Blogging has become an industry in itself with many people now making full-time careers from it and companies exploiting blogs as a key way of attracting new business.
As the influence of blogs has increased, it has naturally become more competitive and more difficult to stand out from the crowd. Bloggers are investing huge amounts of time and money into their content, so simply sitting down and publishing some words you wrote in your kitchen is unlikely to cut it these days.
There are too many ways of making a blog successful to cover in one blog post, but there are certainly a more manageable set of things you can do to improve your blog’s performance in search specifically that a surprising amount of bloggers overlook.
If you have a blog that has been built off the back of a great brand and fantastic social media presence, but you haven’t paid too much attention to SEO, then this post is for you.
I’m going to share exactly what we did to more than triple a travel blog’s search traffic over a 12-month period and take them from the tens of thousands of visits per month to the hundreds of thousands.
Our work has focused on technical SEO activity rather than content production or off-site work.
It’s important to highlight that this blog already had a very good presence and lots of good things already going for it, so I wanted to break down the starting points in a bit more detail first before we get into the nitty-gritty of what accelerated the growth.
The site already had a very good link profile, with a wide variety of links on strong, top-tier publications like CNN and the Independent, along with lots of links on other blogs they had built relationships with.
I’m not going to go into much detail on how to do this as it warrants its own post, but the key approaches were:
- Guest Writing: Writing posts for other blogs or getting featured via interviews etc. This is very easy for bloggers with non-commercial sites and is a very scalable way to develop a good link profile.
- PR: Building relationships with journalists or pitching stories to big publications that can gain you links and mentions on very powerful sites.
Other great resources on getting links for your blog:
The site has been around a long time so it had accumulated lots of content which was well written and had been edited and targeted with SEO in mind.
As a result, a lot of it was ranking well and bringing traffic to the site and seemingly performing very well.
If you’re just getting started on your blogging journey then populating the site with really good, quality content should be a high priority for you.
You can read more about that at the links below:
So, as I highlighted originally, the key part of our activity that took the site from tens of thousands of visits per month, to hundreds of thousands of visits per month, was technical SEO work.
I’m going to break down all the key elements we addressed below, so if you’re sat with a blog in a similar position to what I’ve described above you can implement these actions to help unleash your blog’s traffic, too.
I’ve prioritized these in a way that I believe has had the biggest impact (with the largest impact first), but this is obviously up for discussion and we can’t be sure what influence each individual action had as these were all implemented on the same timeline.
A common issue for blogs, especially those that have been around a long time, is having lots of URLs indexed by Google that are not genuine pages and offer no value to users.
These included regular offenders for WordPress sites, such as:
- Category pages.
- Tag pages.
- Author pages.
- Archive pages.
We crawled the site and identified the patterns behind the key offenders in this area and either noindexed them or updated Search Console to stop Google crawling them.
The site had a huge amount of pages with extremely thin content present.
These were basically category pages with a small intro added that were clearly created with SEO in mind to target long-tail phrases.
However, it was done to such a degree that the pages were of extremely low quality and added very little value for a user landing on it.
The potential upside of this kind of page wasn’t enough to warrant the time required to add content to them, so these were either removed or noindexed.
When we started work the site’s page speed was extremely poor due to various fonts, large images, caching, and various other issues.
We used some plugins to help improve this, which isn’t the dream solution (building a site more efficiently from the ground up is preferable).
But for bloggers on a tight budget and with limited resources and knowledge, you can still make some significant steps forward.
For some of the site’s key money phrases, there were multiple pages present that were targeting the same topic.
Google was chopping and changing between which of the pages was ranking so it was clear it was unsure which the best choice was. This is usually a good sign of content cannibalization and suggests you should merge those pages into one top quality page.
We did just that, and soon saw the ranking page settle down and ranking performance jump forward significantly and stay there consistently.
The site had a variety of sitemaps submitted in Search Console, many of which listed URLs which we did not want to be crawled, let alone indexed.
We trimmed this so the sitemaps present only listed URLs with good quality content present so it was much clearer what should be indexed and which content was most important on the site.
Advertising is the way most bloggers make their money, so telling them to cut it down is not a popular conversation.
However, if you go overboard on your advertising then it can become ineffective and even harm your overall performance so you get less traffic, less conversions, and therefore less pennies in your piggy bank.
Finding the balance is key and it’s been shown that Google’s recent updates have been hurting sites with excessive advertising taking precedent over unique, quality content.
An issue we see regularly with blogs and websites in general is that header tags are used for styling rather than structure.
H1, H2, and H3 tags should be used to clearly illustrate the structure of your page so Google can map it on to the phrases it would expect to see mentioned on the topic being covered.
If your site’s headers are being used for styling then get on to your developer and get it changed so you use these elements in a more tactical and optimized way.
We worked closely with the client to clean up internal links and improve how they were being used. This included:
- Fixing any dead internal links that were linking to broken pages.
- Fixing internal links that took users and bots through redirect chains, so the link pointed directly to the correct destination.
- Adding more links to important pages throughout the site.
As I mentioned initially, the site had some excellent links that it had established over the years through natural approaches and some more direct efforts.
Some of these more direct efforts involved getting optimized anchor text to key money pages which had been a bit overzealous at times. We believed it was potentially causing the site to be held back from ranking for phrases in that area and for that page in particular.
Fortunately, the owners still had contact with many of the sites where this was in place, so we advised which to contact to have their anchor text updated to make it either branded or more generic (e.g., click here).
There were other elements involved too, but those above were the key issues that were wide reaching and causing significant performance issues.
It’s rare to find one silver bullet with technical SEO, but if you chip away at the wide variety of issues that can impact you then you can see some serious improvements.
The theory of marginal gains certainly applies here, and I’d advise any blogger who is well established to pay close attention to these kinds of issues if they haven’t already.
We also haven’t yet implemented all the recommendations we’ve suggested. One key outstanding one is implementing “hub pages” that guide people into all the key content on a topic.
In travel, this is very much destination focused, and there is a lot of search interest to gain if you create high quality pages for those hubs. This is the key focus to move on to next to help accelerate this site’s progress further, and there is a huge amount of potential in it once implemented.
So if you’re a blogger with lots of great content and links, but you haven’t yet paid any attention to your technical SEO, do it now!
Make sure you aren’t leaving significant amounts of traffic on the table – you may be sitting on huge growth potential. Time to kick into gear!
Featured Image: Created by author, January 2019
In-post Images: Created by author, January 2019
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our daily newsletter from SEJ’s Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!