Why optimize a blog for SEO? Well, writing that doesn’t rank is content suicide. Content promotion is a laborious process that often doesn’t have a return on your efforts beyond the first or second week.
I lived this pain for months. You see a steep rise and then the fall of traffic is as quick. Here’s an example of a post that went “viral” among the startup industry.
Look at that rise and fall. Ouch.
It was why in March 2016, when I took over running the blog at Kayako, I decided to focus on long-term strategic growth with SEO-driven content.
And it worked.
I moved from experiencing the results in the image above to consistently moving to the results in the image below.
This is an example of a post that I put together with the idea of ranking long-term. It’s a strategy I like because you front load the work and you continue to see the returns weeks, months, and years after you click publish.
Whether you’re an editor running a company blog or you’re a freelancer being tasked with writing long-form SEO content, there comes a point where you need to optimize a blog for SEO and create writing that ranks.
SEO-driven blog posts can rank out of luck or they can rank because of your hard work. Luck is a terrible way to play it, so I want to teach you how to create writing that ranks.
When writing doesn’t rank
I wish I could say it was as easy as picking a short term, two or three word search term, and publishing a great post on the topic. Unfortunately that’s not the case. This isn’t the space to go in depth about ranking factors, so I highly recommend these resources to learn more:
- Google’s 200 Ranking Factors: The Complete List (2018) – Backlinko
- Ranking Factors 2.0 – SEMrush
- How long does it take to rank in Google? – Ahrefs
- On Page SEO: A (2M Keyword) Data Driven Analysis – Ahrefs
But I will show you how I screwed up and how you can avoid making the mistake that I did.
How to royally screw up an attempt at optimizing a blog for SEO success
Back in April 2017 I felt I could create a piece targeting customer loyalty and how to measure it.
I felt like I did everything right:
- Picked a high traffic keyword (3,900 searches a month)
- Found topical phrases and questions that were related to the search query
- Wrote a high-value post that hit 1500 words
I was ready to sit back and watch my post rank in a few months or over a year.
And it didn’t happen. This post targeting customer loyalty published in April 2017. A year later I looked at organic traffic and this post only gets 25 visits in a month. That’s 0.64% traffic of it’s potential reach.
Here’s why it went so wrong.
While I got the components right of high-value content (which is 80% of ranking well) and good on page SEO. I failed on two fronts:
- Overlooking important concepts with picking a keyword
- Lack of search intent empathy
1. I picked a keyword that I’d never be able to rank for (without a strong backlink campaign).
I think Ahrefs is a great tool for a content marketer to use when looking to rank with their writing—I love their keyword difficulty function. The problem was I picked a keyword that was way out of my safe zone for ranking (I’ll show you how to find that below).
While the phrase “customer loyalty” returns a lucrative volume of 3,900, it has a keyword difficulty of 35.
According to Ahrefs’ keyword difficulty scale, I picked a very tough target to go after with a weekly blog post!
To get my post to rank, I would have needed around 40-50 domains linking to my post to get into the top 10.
The top 5 would have been even harder. Not only did the top 4 ranking articles and guides having a huge amount of backlinks, but there’s also a featured snippet and related questions to contend with.
That’s a lot of work for publishing one piece of content to fill the calendar that week!
2. My search intent empathy was off
At the time I thought I did a good job of picking topical keywords. In truth, I just picked “measuring customer loyalty” and “how to measure customer loyalty” as my keywords. And this was the biggest mistake, my search intent empathy was off.
I wrote the post with what I thought readers should know versus what they wanted to know.
When I drop this post into the site explorer in Ahrefs, it gives me a list of where I could have done better:
In hindsight—and while I look at NPS and CSAT in the post—I could have done a lot better at using these as subheadings and diving into a better search intent analysis.
And when I look into “measuring customer loyalty” on its own, it gives me 30 more ideas I could have explored as a subtitles.
So now I know I could have served my readers a better post, how do I set myself up for success next time?
How to optimize a blog for SEO
It’s hard to create writing that ranks without investing in the tools that allow you to understand search engine data. Whether you pick Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz, or any other tool SEO tool, having a good understanding of where you sit in the organic competitive landscape is vital for optimizing a blog for SEO.
How to find your safe zone for ranking a blog
I’ve been plugging Ahrefs a lot in this blog, I am not an affiliate but I do think it’s a great tool for content marketers. I know Ahrefs isn’t the only tool that allows you to find your organic safe zone for optimizing a blog for SEO, that said this is how you do it in Ahrefs!
- Site explorer
- Enter your blog URL
- Click Organic keywords
Be precise with the criterion you enter and consider:
- What’s a good average rank for the blogs on your site, top 5 or top 10? Then enter your max position.
- What’s a good amount of search traffic or what’s the lowest point you consider a good amount of traffic for an article? You should enter this based on the Ahrefs data, not your Google Analytics.
After entering your criterion, export the list. Open up the CSV file and copy and paste that list into Keyword Explorer.
Originally I had 26 keywords, but Ahrefs removed a couple that were duplicates.
As you can see from the “Difficulty distribution” graph, most of the keywords in my list fall into the KD 0-22 bucket.
This means that we can safely target any keywords with KD up to 22.
Replicate the same steps for your own website and you’ll see the maximum possible KD that you can target.
How to find industry related keywords, optimize a blog for seo, and create writing that ranks
I’m not going to go into depth about the keyword research process because there’s been plenty of posts covering that. And it’s such a deep topic that it merits a post of it’s own. I don’t consider myself an expert, more an enthusiast that likes to rank well.
Here’s some posts on doing keyword research and finding industry specific keywords:
- Ahrefs: How To Do Keyword Research for SEO
- Backlinko: Keyword Research for SEO: The Definitive Guide
- Ahrefs: 4 Ways to Find Untapped Keyword Ideas With Great Traffic Potential
Here’s an example of ranking a blog by doing keyword research really well. I’m going to draw on an example of a piece that I wrote for the Kayako blog “3 Ways to Politely Reject Customer Requests”.
Why did I pick this as my post?
Step 1: Lean into your current success
I dug into Google analytics on the Kayako site. I found that our posts on responding to customer feature requests was one that generates a lot of traffic to the Kayako site. I looked at the organic traffic report to see what kind of keywords we were ranking for and where there was ranking potential.
If you’re not aware, search engine traffic and data has dramatically changed in the past few years. This post as a standalone piece was doing very well, but recent Google changes saw traffic declining. It was time to look at topic relevance and see how I could help it rank again through posting a sister article with strategic internal linking on a complimentary topic.
Step 2: Generate ideas and questions that you can answer in your blog
Through this analysis I found my topic keyword “customer request”. Then I went into Google and Ahrefs to generate some more ideas.
Start by looking at Google for ideas
With the help of Google I’m able to pull out some questions which power my subheadings without even using an SEO tool.
Always trust Google over an SEO tool. Google has the database on what your customers are searching—which is displayed at the bottom in “Searches related to…”.
Type your topical keyword and search term into Google using incognito mode. This is the best way to get unbiased results based on your previous searches.
Find questions on the topic you can answer in the blog post
There’s many ways to find more questions you can answer. Getting a blog to rank and optimize it for SEO hinges on digging into informational search queries. Here are my favorite tools for collecting a list:
- Answer The Public
Use the Keyword.io free filter tool:
Keyword.io specializes in finding long tail keywords. I use this predominantly to find the “how”, “what”, “why”s for subheading ideas.
To informational searches from Keyword.io:
- Enter your keyword
- Click filter
- Choose from the list your filter word (one at a time)
- Export your list (you will need to create a free account for this)
Answer The Public
Answerthepublic.com is a handy tool. It gives you insight into consumer research questions. They’re not always SEO driven search terms but they can give you additional content ideas for your blog.
Drop your keyword in and hit search, then you’ll be given a cool diagram showing informational search queries. Don’t worry, you can export this in a more readable format!
Quora is a great place to source ideas for blog. Not all questions have to be SEO driven, they can be community driven. Also the chances are that if they’re asking on Quora, then they haven’t found an answer in a blog post. You can be that answer!
You can build content promotion into your article by finding relevant Quora questions to answer in your post. Once you’ve published your article, come back and answer those questions. I did that here:
Here’s Dan Schure giving you a great tutorial on how to find related questions with ranking potential:
Step 3: Outline your article
With all the research you’ve done, you’re in pretty good shape to begin outlining your article. For me, I evolved from my original topic “customer requests” and targeted “reject customer requests” as my main topic. It’s something the high ranking, high traffic blog post didn’t touch on. It was the best way I could add value to our readers without overlapping on content we’d already written about.
Then I wrote out the article, hit publish (November, 29 2017) and within a few months, organic traffic was coming in and consistently increasing. At the time of writing this I rank #1 for “reject customer requests” and #3 for “customer requests”.
That seems…like a lot of work
Yes, it is but it works. Long-term, strategic growth for a blog isn’t sexy.
This is the tactics behind my content strategy that’s powered the growth of the Kayako blog. It is the exact process of how I grew organic traffic by 223% on the Kayako blog (from March 2016 to March 2018).
Of course, there’s some other important components to this such as building an internal linking strategy and sourcing backlinks to the right content, but those will only go so far. The most important aspect is sourcing the topics your audience are interested in and the questions they have, then creating an amazing blog post that targets both of those. Your reader always comes first.
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