Over the past month Leaving Work Behind has attracted nearly ten thousand visitors from search engines. Of those ten thousand visitors, almost half entered the site via the same post — a relatively inconspicuous guide to finding your first freelance writing job.
I discovered a few weeks ago that the post was ranking #2 in Google for the term “freelance writing jobs”, which attracts in the region of eighteen thousand exact match searches every month. It’s a pretty popular keyword — certainly more popular than anything I’ve ever ranked for before. The post has stayed at #2 (excluding the occasional fluctuation) for over a month now.
The success of this post has raised all sorts of questions in my head. Why does it rank so high? How did it manage to rank for a keyword I wasn’t even targeting? Why haven’t other posts in which I have focused equally on onsite SEO not performed as well?
In this post I intend to discover the answer to those questions in the hope that I can duplicate the post’s success. Read on to find out whether I did!
There are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase a product through one of them I will receive a commission. It will cost you nothing extra. I only ever endorse products that I have personally used and tested extensively. Thank you!
The Power of One Post
As you will know if you are a regular LWB reader, I write about freelance writing here on a pretty regular basis. After I released my freelance writing guide back in November 2012, I realized that in theory I could boost sales by attracting search engine visitors through freelance writing-related posts.
So over the period of several months I published a number of freelance writing posts that targeted specific keywords relating to freelance writing. Here are a handful which you can find on this blog:
A couple of these posts do okay — one attracted 700 visitors in the past month, another attracted 250. But for the most part they don’t bring in a particularly high number of visitors; especially compared to the beast that is Freelance Writing: How To Find Your First Job.
That post alone attracted 4,500 clicks in the past month — almost 50% of total search engine traffic:
As you can see, the second most popular post (which also covers freelance writing) attracts just 700 clicks per month. Its contribution is puny by comparison. If the top post were to lose its rankings tomorrow, my monthly search engine traffic would drop by approximately half.
The performance of this post is a bit of a mystery to me, but there must be some underlying cause. Most importantly, if I can understand the cause I can attempt to replicate it, which means more search engine visitors.
The Big Picture
First of all, let’s see how Leaving Work Behind has fared in terms of search engine traffic over the past year or so.
It’s worth noting that me and Google have rarely got along. This blog was “Google slapped” back in April 2012 (ironically, the same month that my monster freelancing post was published). In that month LWB attracted just 1,408 visitors from Google.
Search engine traffic actually declined from that point to a low of just 1,052 visitors in July 2012. But later in the year referrals began to pick up and gained momentum from then on:
As you can see, from December 2012 search engine traffic has been consistently on the rise, increasing by 360% up to the end of June 2013. That’s a pretty impressive climb relative to the stagnancy that preceded it.
So it’s not like my monster post led the increase in search engine traffic — after all, it only attained its lofty rating for “freelance writing jobs” around six weeks ago. It seems that Google has been growing more and more comfortable with my site over the past ten months or so.
But that’s not all — Google seems to have been growing more and more comfortable with my site specifically as a resource for freelance writers. How do I know this? Simple — just check out the top queries by the number of clicks over the past fourteen months:
Five of the top ten queries relate to freelance writing, and three of the remaining are branded keywords. If you exclude the wild card at number seven (boring? Me?) you have to go down to number ten to find the first non freelance writing related keyword that I have specifically targeted in a post (this post). It has attracted just 90 clicks in over a year.
I have written plenty of non freelance writing posts that target specific keywords for SEO purposes, but barely any have managed to elevate themselves into a position of any real relevance. Consider for example the top landing pages from search engine referrals in June 2013:
Three of the top four landing pages are about freelance writing (with the other being the homepage). Both the first and second post are in fact the same post — I changed the permalink to optimize it further. Fifth and sixth are non writing related, but then seventh and eighth spots are taken over again by more freelancing posts.
Out of the top ten landing pages above (excluding the homepage), non writing related posts account for just 11% of total clicks. Furthermore, writing related posts accounted for 56% of total search engine traffic in June. With the subsequent higher ranking of just that one post, I can expect the proportion to be much higher in July.
It’s not like I haven’t targeted other keywords — I have targeted all sorts. Furthermore, my onsite SEO methodology has remained largely unchanged for the past year or so. The logical conclusion therefore is that Google considers my blog to be more of an authority on freelance writing than it is any other. While it is possible that I have selected a healthy handful of freelance writing keywords that happen to have performed relatively well for me, the performance of freelance writing related posts compared to others seems more than just a coincidence.
However, Google’s favor certainly isn’t all that is at play here. After all, if we strip out the most popular post, the proportion of search engine clicks that are freelance writing related drops to just 34%, which is far more representative of the balance of search engine optimized content on the site.
It would seem to me that there is something special about that one post in particular. But what?
Examining a Winner
The post in question is a guide for beginner freelance writers to finding their first job. I think it’s a good post, but no better than many other freelance writing posts I’ve written on LWB. At 1,636 words it is relatively long, but again no longer than many other posts I’ve written here.
Let’s examine the guts of the post, SEO-wise. It gets the green light from the SEO by Yoast plugin and enjoys decent ratings on various criteria:
As you can see, there is only one red light, a couple of ambers, one yellow and a whole bunch of green. Quantifiably speaking, it’s a pretty well optimized post. In reality though, it was never that well optimized for the keyword in question (“freelance writing jobs”) as I never actually optimized it for that keyword! It was however a derivative of that keyword, so one could argue that the effect is largely the same.
Speaking of the keyword, how competitive is it? Let’s take a look with Market Samurai:
There’s my post, listed in third place behind two aged domains with far more content and referring domains than me.
It’s a relatively competitive keyword — although onsite optimization and backlinks to pages aren’t massively intimidating, you’d want to have a domain with some weight behind it to hope to rank (at least, that would be my thinking).
The site linking to the page is simply a content aggregator — it’s not adding unique content.
It also links to two other posts on my site — neither of which have experienced anywhere near the same amount of success.
Having examined the above evidence, it seems that a pretty unremarkable post, with unremarkable SEO (both offsite and onsite) has managed to rank for a pretty remarkable keyword. And after all of this I feel like I am no closer to understanding why.
So, it’s time to move onto the next step.
I figure that if there is something special about this post, perhaps it will stand out when put side-by-side against others. So, I made a list of ten posts from LWB, all which were written to target a specific keyword, and set out to produce a table that would quantifiably compare them. Here’s what I came up with:
When comparing the highly-ranked post against others on this blog, it is utterly unremarkable. Both the word count and keyword density are almost bang on average and it actually performs pretty poorly in terms of other optimization factors.
So no magic formula is unveiled there. So how about the competition of each of the relevant keywords pertaining to each post? Using Market Samurai I compiled the totals of relevant offsite and onsite factors for the top ten pages of each keyword. Here were the results:
Don’t worry too much about that mess of numbers — what I was really interested in was the average of each field compared to the results for “freelance writing jobs”. The results were interesting. Some of the numbers were within ~20% of the average and thus were relatively unremarkable, but there were a few discrepancies:
Index Count: 32% of the average
Referring Domains to Pages (recent): 49% of the average
.edu / .gov links to Pages: 22% of the average
Keyword in header: 71% of average
However, there were much bigger discrepancies the other way, such as:
Referring Domains to the Domain (historic): 135% of the average
Referring Domains to the Domain (fresh): 159% of the average
Page Backlinks (fresh): 169% of the average
Domain Backlinks (historic): 187% of the average
Domain Backlinks (fresh): 276% of the average
But over all, and just like the onsite SEO factors I covered above, my high-ranking post is almost bang on the average for both onsite and offsite SEO factors collected by Market Samurai when compared against another nine posts on my blog.
Obviously that is an extremely small sample size, but I am nonetheless left completely clueless as to what is causing this one post to rank so well.
Over to You
So now it’s your turn.
I am appealing to all SEO experts out there to unload their wisdom in the comments section. As a relative SEO amateur I have done my very best to uncover the reason(s) as to why just one single post on this blog has ranked so highly for such a relatively valuable keyword, but I have come up with no answers.
If you think that one of your Twitter followers may be able to solve the mystery (or if you just like challenging people ;-)) then tweet the following out to them by clicking on it:
If you’re not an SEO expert then please don’t feel like I am excluding you from the debate; please feel free to chime in with your comments and questions below too! As always, I look forward to hearing from you all 🙂
The following is part of an ongoing series, The One Hour Authority Site Project. If you’d like to read more about it then click here!
It has now been fifty-two days since I launched my new authority site.
In that time I have written 41 articles, each in excess of 500 words. Every single one of those articles has been carefully crafted to target a specific long tail keyword, in the hope that each will eventually rank on the first page of Google.
In this post I want to go into my keyword research and competition analysis strategy in detail. I will show you the exact process that I have followed to pick keywords to base articles around. If you are currently building your own authority site, you may be able to take some of my ideas and adapt them for your own strategy.
In the last post in this series I had nothing of great note to report. It was encouraging to see that the number of keywords the site was ranked for had increased from 8 to 11, and I also had a ranking on the first page. So what’s changed since?
Just like a whole host of other sites across the web, my site was hit by the recent Google algorithm updates. My site now only ranks for three keywords, and what little progress I had made in terms of rankings has been all but wiped out.
My theory is that Google was previously ranking the site in part because of the partial keyword match domain, but they have now reduced that as a ranking factor. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest — it’s an algorithm change, not a penalty.
As for traffic, there hasn’t been a single visitor to the site since September. Google is certainly aware that the site exists, but doesn’t yet deem it worthy of the first page. And as you no doubt know, if you’re not on the first page, you’re unlikely to get any traffic.
Am I worried about any of this? Not in the slightest. Whilst I feel that ranking the site without building and curating links is going to be all but impossible, I have plenty of ideas up my sleeve for when that time comes.
Finally, I am starting to run out of SEO-optimized article ideas for the site. Whilst I have lots of blog post style ideas, most of the long tail keywords that I haven’t yet written posts for are:
Too close in terms of subject matter to existing content, and/or
So from a picky point of view, I am running out of ideas. But there are still plenty of things to write about — it might just take longer to rank them, or they may not attract as much traffic as other articles.
So that’s the latest — now let’s get onto the meat of the post!
What Can Long Tail Traffic Do For You?
I love long tail keywords — they are a wonderful source of traffic. I think that any well-established blog can generate a considerable amount of traffic by targeting long tail keywords. I know that Leaving Work Behind certainly could be receiving a lot more search traffic if I produced more posts that target specific keywords.
Take one post in particular as an example: Entry Level Writing Jobs — 5 Top Resources. When I wrote the post, I wanted it to rank for the keyword ‘entry level writing jobs’, which according to Google, attracts 390 exact match searches per month.
The post currently ranks 3rd in Google for the keyword, and received 60 referrals in September from search engines via that keyword. However, there were an additional 85 alternative searches that referred people to that post during September. Well over half the total referrals were not via the targeted keyword, but contextually relevant alternative long tail keywords.
Whilst ranking one post for a keyword with a low search volume may not seem like a worthwhile endeavor, you should consider two things:
You have the potential to rank for multiple long tail keywords with each post
Creating multiple articles can result in a considerable amount of traffic
Alright — so you’re either sold on the concept or you’re not. If you are, the theory is simple — find long tail keywords that you can rank for and write high-quality articles based around them. I split that process into two steps — keyword research and competition analysis.
What I love about my process is that you can follow it at absolutely no cost. Whilst I am going to recommend that you use two particular apps to make your life easier, you absolutely do not need to purchase them to make use of my strategy. Their involvement is more for convenience and efficiency, as opposed to functionality that could not otherwise be utilized.
It would be remiss of me not to point out that my process is in no way proven. So if you do decide to incorporate this strategy into your own, you do so at your own risk. I hope that in time I will be able to refer back to this as a pivotal element of a successful project, but until then, I can offer no assurances.
Before we begin, you may want to read my free guide to keyword research and competition analysis. If you are relatively new to the world of SEO (or even if not) you may find it useful, and it is obviously highly relevant to the topic at hand. Just enter your email address here and click “Sign Me Up!”:
Step 1: Keyword Research
As you will know if you read the first post in this series, the content strategy for my authority site is based upon Google autocomplete search phrases. You may want to read that post (and the other posts in this series) if you haven’t already.
When I started the site I was searching for article ideas manually by literally typing in, “[keyword] a”, “[keyword] b”, “keyword [c]”, and so on. Each search would display different potential post ideas:
This wasn’t particularly efficient, but I didn’t know of a better way. Then Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income made a suggestion in the form of an app called Keyword Researcher (thanks Pat!). It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.
In a nutshell, it makes generating an enormous list of potential long tail keywords relating to your niche a piece of cake. It actually has a whole bunch of useful applications outside of creating authority sites, but it was perfect for my needs too.
With Keyword Researcher I was able to compile a list of long tail keywords in just a few minutes. I’ve demonstrated how in the video below.
There is a free trial available, but at the time of writing, the full version of Keyword Researcher will set you back $45.97. It is absolutely not a necessity, but it won’t half make your life easier (as the above video demonstrates).
Step 2: Competition Analysis
Alright, by this stage I had a whole bunch of long tail keywords — the issue then was determining which were worth writing articles for.
I started by picking keywords indiscriminately, but soon realized that I could easily write 50 articles for competitive keywords without even realizing. Although long tail keywords are generally less competitive than those with a higher search volume, there are still those that are extremely difficult to rank for.
So I would consider competition analysis, even on long tail keywords, to be extremely important. Spending a few minutes up front picking viable keywords should help achieve far more beneficial results down the line.
Although competition analysis can typically get quite tricky, I actually stuck to a pretty simple process for my authority site, which I have shared in the video below. As always, I use Market Samurai for competition analysis. Given that this particular process is relatively straightforward, you could get away without it, but I would always recommend it as an awesome SEO tool anyway.
Once you have your list of keywords and know which ones are worth targeting, the next step is of course content production. And that is exactly what I am going to cover in the next post in this series — all of the methods I use to optimize my posts.
Whilst you might not go too far wrong by simply writing and publishing your posts without much thought for optimization, I do believe that you give yourself a better chance if you take the time to prepare each post accordingly.
Until then, I’d love to get your thoughts on my keyword research and competition analysis process. Do you agree with my methods, or would you recommend an alternative approach? Let us know in the comment section!
I have been practicing keyword research across multiple sites for the past eight months. I have done it for niche sites, for this blog, and for my clients. Most recently, I have been doing a lot of keyword research on niche sites for my mass niche site project.
If there is one thing I have learnt in the last eight months, it is that most people who are trying to build profitable niche sites are going about keyword research in entirely the wrong fashion. As soon as you start overcomplicating the process, your effectiveness in choosing profitable keywords disintegrates.
Here’s a simple fact – finding low competition keywords, when systematized properly, is in fact a relatively straightforward process. If you want proof of that, look no further than the likes of Spencer Haws or Justin and Joe – guys who are producing niche sites on a grand scale. If keyword research is that difficult, how are they able to keep rolling out tens (or even hundreds) of sites every single month?
Picking profitable keywords is a process that I want to cover in great detail in the future. However, I am only going to do that when I have ample evidence to back up my own methods. In the meantime, I want to draw your attention to three reasons why your niche site keyword research strategy if ineffective. If you take the below points on board, your likelihood of picking profitable keywords will be greatly improved.
1. You Are Trying to Rank 1st
There are ten available spots on the first page of Google, and each spot will attract a certain percentage of clicks, depending upon numerous variables. I wrote an in-depth post on this topic over at Think Traffic, which I recommend you check out.
Let’s assume for a moment that 40% of searchers click on the 1st result, and 20% click on the 5th. You’re looking to find a keyword that will send you 1,000 exact match visitors per month. So a keyword with 2,500 exact match results for which you can rank 1st in Google will do the trick. But a keyword with 5,000 exact match results for which you can rank 5th in Google will also work.
In fact, you could argue that the second keyword is a better one to target. With the first, there is a definite theoretical ceiling of 1,000 visitors. But with the second, if you exceeded your expectations and ranked higher, you could attract up to 2,000 visitors.
Stop focusing on the 1st spot of Google – there are 10 up for grabs on the 1st page, and they can all send your website traffic.
Whilst I used to use Market Samurai for keyword research (old reliable), I now use SECockpit (hugely powerful, but buggy – I will be reviewing this tool soon). I actually use SECockpit’s method of dividing the first page of Google up onto three “sections”:
SECockpit calculates that each section will attract a fixed percentage of traffic. It isn’t perfect, but it is impossible to calculate the precise level of traffic you will receive from any given keyword. For my purposes, SECockpit’s estimates are good enough.
Once you have split the 1st page of Google into three parts (and taken the differences in traffic into account), you can analyze the competition in each section independently of the rest of the page. This allows you to consider keywords for which you do not expect to rank 1st in Google.
2. You Research Only One Keyword
I was guilty of this until only recently, and it is a really crazy thing to be doing. In looking to build a niche site, I would go out in search of a keyword. Once I found a keyword that I thought would do the trick, I would go about building the site.
This is wrong, wrong, wrong! No two keywords are created equal, and you want to have a considerable backlog of researched and ready keywords before you decide to build a site.
Justin and Joe of AdSense Flippers say that for every one keyword you build a site for, you should have researched 50 other potentially viable keywords. This may sound over the top to you, but the fact is, the more keywords you research, the better chance you will have of finding more profitable ones. If you only research one keyword and then build a site, you are reducing your chances of it being a success.
There is always strength in numbers, and keyword research is not an exception to that rule.
3. You Don’t Score Your Keywords
This follows directly on from my previous point. You must have a way of scoring your keywords. If you are going to research 50 keywords for every one that you decide to base a site upon, you need to know which of those 50 is the best one to target.
By no means is this an absolute science, and your scoring system is bound to evolve as you gain experience, but something is better than nothing. I personally score my sites based upon a number of variables, focusing on offsite and onsite SEO. I will probably reveal my scoring system at some point in the future, when it has been adequately proven to be effective.
In the meantime, you need something. I wouldn’t worry about getting too anal with your system to start with – just find a way of ordering your keywords, see how well your system reflects the performance of those keywords, and adjust accordingly.
Do YOU Have Any Suggestions?
I have covered above what I consider to be three vital areas of keyword research that are neglected by many niche site builders.
So if you build niche sites, please feel free to reveal your tips in the comments section below! And if you think this article would be of help to your followers, please share it using the buttons below.
Today’s post contains a lesson that I wish I had known when I started building niche sites. If you are just starting out, you should target multiple low competition (and invariably low traffic) keywords. But why?
1. Learning Curve
In my opinion, niche site building is more of an art than a science. We can spend all day estimating income and cost implications, but accuracy in those estimates is hard to come by.
And if we are calling niche site building an art, consider this – when someone picks up a paintbrush for the first time, are they capable of creating something like this?
No – they’re not. Their work will probably look more akin to this:
It looks like they bypassed the brush altogether.
So when it comes to link building, don’t start off trying to recreate the proverbial Sistine Chapel. Begin with something simple, and work your way up.
Here’s an irrefutable fact – when you are first starting out, you will make plenty of mistakes. I would rather make a mistake on a relatively inconsequential keyword (having spent less time working on it), than a competitive keyword that I have poured an enormous amount of effort into.
2. Time And Motivation
Link building is a thankless task in the short term. When I first started out, I was rather skeptical about the whole concept of niche sites. I had read Pat Flynn’s niche site duel thoroughly and was excited by it, but that did not really dampen the voice of doubt in the back of my head. And for several weeks, whilst I spent hours creating content and building links, I had no real way of knowing if all of my hard work was going to pay off.
It is tough to work at something when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the end, it took me just under 3 months to hit #1 in Google for the primary keyword of my first niche site. Now I don’t know about you, but 3 months is a long time to work when you’re fueled just by the hope that you will have some success.
So do yourself a favor – pick yourself a few easy keywords to get started on. You will quickly get a “feel” for the process and will also be encouraged by positive results early on. I’m not necessarily talking about #1 rankings, but just seeing your numbers climb for a few different keywords puts you in a frame of mind where working hard for your rankings doesn’t seem like such a chore.
3. You’ll Discover More
You can only learn so much from targeting one keyword. When you are targeting multiple keywords across multiple pages, there is a lot more scope for increasing your knowledgebase. And ultimately, when it comes to SEO, your knowledge if your asset.
4. It’s Easier – In More Ways Than You Think
Yes, I know I said 3 reasons, but another valuable reason was put forward by Justice Wordlaw IV in the comments section. Thanks Justice!
If you rank for low competition keywords first, it will be easier to subsequently rank for related high competition keywords. Think of it as building a house – if you rank for some low competition keywords first, you are setting solid foundations. If you go straight for the high competition keywords, unless you are really experienced in link building, you’re building on foundations of sand. Targeting low competition keywords gives you a solid base from which to build upon.
How Did You Start Out?
Did you pick multiple keywords when you started out? Or did you focus on just one, like I did? Let us know in the comments section!
Update: This PDF has been “retired” and is no longer available.
If you own a website (or plan on starting one), search engine referral traffic is an attractive proposition. After all, if you can rank your site for relevant keywords, you will receive a steady flow of qualified traffic. What could be better?
However, ranking for keywords in Google is no cakewalk. If you plan on ranking on the first page, effective keyword research and competition analysis is an absolute must.
With that in mind, I have put a great deal of effort into creating a completely free keyword research and competition analysis guide, which covers seven steps:
Choosing A Seed Keyword
Generating Additional Keywords
Filtering Your Keywords
Trial, Error & Experience
To get your copy, just enter your email address below and hit “Sign Me Up!” If you enjoy the guide, please share this post so that it can be downloaded by your friends!