One of my hopes and dreams as a blogger is that every single post I write will be some dynamite piece of content that makes it to the top of the search engines over time and lends itself to thousands of dollars of income for me.
MMD – Keep dreaming!
If you’d like a swift reality check, take what you believe to be your 5 best posts and see where they rank in Google search engine results for the keyword you were targeting. (You can do this in Long Tail Pro or simply browse through your Google Webmaster Tools account). You might get a pretty rude awakening!
That’s exactly what I did recently when I was trying to improve the readership of my blog.
One post I was particularly proud of was this one here. It was a post I published about a year and half ago that weighs the pros and cons of paying off your mortgage. Personally I always felt it was a pretty good one!
But the search engines would disagree with me. As of April 6, 2014 the post was only ranking #63 for its main keyword. That’s terrible! No one is going to click on the article while it’s on the seventh Google search engine results page (SERP). That means no readers and no money!
So the question is “how does one fix this”? Can we make our article “better” by simply addressing basic issues with SEO or do we need to do some content improvement to make the article more of a valuable piece?
How About We Just Improve the Basic SEO of the Page?
So if you’re a blogger, it’s probably been shoved down your throat that you NEED to make sure your post is SEO optimized. But is SEO alone enough to improve its rank?
Let’s do a quick review of the good and bad when it comes to SEO for the post I want to do a better job promoting:
- The URL includes my main keyword.
- The title includes my main keyword right at the beginning.
- The post was originally published on Dec 10, 2012. Time helps to build authority.
- It was already awarded a Google Pagerank (PR) = 2
- The post has a page authority (PA) = 29 and domain authority (DA) = 41
- SEM Rush says the post has 17 links from 10 root domains. 12 dofollow and 5 nofollow.
- The anchor text is mostly a partial match since the keyword is contained within the post title
- The post is 987 words long. That’s not too bad.
- The keyword appears 15 times on the blog page: 1 in title, 1 in the body, 1 in the header, 1 in the tags, 11 times in the trackbacks. That’s too much!
- There is one broken link to an old ad that is no longer valid.
- There are 0 external links to authority sites (sites with greater authority than mine).
- The post has 5 tags. That is probably too many.
- 2 of the images contain the same alt text = my keyword. Image alt text is important for SEO. Having both images have the same text is probably not a good idea.
- There was no use of heading tags, H2 or H4.
That’s not too bad. All of those items are pretty manageable to be fixed.
Here’s what I changed:
- Remove the broken ad link.
- Add in two authority links. 1 to a PR5 article and 1 to ABC News. Used partial match anchor text for both links.
- Added in a few more internal links within the content.
- Added in a nofollow link to the image credit.
- Changed the image titles and varied the alt text
- Changed headers to H2 and H4.
- Re-write the meta description to make it more appealing.
- Reduced the post tag count to just 2.
- Deleted trackbacks that contain my blog title and exact match keyword.
Good work! But what did all that do for the rank of my post in the Google search results? You can see for yourself:
- 4/9/2014 61
- 4/11/2014 57
- 4/12/2014 62
- 4/13/2014 58
- 4/14/2014 55
- 4/27/2014 69
- 4/28/2014 59
Ouch! Not a whole lot of anything!
Basically after a month of waiting my post just fluttered around the 50-70 mark and didn’t really improve much at all.
So what can we try next?
What Happens If We Focus on Content Improvement?
More and more I’m reading that content improvement – yes, simple ole’ writing better content – is becoming the major factor in SEO as Google continues to roll out its algorithm updates and stomp out spammy linking techniques.
But is that really true? It worked really, really well when I improved the rank of my latest niche website all the way from No. +500 to No. 14 for its main keyword.
Would the same thing work for this old blog post? I decided to put this theory to the test.
Here’s what I did:
- I re-wrote the blog post. The new content was over 2,000 words long.
- I researched the results that were already ranking in the Top 10 and built off of their good points.
- Republished the post on April 28, 2014.
Although that doesn’t sound like a lot of change, it took a great deal of effort.
And what was my reward for this effort?
The rank of the post jumped up to No. 18! It may not be Page 1, but Page 2 is pretty darn close!
Taking It Even Further?
We could probably continue this case study even further by next building out more links to this post.
Although the backlink profile is already pretty strong, getting some new, fresh links from other bloggers, guest posts, or even internal links (like from this post here) and varying the anchor text will certainly help.
So what should you take away from this quick case study?
Yes, good SEO is always a strong foundation for a blog post. But it’s obviously not everything.
To dramatically improve your rank, you need to focus on content improvement. Don’t just stop at “good” content. Make it great content!
To answer the question of just what “great” content is, start by looking at what is already ranking well in the Google Top 10 search results. Study what each post is telling you, how long the posts are, what kind of links they have, etc.
If your target keyword has fairly low competition, it should be a no-brainer to rank within the Top 10 based on great content alone. But if not you’ll have to take a few extra steps with link building and promotion to go the extra mile.
Remember – your traffic is your key to money. If people can’t find your posts, then don’t expect to make any money. No one will see your content. No one will click on your ads. You owe it to yourself to take every possible advantage you can to make a difference for the better with your blog.
Readers – What have you found to improve the ranking of your posts? Have you found that content improvement really makes a different in getting organic visitors to your site?
1) Why You’re Not Making Any Website Income and The One Thing You’re Not Doing About It
2) How I Work With a Social Media Virtual Assistant to Promote My Money Websites
3) Your Residual Income Formula for Creating An Online Business
Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Brad @ How To Save Money says
Great post. Very informative. It has always been my understanding that the bloggers objective is great, informative content.. With that you give readers a reason to visit your page. I suppose SEO is important in getting you found. But once you are found, isn’t it your content that keeps people coming back? I do admit to being new at this.
True. You want to give the readers something they can sink their teeth into every time. But there is also a lot of hype that SEO is more important to ranking than just the content itself. This case study was somewhat an exploration of that premise – and surprisingly dismissed it.
This is exactly what I’ve been trying to do. On Single Moms Income I have two really popular posts with Google. Combined they’re making me about $350-$400/month with Adsense. These are two of the articles that I spent a lot of time researching and writing.
I’ve been trying to replicate this over the past month so I before I write a post I want to rank for I check the search engine results and make sure my post is way better than anything out there. I also make sure my post is at least 1500 words long.
Last week I wrote a post that has a highly competitive keyword but in my opinion the post was better than anything existing in the top 10 serps. The post was 3000+ words long and one week later I’m at spot number 37 in Google. I’m hoping over the next month that my ranks continue to improve. If not I’m going to work on getting more links to the post.
Your approach reminds me a lot of what Brian Dean from Backlinko does. He only posts once every few weeks (if that). But then when he does, it’s almost like a small eBook. What does he do with all that time in-between? He builds links and promotes the posts so that they get the maximize possible exposure they could possibly have. While on the exterior that may seem like a strange way to blog, he probably has a far better ROI from just ranking those few posts than the average blogger who gets almost no search traffic ever.
Matt Becker says
Great stuff MMD. Whenever someone asks me for SEO advice (like I’m some kind of expert, HA!), I always tell them to stop focusing so much on SEO and start focusing more on writing something awesome. Nice to see some more numbers backing it up!
Thanks Matt. Nice site re-design BTW.
John @ Wise Dollar says
Great post MMD! When it comes down to it, much of the SEO is really just simple things like the alt text, H2’s, etc. The main thing needs to be, and is, content. That’s what brings back readers and who wants to read some post that’s over optimized for SEO? I know I generally don’t. Thanks for sharing your numbers to back this up!
It was kind of impressive to see that Google picked up on my content improvement and ranked it better based on just the re-write. Perhaps all those new algorithm updates aren’t as evil as people think they are.
Dee @ Color Me Frugal says
Great case study. So I’m definitely getting the message that improved content helps with rankings, but I’m also hearing that length of posts (and in particular posts >1000 or 1500 words seems to be good too. Which I guess makes sense, since you’ll be able to be more descriptive and provide more information in more words.
Although I don’t think its a dead-ringer, posts over 1,000 words do seem to carry a lot more weight than a skinny 300 word post about the topic. But I think its also easy to over-do it and actually hurt yourself with keyword stuffing if you’re not careful. One thing I tried to do in my post re-write was keep it natural. I think when you do this it will help to foster lots of synonyms for your topic, and that is the thing people are currently saying is what Google looks for.
Sam @ Frugaling.org says
This is a brilliant thought experiment and example of what Google is working to do. Essentially, it seems that Matt Cutts’s advice is right: focus on content. That almost appears to be too simple, but considering that experts in the SEO world have been taking advantage of the difference, Google likely started weighing this ability less. Good content is good content — regardless of tags and SEO settings.
Thanks for your example,
It sure would seem that way. I honestly was expecting some small improvement when I cleaned up the SEO aspects of the post. And I was surprised when it did virtually nothing! But then seeing the total content improvement boost the rank by that much really drove the point home.
I am just starting to scratch the surface with trying to rank better. I guess it’s ironic that longer posts get more people to visit but most people tend to skim and not read the whole thing anyway. I think having the headings broken up with the correct H2 or H4 tags is pretty important and something I’m working on with older posts.
There could be something to older posts in terms of the fact that it takes you longer to read, so you spend more time per page (which is a Google rank metric). You’re also probably more likely to click on another article which decreases bounce rate (another metric).
I am totally guilty of skimming articles for the H2 and H4 headings. So I do agree that setting those up right makes the readability to the visitor that much more effective (regardless of what SEO benefit it has).
RIchard @ TechToucan.com says
This is something I’m trying at the moment. Over the last 6-12 months I’ve been working on an authority site in a very competitive niche. One of those niches where I’ll probably never succeed but if I do, it’ll be immense.
So I’ve been slowly adding content and building links. I’m at the stage now where my backlink profile and content volume is a close match for the top dogs in my niche so based on this I *should* have been ranking for my main keyword, But I wasn’t.
Then a funny thing happened. One of my *internal* pages started to rank for the phrase I’d spent so long trying to optimize my homepage for! Not highly, mind you, but ranking all the same.
It seems that all those quality links I’ve been building has grown my domain authority enough that I’m now reaching the “tipping point” and seeing my articles starting to rank for a range of terms.
So I’ve basically ripped down the failed homepage and rewritten it from the ground up – based on both what’s ranking in the top 20 in Google, plus my own article that’s doing OK.
By “emulating” what seems to be working – but making it the best resource around *and* continuing to build good quality links I’ll be interested to see if the homepage pops up in the next few weeks. Fingers crossed 😉
That same thing is totally what happened with my latest niche website, and how it went from total obscurity to the second SERP. I think you can learn a lot from “researching” what the current Top 10 is ranking for and then trying to blend it into your own content. Hopefully that homepage gets the recognition you’re looking for.
DC @ Young Adult Money says
Excellent overview/comparison of how to get your post ranked higher. I definitely have been way more focused on creating quality content than having optimal “basic SEO.” A lot of my posts nowadays are at least 800 words, oftentimes eclipsing 1k. They seem to perform better but at the same time I don’t really research my posts that much or how high they are ranking for keywords.
As long as you’re happy with your readership and numbers, then there is probably no reason to.
Brian @ Luke1428 says
This is just the type of information I”m looking for. I know my SEO is weak as I’ve never really focused on it until recently. I have few posts ranking on page 1 or 2 in Google searches which consistently drive traffic to my site. Anything beyond that really doesn’t get much. Really, how many times do you click past the second or third “o” when searching on Google? Not very often.
Pretty much Page 1 is where you want to be. Page 2 maybe if its a BIG volume word. Page 3 and beyond – forget it … you kind of lost when that happens.
Financial Samurai says
Good case study! I wonder if I write a post with my thoughts and the exact same title, how I’d do? I have a lot of real estate related posts and planned on writing about paying off my rental property mortgage as Im getting a new property this year.
Would be a good case study yeah? Will be interesting to see how the existing blog’s authority can or cannot help new posts.
It would totally crush my little post! Your site has a lot of domain authority girth behind it, so anything you publish on FS is going to have a well-deserved chance of ranking higher right out of the gate over the average blogger.
Excellent post MMD, really enjoyed it. Very interesting, and ultimately a good development if Google really returns the best content, rather than the content that simply had the best SEO for it!
Thanks Jon. A good follow-up (and maybe a little too advanced for me) would be to actually dissect the actual Top 10 and see why they are really ranking as well as they do relative to my post. Good linking I’m sure still plays a strong role in who actually makes it to Page 1.
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says
I’m somewhat SEO challenged so I’m still working on the basics. But bookmarking this for sure. I really need to get more search engine traffic.
Just installing the Yoast WordPress plugin was a big help for me. It basically serves as a checklist for all the basic SEO stuff you should do on every post to make sure you don’t make any mistakes before you hit publish. Beyond that its all up to your content and what kind of links it receives.
Money Saving says
I am also a little SEO challenged. This article gave me a couple pointers on how to improve things a bit. Thanks for that 🙂
Hannah @ Wise Dollar says
I am also a little SEO challenged too. This article guides me on how to improves me a little. Great MMD !!
Kalen @ MoneyMiniBlog says
Great article! I have set out since the beginning to focus on producing quality content and not writing just for SEO. It has proven to be worth it as far as traffic, but mostly for personal satisfaction. I feel good about every article I publish. I write to serve others and I feel like I have been doing my best. Thanks for the article!
Mark Ross says
That’s interesting. Thanks for sharing that. I really believe that in order to rank higher one should create useful and great content that are worth reading, and have links from authority sites.
Jon @ Money Smart Guides says
Thanks for the case study. When I first began blogging, I had no clue about SEO. Late last year I went back and actually optimized my site for SEO. Now I’ve been working on making the content better too. I’m taking old posts I rank well for and re-writing them so they are better posts. Then I am going to start working on re-writing some other posts from the beginning of my blogging career that are good, but lack a lot of depth.
It takes a long time to do. But I think this is about as solid of a long term strategy as you can have. I’ve seen a lot of articles that say with every Google update Google cares less and less about your links and actually focuses more and more on the actual message your content shares. So if there’s anything you can do to set yourself up for success, it’s making sure the writing is solid.