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How We Grew Blog Traffic by 650% in Two Years — Organically

Posted by DaisyQ

As a digital content marketer, your job is to grow traffic that converts into leads and sales. Some of us in this field are lucky to work with companies that sell sexy products. It makes it a little easier. But that’s not always the case. This post is for the other marketers that work in the not-so-sexy fields. I can speak to this audience because up until the spring of this year, I was the Digital Content and Marketing Manager at a synthetic oil company. I won’t fault you if you don’t know what that is — we’ll get to it shortly.

Grow blog traffic, stat

In 2016, I joined a company that sold synthetic oil (the stuff in your engine that you change once every couple of months). One of my tasks was to grow website traffic, and the best channel I landed on was the company blog.

The corporate e-commerce website (yep, we sold engine oil online at a premium) was a political minefield, so I had very limited sway. The blog was not. A group of three contributors would meet weekly and throw spur-of-the-moment posts together. It had a sporadic publishing schedule. The topics were dry (it was a blog about motor oil, after all) and blog traffic was correspondingly sluggish. The blog at the time had averaged under 5,000 sessions a month. Within a year, we doubled it. Within two years, we scaled it up seven times. By the time I left, we had surpassed 100,000 sessions within a month threshold.

How we operationalized our blog for triple-digit growth

Within a few months of assuming leadership of the blog, we overhauled the entire publishing process, doubled the team of volunteer contributors, implemented a quarterly editorial calendar, and search-optimized the heck out of our blog posts.

These are the tactics I used to increase our sessions, search visibility, and subscribers in two years.

1. No man is an island — neither is your blog

Our company had a communications team of great writers. Correction: great-but-swamped writers. So we had to look elsewhere. I reached out to departments across the company in hopes of finding people that liked writing enough to publish something once or twice a month. The writer assigned to help manage the blog would proof and edit posts before they were published, so that these contributors wouldn’t have to worry about writing perfectly.

Our efforts paid off; we grew the team from three contributors to a group of eight.

2. Build a flexible calendar, yo

We cut back on the spur-of-the-moment publishing process and focused on getting content out three times a week. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were our days, initially.

I created a shared doc where contributors could add post topics. Each quarter, we went through the ideas and picked topics that we would publish. Then I ran each idea through keyword research (via Moz Keyword Explorer and Keyword Planner) and social research (Buzzsumo). This process gave us direction on which messaging resonated with different audiences and how we would distribute our content. Sometimes we wrote posts to answer search queries. Other times, we had a customer group in mind, or an event our marketing team was sponsoring.

One of the events we sponsored was the Sturgis Rally. In this case, the post we created was purely for our social media and events support. Luckily, the rally promoted it, which brought an influx of their fans to our blog. An audience we were targeting with our event sponsorship, because they were likely to know and care about which brand of oil they used on their bikes.

3. Ditch the corporate speak — write like you

We weren’t corporate mouthpieces. We were a team of individuals, each with our own personalities. One contributor was a handyman and liked to fix things; I encouraged him to write from that perspective. Another writer, Andy, was known for his colorful commentary (“Quaker, it takes more than one goose flying north to make a summer!”) so he infused his posts with some of it, as well. Our racing and events writer became a mom, and her son made an appearance in some of her posts. Our approach did not always align with our brand’s masculine tone. Not a best practice (shrug) but it made our posts a lot more genuine. Each piece we wrote had a distinct voice.

Did this have a direct correlation to traffic growth? Probably not. However, it did encourage people to write more often, because the writing was a more natural process. This helped us churn out new content several times a week, which did have an impact.

4. Not all posts shall be optimized equally — that’s ok

Despite our best efforts, the blog was a volunteer project slated among a slew of tasks we all had. Thus, not all posts were created equal. Some posts pulled more than their fair share of traffic. We focused on on-page optimization for those each summer with the help of our interns. On a given blog post, we might have:

  • Tweaked the blog post title
  • Added a table of contents (with anchor links and bonus points for voice search phrases)
  • Changed the URL (with a redirect, of course)
  • Implemented alt tags
  • Added crawl/human/voice search-friendly sub-heads
  • Added videos (where relevant)
  • Lengthened the post with relevant additional content

By implementing these tactics, several of our posts were able to gain Position 0 or 1 and garnered pretty significant spikes in traffic.

An example of a post that benefitted from some extra love was our engine flush blog post. It became our hallmark for how we could optimize good writing on a relevant topic into a high-ranking and ultra-SERP-friendly post.

5. Invest in AMP (if you haven’t already)

Not judging. Sometimes it takes months for larger organizations to adapt to changes that are for their benefit. When we implemented Accelerated Mobile Pages, it blew our search traffic through the roof.

But driving AMP traffic is not enough. We learned through the process that the standard AMP implementation strips out most aspects of the blog interface. As a result, we lost links to sign up for our blog emails or shop our e-commerce website (egad!). Even though our mobile traffic was up considerably, traffic to the website suffered or lagged.

Unfortunately, we had a custom-built design. Changes would have to be manual, and we didn’t have a budget or the resources for that. So we focused on doing a better job of highlighting our website and products within our posts.

6. Use social media to gather ideas

Yes, we promoted our posts on social, but we also used social media to curate ideas. Some ideas were published. As a thank you, we embedded shout-outs in the post and on social media to the source. It was a way of making our posts feel personal to our audience.

7. Add more pep to your blog email newsletter

Consistency is cool, but we tried to throw an element of surprise and delight into our blog emails. This meant taking time to create a clear and compelling reason why the recipient should open the email — not just listing new posts. Since there isn’t a lot of change month-to-month in the industry, we got creative. Each week I played with subject lines that were timely, relevant, fun, or attention-grabbing. I backed those up with a standard pre-header/teaser for consistency. Some subject lines we used included:

  • Spit into this tube, we’ll build a car for you.
  • Remember this classic SNL skit?
  • Cruisers, Firearms, and Cash
  • Can your truck go 500,000 miles?

I also used the blog newsletter as a channel to curate and promote older, evergreen posts when relevant, which helped bring fresh eyes to existing material.

8. Do one thing at a time

We split our goals into our top priorities each year, and focused on that. Once we achieved the first goal, we shifted focus to the next priority.

Year one, our focus was growing traffic from search engine results pages and social. To drive traffic, we created search-optimized, evergreen posts and chose relevant topics with significant search volume. We also held team sessions on beginner SEO where we went over best practices and gave the team access to easy keywording tools (I used Spyfu). We propelled our organic search traffic after a year of consistently following this protocol.

In year two, our goal was driving sign-ups. We created premium content and leveraged social to capture some of our fans through lead ads tied to blog content. These tactics drove our blog subscriber list up by 44%.

The third year, we focused on increasing the blog’s contribution to sales. We put our efforts into highlighting products in the blog email, publishing product-centric posts, and including very clear and compelling calls-to-action to shop our e-commerce website.

We gamified our team’s participation by establishing a blogger leaderboard and highlighting up-and-coming creators, or those whose posts were doing well across different metrics.

Could we have done this all concurrently? Probably. But that would have required more time and resources than what we had.

“Sexy” is what you make of it

For us, creating blog posts was something a team of volunteers contributed to between a myriad of other tasks that were actually on our job descriptions. But we grew the channel into a source of considerable traffic for the company. We rallied around an unsexy topic — synthetic oil — and turned it into a creative outlet that moved product. The project also sparked a team of empowered creators, stakeholders, and in-house champions across departments who were fired up by the results of a motley crew of writers, DIY-ers, and tinkerers.

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How to Target Featured Snippet Opportunities — Best of Whiteboard Friday

Posted by BritneyMuller

Once you’ve identified where the opportunity to nab a featured snippet lies, how do you go about targeting it? Part One of our “Featured Snippet Opportunities” series focused on how to discover places where you may be able to win a snippet, but today we’re focusing on how to actually make changes that’ll help you do that. 

Joining us at MozCon next week? This video is a great lead up to Britney’s talk: Featured Snippets: Essentials to Know & How to Target.

Give a warm, Mozzy welcome to Britney as she shares pro tips and examples of how we’ve been able to snag our own snippets using her methodology.

Target featured snippet opportunities

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Today, we are going over targeting featured snippets, Part 2 of our featured snippets series. Super excited to dive into this.

What’s a featured snippet?

For those of you that need a little brush-up, what’s a featured snippet? Let’s say you do a search for something like, “Are pigs smarter than dogs?” You’re going to see an answer box that says, “Pigs outperform three-year old human children on cognitive tests and are smarter than any domestic animal. Animal experts consider them more trainable than cats or dogs.” How cool is that? But you’ll likely see these answer boxes for all sorts of things. So something to sort of keep an eye on. How do you become a part of that featured snippet box? How do you target those opportunities?

Last time, we talked about finding keywords that you rank on page one for that also have a featured snippet. There are a couple ways to do that. We talk about it in the first video. Something I do want to mention, in doing some of that the last couple weeks, is that Ahrefs can help you discover your featured snippet opportunities. I had no idea that was possible. Really cool, go check them out. If you don’t have Ahrefs and maybe you have Moz or SEMrush, don’t worry, you can do the same sort of thing with a Vlookup.

So I know this looks a little crazy for those of you that aren’t familiar. Super easy. It basically allows you to combine two sets of data to show you where some of those opportunities are. So happy to link to some of those resources down below or make a follow-up video on how to do just that.

1. Identify

All right. So step one is identifying these opportunities. You want to find the keywords that you’re on page one for that also have this answer box. You want to weigh the competitive search volume against qualified traffic. Initially, you might want to just go after search volume. I highly suggest you sort of reconsider and evaluate where might the qualified traffic come from and start to go after those.

2. Understand

From there, you really just want to understand the intent, more so even beyond this table that I have suggested for you. To be totally honest, I’m doing all of this with you. It’s been a struggle, and it’s been fun, but sometimes this isn’t very helpful. Sometimes it is. But a lot of times I’m not even looking at some of this stuff when I’m comparing the current featured snippet page and the page that we currently rank on page one for. I’ll tell you what I mean in a second.

3. Target

So we have an example of how I’ve been able to already steal one. Hopefully, it helps you. How do you target your keywords that have the featured snippet?

  • Simplifying and cleaning up your pages does wonders. Google wants to provide a very simple, cohesive, quick answer for searchers and for voice searches. So definitely try to mold the content in a way that’s easy to consume.
  • Summaries do well. Whether they’re at the top of the page or at the bottom, they tend to do very, very well.
  • Competitive markup, if you see a current featured snippet that is marked up in a particular way, you can do so to be a little bit more competitive.
  • Provide unique info
  • Dig deeper, go that extra mile, provide something else. Provide that value.

How To Target Featured Snippet Examples

What are some examples? So these are just some examples that I personally have been running into and I’ve been working on cleaning up.

  • Roman numerals. I am trying to target a list result, and the page we currently rank on number one for has Roman numerals. Maybe it’s a big deal, maybe it’s not. I just changed them to numbers to see what’s going to happen. I’ll keep you posted.
  • Fix broken links. But I’m also just going through our page and cleaning it. We have a lot of older content. I’m fixing broken links. I have the Check My Links tool. It’s a Chrome add-on plugin that I just click and it tells me what’s a 404 or what I might need to update.
  • Fixing spelling errors or any grammatical errors that may have slipped through editors’ eyes. I use Grammarly. I have the free version. It works really well, super easy. I’ve even found some super old posts that have the double or triple spacing after a period. It drives me crazy, but cleaning some of that stuff up.
  • Deleting extra markup. You might see some additional breaks, not necessarily like that ampersand. But you know what I mean in WordPress where it’s that weird little thing for that break in the space, you can clean those out. Some extra, empty header markup, feel free to delete those. You’re just cleaning and simplifying and improving your page.

One interesting thing that I’ve come across recently was for the keyword “MozRank.” Our page is beautifully written, perfectly optimized. It has all the things in place to be that featured snippet, but it’s not. That is when I fell back and I started to rely on some of this data. I saw that the current featured snippet page has all these links.

So I started to look into what are some easy backlinks I might be able to grab for that page. I came across Quora that had a question about MozRank, and I noticed that — this is a side tip — you can suggest edits to Quora now, which is amazing. So I suggested a link to our Moz page, and within the notes I said, “Hello, so and so. I found this great resource on MozRank. It completely confirms your wonderful answer. Thank you so much, Britney.”

I don’t know if that’s going to work. I know it’s a nofollow. I hope it can send some qualified traffic. I’ll keep you posted on that. But kind of a fun tip to be aware of.

How we nabbed the “find backlinks” featured snippet

All right. How did I nab the featured snippet “find backlinks”? This surprised me, because I hardly changed much at all, and we were able to steal that featured snippet quite easily. We were currently in the fourth position, and this was the old post that was in the fourth position. These are the updates I made that are now in the featured snippet.

Clean up the title

So we go from the title “How to Find Your Competitor’s Backlinks Next Level” to “How to Find Backlinks.” I’m just simplifying, cleaning it up.

Clean up the H2s

The first H2, “How to Check the Backlinks of a Site.” Clean it up, “How to Find Backlinks?” That’s it. I don’t change step one. These are all in H3s. I leave them in the H3s. I’m just tweaking text a little bit here and there.

Simplify and clarify your explanations/remove redundancies

I changed “Enter your competitor’s domain URL” — it felt a little duplicate — to “Enter your competitor’s URL.” Let’s see. “Export results into CSV,” what kind of results? I changed that to “export backlink data into CSV.” “Compile CSV results from all competitors,” what kind of results? “Compile backlink CSV results from all competitors.”

So you can look through this. All I’m doing is simplifying and adding backlinks to clarify some of it, and we were able to nab that.

So hopefully that example helps. I’m going to continue to sort of drudge through a bunch of these with you. I look forward to any of your comments, any of your efforts down below in the comments. Definitely looking forward to Part 3 and to chatting with you all soon.

Thank you so much for joining me on this edition of Whiteboard Friday. I look forward to seeing you all soon. See you.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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