we were to work our way through this report, I’m sure we’d find tons of other good opportunities without much effort.

    Don’t have any relevant pages with ‘link authority’? No problem!

    Everything above works, but only if you already have strong, relevant pages from which to add internal links to your “money” pages.

    Not everyone is lucky enough to have those.

    If this is the case for you, then there’s a simple solution:

    Combine the ‘middleman method’ with the ‘skyscraper technique.’

    Not sure what that entails? Here’s the process:

    Step 1. Find a relevant piece of content with backlinks

    Head over to Content Explorer and search for a topic related to your “money” page.

    For example, if you sell insurance, then search for something like “insurance.”

    insurance content explorer v2

    Content Explorer searches a database of over a billion web pages for those that mention your query. In this case, we get 5,122,135 results.

    PRO TIP

    If you’re trying to create content related to a highly-commercial topic like insurance, you may struggle to find something decent to improve upon that has backlinks. In such cases, you’ll need to think more broadly.

    A good hack for doing that is to play a game of word association with yourself.

    Let’s try it for insurance: Insurance > car insurance > cars.

    Paste that into Content Explorer, add a few filters, and boom, ideas!

    content explorer cars

    Just don’t go too far with this idea.

    For example: Insurance > car insurance > cars > electric cars > Tesla > Elon Musk > car in space > space > aliens (???)

    Next, set the minimum referring domains filter to something like 50 so that you only see pages with lots of backlinks.

    Look for pages where there’s plenty of room for improvement.

    Here’s a page with 307 referring domains that hasn’t been updated for a while:

    most expensive cars content explorer

    This one definitely fits the bill!

    Step 2. Create something even better

    Nobody is going to swap out their link for yours unless your content is notably better.

    Brian Dean recommends improving upon the existing piece by making it:

    • Longer;
    • More up-to-date;
    • Better designed;
    • More thorough

    That all makes sense, yet it’s important not to do such things for the sake of doing them.

    For instance, you won’t improve a list of twenty great tips by adding an extra thirty mediocre tips. It might look better at face value, but in reality, it adds nothing of value.

    What you want to do is analyze the page for points of weakness, then fix them.

    Take this page about the world’s most expensive cars, for example:

    worlds fastest cars

    It’s clear from the title that it hasn’t been updated since 2015!

    That’s why it doesn’t include cars like the Bugatti Chiron (2016) and McLaren Speedtail (2019).

    So we could easily one-up this page by putting together something more up-to-date. I’d probably improve the design and the descriptions of the cars too.

    Step 3. Ask those linking to the original page to link to you instead

    The final step is to reach out to those linking to the inferior page.

    To find them, go to Site Explorer, paste in the URL, and head to the Backlinks report.

    backlinks to page

    Here, there are 319 groups of similar backlinks.

    Some of these people won’t be worth contacting, so let’s add some filters to focus on the best prospects.

    backlinks report filtered

    Now we’re down to 25 potential prospects.

    Sidenote.
    This group of filters is quite specific, hence the big drop in the number of backlinks. It’s always best to analyze the full Backlinks report manually if possible. That will result in the biggest and best pool of prospects.

    Next up, all we need to do is find their email addresses and reach out to them.

    PRO TIP

    Study the anchor and surrounding text column. This will help you to understand how and why the page got a link in the first place.

    Knowing that helps with outreach personalization, which will increase your link conversion rate.

    Watch this video to learn more:

    https://youtu.be/IOSrx95e4lo?t=338

    If we assume a 5–10% conversion rate on our emails, and we reach out to 25 people, then that’s 1–2 new backlinks to our page. Not great.

    Luckily, there are a few ways to increase your pool of prospects.

    You can read about those in our full guide to executing the skyscraper technique (and getting results).

    For now, let’s say that we reach out to two hundred people and get links from 5–10% of them. That’s 10–20 links to our page, which should help to boost its “authority” nicely.

    At that stage, you can use the page as a ‘middleman’ to pass authority to a “money” page.

    Here’s another reason why this SEO strategy makes sense…

    Let’s take a look at the Top subfolders report for ahrefs.com:

    top subfolders report

    Looks like over ⅔ of all organic traffic in the US goes to the blog.

    Regular readers will know that we reference and link to Ahrefs’ tools in most blog posts.

    The result? If we check the Internal backlinks report in Site Explorer for one of our key landing pages and filter for internal links from blog posts, here’s what we see:

    internal backlinks landing page

    Hundreds of internal links, which almost certainly help our landing page to rank.

    But I have to be honest: this isn’t some mastermind strategy.

    These internal links are merely a byproduct of our primary focus, which is to write helpful blog posts around topics with:

    1. search traffic potential; and:
    2. business potential

    This focus has led to a huge increase in our blog traffic over the past few years:

    Traffic growth to the Ahrefs blog over the past few years via Ahrefs Site Explorer.

    More importantly, however, is this:

    ARR growth for Ahrefs over the past few years.

    There’s a clear correlation between our blog growth and our annual recurring revenue (ARR).

    Here’s my point:

    Building an army of ‘middlemen’ isn’t just about boosting “money pages.” Because you’re creating and building links to content, it’s likely that some of your “middleman” pages will start ranking too.

    The result of that is more targeted traffic and maybe even more customers.

    Final thoughts

    Building links directly to your “money pages” is still important.

    You should aim to do that wherever possible and “cut out the middleman.”

    The ‘middleman’ method is merely another weapon in your arsenal for boosting your highest value pages.

    Let me know in the comments or on Twitter if you have any questions. 🙂

    Shows how many different websites are linking to this piece of content. As a general rule, the more websites link to you, the higher you rank in Google.

    Shows estimated monthly search traffic to this article according to Ahrefs data. The actual search traffic (as reported in Google Analytics) is usually 3-5 times bigger.



    Article stats

    • Referring domains 148
    • Organic traffic 382
    Data from Content Explorer tool.