The Complete SEO Strategy That Increased Our Blog’s Search Traffic by 89% (in 3 months)

David McSweeney
David is the owner of Top5SEO and a white hat SEO evangelist. SEO case studies make him a lot happier than they should, and he has a tendency to overuse ellipses...

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    If you’re struggling to grow your blog’s search traffic then you’re not alone.

    Until recently the organic traffic report for Ahrefs blog looked like this:

    organic traffic

    Although search volume was reasonable, growth was SLOW — particularly when you consider that we were publishing 4 new blog posts a week.

    So, at the end of last year, we developed and implemented an SEO strategy that has lead to an 89% growth in our organic traffic in just 3 months:

    organic traffic growth

    Today we’re going to share that strategy with you!

    All in all, there are 7 parts to the strategy, and it may surprise you to learn that step 1 involved deleting almost half of our content…

    Here’s why.

    Part 1. We Deleted 179,158 Words Of Content

    WordPress has a top secret, hidden feature that looks like this:


    Ok, I made that up. It’s not really top secret, but the chances are you’ve never had to use the bulk ‘Move to Trash’ option on your blog before.

    And that’s because it’s a pretty nuclear step.

    But it’s a step we felt we had to take.

    You see, the Ahrefs blog has been on the go for around 3 years now, which is a loooooong time on the internet.

    Back in the dark ages of 2013, most gurus advised a strategy that went something like this:

    Post frequent, decent quality, 500 word+ blog posts, targeting a broad spread of keywords and watch the traffic roll in! More content = better!”

    And yeah, it kind of worked.

    But a combination of Google being better able to understand content itself rather than just keywords — 2013’s Hummingbird update was a game changer — and the sheer volume of content being created — some 2 million blog posts a day — means that this approach just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.

    In fact, nowadays, lots of so‐so content on your blog will probably do more harm than good.

    Additionally, if we consider that user signals will become more and more important to Google over time (and we do), then all those posts with ZERO visits, and ZERO engagement can’t be sending Google good vibes.

    Unfortunately there were LOTS of posts like this on the Ahrefs blog.

    What We Did

    At the start of November 2015, there were 541 posts live on the blog.

    There are now 304.

    wordpress live posts

    In total we have deleted 266 posts from the blog, but have since added a further 29 (the Maths works).

    So how did we decide which posts to get rid of?

    We Conducted A Content Audit

    There was a lot of content to go through, so we decided to make things easy for ourselves. Easy is good right?

    Here’s what we did:

    Step 1: We put the URLs of every post on the blog into a spreadsheet.

    Step 2: For each URL we recorded the following:

    • Title
    • Word Count
    • Views (last 30 days)
    • Views From Search (last 30 days)
    • Referring Domains
    • Author

    The view data was collected from Google Analytics


    The referring domains data was collected using Ahrefs Batch Analysis Tool (easy to grab data for lots of URLs at once)


    Step 3: We sorted the spreadsheet by:

    • a) number of views from search
    • b) total views
    • c) referring domains
    • d) word count

    All lowest to highest — so we ended up with posts that had ZERO views and ZERO referring domains (links) at the top of the spreadsheet.

    Step 4: We manually reviewed each of these posts in case it was a hidden gem (there were a couple).

    Step 5: We marked all low quality posts with poor performance metrics for deletion (red). Our final spreadsheet looked like this:


    Step 6: We deleted the posts marked in red!

    Step 7: To preserve link equity, the URLs of any deleted pages with referring domains were 301 redirected to either:

    • a relevant post
    • the blog’s home page

    And that was that.

    How You Can Apply This To Your Blog

    If your blog has been up and running for a while, and has a reasonable amount of pages (I would say at least 50), it’s well worth running a content audit to help you:

    • find low quality/under performing posts which require updating or removing
    • rediscover hidden gems that might just need a little TLC/promotion to get them ranking

    But a word of warning…

    Think very carefully before deleting anything.

    Because like I said, this was the nuclear option.

    Part 2. We Put Together A 6 Month Content/Keyword Strategy

    So yeah, remember how I mentioned above that Google had moved on from simply analysing keywords on a page?

    …a combination of Google being better able to understand content itself rather than just keywords…

    Well, now I’m going to totally contradict myself.

    Kind of.

    While it is correct to say that Google is better able to infer meaning from content, keyword research continues to be a HUGE part of good SEO.

    In fact, an SEO/content strategy without keyword research is a bit like this:

    seo strategy without keyword research

    But Wait… Shouldn’t We Be Focusing On Topics Instead Of Keywords?

    There’s a school of thought that says we should stop worrying about keywords and instead focus on broad topics and concepts to satisfy search intent.

    This is half right.

    Which means of course that it’s also half wrong.

    Because to get the maximum impact from our SEO strategy we should be:

    Combining keyword research with targeting broad topics and concepts to satisfy search intent.

    Rand Fishkin explains why perfectly in this White Board Friday.

    In a nutshell, keyword research gives us

    • an insight into what people are searching for in our niche
    • an indication of the potential organic traffic our website can eventually achieve

    What We Did

    Note: Keyword research is a BIG topic. I’ll cover a couple of the strategies we used to select our target keywords below, but I would highly recommend you check out Benjamin Brandall’s 19 step keyword research process for a more complete, actionable keyword strategy.

    In our keyword research process we were looking for 2 things:

    • 1. Keywords with high volume for which we could rank
    • 2. Keywords that were driving search traffic to our competitors

    Here are 2 of the methods we used to find keywords that fitted these criteria.

    The first method uses a keyword research tool called Long Tail Pro ($37 per month here) and the second uses Ahrefs Positions Explorer (now included with all Ahrefs account plans).

    Method 1. Finding High Volume Keywords With Long Tail Pro

    The Google Keyword Planner is a great tool, but its interface is pretty sucky to say the least.

    Long Tail Pro (LTP) takes the data from Keyword Planner, combines it with other metrics, and puts everything into a much more manageable interface.

    There are loads of advanced features, but here’s a super quick (and super simplified) run down of the tool. You’ll need to connect LTP up to your Google Account and configure a few things, but we’ll skip that for now.

    Step 1: Create a new project, give it a title, and set your target country.


    Step 2: Add some seed keywords. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll add “SEO” and “backlinks”. We’ll also check the box to include global search volume in addition to USA data and then we’ll hit “Generate Keywords & Fetch Data” to start the search.


    Step 3: Analyse the generated keywords, pick out the ones that look like they might be worth targeting, and put them into a spreadsheet. To give you an indication, we looked for a minimum global search volume of 500. You might want to sort the reports by local or global search volume to put the most popular keywords at the top.


    That’s a quick overview, but it’s a super powerful tool which is also great for finding long tail keywords (I guess the name is a giveaway!). Here is a video review by Matthew Woodward, which goes into a lot more detail.

    Method 2. Finding Competitor Keywords With Ahrefs Positions Explorer

    If a keyword is driving solid organic traffic to your competitor, then it’s probably one that you are going to want to target on your own site. Here’s how you can easily find high volume competitor keywords with Ahrefs.

    Step 1: Enter your competitor’s domain into Ahrefs Positions Explorer and hit “SEARCH”.


    Step 2: Set your target country and then click on “Organic Research” > “Organic Keywords”


    Step 3: You’ll get a nice report showing the keywords that are driving traffic to your competitor. By default the report is ordered by traffic, but you can also order it by total search volume to put the highest volume keywords at the top. Again, pick out the ones that you feel you might want to target on your own site and add them to your spreadsheet.


    Picking The Winners And Finalising The Content Plan

    So now we had a master list of keywords that we felt would potentially be worth targeting, but we weren’t quite done with our research yet.

    Before making the final decision on whether an individual keyword would be a good fit for our plan, there was one more thing we wanted to know:

    How difficult would it be to rank for it? (at least on the first page)

    For each keyword, the answer to this question started with a simple Google search.


    Now, you may be surprised to hear that we weren’t too worried about metrics at this stage (domain authority, page authority etc) - more that we could go on to create something that deserved to rank alongside the top results (more on this later).

    For each keyword we made that decision by simply clicking through the top ranking pages and making an assessment on their quality.

    If we felt that we could create something just as good (or ideally, better) then we included the keyword in our final content plan.

    In the end we had just over 30 keywords — all with excellent search volumes — which we would be aiming to target over a period of 6 months.

    How You Can Apply This To Your Blog

    If you don’t currently have a content strategy in place for your blog, then putting one together should be priority number 1.

    It doesn’t have to be completely rigid — for example you might want to write a quick post relating to a change/news in your industry — but you should have a clear, short to medium term plan, for the keywords you will aim to target to increase your organic search traffic.


    Part 3. We Cut Down On Publishing Frequency (And We Upped The Quality)

    Ok, now we had the keywords we planned to target… it was time to start creating content!

    Go Go Go right!?

    Well, not exactly.

    In fact, we actually cut down the number of posts we were publishing each week.

    The post schedule on the Ahrefs blog used to look like this:


    That was:

    • Monday: Ahrefs New Feature Alert — a short announcement post from Tim, which detailed any enhancements to Ahrefs
    • Tuesday: A blog post
    • Wednesday: A video post — Embedded YouTube video from our channel and a short blog post
    • Thursday: A blog post

    We decided to ditch the feature alert posts completely (you’ll now see the odd popup announcement directly in Ahrefs tools), and moved the video posts to YouTube/Facebook only.

    For the blog posts, we kept 2 a week as a rough target, but didn’t sweat it too much if we only published 1. Basically the mantra was:

    Quality > Quantity

    We wanted to make sure that every post we published deserved to rank for its target keyword.

    How You Can Apply This To Your Blog

    It’s simple:

    If you want to rank for something these days then you’ve got to make sure that you have the best damn piece of content for that particular keyword.

    Yes, it’s still links (and domain authority) that will push your pages up the rankings, but you’ll find that those links are much easier to come by when you are creating genuinely awesome stuff.

    And awesome stuff takes time to create.

    Brian Dean is the poster boy for this. He publishes just one article a month on his SEO blog Backlinko, but you just know that every time you see that email popping into your inbox he’s going to have produced something AMAZING.

    Something like this:


    I mean, a 1 million domain study! He doesn’t mess about!

    And what does that hard work mean?

    It means links:


    And of course traffic:


    297 referring domains and top 100 rankings for 615 keywords in 6 weeks.

    That’s HOW TO DO IT.

    The takeaway: If you can publish an amazing post every single day, then great, do it! But otherwise, stick to a schedule where you are confident that everything you publish will be the best of the best.

    Ok, now for the not so cool part.

    Our focus on premium quality, keyword focused content has meant that…

    Part 4. We Said “No” To A Lot Of People 🙁

    Look, I hate saying no to people, I really do.

    But the fact of the matter is that 90% of guest post pitches SUCK.

    And the 10% that don’t suck…

    Well even when we do accept a pitch and solicit a draft, I’d say that only about 50% of the actual post submissions meet our current quality standards/content strategy.

    Which means that all in we’re currently saying no to around 95 guest post pitches out of 100.

    So, if we have said no to you, then PLEASE don’t take it too personally.

    And of course, that means that if we have published a guest post from you over the past 4 months… then you ROCK dude!

    How You Can Apply This To Your Blog

    Guest posts are great and are something you should absolutely accept on your blog.

    But only when the guest post is top quality.

    Don’t just accept content for content’s sake — especially when the motivation behind it is clearly just to grab a quick backlink for SEO purposes.

    Guest posting has picked up a bit of a bad rep over the past couple of years, but that really shouldn’t be the case. In fact, a good guest post should be a triple win:

    • A win for you: you get a great piece of content that you are proud to post on your blog
    • A win for your readers: the post is something that your readers will get real value from (whatever that value is for your blog)
    • A win for the author: they get to show their expertise in front of your audience and hopefully pick up some new readers

    So, if you get 1,000 words (the new 500 words) of meh…

    then say NO.

    If you get any amount of words of awesomeness say:

    Hell yeah!

    Part 5. We Made Sure All Our Posts Were Properly Optimised

    Well who would have believed it? An SEO blog, from an SEO software company, making sure that their content is SEO optimised.


    What We Did

    Nothing drastic.

    We just made sure that every post had:

    • A short, keyword focused URL (blog/target‐keyword/)
    • The target keyword in the title tag (preferably near the start)
    • The target keyword in the post title (and therefore the H1 tag)
    • The target keyword in the meta description (for dem click‐throughs)
    • We used the target keyword a couple of times within the post
    • We sometimes used the target keyword in an H2 or H3 tag
    • The featured image generally had a filename like ‘target-keyword.png’
    • We included the target keyword within alt tags where appropriate

    Basically, we tried to keep YOAST happy.


    But never to the detriment of user experience. I would always rather see a red circle there than force something in for SEO purposes.

    We also added internal links to new posts from existing content (and vice versa).

    How You Can Apply This To Your Blog

    Basically, just follow SEO best practices.

    See our recent SEO tips post for over 100 ways to optimise your site.

    Part 6. We Promoted “All The Things”

    If you’ve had an email from us recently asking you to take a look at one of our posts… well, I’m sorry.

    Actually, strike that… I’m not sorry.

    The thing is, if we have sent you an email, then we’ve carefully selected you because we:

    a) genuinely think you’ll be interested in what we have sent your way
    b) think that you are AWESOME

    We’ve not taken this approach to post promotion:


    For each post we sent out a maximum of 20–30 emails to people that we hand picked because we felt they would be likely to share.

    In some cases, this was as simple as reaching out to those we had included in our post:


    And guess what? Most were more than happy to share


    Even though you’ll notice that we didn’t specifically ask them to 😉

    So, email outreach works when you do it right (yay!). Oh, and if you’re wondering how not to do it, then read this.

    How You Can Apply This To Your Blog

    Content without promotion is doomed to failure. Indeed Derek Halpern of Social Triggers — who knows a thing or two about growing a blog — advises spending 20% of your time creating content and the other 80% promoting it:

    It’s smarter to find another 10,000 people to consume what you’ve already created as opposed to creating more. Or, in other words, create content 20% of the time. Spend the other 80% of the time promoting what you created.
    Derek Halpern, Social Triggers

    Which means that if it takes you a day to write an awesome blog post, then you should spend 4 days promoting it.

    If this seem a bit much, here is a (non exhaustive) list of ways you might promote a new blog post:

    • Share it on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, G+ etc)
    • Share it on Reddit, (for marketing posts) etc
    • Reach out to anyone included in the post
    • @ Mention sites you included in the post on Twitter
    • Create a prospect list of other influencers who may be interested in the post and reach out to them
    • Follow up on those emails
    • Repurpose the post into a video, blog, slideshare presentation etc
    • Comment on related blogs and mention your post
    • Participate in niche forums and mention your post
    • Answer questions on Quora, Yahoo Answers etc and mention your post
    • Syndicate the post on Medium, Linked In Pulse (or relevant sites in your industry)
    • Contribute guest posts to other blogs and link back to the post

    I’m sure you can think of a few more, and as I’m sure you can see, the time soon adds up.

    But, it’s worth it.

    Part 7. We Fixed Some Technical SEO Stuff

    The final part of our SEO strategy is the boring technical bit. Here are some things we tweaked/fixed and why.

    We Moved House

    The blog had previously been located on a subdomain (

    We decided to move it to a subfolder instead ( as this is accepted SEO best practice and may have a little impact on domain authority/rankings.

    We Fixed Broken Links

    Broken links — both outbound and inbound — are bad news for Google and users.

    We wanted to find them and fix them!

    To find broken inbound links (backlinks), we ran the “Broken Backlinks” report in Ahrefs Site Explorer.


    We then setup 301 redirects using a wordpress plugin called “Redirection


    To find and fix broken outbound links (+ any broken internal links) we used a wordpress plugin called “Broken Link Checker”.


    I guess there’s a few more broken links since we last checked 😉

    We Sped Up The Site

    Speeding up loading time is good for user experience + faster load times correlate with higher rankings.


    So we smushed, compressed, combined and cached, until our load speed reached an acceptable level (although there is still room for improvement).


    Here’s a great guide to speeding up a WordPress blog. For site speed in general (including a free testing tool) check out this awesome resource from

    A Quick Recap On The Full SEO Strategy

    Here’s a quick recap (or a TL;DR version if you like) of the full SEO strategy we implemented on the Ahrefs blog:

    1. We conducted a content audit and removed low quality posts which weren’t bringing in any traffic
    2. We created a 6 month, keyword focused, content strategy
    3. We cut down the post frequency on the blog and focused on quality over quantity
    4. We upped our quality requirements for guest contributors
    5. We made sure all new posts were properly optimised for their target keyword
    6. We promoted all new content heavily
    7. We fixed a number of technical SEO issues

    As I mentioned right at the start, this strategy lead to an 89% increase in organic search traffic within a period of 3 months, with traffic continuing to grow week by week.


    And notwithstanding the actual traffic data from Google Analytics (which is of course the most important metric) we can see a steady rise in the number of organic keywords the blog is ranking for.


    Note that data is only available from December as that’s when we switched to the subfolder from the subdomain.

    As we’re only half way through the first content plan, I would expect to see continued organic growth as we add more articles and target more keywords over the coming months.

    And after that?

    It will be time to create another 6 month plan!


    Over To You!

    If you’re struggling to grow your blog’s organic search traffic, then this SEO strategy can work for you too. It takes careful planning, focus and hard work, but when you start to see that upwards curve in Google Analytics…

    It will all be worthwhile!

    If you have any questions regarding the overall strategy, or any of the individual parts, then please leave a comment below!

    David McSweeney
    David is the owner of Top5SEO and a white hat SEO evangelist. SEO case studies make him a lot happier than they should, and he has a tendency to overuse ellipses...

    Article stats

    • Referring domains 109
    Data from Content Explorer tool.

    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.

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