A Definitive Guide to Content Optimization: Increase Organic Traffic from Existing Blog Articles
This guide shares the strategy we use to refresh and optimize existing content to increase organic traffic, conversions, and user sign-ups for our SaaS clients.
It’s how we helped one particular client increase organic traffic by 269%, and user sign-ups by 111%.
Continue reading for Google Analytics screenshots and more delicious slices of social proof.
The problem: Are you buying a car or investing in real estate?
New cars drop in value as soon as they're driven off the lot. Here in the UK, it’s estimated a car loses 40% of its value by the end of the first year.
Compare this to real estate. In the UK, the average house price was £157,234 (approx. $217,000.) in January 2019.
Today, it’s £249,309 (approx. $344,000), a 58.55% increase in value.
If you’re publishing content without intending to ever revisit it again, you’re simply collecting a garage of expensive cars that will slowly lose value.
But treat content like a real estate portfolio, where you’re constantly renovating, then you’ll see incremental gains over the years.
In the context of content marketing, the depreciation in financial value of each asset is akin to traffic decay.
Over time, a blog post will hit a peak of traffic. It will then typically lose traffic (slowly or dramatically) as it becomes outdated or competitors enter the fray with more up-to-date information.
This is especially true in fast-moving industries like social media:
Here, we see that a particular article quickly ranked for a highly competitive keyword in the social media space.
Due to the nature of the industry, however, other players outcompeted by creating better content or updating their existing guides to be more relevant. Slowly but surely, the article above was knocked from the top spot in Google.
Apply this across an existing blog or publication with dozens or hundreds of articles, and the decay can add up to the tune of hundreds of thousands of unique monthly visitors.
So, how do we fix this problem?
A content optimization system for exponential returns
Your content acts as a portfolio of digital real estate. It acts much like a brick-and-mortar investment. If neglected, it starts to become dilapidated and lose traffic and conversion value. But treat that same piece of content with care and respect, and you’ll see its value soar.
Content optimization, then, should not simply protect you from traffic decay. It means identifying the issue, then move from playing defense to offense. Put the right systems in place, and it can help you identify new and lucrative SEO opportunities.
For example, we helped Acquisio develop an aggressive SEO-driven content strategy to rank for highly competitive keywords in the paid media space.
Our goal was to put the specific pain-points of their audience front-and-center to demonstrate they’re the best solution for them while achieving an ambitious level of organic growth.
One particular project was a “wiki” style page on display ads, providing advanced information that provided readers with huge amounts of value.
We quickly ranked for our primary keyword “what are display ads?,” but over time noticed that the article was ranking on page two for the broader and more competitive keyword “display ads.”
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of both keywords:
As you can see, the broader term “display ads” is harder to rank for. But the search volume was too great to ignore. We ran the article through our content optimization and refresh process and, in just 30 days, we increased search traffic to this single article by 301%.
It still sits at the #1 position for “display ads” to this day:
This was possible thanks to two key factors:
- Continuous monitoring of the right metrics thanks to Content Intelligence (CI)
- A content refresh and optimization process that puts data and audience needs first
Most marketers run quarterly or even annual content audits. By the time problems or opportunities are identified, the competition already has a leg up. The longer you leave it, the harder it is to fix issues and capture new opportunities.
Similarly, a content refresh is more than simply adding the right phrases and terms to make content more relevant. It must fill newly identified gaps and overdeliver on value in a way that nobody else can.
To overcome these challenges, we developed the following content optimization process:
- Collect the right data
- Use a content audit tool to wrangle data and identify issues and opportunities
- Prioritize content optimization projects based on a) severity of issues or b) how lucrative each opportunity is
- Optimize each stage of the content journey (from SERPs to introduction to call-to-action)
- Track and monitor changes to pivot where necessary
The rest of this guide will cover these steps in detail. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have a system you can implement to start getting better results from your existing content. Alternatively, you can hire us to do it for you.
1. Identify issues and opportunities with a content audit
First, we must identify, wrangle, and benchmark the right data to identify new growth opportunities and issues that need fixing.
For this purpose, we’ve built our own content audit tool. However, the goal is to provide you with the foundational building blocks to build your own.
Currently, it looks something like this (identifying client data has been omitted):
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start with the data.
Collecting data for content intelligence
At Grizzle, we collect data from several sources, including:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
This is then segmented further based on the types of reports we need to monitor each stage of the journey. For example, from Ahrefs, we need to create or export reports to collect the following KPIs:
- Organic keywords that are being ranked across the entire site (Organic Keywords)
- Specific keywords we’ve developed our content around (Rank Tracker)
- Distribution and backlink performance (Backlinks)
Similarly, we need data on engagement, organic performance across each article, and conversions from Google Analytics.
Each of these data sources have their own sheet in the content audittool, which looks a little like this:
Monitoring each stage of the content journey
Content consumption is a journey made up of micro-interactions. These interactions each play a huge part in the overall performance of your content, and the data we collect will allow you to properly monitor them for best results.
We can bring these metrics into a single view (or sheet in this case) to give us a high-level overview of how content is performing across the entire journey. We call this the “Content Analysis” view, and is broken down by the following content journey stages:
- Avg. position
- Top Keyword
- Keyword Difficulty
- Current Position
- Internal Links
- Avg. Time on Page
- Bounce Rate
- Organic Traffic
- Referring Domains
- URL Rating
Let’s dig deeper into SERP Performance. In our Content Analysis view, we can see varying degrees of green, yellow, and red under the CTR column:
Green means we’re hitting an adequate click-through rate from the SERPs. A good number of people are clicking through to our content when they search for something in Google.
Yellow means things are “ok”, while red is a problem. As you can see, anything below a 1% CTR is cause for concern.
For SERP performance, CTR is our leading performance indicator. For SEO performance, there are two:
- Current position: Where does this content rank for our “top keyword”?
- Internal links: How many internal links are pointing to this content from elsewhere across the site?
Note that “top keyword” is not the same as “primary keyword:”
- A primary keyword is the target keyword that the content was created to rank for
- Top keyword is the query with the highest search volume associated with that content
For example, in the report above, you can see that the top keyword is “net profit,” which has a search volume of 7,600. However, the primary keyword is “net profit margin”, which generates 2,600 searches a month.
We rank for both, but the “top keyword” is not one we deliberately aimed to rank for. Much like our “what are display ads?” article, we can use this insight to optimize content for broader keywords, increase search visibility, and capture more organic traffic.
This content auditreport may look overwhelming. For us, it started as a series of IF statements, VLOOKUP’s and conditional formatting.
While we’re starting to get more sophisticated with automated opportunity alerts and traffic decay detection, the report outlined above is a great start.
Not enough time to build this yourself? We’ll be releasing a template of the basic content audit report in the coming months. Check back or subscribe to our newsletter to be alerted.
Once you’re monitoring opportunities and issues, it’s time to start fixing them.
2. Improving SERP & SEO performance
Why do people click on search results?
Usually, it’s because the page title communicates the benefits of what they’ll find on the other side of the click. Sometimes, they’ll even read the meta description.
This means that our best bet of increasing CTR is optimizing these two elements.
Let’s start with page titles. When you search for a keyword, you’re often met with a series of results that look awfully similar:
Luckily, Google has done a lot of the heavy lifting for us. These are the results that it deems most relevant based on user behavior. In other words, when a user clicks a result, it sends a signal to Google that their attention was captured when searching for a specific query.
The more people do that on a particular result, the more Google deems that page the most relevant result, and thus, it ranks higher.
Problem is, marketers use the SERPs as their single source of truth when researching for every element of their content. They’ll simply emulate whatever they see on page one of Google and make a few subtle tweaks.
When writing page titles, a better approach is to have our cake and eat it too. Emulate what Google is serving while using the language of the actual audience you’re trying to attract. This will not only let your content stand out, but show users that you understand their needs.
There are a handful of ways to do this:
- Speak to your customers and ask them what they’re dying to learn about a topic
- Search for your target keyword on Quora
- Monitor sentiment and content engagement on social media
For example, following on from the “what is VAT” search in our screenshot above, we find the following relevant posts in Quora:
The most popular post asks for a definition in layman’s terms. Further research shows that our audience wants an easy-to-understand definition of what VAT is.
We can then take the language of this audience and use it in our page title:
“What is VAT? A Layman’s Guide to Value-Added Tax”
The same approach can be applied to the meta description:
“In this complete guide to VAT, you’ll learn how to calculate value-added tax and what it means for your business (current rate: 20%).”
Based on our research of this topic, we determined that the following are important elements to include for our audience:
- A complete guide to VAT with everything they need to know
- How to calculate it
- Why it matters to their business in the first place
- What the current VAT rate is
We made sure our page title and meta description communicated these elements, first making sure that our content delivers on those promises.
Some of the pages on the SERPs do this, but few (if any) do all of them. This page title and description successfully ticks three boxes:
- We’re working to fulfil existing search intent
- We’re differentiating our content among a sea of “sameness”
- We’re talking the language of our audience.
Internal linking: one of the best SEO opportunities sitting right under your nose
At this stage, it’s worth giving internal linking a special mention. At the SEO Performance stage of our content audit above, we saw internal links as a leading indicator.
Proper internal linking can have a huge impact on search engine rankings. Ninja Outreach managed to increase organic traffic by 40% through a robust internal linking project alone (see GA report below), and even Google has said it’s important.
Finding internal linking opportunities is simple. Simply group together pages of the same topic cluster and order them by page authority (PA) or URL rating (UR), then add internal links from those that are most relevant to the page you’re looking to give a boost.
Alternatively, you can use the “Top pages” or “Best by links” reports in Ahrefs:
3. Refreshing your content for higher search rankings
Content refreshing is the most powerful tool at our disposal. Done right, you can see an increase in search rankings and conversions just by improving the quality, relevancy, and depth of your content.
Last I counted, there are over a dozen techniques we use to optimize and refresh content. However, the levers that make the biggest impact are:
- Using data-driven tools like Clearscope to improve relevancy and inject important themes
- Expanding on threads to add more actionable or insightful value
At Grizzle, Clearscope is a foundational tool for making sure content is relevant. It collects data from IBM Watson and Google Graph Map to determine which themes Google deems most important for a primary target keyword.
And it works wonders. At Grizzle, we see a direct correlation between a strong “Content Grade” and higher rankings:
Research by Backlinko also found that “content with a high “Content Grade” (via Clearscope), significantly outperformed content that didn’t cover a topic in-depth:”
But identifying new terms needs more than simply making sure the words appear in your content. They require the right context, ensuring that the right angles and amount of value is sufficiently applied to give readers everything they need to understand and act on the advice you’re providing them.
Take the following subsection for an article on self assessment statements. Not the sexiest topic, but one we can make more interesting with the right angles, language, and narrative:
The highlighted text is what Clearscope deems “important” from an SEO perspective. The following appear in the subsection:
- Income tax
- National insurance
- Tax calculation
- Tax affairs
These terms aren’t “stuffed” into the content carelessly. They add context, building a detailed narrative around the question “who needs a self assessment statement?”
When using data-driven tools, ask yourself why a term should be added. Does it need its own subsection to allow for a large enough canvas that explores the topic in as much depth as possible? The answer is usually “yes.”
Don’t forget to expand on threads. “Threads” are topics, ideas, nomenclature, or themes that are presented in the content that needs additional depth.
Open and close threads in a comprehensive manner by including the following:
- Detailed explanations
- Stats and data
- Actionable takeaways
These elements give your readers everything they need to take action on a topic. It also makes sure your content is as comprehensive as possible, which strengthens your moat and makes it difficult for competitors to outperform you. The next section will show you how to do this in more depth.
4. Improving content engagement by keeping your readers hooked
Low avg. time on page, bounce rates, and even low scroll depth (measured using scroll maps) are symptoms of content that fails to do the following:
- Quickly hooks a reader in
- Keep them engaged and excited throughout the content
- Deliver on enough value to instill a feeling of empowerment
Introductions that pique interest or make a bold promise are key. Most people don’t have low attention spans, they have low consideration spans. You only have a few seconds to capture that attention by proving you have what a reader (or searcher) is looking for.
A strong introduction is one way to do this, as are value-driven subheadings. When evaluating whether content is worth their time, readers scroll around and take in chunks of what they can easily read.
Subheadings catch the eye as the font size is usually larger than the body text. They’re your best opportunity to communicate the specific forms of value you’ll be delivering in your content.
For example, in this article on app store optimization (ASO), the first section gives a high-level overview of what ASO is and why it’s important:
We could have written “What is ASO?” like most SEO-driven articles. But instead, it speaks to the specific outcomes that CXL’s audience of seasoned marketers are striving for.
Once you have their attention, you need to keep them hooked. This means communicating in a clear manner while overdelivering on the value you’ve already communicated.
Filler words, fluff, and waffle is your worst enemy here. Every unnecessary word acts as a sticky slime that prevents your reader from gliding through your content. Cut the fat wherever possible.
Here’s a subsection taken from another article from CXL on storytelling:
Let’s break this subsection down paragraph by paragraph:
Focus on shared interests and values. Speak to passions, relatable experiences, common problems, gaps in the market—whatever makes your audience feel connected to the message at a high level.
Building upon the context established earlier in the article, the first sentence of this subsection provides value in no more than six words. It continues by offering how to build intrigue (passions, experiences) and communicates why it’s important (it makes your audience feel connected).
Wealthsimple does this expertly in their digital magazine. Take this story about avoiding financial troubles under the pretense “It’ll Work Itself Out”:
We're then introduced to an example of this in action, including a supporting image. This breaks down the content without tripping the reader up.
“It Actually Won’t” is a clever one-two punch. Immediately, the reader understands:
* This is a story about debt woes (a relatable problem, given that consumer debt in America reached a record high in 2020)
* Ignoring them will make it worse (debt denial and financial strain can lead to high levels of depressive symptoms)
80% of Wealthsimple’s clients are under 45. Because the familiar story is told by a peer and not a faceless brand, it works to build authority.
Here, a perspective of the example is shared, along with two clever components and an analysis on why it's clever. We're not leaving the reader to connect the dots themselves, we're doing it for them.
Many readers see themselves in this story. Living paycheck to paycheck, even with a good job, saddled by debt, and paralyzed by calls from debt collectors.
This paragraph brings it back to the topic at hand. Remember, at the beginning of the subsection we talk about shared interests, values, and experiences. This example from Wealthsimple talks to the shared experiences of their audience, which makes a connection between the example and the principle being taught.
The story pulls the reader in and incites a desire to learn more. What does this company have to offer me? Have they solved the author’s problems?
The theme is then concluded while acting as a “bridge” to the next subsection. The reader has seen an example of building intrigue. The question is, what's next? The answer is in the next subsection.
In just 190 words, this subsection provides the following "aha!" moments:
- The "ingredients" we need to build intrigue (values, experiences, etc.)
- Why those ingredients are important (to make the audience feel connected)
- An example of a brand that does this well (illustrating the lesson)
- A breakdown of why the example works so well (debt and financial strain is the shared experience of their audience)
- An additional outcome of this story (Wealthsimple builds authority)
- How this looks from the eyes of Wealthsimples's audience (they see themselves, trying to overcome debt)
- What I can do with this information (build intrigue to pull readers in and entice them to learn more)
As well as an easy reading experience, you must continuously teach users something new. Provide “aha!” moments as often as possible; either by presenting a new idea or reinforcing those ideas with examples, takeaways, and specific instructions on executing them.
At Grizzle, we call this “Aha! Velocity.” It’s the speed at which new information is shared or the rate at which readers connect the dots between existing ideas.
Increase your “Aha! Velocity,” make your content easy to read, and you’ll have high-performing content that people will read from start to finish.
5. Optimizing conversions by testing new CTAs and offers
Finally, there’s no point in creating content that people love reading if they’re not going to take action.
Low conversion rates from content usually occurs due to a misalignment between what’s being offered and where readers are in their “buying journey.”
For example, if someone is looking to learn about what “digital adoption” is, it’s unlikely they’re going to be interested in a service that does it for them (at least just yet).
However, offer them templates, cheat sheets, and resources to make a case with their bosses, and they’re likely to take action to acquire them. It’s then your job to foster that community and nurture leads and subscribers into customers.
For example, Pipedrive heavily invest in top-of-funnel content as part of an aggressive SEO strategy:
Here, they offer a contextual resource that readers can use to solve some of the problems presented in the article. Pipedrive could have offered a free trial of their CRM, but they see the value in audience building enough to serve readers first.
On the flip side, someone looking for an alternative to HubSpot is probably ready to sign up and take their CRM for a test spin..
Yes, content should generate an ROI. But not at the expense of audience building and brand equity.
Find the right way to start a relationship with your readers. Use your email marketing, social media, and retargeting capabilities to strengthen those connections.
For those who have never optimized or refreshed their content, the first step is to conduct an in-depth content audit like the one presented in this guide.
Measure each stage of the content journey to identify issues that need fixing. Improve your CTR, refresh your content to make it more relevant, and you’ll begin to see your organic traffic soar.
The processes outlined in this article is an overview of the methodology we use to help our SaaS clients refresh and optimize their content.
Want to learn more? Check out our content optimization services and sign up for a free consultation. We’ll run a high-level audit and give you some content optimization suggestions you can test in-house.