I recently did something that I felt was very scary, borderline stupid, and dangerously risky.
I stopped publishing new content.
Not to long ago, I was pushing out a ton of content on a weekly basis.
It took a lot of time, effort, and money.
And I did it because, well, content is king.
And I’m not alone in this belief.
Feeding the content monster is a full-time endeavor for most brands.
It’s a task in which they devote a massive amount of time, energy and resources to.
HubSpot reports, “53 percent of marketers say blog content creation is their top inbound marketing priority.”
Furthermore, “75 percent of marketers are increasing investment in content marketing.”
This of course this means there’s a lot of content on the Internet. This also means that the bigger brands are getting better at it, creating more rich and engaging pieces of content.
Just look at how much the amount of digital information created and shared each year grew between 2005 and 2015.
By looking at this chart, it’s clear that the volume of digital information isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
So it’s safe to say that the content monster has been fed until he’s stuffed and bloated.
The main issue is that this is a difficult pace to maintain. With longform posts jam packed with visuals, data and stats being the new norm, this is setting the stage for marketer burnout.
But what if there was another way to increase your traffic or even double it without creating any new content for three months?
That’s what we did.
A heart-attack-inducing, gut-stopping, pee-my-pants moment.
We pulled the plug on content.
As in we published nothing new.
And over that three month period of silence, all of our metrics went up.
We doubled our traffic and dropped our content output.
Sounds crazy right? Totally counterintuitive.
I can tell you from experience that it’s completely possible and quite doable.
Allow me to explain.
Doubling our traffic volume
From December 2016 to March 2017, we doubled our traffic and increased our most meaningful engagement metrics.
I’m an agnostic when it comes to pageviews. (I tend to disregard it as a vanity metric.)
As a conversion rate advocate first and foremost, I’m more interested in other engagement metrics that tell a story about the user and their behaviors.
In case that image is a bit small, let me break it down for you:
- March 1, 2017 to March 31, 2017. This was the month following our content hiatus.
- Compared December 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016. This was the month in which we pulled the plug on content.
- 118.52% increase in sessions
- 117.11% increase in users
- 121.06% increase in organic traffic
- 1.16 increase in pages per session
- 6.63% increase in average session duration
- 0.77 decrease in bounce rate
Notice that the number of sessions, users and pageviews all increased by at least 117 percent.
For the record, I vehemently avoid displaying averages or high level numbers when doing data analysis.
However, for purposes of highlighting these outcomes, I’ll refrain from adding multiple dimensions and/or metrics in order to avoid any confusion (without deeper explanations).
The amazing thing is that we hadn’t created any new content since 7/16 and were stagnate before the optimization.
What the heck is going on?
And what dark arts did we employ?
Rather than focusing on content creation during that period, we decided to experiment with a different process instead.
It revolved around optimizing our existing content to improve its performance and increase exposure in the SERPs.
For this post, I’m going to share exactly how we did this. I’ll break it down step-by-step as well as explain the logic behind it.
Identify your top landing pages
The first thing you need to do is figure out what your top landing pages are based on organic search.
Then, create a list of your top 20 pages.
This is where we started with our efforts.
Ahrefs is the perfect tool for doing this.
Here’s what you do:
Type in your URL in the search bar from your dashboard.
Keep in mind that the default setting is only 30 days.
However, you can adjust the time period to 60, 90 or even 180 days depending on your preference.
For a better look at objective data, I’ll go back 180 days.
Click on the search button.
Now you want to click on “Organic search.”
Scroll down to the bottom of the page until you see “Top 5 pages.”
Click on “View full report.”
You’ll now see a list of your top pages in terms of the amount of organic traffic they’ve received.
In total, Ahrefs provided me with 215 different pages. But you’re not interested in all of these.
You just want to see the best of the best.
So what you want to do is create a list of your top 20 pages because those are the ones that are already having the most success.
You can use these top 20 pages to gain valuable insights and optimize them to improve their performance even more.
(Note: You can also conduct get this same data using Google Analytics. If GA is your jam, check out this article. we picked Ahrefs, because it provides the best advanced data for the rest of the process that I explain below.)
Quick side note on the logic behind this.
Obviously, these pages are already doing well.
You’re probably not juicing them with paid search traffic or boosting them with social sharing. They’re just doing what they’re supposed to be doing — gaining organic pageviews.
By starting with these high-performing pages, you get a head start.
It’s like moving your starting block up 10 yards in a 50-yard dash race.
You’re already in a position to win.
Perform keyword analysis on those pages
Now that you know which pages are generating the biggest share of organic traffic, you need to perform some keyword analysis.
More specifically, you need to use a tool (again, like Ahrefs) to determine what keywords those pages currently rank for and their position.
Ahrefs makes this fairly simple. You can quickly tell what the top keyword is and its ranking position by looking at “Top keyword and “Position.”
What you want to do is look at the pages that rank first, second and third. Then find out what makes them different.
This is where you’ll have to put on your SEO thinking cap. Nothing too heavy. Just a little research.
Here are some of the common reasons why an article might be ranking at the top:
- Longer content (My top article was way over 2k words, and was jacked up with images)
- More images
- Higher search volume keyword
- Better overall on page technical optimization
- Boost from a social influencer (social share)
By scanning through these results, there are several pages that rank third or higher that we can potentially work with.
Here’s are some examples of what I’m talking about:
Create a list of secondary semantic keywords
Once you’ve narrowed your list down to pages that rank first, second or third, you want to create a list of secondary semantic keywords, relevant to the keyword you want to rank for.
For example, our top page’s top keyword is “Cialdini’s six principles of influence.”
So I might create the following secondary semantic keywords around it:
- What are Cialdini’s six principles of influence?
- Explain Cialdini’s six principles of influence
- How to apply Cialdini’s six principles of influence
- The fundamentals of Cialdini’s six principles of influence
And so on.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s interested in the topic. What types of phrases might they use?
Identify other opportunities
Another thing that I love about tools like Ahrefs is that they will show you the other ranking keywords on the top ranked pages.
This makes it absolutely perfect for identifying new opportunities.
Here’s what you do:
Click on the “Keywords” box next to one of your top ranked pages.
Here are some of the keywords I get for the top page:
Just look under “Position” to see exactly where that page ranks for that keyword.
Combing through these results will give you a start to your keyword opportunities list.
You should be able to generate a considerable number of ideas pretty quickly with this technique.
Compile a list of new opportunities
Now you want to finalize the potential new opportunities you’ve researched and compile a formal list.
Read through your article/post and write down one-liners for topics covered.
Using a keyword research tool, identify relevant keywords to that topic that have a high search volume.
For instance, social proof is one of Cialdini’s six principles of influence and a specific topic I cover in the post.
I can plug that into Ahrefs to determine its search volume.
I can also investigate other keyword ideas. Just click on “View full report” under “Having same terms,” “Also rank for” or “Search suggestions.”
Here are some other ideas that pop up under “Search suggestions.”
You get the idea. The goal is to come up with new keyword opportunities that have a high search volume.
I recommend selecting keywords that are
- High volume
- Medium to low CPC
- Medium to low KD (keyword difficulty)
Of course, you need to filter out the junk like “social security proof of income,” but that shouldn’t be to hard. Depending on your specific search term, the process will be fairly easy.
Ahrefs is great for this.
However, I recommend evaluating the competitiveness from other sources as well.
You don’t want to trust just one tool. So you might want to use Moz, Ubersuggest or even The Google Keyword Planner as well.
The more tools you use, the clearer your data will be.
I recommend doing as much research as you feel necessary until you’re confident that you’ve pinpointed a rock solid keyword with a reasonable search volume.
Once you have a list of keywords you think the article could potentially rank for, use a tool like Google Trends to establish which keywords are on the rise, so you can prioritize your optimization efforts.
This is especially important if you have dozens of keywords because you’ll know where your time will best be spent.
If you’re really experienced in your niche, you probably have a gut sense around which keywords and topics will rank well.
And that’s good. You can go with your gut.
But I’ve found that my gut doesn’t always tell the truth.
That’s why I recommend running these keywords through a tool that isn’t likely to lie.
Here are a couple of examples from Google Trends.
The data is basic, but it’s enough to nudge me in the right direction.
Here’s what I get for “psychology of persuasion.”
Not too bad. It was definitely trending upward for awhile.
However, I don’t find it overly enticing.
Now here’s what I get for “principles of influence.”
That’s more like it. There’s steady growth in the interest of this term, and it’s trending in the right direction.
This makes it a keyword that I would probably want to make a priority.
Just repeat this process until you’ve got a good grasp of which keywords are on the rise.
Putting it all together
By now you should have three things:
An idea, from a content perspective, of what you need to rank for your main keyword
By examining your top ranking pages, you should have a pretty good idea of any underlying factors that have contributed to their success.
For instance, there’s a pattern where most of my top 20 pages have a high number of keywords.
Several of them contain over 200 keywords.
One even has 2,865!
Look how this compares with some of my lower performing pages.
Most of these don’t even crack 10 keywords. Sheesh.
So by examining this information, I can tell that there’s a correlation between having more keywords and generating more organic search traffic.
(But I already knew that.)
Understanding this type of data not only helps you out now but in the long run, so I recommend performing a close examination.
2. A good list of secondary semantic keywords that support your main keyword
We all know that Google places a big emphasis on understanding user intent.
That’s the primary reason for the Hummingbird update back in 2013.
This is becoming even more important as the use of mobile devices and voice search continues to rise.
In fact, the number of voice search queries grew 35 percent between 2008 and 2016.
ComScore even predicts that 50 percent of searches will be voice by 2020.
Creating a list of secondary semantic keywords will help bolster your main keyword and optimize it for semantic search.
This sounds pretty nerdy and boring, but it’s critical. Don’t skip it.
3. A list of new opportunities to optimize for
Performing some fairly extensive keyword research for additional opportunities will enable you to create a sizable list of keywords to optimize your content around.
Plugging those into Google Trends will let you know which keywords have historical volume, are hot at the moment and the most likely to resonate with your audience.
In turn, this let’s you know which keywords should be your top priority and which ones are less pressing.
Subtlety is the goal
Keep in mind that this process does not require a complete overhaul of your website.
You’re not gutting your content, taking it apart piece by piece and repairing it.
Not at all.
The goal is to subtly include these keywords in your copy. It should be inconspicuous.
At the end of the day, there shouldn’t be a noticeable difference from a user-perspective when it comes to the original vs. optimized content.
We’re specifically looking to highlight those phrases and keywords more likely used by searchers than what we currently have.
I like to think of it simply as making some minor tweaks to so that the content is more search friendly. I’m simply looking for opportunities that present themselves and capitalizing on them.
This makes all the difference in the world to search engines.
And here’s the thing. You won’t necessarily experience a massive spike in your rankings.
After all, you’re optimizing the pages that are already performing well.
But just think of the impact if you can increase the ranking of multiple pages.
A post from Search Engine Watch breaks down the average traffic share by page rank.
So if you can bump a page from ranking third to first, you’ll theoretically generate 21.1 percent more traffic.
This can really add up in a hurry when you optimize multiple pages on your site.
Do the results last?
At this point, you should be able to see the underlying logic behind this process.
Although it may seem a little complex at first glance, it’s actually pretty straightforward.
You’re probably thinking that this all sounds legit, but there’s one glaring question.
Will you be able to maintain your rankings?
Will all of the effort you put into optimizing your content be worth it in the long run?
Yes. I can say without a doubt that they do in fact last.
We were so pleased with the results that we even went back and optimized the top 80 pages of our site.
Here are some brief highlights that put some perspective on things:
- Starting (12/1/16) non-branded keywords ranked 1-10 : 143
- Ending (3/31/17) non-branded keywords ranked 1-10: 237
- Current (7/28/17) non-branded keywords ranked 1-10: 300
So in eight months, we more than doubled the number of non-branded keywords that ranked 1-10.
And of course like I mentioned before, we were able to double our site traffic in just three months.
Insights for future content
The fact that this process is so effective proves that you don’t always have to keep feeding the content monster to be successful.
Sometimes it makes more sense to go back and optimize the existing content you already have rather than continually creating new content (at least for awhile).
When we stopped publishing content, it freed up our time, sure.
But we did what we did for experimental purposes only, not because I advocate being on a total content vacation.
We didn’t have to put the kibosh on publishing new content. So don’t think you have to take a full-on hiatus from content creation.
You could of course optimize your existing content and simultaneously create new content. That’s totally fine and can increase your traffic volume even more.
The main point I’m trying to make is that it’s completely possible to increase your traffic and even double it with zero new content. It’s simply a matter of following the process that I’ve outlined here.
One thing that you definitely want to take note of is the commonalities between your top ranking pages.
What makes them different from the rest of your content?
Usually patterns will emerge if you examine things close enough. You can then gain key insights and apply your knowledge moving forward when creating new content.
This isn’t to say that you can 100 percent guarantee the same level of success with every piece of content you create, but it should definitely put you on the right track and help you maximize your overall organic search traffic.
Content creation is great and even the lifeblood of many modern marketing campaigns.
And a high volume of content can do wonders for your traffic and leads.
You’ve probably heard stats like:
- B2B companies that blogged 11+ times per month had almost 3X more traffic than those blogging 0-1 times per month
- B2C companies that blogged 11+ times per month got more than 4X as many leads than those that blog only 4-5 times per month
So I’m in no way saying that you should forget about creating new content. That’s not what I’m saying at all.
Of course fresh content is important.
But it’s not the only way to move ahead with traffic, visitors, page views, dwell time, conversion rates, and all the other metrics that matter.
The bottom line here is that optimizing your existing content can take things to a whole new level and increase your site traffic dramatically.
We had great success with this process to the point that we were able to double our traffic, while at the same time taking a break from creating new content.
Applying this same strategy can bring about awesome results for you as well.
The one caveat is that you must first have a substantial number of pages with several of them performing reasonably well.
Otherwise, it’s going to be difficult to make any real headway if you only have 10 or 15 pages on your site.
With that being said, implementing this process can pay dividends and help you increase your organic search traffic substantially.
What similarities do you notice among your website’s top pages? How do you plan to optimize your content moving forward?
Interested in our keyword template with detailed instructions? You can buy it here.