If you’ve ever worked on an SEO campaign or managed a website, you’ve heard the phrase “content is king.”
While the statement is a cliché, it’s not wrong.
SEOs have been urging, with Google’s encouragement, their marketing peers to create as much high-quality, focused content as they possibly can on a regular basis. In most cases, this content is posted to a manicured blog that elaborates on relevant topics to the underlying theme of the site. This is a time-honored technique that still holds value in the modern age of SEO.
If you’re reading this guide, there’s no doubt you understand the organic value of creating content regularly. And if you have the good fortune of working under a brand that has been around for years, you’ve likely benefited from amassing a library of content since the site’s inception.
But, this underlying asset of years of content is likely also begging for your attention.
In some cases, this content had been optimized before going live but has not been touched since, presenting an opportunity to revisit this content and capitalize on its equity.
In this blog post, we’ll talk about a technique to maximize the value of this older content with minimal effort.
And more importantly – how the efforts you invest in here will result in long-term gains not only for organic search but will produce a ripple effect of improved on-site KPIs.
Below, we’ll talk about content discovery, data collection, consolidation, keyword research, optimization efforts, and the real world results of this tactic.
Discovery and Data Collection
First, we need to prepare our materials for the following optimization efforts by collecting data from a number of programs. In this example, we’ll speak about specific tools that we’ve used to collect this data, but we’ll also include alternatives for those who do not have access to the tools mentioned above.
Crawl Site – Using Screaming Frog, or similar tools such as DeepCrawl or Netpeak Spider, we need to crawl the site to collect an exhaustive list of all URLs. We can then filter this list by the blog directory path to have a master optimization tracking list.
Analytics – To help prioritize our optimization efforts, we need to export a list of the top organic trafficked blog post URLs. Filter top organic landing pages in Google Analytics, or tools like Adobe or Clicky, to collect a list of the pages that would benefit the most from optimization efforts. We can perform a VLOOKUP to integrate the analytics session data into our blog list export to prioritize the master priority optimization tracker.
Ranking Keywords – Finally, we’ll need to gather a full list of all keywords for which the site currently ranks. At Elite SEM, we leverage SEM Rush for this type of data, but there are many alternatives such as Exponea or Serpstat. Again, we’ll filter this data by the blog directory path to obtain a full list of the blog’s ranking keywords.
Now that we’ve collected the data, we’re ready to begin extracting organic value from these blog posts.
Technical Optimization and Content Consolidation
Before we get into keyword mapping and the following on-page optimizations for each blog post, we must jump on this opportunity to identify and fix any technical issues that may have been discovered during our collection of data.
Technical Improvements: This is a chance to identify technical issues such as broken pages, broken internal links, or redirecting internal links using data from our site crawl and manual review of individual blog posts while preparing optimizations. Reviewing the site crawl can help identify any 404, 504, or connection time out issues. In addition, using a Link Checker Plugin, we can review the internal linking structure for individual blog posts for any broken or redirected links. Overall, our goal is to improve the performance of the site and create a more efficient flow of page equity PRIOR to our optimization efforts. For more on technical SEO site audits, read this fantastic checklist from the folks at Moz.
Consolidation and Removal: Secondly, we want to make sure that all blog posts should still be live. If a post is featuring outdated products or information, they may be a candidate for removal and redirection. This is not necessarily a task that can be completed in one fell swoop, but rather something to be conscious about when reviewing and optimizing each blog post.
Now to the meat of the operation, preparing for optimization recommendations. Using the master optimization tracker that we created during the data collection phrase, we’ll begin working through the prioritized list one by one. Limiting yourself to of 10 or 20 blog posts each week helps make the work manageable, implementation smoother, and a rigid timeline to track effectiveness.
The goal of this entire task is to minimize the amount of time and effort we are spending on these, typically lower priority, blog posts. With that said, we want to “lean” into keywords in which each blog post is already earning relevance, value, and rankings. In some cases, additional keyword research is appropriate, but in most cases, we just want to leverage and optimize for these keywords that Google already is giving us rankings to move them into more meaningful positions. In simple terms, if Google is giving us an inch, let’s take a foot.
For this task, we will be using three different tools to perform our keyword research for each blog post.
Ranking Keywords: First and foremost, we will reference our export of all the blog’s current rankings. Again, we want to capitalize on keywords in which we are already receiving rankings. We can easily move the needle for these terms rather than shifting focus to new keywords. If the blog post does not currently rank for any keywords, we must leverage the following two tools.
Google Search Console: Another layer of discovering keywords that we’re already receiving relevance for is through Google Search Console’s Search Analytics. We can filter by page to see what types of terms we are already receiving impressions and clicks. In addition, this step can be used to confirm that keywords selections from our SEM Rush export are indeed the correct keywords to target.
Keyword Planner: Finally, we’ll leverage Google’s Keyword Planner, or another tool such as Ahrefs or Keyword Tool.io, to confirm our keyword selection or, if the first two steps didn’t produce results, start keyword research from scratch. When performing keyword research from scratch, we want to ensure we are selecting long tail variations with less competition and not competing with other landing pages. For more information about starting keyword research from scratch, check out this great article from Ahrefs.
Are you still with me? Good, because now it’s time to actually optimize these blog posts. To best understand the tactic, I think it’s best to walk through an example.
Step 1: Select a Blog Post
Using our optimization tracker, prioritized with Google Analytics session data, choose a blog post that would benefit from optimizations. Read the blog post thoroughly to understand its theme and try to think about what types of searchers or queries would benefit from visiting this content. For this exercise, we selected a blog post from 2012 reviewing the amenities aboard the new (at the time) Oasis of the Seas cruise ship.
Step 2: Select Keywords
As explained in the keyword research section above, let’s go through the process of selecting keywords for this specific post. Using our currently ranking keywords document, let’s filter by the page to see what Google is already rewarding us for. For the example post, I’ve selected “oasis of the seas reviews” and “oases of the seas things to do” as I believe they best capture searcher intent that would benefit from landing on this blog post and they have decent monthly search volumes. Additionally, they are currently ranking poorly for these terms, so further focus and optimization of the blog post can have a serious impact.
Next, let’s filter Google Search Console’s Search Analytics by this blog post to see if the click and impression data supports our selection. We can see that the top 5 terms are the exact keywords we’ve selected. We’re aligning ourselves what Google perceives as the most important topic for this piece of content.
Finally, to be thorough, let’s perform a search in Google’s Keyword Planner to see if there are higher search volume alternatives for our selected terms. My manual review for this particular keyword string did not present any better alternatives. Thus, we’ve decided to move forward with the two terms selected from the current rankings document.
Step 3: Optimize Page
Our optimization efforts will be primarily focused on the title tag, Meta description, H2 tag (title of blog post), and on-page content. Reviewing current page elements, we can see the client had just used the title of the article for the title tag and used the entire first paragraph of the article as the meta description.
In this example, we are, again, going to “lean” into our selected keywords. Following Google’s character limit best practices, let’s add our two selected keywords to the title tag, write an inspiring meta description, consider any changes to the blog post title, and discover opportunities to include a keyword mention in the on-page content. For this page, we added the two keywords directly to the title tag, created an optimized meta description, and added a keyword mention in the first paragraph of on-page content. We decided not to change the title of the blog post as it was still very relevant to our selected keywords and included a natural keyword variation.
Step 4: Track Results
Lastly, let’s make sure we can report on the growth of these keyword’s rankings as well as the landing page’s organic traffic. We’ll do this by adding these keywords to our rank tracking tool as well as add an annotation in Google Analytics when the optimizations were pushed live on site. At Elite SEM, we leverage STAT for rank tracking services. However, there are tons of great options out these including Moz or Authority Labs.
We did it! We optimized a blog post to extract any remaining organic value. It was just sitting there, collecting dust, and now we’re making it valuable again. This task becomes easier and faster as you get into the work flow. You’ll begin finding ways to riff off my strategy to make it work most effective for your needs and your style, as we tend to do in SEO.
Like all digital marketers, we perform these tasks and employ these tactics to create results. So why should you include this tactic in your workflow? Has it produced any results for the client in question?
For the blog post in our example, let’s look at how keywords moved.
“Oasis of the Seas Reviews,” which has 2,400 searches per month, increased from #80 to #37:
“Oasis of the Seas Things to Do,” which has 50 searches per month, increased from #90 to #21:
While minimal, we did see positive growth in terms of organic traffic to this particular blog post, increasing 18% with engagement metrics improving as well.
Let’s look at the bigger picture for a second. If we consider that we’re optimizing hundreds of blog posts, small improvements across each blog post can impact total blog traffic significantly. Looking at blog traffic since I started this tactic compared to the previous period, we see an 11% increase in organic traffic including three conversions when previously there were none. Engagement metrics for all blog posts have improved significantly, meaning our keyword selection tactics have helped solve user intent more effectively.
You’re probably thinking, “Tom, this is such a small sample size, you’re probably only going to talk about the one blog post you had success with.” I would respond by saying, “Fair enough, I respect that challenge, and you’re in luck… this technique has worked for other keywords too!”
“Crystal Caribbean Cruise,” which has 30 searches per month and was discovered through keyword planner research, was unranked before optimization and now ranks at #11.
“Easter Island Resort,” which has 210 searches per month and was discovered through previous ranking research, was ranking at #83 prior to optimization and now ranks at #30.
“My Trip to Dubai,” which has 20 searches per month and was discovered through previous ranking research, was ranking at #71 before optimization and now ranks at #21.
“Viking Fleet Schedule,” which has 70 searches per month was discovered through previous ranking research, was ranking at #54 before optimization and now ranks at #22.
You get the picture… by optimizing for a set of keywords in which we’ve already earned rankings from Google can produce meaningful ranking improvements, organic visibility growth, and increased user engagement. Not every task in SEO needs to be complex or ground-breaking. Sometimes taking what Google is giving you and running with it can be an effective course of action, as it is in this case.
Let’s recap everything we’ve learned today to make sure you’re ready to move the needle on blog post keyword rankings and take advantage of the stagnant value hidden deep within your site.
- Data Collection: Prepare yourself by collecting all available data through site crawls, analytics exports, and current organic ranking portfolios.
- Technical Improvements: Take advantage of this opportunity to perform a technical review of your site to address broken pages, broken internal links, redirecting internal links, or removing outdated content.
- Keyword Research: Discover keywords that support the theme of the blog post, align with searcher intent, and present an opportunity to increase rankings quickly.
- Optimizations: Focus initial optimization efforts on the page’s title tag, meta description, header tag for the title, and on-page content.
- Tracking Results: Add selected keywords to rank tracking tools and add annotations of implementation into Google Analytics to properly monitor performance.