Ultimate SEO Blueprint: Case Study & Step-by-Step DIY Guide
How to get any blog post or website page to rank and drive traffic
You may be sitting there, staring at a blank screen wondering what to write. Maybe you’ve already written your blog post, and now you’re wondering how to get more than five people to read it (without going broke using paid ads). Maybe you’re looking in Google Analytics and wondering why even bother writing one more blog post for your mom and grandma to read because it sure feels like they’re the only ones reading what you’re writing. Am I right?
I know. It can be so frustrating when you’re writing content consistently, but no one is reading. It feels like a waste of time and why would you care about showing up consistently when no one is reading what you write anyway. Have you ever felt like it doesn’t matter if you write a new blog post or not because no one is out there waiting to read it anyway? I think most content creators have felt that way at one time or another. I know I have.
I had this weird experience because I’d worked for large advertising agencies and launched blogs for big brands, people with millions of customers; there was always someone waiting to read what they wrote. There were people who couldn’t wait to read the new post and get ideas for decorating their homes or cleaning up a mess or preventing home repairs, whatever the client’s vertical dictated. I was used to designing content strategy for companies with huge followings where tens of thousands of people would read the posts. And then, I started my own business. And you know what, there weren’t tens of thousands of people waiting to read my blog posts. Heck, in the beginning, I would have been thrilled to have ten people want to read my posts. True story.
So, how do you grow your blog or website’s following? One of the best ways you can do it is to leverage the power of SEO and help Google help people find your website or blog. There are other things you should do like share your posts on social media, but we’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s talk about search engine optimization and how you can use it to grow your website or blog’s traffic.
About a year ago, I decided to focus on Etched Marketing full-time and not return to my corporate career. I knew that I needed to build the business most cost-effectively and having been in digital marketing for nearly 15 years and SEO for almost a decade, I knew SEO was my best strategy. It’s slow growth and a long-term strategy, but it works well. And the great thing about SEO is that it works for years. With paid ads, if I stop paying the traffic goes away immediately. With SEO a blog post from two or three years ago can still send qualified traffic to your website every week.
I decided to take a content and SEO approach for Etched and set out to create a new website with the best optimization I could. And as I look back at the year-over-year performance for Q1, I see the work paying off. We moved to position #1 for a primary keyword.
Q1 2018 vs. Q1 2017 Performance Metrics
· 33% increase in total website users
· 31% increase in new website visitors
· 45% increase in website sessions (side note: this figure represents the total number of visits not the number of visitors to the site. I’ve seen several people claiming this number represents the visitors to the site in their training/sales pitches and it’s not)
· 9% increase in sessions per user (this is how often someone comes back, do they visit once or return often?)
· 87% increase in page views (how many pages on the site were viewed total)
· 28% increase in pages per session (how many pages the average visitor viewed during each visit to the website)
· 15% increase in average session duration (how long the average user spends on the website reading the content)
· 10% decrease in bounce rate (the number of people who come to your site, land on a page, and quickly leave the site)
What do these metrics tell me? They tell me that the content I’m creating is helping my website’s visitors. They’re reading more, they’re staying longer, and they’re less likely to bounce away when they find the site for the first time. This is all great news. It tells me the engagement metrics are good. The traffic itself is up, which is great but these metrics still don’t tell much about traffic and where it’s coming from.
Q1 2018 vs. Q1 2017 Traffic Source Metrics
· 16% increase in Direct Traffic (folks who know your website already and either click a bookmark or type your website address into their browser without going through a search engine)
· 57% increase in Social Media traffic
· 378% increase in Natural Search traffic (this is a direct result of your SEO efforts, people who find you in Google (or another search engine) and visit your site from there are included here)
· 500% increase in Referral Traffic (this is the traffic that another website sends to you)
Maybe you’re looking at those numbers and wondering how you can see results like that? How do I get 4 or 5x the number of visitors from a specific channel this year? How do I grow my traffic too? Well, I’m going to break down the exact process I took to create this traffic increase so that you can do it too. There’s no real secret sauce here. You have to know what to do and do the work. It’s not rocket science.
Wouldn’t it be easier to show up consistently and write your blog posts or create new content for your website if you knew more people would see it in the future? That your work would pay off? I’ve been in SEO for years, and I still get frustrated by how long the process takes. I understand. We all want the magic bullet, that post that goes viral and drives tons of traffic one day but this is kind of a tortoise and the hare scenario. Taking the longer, slow and steady approach will pay off in the end. I’d rather be the tortoise than the hare in this particular race. Because often when the traffic comes fast, it’s not well targeted, and it goes away as quickly as it appeared. Think about the websites or blogs that you visited once because you saw a post or a video that caught your attention but you never went back again. Do you want someone to find you once or continue to come back each week? I want the return visitors personally. The loyal readers and customers are worth more in the end.
So, how do you do this for your website or blog? We’re going to dig in step-by-step starting right now. Download a copy of our SEO Checklist here and you’ll have a guide that will walk you through this every time you create a new page or blog post.
1. Choose a single, targeted keyword for your web page or blog post. This is the most important step by far. You need to make sure you’re choosing a term that’s going to meet the consumer where they are in the sales funnel. This means if you want to sell an item on your page, you need to rank for terms that are related to buying that item.
The example I’ve used for years is the word shoes. At first, you might think that ranking #1 for the word shoes would be amazing. It’s got TONS of search demand, over a million people search for the word shoes every month. Image if you were in position #1 for shoes. You’d get 300,000 visits or more every month. For just one keyword. In the industry, we estimate that position #1 gets around 30–40% of the total search traffic. That seems amazing right, 300,000 visitors or more every month? Can you imagine?
Now, think about the consumer who’s searching for the word shoes. Do they know what they want yet? How likely are they to buy a pair of shoes when they’re using that broad a term? Not very. The thing is, when someone is using a really broad term, they’re not as likely to convert because they don’t know what they want yet. They’re window shopping online.
If that same consumer searches Asics Gel Kayano 7.5 women or even women’s Asics Gel Kayano do, you think they know what they want to buy and are ready to purchase? They’re much more likely to convert than someone who is only searching for the word shoes. While the search demand is much lower at 1,000 -10,000 searches per month if you were in position #1 for that term and had 300 people come to your website every month who were looking for women’s Asics Gel Kayano tennis shoes and you had a page that sold them, do you think you’d sell to those customers? You’d sell to some of them for sure. You might not sell to everyone, but you’d sell some.,
This is why targeting the right keyword is so important to your SEO success. You have to make sure the right page is showing up in the results. Your content needs to meet the searcher’s needs to convert. I teach an entire section on keyword selection strategy in SEO Fundamentals. If you want to learn how to tie your keyword targeting to the sales funnel and ensure you choose the right keyword every time, that class might be a good fit for you.
2. Choose two to three more keywords that are closely related to your primary targeted keyword. Don’t worry about choosing plural vs. singular keywords, we had to do that years ago, but it’s unnecessary today. Choose a couple of additional terms that are closely related to your primary term and will help tell a better story or may be a synonym of your primary keyword. Thanks to Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013, the search engines are better able to understand language nuances. This change allows us to focus more on conversation and providing value for our readers; the search engine can understand the meaning of terms. This is why we focus so heavily on writing copy that tells great stories rather than counting the number of times a keyword is used.
3. Use your primary targeted keyword in your SEO elements. Your SEO elements include your Title Tag, Meta Description, and Header Tags. You’ll want to use your most important keyword in all three places and ensure you don’t use it on multiple pages. Google will only show two pages from the same website in the search results. If you’re using the same keywords on more than two pages, you’re missing ranking opportunities. And if you’re not showing in the search results, how will people find your website?
4. Use all of your targeted keywords (primary and secondary) in your body copy. Start with your page or blog post title. Your primary keyword should be included in your title because it should be what your page or post is about. If your blog post title or page title doesn’t tie to your primary keyword something is wrong, and you need to make adjustments to the keyword targeting or the title itself.
Write your website copy or blog post. Don’t worry about how many times you have included your keywords in the copy. Focus on telling a great story and providing value for your readers. Once you’ve written your copy go back and review it and highlight your primary and secondary keywords and determine how many times they’re used. Read the content out loud to yourself and see if it feels natural. If you’ve used a keyword too many times, you’ll be able to tell quickly when you read it out loud. I used to make my writing team do this in my corporate position and at first, they’d feel silly, but in time, they found it super helpful and I’d find them reading their copy to each other if they were struggling with something. It works great. It’s OK to feel silly doing it the first few times. The quality of the copy is worth the feelings of silliness.
If you feel that you’ve missed opportunities to include the keywords and can edit them in go ahead and do so and then re-read it out loud before you move on, so you ensure it still sounds natural.
You’ll want to use H2 and H3 headers to separate your paragraphs/concepts in your copy. You should include your primary and secondary keywords in your H2 and H3 tags. An H2 tag is used to break down your page or posts main themes. An H3 tag is used to break down the information in your H2 tag. Think of H2 as a section of copy and H3 as a subsection if it’s easier to understand.
5. Use your primary targeted keyword in your image file name. Use consumer-friendly names. If you’re still using file names like img10494.jpg, you need to stop now. Your image file name can be read by Google and helps your SEO because it shows one more element that’s tied to the primary keyword.
Your image file name should include dashes not underlines because Google reads the dashes as spaces and can understand the terms. Include your primary targeted keyword at the end of your file name.
For the shoe example from above, we’d want to name our image files this way: womens-asics-gel-kayano.jpg rather than running-shoes.jpg or IMG1920.jpg.
6. Use your primary targeted keyword in your image ALT text. Your image ALT text shows up when an image isn’t rendered properly on a website. It’s also able to be crawled by the search engine spiders, so it helps your overall SEO. It’s even more important for e-commerce websites as the image ALT text helps your images display in Google image search.
Use your targeted keyword and write out your image ALT text in a natural manner. For example, for the Asics Gel Kayano image we’d do this:
Womens-asics-gel-kayano.jpg and use ALT text women’s Asics Gel Kayano
7. Edit your copy for grammar and punctuation. While this isn’t necessarily for SEO benefit, it will benefit you in the long run. A website that’s riddled with grammatical or punctuation errors will turn off potential readers or customers. Google looks at engagement metrics including your time on site and bounce rate when determining where you rank in the search results. Websites that have low bounce rates (under 40%) and high time on site (over 1:00-minute average) are thought to provide a better user experience and thus, will likely rank higher in the results.
You can either hire an editor to help with your copy review or use a program like Grammarly. I use the paid version of Grammarly for Etched and it helps. We all make mistakes once in a while. It’s good to have someone or something looking out for us.
8. Minify your website images. Google likes a speedy website because again, it’s better user experience. Image compression is one of the most common issues that slow websites down. When you’re creating a new post or page, make sure you use JPG files and minify them. JPGs are smaller than PNGs. Your target should be under 100MB for all website images. If you use a minification tool, you can drop them even lower. I run all my images through a program called JPG Mini before uploading them to the website. It helped increase my site’s speed which helps with my rankings.
This list probably seems like a lot, and it is, but once you get the steps down it’s pretty routine. Unless the search engine algorithm changes drastically, these same steps should work for any website page or blog post for years. This is the process I’ve used for the last five years. There’s more you can do to increase your rankings but this is a great starting guide, and if you follow this process, you should see results. I can’t promise that you’ll rank #1 like my website did because I don’t know how often you’ll post or if you’ll do everything exactly as outlined here, or how competitive the term you’re optimizing for is, but I know this process works.
If you’d like to learn more about SEO check out our SEO Fundamentals course from Etched Marketing Academy, it’s an SEO training program that’s based on industry best practices and my experience managing SEO programs for clients for almost a decade. You’ll learn how to optimize your website or blog step-by-step. We cover what you can do on your website page, what you can do off-page to help grow your authority, how to choose the right keyword to optimize for (the single most important piece in my personal experience), what to track to measure your program’s performance, which tools to use for SEO, and more importantly how to use them. We also offer Q&A sessions every other week so you have a chance to ask the questions that are tripping you up so you can avoid getting stuck and frustrated.