You created 10x content but it didn’t bring the expected pageviews. You invested in paid ads and the views came but they didn’t convert. And you tried 50 different ways to promote your content and experienced a boost but realized that doing it for each post isn’t scalable.
As Hubstaff’s search marketer I’ve faced these situations and many others like them. But after all the ups and downs I’ve finally found a strategy that’s scalable and helps us grow.
Hiten Shah, Brian Balfour, and many in the SaaS community talk about the importance of having a strategy that guarantees lasting growth. And because we’ve developed a successful strategy over the years, we can simply add resources to it to make our traffic line move up and to the right.
Unless there’s a massively unfavorable algorithmic update from Google, the growth I’m talking about is stable and highly targeted toward our audience. Of course, the driver of this growth is organic traffic.
In this post I’ll show you my process for growing our traffic and converting viewers into customers. Using this seven-step process has worked for us – 400% growth in 20 months – and I’m confident it can work for you.
This process is proven to work
Here’s a snapshot of our organic traffic growth in the last 20 months:
It’s slow, strong, and steady – and it never really dips (except during Christmas which is normal).
That’s the beauty of search engine traffic. You can always build on top of traffic instead of starting from scratch after executing each content promotion tactic.
To put this into a business perspective, here’s how Hubstaff has grown in the same time period:
If so, let’s go ahead and get started…
Step 1: Locate your top performing blog posts
In Google Search Console you can identify the posts that drive the most organic traffic to your site. Plus you can pinpoint the exact keyword responsible for it. Assuming you’ve already set up Search Console, follow these steps:
- Go to your site property in Google Webmaster Tools.
- In the left sidebar, select Search Traffic, then select Search Analytics.
- Select the radio button for Pages.
You should see something like this:
Now you want to find the top 10% of your posts that drive organic traffic.
To do this, scroll to the bottom of the Search Console page and find the number of total pages listed in the bottom right. (For us this is 612 right now.) Now divide that number by 10 (612/10= ~61). Whatever that number equals, grab that amount of initial pages listed in Search Console.
Note: You can download your results into .csv format by clicking the Download button in the bottom left of the Search Console page.
From the resulting spreadsheet, copy and paste your top 10% posts in a different spreadsheet under Column A. The purpose of this other sheet is to keep track of all improvements you make and check the results at the end of each month to measure their impact. You’ll be using this sheet in later steps as well.
Step 2: Find keywords driving the most organic traffic
Within Search Console, click the Queries radio button instead of Pages (we’re still on the same page we were on in Step 1):
The 80/20 rule holds true here. This means that the top two to five keywords are driving 80% of the traffic for each blog post.
Once you find out what the top keywords are, switch to Google Keyword Planner and find their search volume. (You can use another keyword tool as well.) After checking the search volume, decide which keyword you want to focus on.
For example: Say I have an article about “team chat for remote teams,” and we’re ranking for that keyword. Over the next two months I notice that this article is ranking on page 3 for the keyword “team chat.” I find out the search volume for “team chat for remote teams” is 700 searches per month and 5,000 for “team chat.”
The conclusion? I’d definitely consider changing my focus keyword to “team chat” because there’s a bigger audience for it and I have a shot at ranking for it. I make a note of this in my blog post improvement tracking sheet.
Step 3: Optimize posts for selected keywords
The next step in the process is to make sure that the blog post is fully suited to rank for the keyword you’ve chosen. (It’s always useful to go through a blog post checklist as well to make sure you’re not missing any basic optimizations.)
I’ll continue with our previous example of using the keyword “team chat.”
There are three main steps that I’ll execute to ensure the post is fully optimized.
Step 3.1: Improve the content
The approach we’ve adopted is to create 10x content, meaning that we’re aiming to craft content that is 10 times better than anything that exists on the topic.
You can start to do this by analyzing the content of the top results for your keyword and extracting learnings from them.
Using the keyword “team chat,” let’s see what kind of content shows up in Google:
Most of the articles are talking about the top team chat tools. After briefly going through each one, you would want to think about ways you could make your content 10 times better than any of the results.
A 10x version could contain the most exhaustive list of team chat tools out there, complemented with an expert review of the most useful features of each tool.
Some other methods include shaping the content into a detailed guide, giving a unique perspective from an expert on the topic, or, if it’s a roundup-style post, offering more options than anybody else has.
At Hubstaff, I often arrive at two choices for 10x’ing content:
- I can create a brand new article or guide on “team chat” that focuses on this keyword.
- I can update the existing post to cover all aspects of team chat, i.e. with content on remote teams, co-located teams, and other best practices of implementing team chat in an organization.
Option 1 is low risk, but difficult. Option 2 is high risk, but easy.
Choose what fits best in your case.
Step 3.2: Optimize on-page SEO
In this step we use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress installed on our blog.
When you have this installed – or using your preferred optimization tool – check whether the keyword that’s driving the most organic traffic is the one that the post is currently optimized for.
If this isn’t the case, make a note of the needed changes and the keyword in your improvement tracking spreadsheet.
Step 3.3: Improve the post’s click-through rate (CTR)
In Search Console you can see the CTR for each keyword that drives organic traffic to your site.
CTR is a well-known ranking signal that measures click count divided by impression count. The more people that click on the search result and stay inside the article, the more your post will move up in search engine result pages.
One of the most effective ways to improve CTR is to improve the title of the article, as well as the description tag (snippet). To make your title and description better you can follow Brian Dean’s advice (see point 4) to take ideas from Adwords ads.
Dean advises to take inspiration and make conclusions from the ads of your competitors in order to craft a killer title and description. Companies have already spent thousands of dollars and run several A/B tests to choose the titles and descriptions for their ads, so you can readily use that knowledge.
Here is a snapshot from our example of “team chat”:
In this case we can draw inspiration from the ad copy to come up with a better title for our post on team chat. Perhaps we would rename our title to something like: A Comparison of the Best Team Chat Applications.
Step 4: Choose cornerstone content
Choosing cornerstone content involves selecting a page and keyword and turning that page into a “content hub” for that keyword/topic.
Here’s a visual from Jimmy Daly’s blog that illustrates how you can group up content to create a hub of content focused on a certain keyword:
By creating a central place of related content, pages will perform better in search. Plus, organizing your content into a hub helps with strategically planning your content creation efforts.
If a particular post is ranking for several good keywords and it’s an exhaustive piece of content, we would identify it as our cornerstone content on a topic. (Here is an example of our cornerstone content piece on remote work.)
By using this strategy we identify the best performing posts and double down on their impact by positioning them as our top content pieces.
Step 5: Check conversion rates for posts
You could be getting a million visits to your site, but if they don’t result in new subscribers or buyers, the traffic is meaningless.
On its own traffic is a vanity metric.
The one-metric strategy
Today I’m always looking to identify the one metric that matters the most for each post. In our case, this metric could be email subscribers, trials started on Hubstaff, or profiles created on Talent. One of these three numbers would be the target of each piece of content we create.
Check conversion rates and identify patterns
After determining the metric you can start improving conversion rates for each post. To effectively do this you need to set up UTM tags in content and set your goals in the analytics tool.
(I’m assuming you’ve already done this, but if not, check out our content ROI blog post for an explanation of how to set up goals in Google Analytics.)
You’ll want to identify patterns in terms of content performance. For example, our post on virtual assistant companies in the Philippines leads to new email subscribers but barely any free trials.
I’ve tested different CTAs for this post, like this one…
…but it simply wouldn’t convert. Then I realized that this article attracts virtual assistants searching for a job – not people looking for virtual assistants. So I proceeded to the next step…
Test new solutions based on patterns
Instead of writing the post off as unsuccessful I thought we could still make use of it. After all, it was getting so much traffic that there must be something valuable in it. Maybe virtual assistants would be interested in starting a profile on Hubstaff Talent to get a job.
This became my test hypothesis and I changed the CTAs to focus in this direction. And sure enough, it led to visitors creating profiles on Talent. The one metric of focus became new Talent profiles.
Step 6: Review progress monthly
Making changes is great, but how do you know they’re improving your organic traffic and conversion rates?
The only way to know is to review the numbers on a regular basis.
Step 6.1: Review rank improvements
At Hubstaff we have a rank tracking sheet where we keep tabs on rank improvements over time based on the changes we introduce. This makes it very easy for us to see things like how our ranking position has improved from an average of 22 to 11 in the last nine months.
The keywords selected in the sheet below are based on a variety of criteria like cornerstone content opportunities, current organic traffic, and relevance to our current and upcoming products.
At the start of every month, update your ranking for all the keywords. Then add comments on the rank changes that have seen the most significant impact in the last 30 days (positive or negative). We use a tool called SEMrush for tracking keyword ranking.
Marked in yellow is our average ranking for all important keywords at the end of each month. Checking your average rankings will help you measure your performance and compare it with previous months.
Step 6.2: Review traffic performance
Remember our first sheet where we were tracking blog post improvements? This is how it looks once you’ve added your top 10% posts, added improvement notes, and tracked results at the end of each month…
In this example you can see the improvement in traffic for two of our posts that occurred in the month after the changes were made. This means we hit the right SEO areas. We got an A.
But there is something wrong. Can you see it?
We got an F on conversions. Even though our traffic on the blog post increased, our referrals to the main site decreased.
By analyzing the data and getting this insight, I know next month I probably need to re-think the changes I made in terms of conversions. And that’s how the cycle of improving blog posts goes.
Step 7: Identify new keywords you’re ranking for
In SEMrush there’s a great feature that lets you see all the new keywords you’re starting to rank for. A lot of SEO research tools have this feature, so make sure to take advantage of it.
Here’s a snapshot of what it looks like for us:
We rank for a couple hundred new keywords every day, so there’s a little case of information overload. But I still find a way to make use of the data.
Let’s say a post started ranking for a good keyword but the post doesn’t answer the question the searcher is looking for. This means I need to share this information with our content team and work on building a new content piece specifically targeted for users with that query.
I may also discover that we’re ranking for a highly targeted, high traffic keyword and can optimize content for that keyword.
It’s a relatively new step in our process and we’re still figuring out ways to better integrate it into our workflow. But I found this feature immensely useful to our search marketing efforts so you may also get some ideas from it.
Grow and convert your organic traffic
Even though this methodology takes time to implement, it’s worth it because it saves you from constantly trying new tactics that only bring temporary benefits (like advertising). For us at least, organic traffic drives better customer acquisition ROI and brings steady results.
If you’re planning on using our 7-step process in your own content marketing and SEO campaigns we’d love to hear about it.
Let us know in the comments.