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!
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).
How about backlinks? Market Samurai shows that it has just two referring domains pointing to it, which certainly seems low. Ahrefs shows zero backlinks pointing to the page, while Open Site Explorer shows just one link from this page. There are two interesting things to note here:
- 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:
|Post||Words||Kwd in Headline||Kwd in Page Title||Kwd in URL||Kwd in Subheader||Kwd Density
|WordPress Security: Everything You Need To Know||2,461||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||0.24%
|Top Five Regrets Of The Dying - What It Can Teach Us About Living||1,084||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||0.09%
|Organic Search Engine Optimization: How I'm Doing It||1,582||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||0.12%
|How to Start a Mastermind Group (and Why You Should)||1,676||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||1.32%
|5 Things I Have Learned from a Successful Information Product Launch||1,998||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||0.20%
|Why All Bloggers Should Consider Creating an Information Product||1,169||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||0.17%
|9 Steps to Writing Blog Posts Quickly (and Making Much More Money)||1,750||No||Yes||Yes||No||0.00%
|How to Succeed in Business (and Life)||1,014||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||0.00%
|How to Start Blogging: Everything You Need to Know||1,768||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||0.11%
|Freelance Writing: How To Find Your First Job||1,636||No||Yes||Yes||No||0.24%
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!
There are many different elements that make up a successful authority site, but the content you create is perhaps most pivotal.
The words you publish play a huge part in defining the success of your site () in many different areas such as search engine rankings, social media exposure and user engagement. As search algorithms become more advanced and social media becomes even more relevant to everyday Internet users, content will only become more important.
With that in mind, the content strategy for my authority site is something I have spent a great deal of time on. It has evolved drastically over the first 41 posts I have written for the blog, and will no doubt continue to evolve in the future. In this post, I am going to show you my exact step by step process for creating SEO optimized content for the One Hour Authority Site Project.
Authority Site Update
But before that, as always, let’s see how my site is getting on.
My last update was only a couple of weeks ago, but there has been some curious movement in the rankings since then:
Notice that I said “curious”, rather than “exciting”. Still no first page results, but all of the rankings you see above are for taxonomy pages (i.e. tags and categories). According to Market Samurai, none of my actual posts are currently ranking anywhere in Google. Also, some of the ranking pages are not directly relevant to the keyword ranked for. I have no idea what to make of this and would welcome your theories in the comments section.
Beyond that, traffic is still all but non-existent:
That’s right folks — a grand total of four visitors since my last update. I’ll look back at these figures and chuckle 🙂
As I said in my last post (before I went on vacation), my focus for the next few weeks will be getting to the 60 post mark before I move onto stage 2 of my plans. I hope to progress things quickly so I can get started with conservative link building/procurement as soon as possible. Although I am in no rush, I think it’s about time that my rankings and analytics figures looked a little more respectable.
Writing SEO Optimized Content
If you have been following the series so far you will know that I have already covered how I set up my SEO optimized site and how I research and analyze keywords. It’s now a case of picking a keyword to write about and running through my system for writing new posts.
The overriding principle that guides my content creation strategy is quality. Once I have hit Publish on a blog post, it will remain on the web for the months and years to come, and has the potential to attract thousands of visitors in its lifetime. As such, I treat each post with the respect that such potential deserves.
So, keep that in mind as we run through each step of producing an SEO optimized blog post below.
I cannot understate the importance of a post’s headline in defining its success in terms of attracting views. The vast majority of potential visitors will only see a post’s headline, and as such, they only have that to persuade them whether or not they should click.
Therefore, a headline should be clear, direct, informative and intriguing. For the One Hour Authority Site Project my headlines are largely guided by the long tail search keywords that I am targeting, but I often tweak them based upon the above key principles. Ideally, the most relevant keywords should be placed at the beginning of the post.
My headlines are typically no more than 65 characters (I use this plugin to easily keep track) to ensure that they are displayed in full on search engines results pages. When it comes to capitalization, I use title case (as most professional bloggers do).
Above all else, I make sure that my headlines are natural to read. I would never sacrifice readability in the hope of boosting my search engine rankings. As always when it comes to optimizing my content, humans comes first (not search engines).
In case you don’t know, the “slug” is the unique URL for your blog post:
This post’s slug as shown on the WordPress backend.
It should be packed with relevant keywords. This helps search engines to better ascertain the relevancy of your post to your targeted keywords. Unlike a headline, a slug does not need to read naturally, although it is useful if it serves as an indication of what the post covers.
Something I like to do is vary keywords between the post title and the slug. Say I was writing a post on throwing a curve ball. My title might be, “How to Throw a Curve Ball”, and my slug might be “how-to-pitch-a-curve-ball”.
Optimizing My Posts for the Search Engine Result Pages
I have SEO by Yoast installed on my site and consider it absolutely indispensable. It adds a meta box to each post page that allows you to specifically optimize each post for the search engine results pages (SERPs):
A version of this post optimized for the SERPs.
I define a focus keyword for each post and ensure that it is included in all of the important parts of my post:
- Article heading
- Page title
- Page URL
- Meta description
I may add an SEO title if I want to display a headline that is different to what is displayed on the actual post. Finally, I add a meta description. Although Google says that it has no bearing on a page’s ranking, creating a manual meta description is a great way of boosting the organic click through rate to your posts.
I’m going to preface everything I say in this section with one simple recommendation — purchase a copy of the Yahoo! Style Guide. If you publish content online in any form, I consider it required reading. It is by far the most comprehensive resource I have ever come across on writing for the web.
Taken straight from the guide are the following key pointers I bear in mind when writing content for my authority site:
- Write in an easy-to-read, conversational style
- Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs
- Use bold to emphasize key statements and italics to emphasize particular words (as you would when speaking them)
- Use plenty of graphical elements: media, lists, blockquotes, tables, graphs, etc.
- Break content up with keyword rich and relevant sub-headers
- Focus on quality above everything else
You can see all of these elements in action on this post — my general writing style for all blogs is led by the above principles.
Most importantly, each post you write should set out to resolve a very specific question posed by the headline (note — the headline does not necessarily need to be phrased a question, but the question should be implicit). I don’t just write the posts for the sake of having content on my site — I want to provide a genuine service for people in search of answers. If I follow that mindset, I should eventually have a valuable asset (rather than a bunch of posts that no one actually wants to read).
I use Compfight (a Flickr search engine) to source the vast majority of the images I use in blog posts.
When it comes to sourcing free images for my writing, I use these resources only. I include at least one image per article (more is preferable), and always endeavor to make them relevant to the subject matter.
My posts’ featured images are always slightly less than half width and floated to the top right of the content (as recommended by Derek Halpern). Each image has alt and title that seeks to strike a balance between accurately describing the image and including relevant keywords.
Video is not something I have included on the site, but it is something that I may well concentrate on in the future. Including relevant videos within your content is rarely (if ever) a bad thing to do.
As you may already know, there are two “types” of linking: internal and external. I include internal and external links on every post I publish. You should not be fearful of linking to external sites — search engines like to see you do it, and if you link to relevant sites, it provides more context with which they can rank your site appropriately.
I take every opportunity to link to relevant blog posts on my own site, with at least two internal links per page. I also have a rule of linking out to one external site per post.
Categories and Tags
I have covered my taxonomy strategy in detail here and here, but there are a couple of things I should make clear in this post.
First of all, I only ever link a post to one category. It’s just a little rule of mine — it seems sensible that a post would only be associated with one broad category. When it comes to tagging, I draw selectively from a list of existing tags, and only create new tags if I feel that it will be used relatively regularly.
Never Forget the Importance of Quality
That’s it — my complete strategy for creating SEO optimized content for my One Hour Authority Site Project!
If I could leave you with just one thing, it would be a reminder that once an article is finished, it sits on the web in perpetuity. As such, you should not rush to publish content — make sure that each post is properly optimized and has the best possible chance of success.
I’d love to know what you think about my strategy, so please open fire with questions and comments!
Creative Commons image courtesy of Bright Meadow
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!
If you have been following along with this project, you will know my short term focus is almost solely on content. All of the things I would typically focus on, such as design and marketing, have taken a back seat.
However, there is one thing in addition to content that I haven’t skimped on — onsite search engine optimization. Given that my aim is to rank in Google without doing any black hat link building, I need to make sure that my onsite SEO is spot on.
In this post, I am going to take you through exactly how I have set up and optimized my site. Although the following is specific to my authority site, I believe that the process could be adopted to suit just about any site.
Before we begin, let’s take a brief look at how my site is getting on.
There is very little to tell you further to last week’s update — not a great deal has happened in the past seven days. I have written another five articles, each of which has exceeded 500 words (with a couple over 1,000).
My most recent ranking update didn’t reveal anything particularly dramatic:
There are however a couple of noteworthy points:
- The number of keywords that Google is ranking me for has increased from 8 to 11
- I have my first ranking on the first page for a keyword
Before you get excited, that first page ranking is for a search term with just 22 exact match searches per month. That term has only brought one visitor to my site so far.
Speaking of visitors, the site remains all but desolate, with only the occasional visitor. I’ve got a long way to go yet!
Naming My Site
Before we get onto the nuts and bolts of how I set up my site, I want to take a moment to address an extremely important factor — its name.
I decided early on that I wanted to find a keyword rich domain name. It seems apparent to me that Google still loves exact match domains, and I therefore consider partial match domains to be pretty useful too. It means that every single page on your site is partially optimized for a particular keyword before you have written a word.
The keyword I chose has a fairly healthy number of exact searches (2,400 per month) and is highly relevant to my niche. This keyword also “devolves” nicely — take a word off and you have a keyword with 27,100 searches. Take another word off and you have a keyword with 40,500 searches. All three keywords are relevant to my niche.
Furthermore, the front page competition for the keyword isn’t horrendous (screenshot from Market Samurai):
There are only two root domains on the first page, and the number of referring domains isn’t particularly imposing — especially when you consider that future organic links back to my site will include the search term. I am pretty confident of being able to establish myself on the first page in the long term.
I couldn’t get my hands on an exact match domain for this keyword (no surprise there), so ended up with a domain like this:
Setting Up My Theme
Getting the site up and running was a relatively simplistic affair. Whilst it is all too easy to spend days or weeks working on a site launch, I had mine live within a few minutes.
My site runs on the default WordPress Twenty Eleven theme. And why not? It is extremely well-coded, clean, minimalistic, and content-focused:
I did actually make a few minor tweaks to the theme, which I added in a child theme:
- I edited the footer.php file to remove the WordPress attribution and include a copyright notice
- I added CSS to remove post meta data and make some minor formatting changes
That was the extent of my work on the design of the site.
The thinking behind my limited approach was very simple — what is the point on pouring a whole load of time and effort into the design of a site that no one is going to see? If we adopt the principles of The Lean Startup for authority sites for a moment, you should start with the most basic design, and only upgrade when the size of your audience warrants it.
The focus here is cost benefit — i.e., what benefit does the cost of my time in improving the design have on my goals? The answer, at this stage, is no benefit at all.
I had a similarly no-frills approach to plugins. I installed the following:
Whilst there are plenty of other plugins that I could install, at this stage, there is little point in doing so. As I keep pointing out, my focus is entirely on content. The more distracted I am by fiddling around with plugins, the less time I have to produce content.
Again, I stuck with the bare minimum here.
I created a simple About page with a with a few brief paragraphs — a quick overview of the benefits that my site brings, along with a brief biography. This is something that I definitely would look to develop more as traffic to the site grows, as your About page is pivotal to engagement on your blog.
The only other page I created was a Contact page. This is something of a necessity if you want your site to seem approachable and non-spammy. After all, how many blogs do you read that don’t have a contact page? I used the aforementioned Contact Form 7 plugin to place a contact form on this page.
Search Engine Optimization
This is the area into which the bulk of my setup time went — it wasn’t something that I wanted to skimp on. In fairness, site optimization is something of an ongoing process for me — I am often getting new ideas.
SEO by Yoast
This is (in my humble opinion) by far the best SEO plugin for WordPress. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but it didn’t take me too long to get everything to my liking.
My first port of call was the Titles & Metas settings screen:
As you can see, I had to check the force rewrite titles in order to get the feature to work properly. Furthermore, I noindexed subpages of archives, and decided not to use meta keywords (by all accounts I have read, they are redundant).
I then turned my focus to each of the tabs, where I could set how title tags would be displayed on my site. In case you don’t know, title tags are the titles that show up in the search engines and in the title bar of your browser. Filling your title tags with relevant keywords is absolutely vital, and a major part of onsite SEO.
The title template for my homepage is simply the site’s name (which is keyword rich by default). I also wrote a custom description, which will show up in search engine results. Whilst Google doesn’t take keywords within the description into account when ranking a site, writing a good description can make the difference between someone clicking through to your site (or not).
Next, I set the title templates for posts, pages, categories and tags:
As I will better explain in my post on content creation, this template gives you a keyword rich title without it seeming unnatural. You’ll end up with titles like:
How to Throw a Curve Ball — Free Baseball Tips
The title is perfectly optimized for SEO, but also seems completely natural. The best of both worlds.
I also disabled the date and author-based archives, which you can do in the “Other” tab. Given that my site is to be a single-author blog with evergreen content, there’s no point filling Google’s index up with useless duplicate content.
Just to clarify, I left the settings so that the following content formats and taxonomies were indexed:
I believe that each one offers an opportunity to rank in Google, should you go about things in the right manner.
Although there are a huge amount of settings within SEO by Yoast, the only other thing I did was check to enable sitemap functionality on the Sitemaps screen:
Although they are not a necessity, sitemaps help search engines crawl websites more effectively. Since SEO by Yoast automatically keeps my sitemap up to date, I had no reason not to enable this feature.
Categories and Tags
This is a fairly large topic, and this post is getting big enough as it is. Fortunately, I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago which demonstrates exactly how I have set up categories and tags for my authority site: The Right Way to Use Categories and Tags in WordPress to Boost SEO.
I basically keep three things in mind when creating categories and tags. Each one must:
- Be a relevant phrase that someone would actually search for in Google
- Look presentable in the search engine results page (i.e. be written in title case)
- Actually serve a useful purpose to the end user
I am pretty conservative with my tagging. At the time of writing, I have just 39 tags across 31 posts, but almost all of them are used more than once (and some as much as eight times).
The final thing I did to set up my site was add it to my Google Webmaster Tools account. This is basically a way of saying to Google, “This is my site”. It also gains you access to a whole bunch of analytics tools and gizmos.
Adding a site is a piece of cake — just follow these simple instructions. One thing I will mention is that you should add both the “http://” and “http://www.” version of your site, and then tell Google which one to prioritize. Don’t worry if this all sounds foreign — I wrote a simple to follow guide which you can find here.
Finally, you should upload your sitemap to Webmaster Tools by navigating to Optimization > Sitemaps in the sidebar, and clicking on “Add/Test Sitemap”. This is your way of telling Google that your sitemap exists, so that its spiders can utilize it when crawling your site.
Once my site was set up, I needed a way of tracking the huge number of keywords that I was going to be targeting. Doing so isn’t just an exercise in curiosity — I will be carefully analyzing keywords that I do rank for, so that I can gain a better understanding of why I don’t rank for others.
Your keyword list will probably start with a bunch of relevant search terms with high search figures. Then as you add content, you will add any long tail keywords relevant to each article that you write (more on this in a later post).
I decided to use the rank tracking feature that comes packaged with Market Samurai. It updates once per week, and gives you fancy graphs so that you can track your progress:
Market Samurai is a piece of software that I have been utilizing heavily for this project, and rank tracking is just one aspect of its feature set.
That’s it folks — a breakdown of my entire site setup process.
In the next post in this series, I’m going to be getting onto the most important part of the process — content creation. I will be revealing, in detail, my approach to writing posts for my authority site.
Until then, I’d love to know what you think about the process that I have revealed above. Do you think it is a sensible approach? Do you think it could be improved? Let us know in the comments section!
Creative Commons image courtesy of S. Diddy