Content led digital marketing is hard. I get it. Almost every day I have the discussion with an in-house marketer or business owner wanting to realign strategy for 2014 and put content at the heart of their approach.
It’s the right thing to do. But like everything worth doing, it isn’t easy. You need a team of specialists and a deep understanding of content strategy to execute well.
There is a relatively easy way of growing out traffic “easily” and with minimum requirement for those aforementioned specialist skills. What follows is a relatively simple way of understanding where your lowest hanging fruit lies when it comes to connecting your content with the maximum amount of traffic possible. And if you haven’t done this yet, it should be the first thing on your list for 2014.
Before we jump into the actionable detail, please understand that while this approach works, it should be understood in its wider context. It is simply a tactical execution. It isn’t a strategy. Any truly long term and successful approach should be based on a fuller, all encompassing content creation and distribution plan.
The Low-Hanging Fruit Plan
The plan then is to find the fastest way of achieving traffic growth from the content you already have, or more importantly, what you already rank for.
We all know through various CTR studies that the vast majority of traffic is concentrated within the first five positions of Google. The focus then, from a traffic gain perspective is on the content that sits just outside of that – in 6th to 20th positions.
But we’re not looking for traditional head term stuff here. Instead, we want the longer tail that is more easily impacted with some simple content creation or improvement.
So, how do we create such a list? How do you find out what is ranking in those positions for your site? Here’s a three-step guide to auditing your existing content to give you the best possible chance of ranking it to attract as much traffic as humanly possible.
1. Grab the Data
The key is grabbing as much keyword data as possible now before Google attempts to encrypt it all. I grab data from three places to start building such a list out.
Go into Acquisition > Channels > Organic Search and you will see a list of keywords. While most of the visits to these will be hidden in “(not provided)”, that is not important here.
We’re simply looking for a list of keywords for now that receive traffic. It is also a good idea to set dates to capture the last six month’s keyword traffic to ensure you download as many keywords as possible.
Scroll to the bottom of the list of keywords and open it right up using the option in the bottom right. It will allow you to view up to 5,000 keywords here.
Export the list to Excel and sort by visits. Here, you’re looking more for keywords that receive few visits, as they are more likely to be the ones ranking less well.
That said, though, the best way to check is to then export them into your favorite rank-tracking tool.
If you use a daily rank tracker, such as SERPS.com, then you should immediately see the results here and you can export that data out again into a spreadsheet.
Using conditional formatting options you can then easily color classify rankings that fall into three key categories: Green > Positions 5-10: Yellow > 11-15 and Red > 16-20.
You now have your priority sets and can begin auditing the pages responsible for each one of them.
You can quickly dump any pages that are significant head terms that will require a lot of off page work in our to rank well. Instead you are looking for blog article pages and category pages that with a little work you could easily gain several places.
Google Analytics isn’t the only place you can get this data, however. To be really thorough, downloading traffic data from Webmaster Tools and follow the same process.
Also, if you have access to it, Searchmetrics does a great job at surfacing long-tail terms and associating rough rankings with them so you already have the full data set you need.
It is then simply a case of either working from three separate lists/spreadsheets, or you can amalgamate into one easily enough by pasting each of them into one with ranking position data and then deduping your data. This way you make life simple with a single list to work from.
2. On-Page Effort
Often these will be blog articles and they are perfect for review. The number of these “prospect” pages/rankings will be entirely dependent on the size relative authority of the site.
If you have a larger site with more than 15,000 pages, that will require a great deal of editing and prioritization. You’ll want to start with Green terms first as a campaign and only move on after you’ve done everything possible to improve rank. For smaller sites it may be possible to run through 100 opportunities in one go.
The process irrespective is the same and it is based on asking a number of initial questions:
- Does it have optimized H1, 2 and/or 3s aligned with the term you’re ranking for?
- Is the content in-depth?
- Does it contain as much detail as possible?
- Does it cite other sources to provide more detail where necessary?
- Is it completely unique?
- Does it contains images and/or video that are well optimized to further enhance the page?
- Is the page’s meta (description and title) complete and does it contain the keyword/phrase?
- Is the appropriate markup in place (e.g., rel=author/publisher, review, event schema, etc.)?
- Is it optimized for social – good use of share buttons and Open Graph meta tags to ensure when it is shared it is compelling?
By working through these in turn you will ensure the page is given the very best opportunity to rank well.
3. Create it
But what if you look at it and feel it isn’t going to cut it, however much work you do?
In this instance you need to consider creating, or recreating the content.
Sometimes it makes sense to turn a weaker blog post into a more evergreen landing page guide, which may sit closer to the main domain and therefore inherit more domain equity as a result. Having it on example.com/amazingcontent as opposed to example.com/blog/amazingcontent is better practice after all.
Your site structure may also lend itself more to more creative execution on a “main” page as opposed to a blog article page. The game here is to make the content as compelling as possible. Effort is rewarded here.
It may also be that the blog content is not quite “right” but is being ranked anyway, so a great idea here can be to create the content perfectly on a landing page and then redirect or canonicalize the existing page into it, forcing Google to rank the “better” page instead. This tactic can often result in significant jumps in position.
If you want to be really thorough, this process should also be combined with a thorough long-tail opportunity audit to take advantage of all traffic options available. It’s clear that more traffic is coming to the long tail as Google starts to work on Hummingbird and conversational search and so such effort will be rewarded.