In 2017, HubSpot experienced something that had never happened before – our blog’s monthly traffic dropped. Worse, it started to sink. After months of stressing out about the mysterious cause of our blog’s traffic plateau, we decided to sit down, chug a ton of coffee, and find the culprit.
We found that our editorial strategy of brainstorming topics and relying on intuition to determine our audience’s content preferences was no longer sufficient. We decided to focus our energies on the channel that has generated most of our blog’s traffic throughout its existence – organic search.
Today, years after adjusting our organic strategy, we have exceeded the majority of our monthly traffic targets and even broken some monthly traffic records. Needless to say, we’re thrilled (and relieved) that our organic strategy fueled our traffic surge and destroyed the great traffic plateau of 2017. In this post, we’re going to outline the essential tips that helped us advance our organic strategy with insight from HubSpot SEO experts.
- Spend as much time on the SERPs as you do on tools.
- Master the SERP overlap test.
- Target the snippets featured in SERPs.
- Consider on-page SEO, but not everything you publish has to be search-friendly.
- Target a wide variety of high and low volume keywords.
- Consider pruning the contents after long periods of growth.
- Consolidate web pages using redirects and canonical tags.
- Implement a historical optimization strategy.
- Train your website visitors to search for your brand.
- Develop page authority.
- Use the pillar cluster model.
- Create a link building strategy.
- Don’t change urls.
- Compress and optimize your multimedia files.
- Add alternative text to each image.
- Use CTAs as often as possible.
- Form good relationships with your developers and designers.
- Perform a technical SEO audit.
- Check your data, double-check it, and double-check it three times.
Download this checklist and save it to your desktop so you can tick off an SEO tip every time you close.
1. Spend as much time on the SERPs as you do on tools.
Although an algorithm dictates the ranking of the results page (SERPs) of a search engine, the algorithm rewards web publishers who create the best content on the Internet.
Because of this, it is important to understand the search intent. To do this, we will analyze the SERP of a keyword and identify the problems that users are trying to solve while searching for that query.
Aja Frost, Head of Search Engine Optimization at HubSpot, says, “Yes, tools give us a lot of information. However, this information is often based on incomplete, outdated, or biased records. I encourage SEOs to combine those insights they get from their tools , with real-time cues on the SERPs. Every time you decide to use a new keyword, update some content, or diagnose a page or section of pages with erratic traffic, take a look at what happens to them Main queries on Google. “
Depending on your goal, Frost says you should keep the following in mind:
- Search functions,
- The type of content that is ranking (product pages, lists, tutorials, etc.)
- The websites that compose a ranking (databases, companies, media sites, directories, etc.)
- How far down on the page does the first organic result appear.
- How your page is displayed (title, meta description, date, jump links, possibly scheme, etc.).
When you do these type of searches, “Don’t forget to use an incognito window, frequently clear your cache, cookies, and history, and do your searches on both a desktop and a phone,” adds Frost added.
2. Master the SERP overlap test.
In SERPs, Frost performs a SERP overlap test. She says, “I use this test all the time to see if there are more than two queries with a single piece of content to process.”
Now you may be wondering what is the SERP overlap test?
Frost describes the following steps:
- Do a quick incognito search for keyword A and a separate search for keyword B.
- If the SERPs look quite different (i.e. the top ranked pages are different or the first result for keyword A is the ninth result for keyword B), then Google will treat these queries as separate searches with different intent.
- However, if the SERPs overlap a lot, you can treat them as the same query.
3. Target the snippets featured in SERPs.
Selected snippets are used by search engines to display an answer to a query directly on the SERP so that a user does not have to visit another page to get the answer to their question. The following image is an example of a featured snippet for the query “What is Inbound Marketing?”.
As you can imagine, featured snippets affect organic search results. Therefore, it is also important that you try to rank with as many featured snippets as possible.
To do this, create posts that answer specific questions from users. The content of your featured snippet must be semantically relevant to the keyword that a user is searching for. This means that you have to answer the question “What is inbound marketing?” Can’t answer. with unrelated content as the algorithm knows enough to detect relationships between the keywords and descriptions you provide.
Additionally, your blog post should be organized and formatted so that Google knows you answered a question. For example, this could mean using certain coding so that your imagined section stands out on the page.
According to Karla Cook, senior manager of the HubSpot blog team, “targeting snippets with consistently formatted sections has removed some (but definitely not all) of the guesswork involved in ranking snippets.
Matthew Howells-Barby, Vice President of Marketing at HubSpot, emphasized that clean and consistent code is a key factor in winning snippets. “
4. Consider on-page SEO, but not everything you publish has to be search-friendly.
On-page SEO is the process of optimizing a page on your website with front and back end components that can help you rank higher in search engines. These components include:
- High quality page content
- Page title
- Meta descriptions
- Structured markup
- Page URLs
- Internal link
- Website speed
In this example, we will focus on copy-oriented elements such as high quality content, page titles, headings, meta descriptions, and image alt text.
You should prioritize creating an optimized page copy to improve your SERP rankings. What you write should include your target keyword, be contextually relevant to your target keyword, and answer questions your users may have. Ultimately, the goal is to let search engines know that you’ve answered questions a user may have about a query.
However, Victor Pan, Head of Technical SEO at HubSpot, says that not everything you publish has to be search-friendly.
“These can be ad landing pages, thank you pages, internal sales activation pages, and sign-up pages. Prioritize search optimization when the opportunity is bigger than the time invested, and leave the rest to the Backburner. Take on the Backburner once.” You can create a process to reduce the time it takes to optimize, “he adds.
5. Target a wide variety of high and low volume keywords.
With an organic search strategy, it’s important to find keywords that span the entire journey of a buyer, including a variety of high and low volume keywords.
Braden Becker, Senior SEO Strategist at HubSpot, says: “Broad keywords with early interest tend to have higher volume, while keywords with later interest or even willingness to buy tend to have lower volume because the target audience is more specific should you not be afraid of keywords Target in low volume when traffic is more likely to turn into leads or customers. “
At HubSpot, the SEO team does in-depth keyword research for our four on-site blog properties (marketing, sales, service, and website). You look for search volume first, some up to 120,000+ and some up to 50 searches per month.
According to Frost, it is important to get creative with the high volume keywords that you are targeting.
For example, when she was an editor on the HubSpot sales blog, she assigned content that may have deviated from our usual topics but has a significant search volume. However, all of the posts answered our audience’s questions, agreed with our values, and were well researched and comprehensive.
6. Consider pruning the contents after long periods of growth.
Cleaning up your content will reduce the number of pages indexed by removing old, poor quality content that does not add value to your website.
Becker says, “Consider pruning content after long periods of growth. As websites grow and scale, you will find that some content does not work as expected. If that stack gets bigger, it can have a negative impact on the rest of your website.” Speed and performance. Check your website for pages that aren’t driving a certain amount of traffic, backlinks, or conversions and stop publishing them. “
You can find more information about cleaning up content here.
7. Consolidate web pages using redirects and canonical tags.
If you do a site review, you may find several pages with similar content. In this case, consider consolidating web pages using redirects or canonical tags.
Becker says: “Nobody wants multiple website content to serve the same purpose, as this can lead to you cannibalizing your traffic in SERPs.” To fix this, you can redirect low performing pages to a page on your website that contains related information.
Adds Becker, “If you have exact duplicates, in addition to the redirect, you can even add a canonical tag from the duplicate to the core page, which will keep the duplicate visible but tell Google to prioritize the core page when ranking your site. Be with Carefully canonicalize or redirect the decision – these are delicate decisions and should only be made if it makes perfect sense. “
Google explains more about this process here.
8. Implement a historical optimization strategy.
In 2015, Pam Vaughn, Principal Marketing Manager of HubSpot’s web strategy and former editor of HubSpot’s marketing blog, made a revolutionary discovery about HubSpot’s organic blog traffic – the vast majority of it came from posts published before this month. In fact, 76% of our monthly blog views came from these old posts.
Today, Vaughn’s groundbreaking reveal sounds louder than ever – 89% of our monthly blog views come from posts published at least six months previously, and we’ve developed a complete strategy aimed at updating and republishing this historic content . We call these types of blog posts updates, and they make up 35-40% of our editorial calendar.
By refreshing them with new information and SEO tactics, and effectively republishing them as new blog posts, we can build on their existing organic value and user engagement, and double or even triple their traffic. This process also helps us optimize our blog for efficiency by reducing the amount of new content we need to create while increasing our organic traffic and conversions.
However, historical optimization is not for everyone. It’s a strategy for a blog that:
- Generates a significant amount of organic traffic,
- Has a significant number of blog subscribers,
- Has social media followers who can provide spikes in traffic, shares, and backlinks to your updates.
- Has an extensive repository of old posts that are worth updating and republishing.
When you have all four of these things, we recommend implementing a historical optimization strategy. Check out this blog post by Pam Vaughn to learn about certain types of historical content that you should update and the exact update process.
9. Train your website visitors to search for your brand.
SEO is used to increase the number of unbranded searches for your business.
Pan says, “The logic was that these were potential customers who otherwise wouldn’t have converted. That logic is good for a young company, but branding is just as important for mature companies that have a good relationship with their customers.”
For example, platforms like Amazon have trained their customers searching on Google to append “amazon” to their search for location-specific results.
According to Pan, you can encourage and inspire users by becoming an expert on topics related to your brand. Since Amazon is one of the leading shopping sites, customers refer to the platform for their shopping needs. To become an expert, you need to develop page authority.
10. Develop the page authority.
Page authority is one of the factors that search engines use to determine rankings. For example, if you are a seasoned blog known to be an industry expert, your website is likely to rank higher than the pages on a newer website.
With that in mind, it’s important to build your brand and authority in your niche. Blogging regularly, posting on social media, guest posting to other websites, and just being active in your industry are valuable ways to build your reputation.
Additionally, you should write about tangential topics that your customers are interested in and help them provide the most relevant information. At the same time, you should signal to search engines that you are writing extensively about your industry.
All of these strategies give authority to your website and indicate to search engines to look out for your domain.
11. Use the column cluster model.
Since users rely heavily on Google for accurate and relevant answers to their questions, search engines need to understand the intent and context of each search.
To that end, Google designed to discover current connections between user requests, monitor similar requests that users have made in the past, and interface content that they deem most relevant to the topic. To help Google recognize our blog content as a trustworthy entity, we decided to implement the pillar cluster model (explained below in the video).
By creating a single column page that provides a general overview of a topic and hyperlinks to cluster pages, we have effectively signaled to Google that our column page is a source of authority in this area.
Another benefit of the pillar cluster model is that it provides a better user experience for website visitors. Not only is it easier for Google to crawl our blog and identify semantic relationships between posts, but it’s also easier for our audience to find the content they want.
12. Create a link building strategy.
Getting high quality inbound links from high authority websites and pages is critical to strengthening your domain authority. As nice as it may be, “when you write it, they’ll link to it” is unfortunately not a viable SEO tactic.
The primary way we earn high quality links is by connecting to other websites with a higher domain or page authority and soliciting links to our content. We also ensure that our content is relevant to the content of the referring website. Another way to get quality backlinks is to follow Backlinko’s skyscraper method.
The skyscraper method identifies content that ranks well for keywords that you want to rank for and creates content that is of better quality than the top-ranked posts. You then use SEO tools to find the websites that link to your competitor’s content and ask the most authoritative source to replace your competitor’s link with yours.
Backlinko tried this strategy and asked 160 websites to link to their post
The 200 ranking factors from Google. As a result, they received 17 backlinks from referring websites with high domain authority, and organic traffic from the posts increased 110% in just two weeks.
13. Do not change any URLs.
The inventor of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, once said: “Cool URIs don’t change.”
In fact, it’s a popular saying, “What makes a cool URI? A cool URI doesn’t change. What types of URIs change? URIs don’t change: people change them.”
As a refresher, URI stands for Uniform Resource Identifier and is intended to identify a resource, while a URL contains information on how to find a resource. For example, a URI would be your name and a URL would be your home address. Your name simply identifies you and an address tells you where to find you.
Pan says, “URLs, a subset of the URIs, should change as little as possible. The history of reasons a URL changes is filled with good intentions that are often lost over time. So add on the same The way you should add a note if you notice traffic anomalies. “
Note: You can do this with HubSpot’s ever-evolving URL mapping tool.
14. Compress and optimize your multimedia files.
Compressing multimedia files doesn’t seem like a high priority for your SEO strategy, but it should be. According to Becker, your video, image and GIF file sizes directly affect the speed of your website’s page loading. This is one of the top ten ranking factors.
“The larger the file of an image, the longer it will take your web browser to load the image, which increases the overall loading time of your website. And the longer your website takes to load, the more likely it is that Google will penalize you, ”he says.
The compression mixes pixels of similar color to individual pixels in order to reduce the image resolution and thus the file size. These changes are not noticeable to the human eye because it is more sensitive to details between light and dark than to colors. Compression does not reduce the impact of your images on your audience and your pages will load faster.
High quality tools for compressing multimedia files include:
15. Use picture alt text.
Search engine crawlers scanning your website will only be able to understand your images if they contain alternative text descriptions. Because of this, adding these descriptions to your images is a priority for SEO as bots will take action against you if they cannot understand what is being displayed on your website pages. Image-alternate-text is also useful for ranking your site pages in image-based SERPs.
Alternate text is also a best practice for creating an accessible website. Screen readers can capture alternate text when converting screen elements to ensure that all visitors to your website have a consistent browsing experience.
All alt texts should be descriptive, contextual for the page content, and short. Consider the following example from Becker:
Poor quality alt text would read “Baseball player hitting a ball on a baseball field” while descriptive and contextual alt text would read “David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox hitting from home plate in Fenway Park”.
16. Use CTAs as often as possible.
Optimizing your page for search engine rank is of no use if your pages are not optimized for converting visitors. The aim is to maximize conversion opportunities by using calls-to-action with content offers that are relevant to the page content and the different stages of the buyer’s journey.
The image below is an example of a CTA in our SEO Writing: 12 Tips for Writing Blog Posts That Rank in Google Blog Posts.
Every page of your website offers the possibility of conversion. Hence, every page of your website should have a CTA that aligns with the intent of the visitor search. Since you can assume site visitors are there to learn, CTAs are exciting as they provide more insight and educational information.
17. Form good relationships with your developers and designers.
Achieving your SEO goals is not a marketing-specific effort. You also need to work with our developers and designers. For this reason, Frost suggests building good relationships with these teams.
She says, “Get to know these people, learn their language, find out what motivates them (usually it’s cool projects), and most importantly, teach them important SEO concepts. This might tempt them to do before Deleting an older page to come to you that has 500 backlinks. “
18. Perform a technical SEO audit.
When a search engine bot is crawling your site for indexing, it needs to understand what your site is. This applies to the content, but also to how your website is set up. Disorganized websites are difficult to index because contextual relationships are difficult to see and therefore these pages are not classified in SERPs.
For this reason, the technical setup of your website is an important component of search engine optimization. These technical aspects can include, but are not limited to:
To avoid strikes by bots, we recommend performing a technical audit of your website.
19. Review, review and review your data three times.
To be truly successful in your SEO strategy, you need to measure your success by reviewing standard data metrics like organic traffic growth, conversion rate, bounce rate, and keyword rankings.
Becker says, “Growing organic traffic takes time, but it also takes a village. Whenever you’re doing keyword research, traffic analysis, or performance-related audits, you should always have more than one data source to guide you.”
If your content management system sees a decrease in traffic, check the Google Search Console to see which pages are affected. If the decline is concentrated in a few pages or articles, use a ranking tracker to see if you’ve lost position for high volume keywords. The smarter your diagnosis, the better your decisions will respond.
SEO is an ever evolving landscape
This post revealed tactics that helped us develop an SEO strategy that enabled us to destroy a year-long traffic plateau and break monthly traffic records. However, as search engine optimization is constantly changing, it is entirely possible that one day these practices will become obsolete.
The moral of our blog’s story is not to embark on these SEO tactics for the rest of your content marketing career. It’s about continuing to adapt no matter how well you work.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2019 and has been updated for completeness.