A blog can be a powerful marketing and lead-generation tool that also contributes to a stronger presence in the search engines.
At the same time, it can be a drain on your time and resources that hangs over your head, demanding a constant stream of new content.
Every now and then, despite your best intentions, a lot of things can come between you and your blog, creating a rocky relationship that might even result in a temporary separation.
It can happen to anyone.
It happened to us.
The full details of why it happened aren’t important. Positions were shifted. New ones were created. The workload for our clients demanded more time from everyone. Strategies changed. And… does any of this seem familiar in your own company?
Whatever the reason, our blog began to suffer. So, last year, near the end of October, we decided to make the blog a priority and start rebuilding the traffic as part of our ongoing strategy.
Now, one year later, we can report that the traffic to our blog has increased 284%.
Our overall traffic is up. Our subscriptions are up. Our clickthroughs are up. And far more people are commenting or clicking on our calls to action.
It’s been a long time coming, and while we saw some immediate increases in the first few months, we’re not here to provide some kind of mysterious formula to immediately restore the relationship between you and your blog.
SEO and content marketing take time, and while a lot of articles may talk about how you can “increase your blog traffic in just a few months,” we are going to talk about long-term strategies that have resulted in sustainable growth.
So, if you came here because my click-baity title made you think this was some kind of miracle, super-fast solution for unlimited traffic, I apologize.
What you will get out of this, though, are reliable and repeatable strategies for consistent blog growth.
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Start with a Usable Content Calendar
Sometimes, it feels like half the battle with a blog is coming up with fresh ideas for engaging content. How many times can you write about basically the same thing?
It’s easy to fall into a rut of producing content for the sake of publishing content – it’s there, it’s online, it has keywords, but it doesn’t have a lot of potential to escape that rut.
The solution we found was to engage more people in the creation of the content calendar.
Even if they couldn’t write anything for the blog, they certainly had the knowledge and experience to recommend some great topics.
We did not just make a Google doc and ask people to help us brainstorm, though. Instead, we sent a Word doc directly to one person at a time and asked them to add some ideas within the next two days.
This way, they could see what had already been suggested and play off some of those titles, and they had a definite deadline. If they didn’t get it done by then, we moved on to the next person.
These titles were eventually organized and put into a content calendar, which included some information that made it more usable than just a list of blog titles. Here, you can see:
The date that I wanted it to go live
Who would write it
The type of content
The category/topic that the content covered
The offer (the call to action) that would be included
The actual title
Space to track if it had been assigned, written, published, and link integrated
This worked great for a while, but we quickly learned the importance of flexibility in any strategy.
This is, after all, a content calendar, not an untouchable work of art.
For example, the original goal was to produce 3 posts a week and really hit the ground running.
However, we soon realized that that level of work wasn’t quite sustainable, or necessary, so we changed the calendar to one post a week, and that has proven to be sufficient for our current needs.
It also leaves us plenty of room to dive in and do more when we can free up more resources.
Historical Optimization – Resurrecting Old Content for Future Benefit
There’s been a lot of discussion around “historical optimization” for a while now, and after reading this article on HubSpot, I figured we’d experiment with it ourselves.
In essence, historical optimization (as defined by HubSpot) goes something like this:
Identify posts that are worth updating (could be more comprehensive, could have higher conversion potential, could focus on keywords that are worth targeting, etc.).
Look for posts that have middling rankings. I.e. posts that rank around the bottom of the first page of results or somewhere on the second. These have the most potential value.
Update the content with new additions, updated data, and improved quality. These should be noticeable improvements – not just a couple grammar fixes.
Optimize the post for conversions by including more relevant CTAs.
Publish the updated post as new, but on the same URL, and promote it as usual. However, you should also include an editor’s note that explains when it was originally published and why it was updated. We’re not trying to fool anyone with this, so be open about it.
Our first experiment with historical optimization was timed to take advantage of the season.
November was right around the corner, and our article titled: “Online Marketing for Black Friday – The Ultimate Guide” had performed well in the past. It looked ripe for an update.
It was still ranking well for “online Black Friday marketing” terms, but after its initial publication in 2013, it didn’t really generate much traffic over the next couple years.
So, I double checked and updated the data and information, added some new stories, modified the graphics, and republished it. The results looked like this:
Of course, the seasonal drop-off was expected, so while it didn’t provide any long-term traffic, it did get our new content push off to a great start.
Also note the stats for November of 2017. We didn’t do any historical optimization on it this year, but we did promote it on social again. The spike this year obviously wasn’t as big as the last, but it did still perform better than it had before re-optimization.
We tried this process on a few other blogs and, while we saw some success, it wasn’t all that impressive.
So, we decided to ignore one of the normal guidelines.
In the articles I read about historical optimization, most recommended using posts that were a year or two old, tops.
But here’s the thing: in the previous year or two, we really didn’t have that many great posts to pick from (remember how we talked about our blog not getting the attention it needed the previous year?).
We did, however, have a really old blog post that still got some traffic and, more importantly, seemed to address a question that a lot of people were asking.
And that question was: What is an SEO Specialist?
This was originally posted in 2011.
Let me say that again: 2011!!!
Is that really something that fits with this notion of historical optimization, or are we just being silly at this point?
Well, on February 8 of 2017 we gave it a go, and here’s what happened:
None of us expected to see it attract that much traffic that fast. Nearly a year later and this is still one of our top performing blog posts.
So, this historical optimization works right? Why not just do this on every blog that seems to have even a little modern relevance to it?
Well, because there is more going on here.
Extra (but relevant) Lesson: Content Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum
Notice that from February of 2016 to August things were pretty much a straight line of mediocrity – right up until that noticeable traffic bump in September.
This was because our VP was doing a lot of long-overdue work on the site.
He wasn’t doing anything to the blog, just taking care of a lot of the technical SEO details that really needed an update.
As a result, we saw a lot of traffic increases like this across the board.
Why is this important to mention here?
Because there’s a tendency to believe that one can “SEO a page” and be done with it.
It doesn’t work like that, though.
SEO is big picture stuff. You can’t just do “the latest SEO thing” on one page and expect to succeed. You go big or you go home.
Would this page have performed as well without taking care of those technical details first? It’s hard to say for sure, but we can say that it at least contributed to the more explosive growth.
So, the moral of the story is: content marketing and SEO go hand-in-hand, and you can’t do one without the other.
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Topics are More Important than Keywords
In the last few years, we’ve also seen a lot of people talking about the importance of focusing on topics over keywords. This article in particular caught my eye, but there is a lot of information around this idea.
In simple terms, the process works a lot like this:
Create a “content pillar” based on a specific topic. (In our case, we would focus on using each of our service pages as the topics and the content pillars.)
Create supporting content based on the long-tail keywords that are related to that topic. This will help you cover a wide range of subjects and even help you fill out that content calendar.
Link all the related content together. This way you’re effectively creating several “topic networks” within your website.
This idea of a topic network was very appealing, and it fit in well with historical optimization strategies.
After all, we’ve already got a ton of information surrounding that topic. We just had to go back and update those blogs with links to the content pillars as well as some of the other relevant blogs.
Get Your Social Sorted
Effective promotion is, of course, another cog in this grinding machine. Previously, we were at least guaranteed to post at least once on our social media channels about a new blog, but that was about it.
We never really revisited all our content after the initial posting, so we knew that had to change.
Many of you may have seen various charts and graphs floating around that recommend number of posts for every social media channel and how often they should be posted.
Most of those were a little heavy-handed for what we wanted.
The idea was to get the word out about the blog posts, not to flood our channels with reminders to look at our stuff.
So, the formula we used was something like this:
2 Facebook posts – One on launch, one a month later
3 Tweets – One on launch, one a week later, and the last one a month later
1 LinkedIn post on launch
1 Google+ post on launch
1 Pinterest post if it related to an infographic or something similar
And now, going forward, can start bringing some of these year-old posts back into the social rotation and get even more value out of them.
Summing It Up
It’s fun to say things like “the results speak for themselves,” but in this case, I apparently felt the need to add another 19k works on top of the results. So, if you didn’t make it through all of that, here are the takeaways.
This is not an overnight solution for more blog traffic. It’s a sustainable method for constant growth.
Build a foundation on a usable content calendar. Be sure to leverage the individual knowledge and specialties of people in the company so you can cover a range of important aspects.
Re-optimize older blogs that still have some traffic or conversion potential.
Remember that your overall SEO strategies will have a big impact on your blog traffic, so don’t just publish and hope for the best.
Improve your site-wide strategy by focusing on topics rather than keywords.
Make sure you’re supporting all these steps with proper promotion across your social channels.
Ready to start increasing the traffic to your own blog? Check out this eBook and find out how content marketing can fit into your overall marketing strategy.