Updated August 2018
There are so many options when it comes to improving a website’s organic traffic that sometimes it’s hard prioritizing which SEO techniques to rely on.
Whether it’s your own site or a client’s with a low budget, it’s critical to have the skills to deliver some results with less effort.
And that’s what we’ll be going over in this article: finding the low hanging fruit to boost results (aka 80/20 SEO).
You’ll see real data and examples throughout the article from a site I recently purchased as a side project (here’s the site if you’d like to check it out, DailyCoffee.co); while I’ll be sharing lots, I will mask some of the data for obvious reasons.
The mantra here is:
“Fix what’s already there.”
It’s always tempting to fire up Long Tail Pro (LTP) and uncover new keyword ideas with low competition and good volume to start creating new content and a strategy around them, but since time is scarce and we’re in a hurry, we’re going to work on improving rankings instead of the harder, time-consuming (and more uncertain) task of getting new keywords to rank.
When there’s plenty of time down the road to add new content (and target totally new keywords), you can choose to follow the new content and keyword path.
It’s usually the case that if you’ve got an established site with decent search traffic and content in place that there’s opportunities to optimize the on-site SEO to get a healthy bump in traffic. And don’t forget about improving monetization (in this case, it’ll be affiliate offers, but for other sites it could also be call-to-actions, funnels, checkouts, etc); remember to think 80/20.
To decide what to focus on we’ll dig into two things:
– Google Search Console (GSC, previously Google Webmaster Tools)
– Long Tail Pro (for volume and competition)
– Google Analytics (GA), for longer-term data (beyond GSC’s 90 days)
– A light on-page SEO audit (to make sure the fundamentals are in place)
– Checking key pages to make sure the path to convert isn’t broken (for our example site, it’s mainly prominence, no broken links, and affiliate offer fit)
Now, it’s time to dig in…
Google Search Console Search Analytics
We’ll start by looking at the GSC data by pages and keywords to uncover opportunities that meet the below criteria:
– Pages with at least 5% of our total impressions (or keywords with at least 2%)
– Ranking between 6th and 35th OR Keyword Competition (KC) that isn’t too high for your site (I’ll explain more about these shortly)
– Pages or keywords with valuable user search intent (in our case Transactional and Commercial Investigation keywords; we’re not interested in Navigational or Informational searches here).
(NOTE: The above are general guidelines, not hard and fast rules.)
Here’s GSC data by page (pages have been masked, prioritized, and categorized) and sorted by impressions:
SEO Timesaving Shortcut
Since we want to make the best use of time, we’re doing the initial pass of the GSC data by page, since there’s almost always fewer pages than keywords (which means quicker analysis and fewer decisions).
By focusing on pages first, instead of keywords, we’ve narrowed the list of 76 possible pages down to three high-value pages to focus our efforts on. The page selection was done using the three criteria mentioned above. These pages will give us the best results for the least effort.
Visit the pages you’ll be focusing your efforts on and familiarize yourself with them while taking notes on them and, more importantly, what needs immediate attention by giving each one a light on-page SEO audit.
Now, we’ll look at the individual pages that we’ve narrowed our focus on in GSC, then drill into view by keywords by clicking a page and then toggling the report to “Queries” with the radio button (see image below), and then export the keyword data.
Listen to the Data; it’s Trying to Guide You
In our case, the site ranks very differently in two different countries, so this tells us we’ll have to look at the data separately for each of these countries to best gauge the opportunities. Based on this insight, we’ll look at the data for our most valuable country to keep with the theme of low-hanging fruit.
Looking at the data in different ways helps us understand how we need to:
– Analyze the data (now and in the future) to gauge progress
– Monetize, since in our case we have to come up with a plan to monetize our traffic in two different important countries (something to keep in mind if your affiliate site gets traffic from more than one country is that most affiliate links are country specific, so you need to redirect clicks on the same link to the correct affiliate offer based on the user’s country).
I combine all the exported GSC data into a spreadsheet and add more columns that we’ll use later.
With all the GSC keywords in one place, we’ll move to LTP and get additional keyword data, since GSC impressions will differ and we want a more precise competition metric. Paste your GSC keywords into LTP’s Manual Keyword tab (we’re not currently trying to expand our keyword list; that’s why we’re not using the KW Suggestion tab).
For our analysis we’ll export the LTP data to add LTP impressions and Keyword Competition (KC) data to our spreadsheet as additional data points to help make sure we’re targeting the best primary and secondary keywords.
Search Intent is Paramount
I added a column for “Search Intent”, which helps prioritize keywords. For this project, we’re mainly focusing on keywords where users are doing research before buying; these are labeled “Commercial Investigation”.
There’s also “Transactional” (where users are further along the sales cycle and ready to buy), “Navigational” (usually trying to get to a specific site), “Informational” (they’re researching, but not quite ready to buy; these can still be valuable depending on what they’re searching for, but it’s not relevant for where we are with this project and we’ll be filtering those out).
We’ll use these additional data points to confirm we’re headed in the right direction by looking at the LTP impressions to verify whether there’s enough volume and KC to determine if our site is strong enough to boost rankings for the keywords we’re targeting. We’ll also be using our current rankings as an alternative to KC, since if we’re already ranking well (between 6th and 35th), it’s a good indicator that with some attention we can boost rankings.
Spreadsheets are Still King (Especially Colorful Ones)
Every site will vary on the KC range it can compete for. In the main country we’re targeting the site has a high probability of ranking up to KC 30-35. You can determine your own range by either entering your domain in an LTP project or by looking at the KC of the keywords you’re ranking well for.
I like to add a column in the spreadsheet called “Target” for the keywords I want to target. And after I go through the list, I filter by this column and only look at keywords that make the cut.
Now we’ll go through the KW list and mark the Target column for every keyword that fits the content of the target page, has user intent we can monetize, has enough impressions, is ranking within our range, and/or has a KC below our range.
We also have to use some more subjective decision-making for keywords that don’t precisely meet our criteria. Certain keywords variations are valuable. Some may not have enough volume individually, but since they provide additional traffic for little-to-no work, we can choose to target them by adding modifiers (or making sure to not remove any that are already on the page).
Now that we’ve narrowed down our list and have keyword targets for our pages, we’ll start to execute. It was a lot of work to get to this point, but it’s better than spending time on the wrong opportunities.
For the sake of time, we won’t go into detail here, but will give a quick rundown of the tactics we’ll use.
SEO tactics we’ll use to give our pages a boost
– On-page SEO – We’ll make changes to the pages based on what we found during the light on-page audit. We’ll also make sure our pages are optimized for our keywords (i.e. primary/LSI, secondary, and modifiers).
There were pages on the site targeting similar keywords, so content from these pages were pasted into our target pages and 301 redirects were added. This helps focus our efforts and not cannibalize our pages in the SERPs.
– Internal linking – Search for relevant pages and add links using our keywords as the anchor text.
– CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) – Make changes to improve/fix monetization. In our case, we made the affiliate links more prominent (and for the next phase we will add content personalization or a geo-redirect plugin to route our traffic to the correct affiliate links)
– Schema markup – We added Schema markup to two of our target pages (which were reviews), since it usually gives a nice CTR increase on the SERPs when rich snippets and/or review features show up on your results.
– Light off-site SEO – To keep our site competitive, we want to get a few backlinks a month. To build our database, we’ll look at some competitors backlinks for ideas and also build our own list of influencers for guest blog post opportunities and social mentions. I focus on consistency here and sending 7-10 emails/messages every other week.
And that in a nutshell are SEO techniques that can consistently help you improve a site’s rankings with minimal effort. There’s a lot of upfront work involved, but that helps direct our SEO efforts in the areas that’ll deliver the highest returns when time is scarce and measurable results are the priority.
I hope you found this useful, and if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I’ll be sure to chime in. If you’d like to get a progress update on the example site after these changes were made, let us know in the comments and we can do a follow up and make this a case study.
About the Author
Tim Livian is an SEO and web analytics expert that’s currently exploring the USA with his wife and son in an RV for a year (check out our adventures on Instagram @timlivian), while living the digital nomad life and working with clients through DNA Evolved Digital Marketing.
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