Traffic...the lifeblood of any online business.
Think about it:
No traffic = ZERO sales.
And ZERO sales = ZERO revenue.
There’s always the option to pay for traffic (i.e. PPC).
In some industries, the cost of PPC traffic is so high it’s damn near IMPOSSIBLE to turn a profit.
I know what you’re thinking…
“I’ve read a million blog posts about getting more organic traffic...what’s so different about this one!?”
Simple…this ISN’T the fluff and "because-I-said-so" BS that gets regurgitated time and time again with zero application or data to back it up.
This is an actionable guide filled with step-by-step playbooks to help you increase organic traffic in both the short and long term. Anyone should be able to take away at least one strategy and implement it immediately in their business.
I'll be sharing case studies demonstrating how I've used the strategies outlined below to get real results for clients and personal projects across a number of different industries.
To help make this post super actionable, and speed up the implementation on your end, I have included a downloadable toolset below. It contains several videos and templates for some of the strategies outlined in the post.
Because this is a monster 10,000+ word guide, I have included a table of contents below. There are also jump links at the end of each section of the post that will bring you back up to the top of the post.
Table of Contents
Let's dive in!
#1: Eliminate "organic anchors" with a data-driven content audit
Lots of low-quality pages = bad news for SEO.
Because they weigh down the rest of your website. This causes (better) pages to underperform in the SERPs.
In simple terms, pruning involves auditing and removing “dead weight” content from your site.
I.e. any pages that have ZERO links, ZERO traffic and ZERO conversions (and/or contain irrelevant/tin content) are prime candidates to be deleted.
These types of pages offer nothing of value to your site, and are actually weighing down other important assets by eating up precious crawl budget (meaning new or updated content gets crawled less often).
Note: There are some outliers in the pruning process. For example, if you have an important resource on your site that gets little traffic or inbound links, but does get a lot of internal links, you might want to still keep it.
Here’s an example:
At the start of 2017, my agency started working with one of the nation’s leading defamation attorneys.
When he came to us he was getting around 3,500 organic visits and 130 new leads a month from organic traffic. Not too bad. But, he wanted to do better.
So - the first thing we did was follow the content audit process outlined below:
At a high level:
- He had two different websites competing for the same keywords, so we consolidated the two sites and merged all competing assets. (More on this in tactic #2 “”)
- He had dozens of the “dead weight” pages we discussed above, so we removed those pages from the site
- He had a bunch of pages on the site already ranking page 2 for valuable search terms, so we improved those assets (More on this in TACTIC #4 “”)
Here are the results 10 months later:
He’s now getting over 11,000 organic visits and 300 leads a month. In fact, business is so good he has now started his own firm.
Note: These results were achieved writing very little new content, and only a handful of new backlinks.
Here’s an overview of my decision-making process during a content audit:
During the audit phase, we'll make one of four page-level strategic recommendations:
- KEEP content that is relevant and getting a lot of traffic and conversions.
- IMPROVE content with the potential to either get more traffic (tactic #4), or more conversion from the existing traffic.
- MERGE content with backlinks that is competing for the same keywords as another higher ranking piece of content on the site.
- REMOVE content with no links, traffic or conversions.
For all the visual learners out there, think of this process in terms of an iceberg analogy (hat tip to Everett Sizemore over at GoInflow):
Pages appearing above the water line are top-performers (keep these!), whereas those just below the water line have potential, but need some improvements - updated content, re-promotion, conversion optimization etc - to reach their “full potential”.
Any pages deep down at the bottom of the iceberg are the ones you need to get rid of—they’re generally low-quality assets providing no added value, and weighing down the rest of your website.
So, how do you identify which pages to keep, improve, merge or remove?
Follow this workflow:
Note: there are a few different ways you can pull the data for this audit. I am going to focus on one that allows you to scale the process relatively quickly, and avoid having to use a lot of paid tools.
You can grab a copy of the content audit template used in the example below:
First, you need to check whether or not the pages/posts on your website have any inbound links. You can use URL Profiler and Ahrefs to quickly scale this part of the process.
Copy the URL of your sitemap (hint: this is usually found at yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml or yourdomain.com/post-sitemap.xml)
In URL Profiler, right-click on the URL list area and hit “Import from XML sitemap”:
You’ll then be prompted to paste your sitemap URL in the box:
Hit “Import” and URL Profiler will automatically pull in every URL it finds in the sitemap.
Note: If you have more than one sitemap (e.g. pages and posts sitemaps), you’ll need to repeat this process to pull every page/post into URL Profiler:
Use a tool like Screaming Frog to extract all the indexed content on your site with a single crawl:
The free version of Screaming Frog will allow to crawl 500 URLs. But, you will have limited configuration options.
Here are the basic settings I use when collecting the indexed content from a website:
And the "Advanced" settings:
You’ll be left with a list of the URLs that can be crawled and indexed by search spiders like Google Bot.
Regardless of which approach you take above (sitemap extraction or Screaming Frog crawl), the next step is to export all the URLs and paste them into URL Profiler:
Check the Ahrefs box (under URL level data), then hit “Run profiler”.
Within a few minutes (depending on the number of URLs), URL Profiler will spit out a spreadsheet that looks something like this:
This includes a lot of data, including the number of referring domains pointing to each page/post on your website.
Copy/paste all the data from this spreadsheet and paste it into the sheet labelled “URL Profiler” in this Google Sheet:
OK, so now you know how many inbound links (if any) are pointing to each page on your website—the next step is to check which of these pages actually have traffic/conversions in Google Analytics.
Go to Google Analytics > Customisation > Custom Reports > New Custom Report:
Set up your custom report so it matches the screenshot below (note: I’ve highlighted the super-important parts!)
Hit “Save” and view the report—it should look something like this:
Note: I recommended setting the date range for the report to the last 3 months.
Export the report—just make sure to set the number of visible rows to the maximum amount (5000) first:
Copy/paste all data from the exported .csv into the sheet labelled “2. GA Export” in the Google Sheet:
Finally, navigate to the “DONE” sheet and you should see something like this:
This compiles all the data and gives a recommended action (e.g. “keep”, “consolidate”, etc.)
Note: This recommended action doesn’t take into account the relevancy of the page, so you will need to double-check that manually before making a final decision
BONUS: This is a modified version of my content audit process. If you want to get access to exact processes, templates and tools we use at our agency, I’m including a “playbook” in my new course. You can find out more about it here.
#2: Prevent Your Website from Competing with Itself by Identifying (and Removing) Keyword Cannibalization
“Keyword cannibalization” occurs when two or more pages on your website are competing for the same keyword.
Here’s why this is such a BIG problem:
- Google will struggle to figure out which one of your pages actually deserves to rank, so they’ll often choose to rank neither of them.
- Links/shares/etc will be split between two or more pages, leading to less authority for each page (this is bad, as pages with higher authority tend to rank better).
To put it simply, because your website is effectively competing with itself, you’re significantly diluting your chances of ranking at all!
Keyword cannibalization should, therefore, be avoided at all costs!
This process captures the “MERGE” aspect of the content audit covered above in greater detail.
Here’s how you can identify (and fix) keyword cannibalization issues in 3 simple steps:
- Use SEMrush to see which keywords your website is ranking for
- Look for keyword duplication (i.e. multiple pages ranking for the same keyword)
- Solve the issue by either merging the two (or more) resources together, OR deleting/404 one of them (note: only do this if there are ZERO links/traffic to that page!)
One of my clients had an article targeting the search term "marketing technology stack" that suddenly fell from position #4 in Google, to page #4.
At first, the client thought it might have been some kind of page-level algorithmic penalty.
After running the process outline below we found 5 different articles competing for the same keyword. Each competing article had links pointing to it.
So, instead of spreading the link equity across 5 different pages we took all unique content from the lower ranking pages and merged it into the canonical (highest ranking version), and then 301 redirected all the other posts into it to consolidate the link equity.
The page became a much more in-depth authoritative resource on the subject, and got added authority from the links that were 301'd from the other articles.
The page has gone from ~200 organic pageviews to almost 1,000 /mo. And, it now ranks #1 for it’s target search term:
This is without writing any new content or building any new links.
Now, imagine what happens when you scale this process across websites with lots of competing articles :)
Let's walk through the process:
To begin, enter your domain (e.g. robbierichards.com) into the Organic Keywords report in SEMrush, then select “Positions” from the sidebar:
This will show you every keyword your website is ranking for. It also tells you which page ranks for each keyword and the position in which it ranks:
Export this entire report to a .csv:
Next, copy/paste all the exported data into the sheet named “1. SEMRush Export” in this Google Sheet.
It should look something like this:
Finally, navigate to the “DONE” tab and it will show you all keyword cannibalization issues on your website.
Cool, right!? :D
Here’s are a couple of ways to solve these issues:
- If the two pages competing for the same keyword are very similar, and both offer unique value, consider merging them into one canonical resource. Just make sure to 301 redirect one of the pages to the new canonical resource (especially if it has links pointing towards it!)
- If the competing page offers nothing of unique value, delete it. If the deleted page has links pointing towards it (check this in Ahrefs), add a 301 redirect to the competing resource, otherwise just let it 404.
#3: Uncover Low-hanging Ranking Opportunities by Performing Keyword Research for an Existing Website
Keyword research only needs to be done when you’re starting a new website, right!?
This couldn’t be more WRONG.
Improving rankings for keywords you’re already ranking for is the quickest and easiest way to get a TON more traffic to your website.
I recently increased organic traffic 402% to this post within 30 days after implementing this strategy:
It went from position #8 to #2 overnight, which is why the traffic shot up like a rocket!
And this was after optimizing ONE page...if you were to do this across your entire website, traffic would go through the roof!
Here’s how to do it:
- Identify “low-hanging” keyword opportunities (i.e. those that you’re already ranking for on page 2 of the SERPs, OR low down on page 1)
- Optimize the pages and relaunch for MASSIVE traffic boosts
Here’s the process:
Go to SEMrush, enter your website, then go to the Positions report:
This will show you EVERY keyword you’re ranking for, along with the ranking position.
BUT, we’re not interested in every keyword—we want to focus on the ones with the most potential. To do that, apply these filters to the report:
Note: Set the search volume threshold to something that makes sense for your industry. i.e.
You may need to lower it a bit more to find more opportunities.
Export the results to a .csv, then copy/paste the data into the sheet labelled “1. SEMRush Export” in this Google Sheet.
Now, go to the next tab labelled “DONE” and you should see something like this:
All of these keywords are low-hanging opportunities, but the rows that are the most green are the opportunities that are likely to yield the BEST results with the LEAST amount of effort.
After you've found keywords that have (1) search volume, (2) existing rankings, and (3) can be realistically ranked for in the next 60-90 days, you need to prioritize.
When I do this final part of the process, I always rely on a bottom-up view of the funnel.
(i.e. start with the "money" keywords at the bottom of the funnel , and work my back up to the top):
Here is a quick overview of how I would optimize these posts to move up the rankings:
- Update existing tactics with new screenshots and additional information
- Add 3-5 new strategies to the post
- Re-promote the post across social media
- Run a paid social media campaign to build social signals
- Launch a light outreach campaign to capture additional backlinks
- Add internal links from several other related posts on the site
To find the best internal linking targets, navigate to the "Best By Links" report in Ahrefs and filter by either URL Rating or Referring Domains. This will surface the most authoritative pages on your site:
#4: Expand Your Organic Footprint with Secondary Keywords
One of the fastest ways to increase organic traffic is to get your content to rank for more keywords.
Wirecutter is a site that reviews a bunch of tools and gadgets. It ranks for over 3.1M organic keywords and brings in 4.4M organic visits a month:
The founder, Brian Lam, sold the site to The New York Times for $30M in 2016:
One of the reasons this site was able to scale its organic footprint so much was because most of the articles on the site ranked for thousands of secondary keywords.
The site’s highest organic traffic page on “best cell phone plans” ranks for 42,478 different keywords:
Note: The primary keyword “best cell phone plans” (48,000 monthly searches) only brings in 5% of the page’s overall monthly organic traffic. The rest comes from the other 42,477 semantic and long tail secondary keywords.
Here is another article from Digital Trends targeting the topic “best laptop backpack for travellers”:
The post ranks for 4,800 different keywords and rakes in 5,800 organic searches a month.
Similar to the Wirecutter example above, its top 5 keywords only account for ~20% of the total organic traffic:
Rather than target the same keyword repeatedly, Digital Trends has sprinkled secondary keywords - slight variations, re-wordings, or alternate ways to say the same thing - throughout the post:
Using long tails and semantics helps Google see the post as being relevant to a range of queries.
So, how do you expand the organic footprint of your content?
The first step in the process is finding a list of secondary keyword targets with some kind of search volume.
Here are a couple quick ways to do this:
1. Mine competitor articles
Go to the Keyword Explorer tool and enter primary topic for one of your existing articles. Scroll down to the SERP Overview report to see all the top ranking articles along with a number of metrics, including Domain Rating, # of Backlinks, Traffic, # of Keywords etc:
Click the “Kw” link to view all the keywords the page/post is ranking for (and getting traffic from):
Here is another example from the coffee products niche:
If I was going to equip myself with affiliate links and write a post comparing coffee grinders, I’d know to include sections on burr grinders, grinders for french press, conical grinders, etc.
Without mentioning these kinds of grinders in the post, I’d be missing out on thousands of extra visits when the post started to rank.
Before you hit publish (or ideally before you start writing), run the top 10 competing posts through Ahrefs and add their best long-tail keywords to your list.
Export all the secondary keywords and remove any duplicates.
Note: This strategy is not only good for finding secondary keywords to include in on-page elements such as a title tags, headings and body copy, but they can also give you ideas for new sections or topics to cover in the content too.
2) Perform long tail (and semantic) keyword research
Open Keyword Explorer >> Enter primary keyword >> View Keyword Ideas:
Scan the list of keyword ideas and add any relevant terms with decent search volume to a dedicated list:
Finally - export the keywords and remove any duplicates.
How to quickly incorporate secondary keywords into your content
You’ll probably find a handful of secondary keywords were naturally included in the article as it was written.
But, it’s always good to revisit the content and make sure all the bases are covered.
With your secondary keyword list in hand, make sure to include them in headings.
Headings -- wrapped in h1, h2, and h3 tags -- are essential for signalling content relevance to Google.
Looking back at the earlier coffee grinder example…
You could derive the entire article structure - including headings - from that list alone:
Next, go back through the post once it’s written and ctrl+f secondary keywords and words that comprise them (“grinder”, “coffee grinder”) -- you’ll find you can vary the wording to cover more keywords in the body copy and still keep a smooth content flow.
Finally, consider updating older content to include entirely new sections (or subsections) targeting the new secondary keyword/topic opportunities.
Again, work the keywords into the headings (one H2 and a few H3s should do the trick) and weave into the body copy where it makes sense.
Here is a short video that walks you through the process in more depth:
#5: INSTANTLY Boost New Pages by Linking to Them from Existing High-Authority Pages
Want to give EVERY new piece of content you publish an INSTANT boost!?
As soon as you publish your new post, add a link to that post from an existing, related piece of content on your website that already has a TON of authority (i.e. a high UR).
This is tactic was briefly mentioned above. Below, we will outline several ways to mine solid internal link sources for your new content.
Because this page is clearly about increasing organic traffic, it would make perfect sense to link to it from this SEO case study on the date of publishing.
Why? Because that post is ALSO related to increasing traffic, and already has some authority:
Linking to my newly published post from that one would be sure to give it a nice boost!
BUT, how do you find worthy pages from which to add internal links from?
Here are a couple of methods:
1. Use the “Best by links” report in Ahrefs —this will show you every page on your website ordered by number of inbound links (as mentioned above). Work your way down the list and find a suitable post from which to add your link!
2. Use the Search Console "Links to Your Site" report — this will show you all the pages being linked to from other domains:
2. Use the “top pages” report in Google Analytics — this will show you the pages with the most traffic on your website. This can be accessed via: Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
You know pages getting a lot of organic traffic are ranking highly in the search engines, which is a good indicator they have authority (and links) attached to them.
4. Use search operators to find solid internal link sources. While tools can make this process easier, you don't need them to find some good targets.
Here’s a workaround:
Search for the following:
site:yourdomain.com + keyword
Basically, just replace the “keyword” with a keyword related to the content you’ve just published.
So, if I wanted to add an internal link to this page, I could use the following Google search:
site:robbierichards.com + increase traffic
This will show me the pages on my website that are most related (in Google’s eyes) to increasing traffic:
Add a link from one or two of these pages (note: don’t force it in, make sure it’s natural!) and you’ll see a nice boost to your new post.
#6: Boost Traffic by Increasing SERP CTRs (with Search Console data)
Not only is SERP click-through rate (CTR) a proven ranking factor, it’s also super-important for translating rankings into traffic:
Let’s assume you ranked on page 1 for the term “Best SEO Tools” (btw, I do rank for this!):
According to Ahrefs, this keyphrase has 1,500 searches/month:
This doesn’t mean I’m going to get 1,500 visitors a month from that search term — it all depends on CTR:
In the search engines, you'll see around 2/3 of all the clicks going to the top 3 positions. Anything outside the top 3 and you're looking at a single digit CTRs.
Back to our example:
If 10% of searchers click my website in the SERPs, I’ll receive roughly 150 visitors/month.
However, if only 2% of searchers click through to my website, I’ll receive a measly 30 visitors/month.
(Not so sweet!)
So, the question is: how can you increase your CTR?
- Improve rankings—pages that rank higher are generally clicked more. For example, most searchers will click the 1st or 2nd result in the SERPs, and virtually nobody will click through to the second page of results.
- Sell your content in the SERPs—use your title and description tags to effectively “sell” your content in the SERPs and entice a click through.
The second method is the one I want to focus on right now, as it’s super low-hanging fruit most SEOs never think about!
Here’s how to do it:
- Identify pages on your website receiving below average CTRs for their ranking position.
- Change your title/description tags to entice more people to click through to your website from the SERPs.
The first task is to identify the pages getting lower CTRs than they should be—this can be done by analyzing search console data.
Go to Google Search Console > Search Traffic > Search Analytics, then set up the filter to match this:
Download the results (note: the download button is at the bottom of the page).
Copy/paste the data into the sheet titled “1. Search Console Data” in this Google Sheet:
Finally, go to sheet labelled “DONE” and you should see something like this:
Basically, this shows you the CTR for each page (column B) ranking in position 10 or under. It also shows the Average CTR for rankings in that position (note: these numbers were taken from here).
If the row is highlighted green, the CTR for the page is better than average for webpages ranking in that position. LEAVE THESE ALONE!
If the row is red, the page is performing worse—consider optimizing the title/description tags for these pages.
Here’s a guide on exactly how to do that.
#7. Identify lost link equity in 404 pages
Links have a HUGE impact on rankings:
If you want to rank for any keyword, you need page authority. And, the way you get authority is by building quality links.
There are a million and one ways (depending on your niche) you could go about building backlinks to your website.
And, it’s tempting to dive right into a new campaign and go after the big wins. Why not, right?
Big wins are great! Everyone loves them - clients, boss, the team. Nothing better than landing a massive link from a site like Huffington Post or NBC.
While those links really move the needle, and should be a focal point, they require a lot of time and hard work.
Before you start directing all your energy into landing BIG links, make sure you are first collecting all the “quick links”. This will get you some quick wins for your client, and help build trust at the beginning of your campaign.
One of the easiest ways to do this is reclaim lost link equity from 404 pages.
Websites change over time. Products come and go. Information is updated. URLs are modified. Pages are edited, shifted, and moved.
While all this sounds like on-page SEO, it affects off-page SEO as well – specifically links.
If you’ve ever landed quality links to a piece of content on your site and then updated the URL or folder structure, you’ve just affected that link.
Where it hurts you is when you make such a change and don’t put in the right 301 redirects. Basically - the links you worked hard to get are still pointing to the old URL.
The result is lost link equity.
So, one of the best things you can do when starting a new link building campaign is ensure there aren’t any dead/404 pages with external links pointed at them.
Reclaiming even a few of these links can give your content a nice bump, and provide a significant win that builds trust with your clients.
Here’s how to do it:
Head over to the Ahrefs “Best by Links” report. Filter by “404”, and sort referring domains (RD) in descending order:
The first result in this example has 6 referring domains pointing to a 404 page.
After clicking the RD link, I find out some of these links are from high authority domains like Search Engine Watch (DR 71):
This is a MASSIVE link that would normally take a lot of time and effort to get, if at all.
Once you’ve identified the 404 pages with external links pointing to them, the final step is to reclaim the link equity.
Note: You should first examine the quality and relevance of the external links before reclaiming them.
Some things to look at:
- Domain/ Page authority
- Page relevance
- Page quality
- Link placement
- Anchor text
This is a screenshot from a backlink audit we're working on for a client. There were a lot of low DR sites link from irrelevant content. Not links we're interested in reclaiming.
The last thing you want to do is start redirecting a bunch of garbage links to your site. You’ll likely do more harm than good.
Once you’ve identified the linking pages and verified they are safe to reclaim, you have a couple options:
- 301 redirect the 404 page to another relevant piece of content on the site
- Contact the author of the page linking to your site and notify them your page has moved. Ask them to update the link.
I usually go for the first option :)
#8. Create Strong Content Silos and AVOID Orphaned Pages
Google HATES messy, disorganized websites.
Why? Because it makes it very difficult for them to understand what a webpage is about. And if they don’t know what it’s about, they probably aren't going to rank it highly!
So, how do you solve this?
In simple terms, "siloing" is nothing more than the act of grouping content into distinct categories, ensuring a clear hierarchy that makes sense, and linking logically between the pages.
Here’s a simple example of a silo structure for a yoga website (taken from this post):
You can see there’s a clear content hierarchy—the pages are grouped into main categories (i.e. silos) and linked-to from the main category page.
This is commonly referred to as parent and child hierarchy.
In this example, the “new york”, “chicago, “dallas”, and “orlando” pages each have the same parent: “yoga studios”. They’re all children of the “yoga studio's” page:
Note: It’s good practice to link back to the parent category from child pages, too.
This hierarchy will help dictate the URL structure.
Note: It is best practice to have support pages linking back up to the silo landing page (as shown by the red links above in the Yoga studio silo).
Cross-links between silo sub pages should be avoided because they weaken the “theming”, and relevance of the silo:
This graphic from Search Engine Land further illustrates how content silos can help better organize site content:
A couple more reasons why siloing your content can improve the user experience, and help boost your organic traffic:
- It increases relevancy: Siloing ensures all topically related content is connected, and this in turn drives up relevancy. For example, linking to each of the individual yoga class pages (e.g. Pilates, Yoga RX, etc) from the “Yoga classes” page helps confirm—to both visitors and Google—these pages are in fact different types of yoga classes. Google can then feel more confident ranking these pages for related terms, as it is clearer the pages are relevant to the search query.
- It helps the flow of “link juice” around your website: Because you’re creating a hierarchical structure, siloing ensures authority flows around your site more efficiently. (i.e. links to blog posts and sub service/product pages can flow up through the website to the "money" pages.
What happens if you don’t implement content silos?
You’ll end up with “orphaned pages”:
An orphan page is a page with zero incoming internal links, and thus can’t be reached by users or crawlers while navigating your website. This usually hurts UX and ranking performance.
If you have a page that is underperforming, it’s worth running it through Search Console to check for internal links—here’s how:
Search Console > Search Traffic > Internal Links > enter your page URL:
It will then show you the number of internal links the page has; it even shows you exactly where these links come from:
If the page has no internal links, check to make sure the relative URL paths are not being used on the site.
You can find out more about relative vs. absolute URLs in this Moz Whiteboard Friday:
You can use a tool like SEMrush to scale the process of identifying orphaned pages across your website.
Go to the “Site Audit” report and enter your domain:
Wait for the website to be crawled.
Go to the ‘Issues’ tab and click the ‘Select an Issue’ button. Check the ‘Notices’ section to see whether any Orphaned Pages have been detected on the site:
You can also use the tool to detect Orphaned Pages through your XML Sitemap or Google Analytics data. Check out the full tutorial on how to do that here.
Ok, we now know:
Content silos = good.
Orphan pages = bad (unless deliberate).
In a nutshell, here’s how you can silo your website:
- Identify the overarching topic groups of your website. What content do you have, or plan to have? What products or services do you plan to promote on your website? What are the main categories on competitor sites? Your keyword research should help flush this out.
- Plan your link structure. Start with the main navigation and decide how to best connect pages both physically (URL structure) and virtually (internal links) to clearly establish your content themes. Try to include at least 3-5 quality subpages under each core silo landing page. Link internally between the subpages. Link each subpage back up to the main silo landing page.
- Strengthen silos with relevance and authority. Continue to add contextual content into your silos. One of the easiest ways to do this is add related blog categories. Add content into the categories, build links to the content, and channel it back into the silo subpages through targeted internal linking.
#9. Identify Keyword Gaps (and Quickly Scale Organic Traffic)
Keyword research is the foundation of most successful SEO campaigns.
Rank for the right keywords, and you’ll drive a passive stream of targeted traffic to your website.
But, keyword research is a MASSIVE topic. I mean, just google it and you’ll get 16M results!
So, where do you start?
Or more specifically, all the keywords your competitors are ranking for, but your are not. This allows you to plug any holes in your current content strategy, and start capturing more organic traffic.
Here’s how to do it:
Open up SEMrush, and go to the "Keyword Gap Analysis" report.
You should now see space to enter up to 5 domains for comparison. Enter up to 4 competitors, followed by your own website.
If I was doing a keyword gap analysis for my blog (robbierichards.com), I could enter ahrefs.com, backlinko.com, and webris.org as competitors, followed by my own website:
IMPORTANT: You MUST enter competitor domains first, with your own domain last on the list.
Once you’ve got your top organic competitors entered into the tool, you’ll notice a venn diagram icon listed next to each of the domains.
Click the icon and you’ll see four different options to choose from - (1) All Keywords, (2) Unique to the first domain, (3) Common keywords, and (4) Unique keywords:
This UX isn’t super intuitive, so let’s work through a couple quick examples of how you could use this tool to find untapped keyword opportunities for your business.
Note: Regardless of the keyword option you select, when performing a keyword gap analysis make sure the last venn diagram icon between the last competitor and your website is set to “Unique to the first domain’s keywords”:
With the settings shown above, I’d get the following results:
All of my competitors are ranking for these keywords, but I am not.
This insight is extremely valuable because if all your competitors are able to rank for those keywords, there is a high probability you can too (provided each site has a comparable domain rating).
You can export these keywords and start prioritizing which ones should be added to your content calendar.
That’s just one use case. Let’s pretend I want to broaden the scope and look at all the keywords ANY of my competitors are ranking for.
Easy - I’d use the configuration below:
Now I can see all the keywords at least one of my competitors rank for:
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Most of the results in the examples above are keywords ranking super low in the search results.
One might argue this information is pretty useless.
So, use the filters shows below to find all the competitor keywords ranking in the top 10 results:
This search will return some great topical keywords for you to explore further, and possibly incorporate into your content calendar:
When performing your competitor keyword gap analysis, start with competitors who have similar domain authority ratings as your site. This way, you know any keywords your competitors are ranking, you can too.
Important: Don't focus your entire keyword strategy around your competitors. You want to go after opportunities they are missing out on too.
One way I do this is using the keywords identified in the gap analysis to seed ongoing topical keyword research.
Basically - enter the competitor keyword topics into the SEMrush “Keyword Magic Tool”:
It will return a list of hundreds or even thousands of related long tail keyword variations.
You can even filter out the question-based queries:
As you enter in different seed topics, simply click the box next to any keywords you think might be a good target and they’ll be added to a master list which you can export once finished with your keyword research.
This is an easy way to leverage your competitors to rapidly expand the keyword set:
#10: Use “Barnacle SEO” to Align Your Brand with Authoritative Sources for High SERP Visibility
“Barnacle SEO” is a term coined by Will Scott of Search Influence.
He describes it as: “attaching oneself to a large fixed object and waiting for the customers to float by in the current.”
BUT, what does this mean in relation to SEO?
Simple...rather than competing with the BIG sites that dominate your niche, you instead align/attach your own brand with them.
That way, you can effectively piggyback on their success!
Let’s assume you were a lawyer in Brooklyn, NYC...
You would probably want to attach/associate your business with sites such as:
This is because the websites absolutely DOMINATE local search:
So, whenever anyone is looking for the services you offer, chances are they’ll end up on a website like Avvo.com.
I know what you’re thinking…"why not just rank for these terms with my own website!?”
Simple...these BIG brands will be almost impossible to outrank with your own website (because it’ll have much less authority!):
In this case, it'd be better to simply piggyback on the authority of the larger sites to rank for highly competitive keywords, at least in the short term.
Here are some of the big brands that dominate search in other verticals:
Real Estate: Zillow, Rent.com, Trulia, Zoopla (UK), RightMove (UK), etc:
Hotels: TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Timeout.com, etc.
Obviously, some of these websites are more difficult to associate your own brand with than others.
For example, TripAdvisor rankings can’t really be manipulated (unless you’re providing EXCELLENT service), but you can easily post on forums like Warrior Forum or Quora; you just have to sign up and post an answer.
That’s why I recommend looking for keywords in your niche where forums (e.g. Quora) or niche directories dominate the SERPs.
Here’s a quick hack for doing this:
First, go to SEMrush, enter quora.com in the search box, then go to the “Positions” report (located under “Organic Research” on the sidebar):
This will show you each of the 29 million keywords Quora.com ranks for!
Most of these keywords will be completely irrelevant to your niche; that’s why you need to use the filtering options to find keywords that fit the bill.
Let’s say you were a lawyer…
Just filter for threads containing the word “attorney” that also rank in the top 5:
This will result in a TON of threads that rank well for industry related terms:
It’s then a case of plucking out the ones most related to your business, signing up for a Quora account, and answering the questions:
Do this right and it can drive A LOT of targeted traffic back to your website!
In industries dominated by aggregator sites, my advice is to leverage them, not fight them. They have already done all the hard work to rank for you:
You just need to "attach" yourself to the appropriate category of the site, and optimize your profile for high placement.
If you can get your profile ranking in the aggregators, you can quickly build visibility for a lot of your "money" keywords.
Here are the listings on Avvo for "personal injury attorney" in Boise:
This keyword is a ultra competitive in both local and organic search. Plus, you could be paying up to $100 per click in AdWords.
Take a close look at how businesses in ultra competitive markets are optimizing their profiles to rank. It might even make sense to pay for top placement in some of the niche directories.
Here is a helpful checklist from Phil Rozek to follow when deciding if barnacle SEO is a good strategy for your business:
The most critical things to consider are:
#11. Use “Parasite SEO” to Rank for Super-Competitive Search Terms
Ranking for BIG “money” keywords isn’t always possible with your own website.
That’s because the BIG keywords are often super-competitive and ONLY super-authoritative brands stand a chance at ranking for them.
Take a keyword like “SEO tips”...
According to Ahrefs, it has a KD score of 60:
And unsurprisingly, the SERPs are dominated by big brands:
Bottomline: you probably ain’t going to stand a chance at ranking for this keyword with a DA30 website....no matter how great your content is!
So, what’s the solution?
Parasite (or Tenant) SEO.
In simple terms, parasite SEO is where you piggyback on the authority of other websites to rank for super-competitive, “money” terms.
But wait, how is this different from Barnacle SEO?
With Barnacle SEO you are basically adding profiles or comments to top ranking aggregators, directories and forums in your industry/market.
With Parasite SEO, you're publishing new content (i.e. blog posts NOT profiles) on high ranking sites and publications.
Here’s how it works:
- Identify key industry publications that accept guest posts (with CRAZY authority!)
- Pitch an article targeting a money keyword
Let’s go back to the “SEO tips” keyword I mentioned earlier…
You might remember that one of the pages ranking in the top 3 was this post on the Ahrefs blog.
Here’s the interesting thing about this post…
It’s actually a guest post!
Yes, guest posting means you’re effectively ranking for the keyword on their website (rather than your own), but it’s still a GREAT tactic for the following reasons:
- It’ll send a TON of referral traffic your way
- It’ll generate leads/sales
- It’ll help you build a name for yourself (i.e. authority by association)
Ryan Stewart wrote this post (which now ranks #1 for the value search term “SEO services”) a couple of years back and it still generates leads for his business:
Here is another example:
Steve Webb wrote this SEO audit article on Moz to rank for the highly competitive search term “SEO audit”.
This article has been ranking #1 for over 4 years!
Matt Barby used parasite SEO to rank his client for the keyphrase "app makers" (22,000 monthly searches).
The Business News Daily article generated 74,783 referral visits and almost 4,300 user registrations:
Here’s how to do it:
- Find a list of websites in your niche accepting guest posts
- Pitch them posts relating to competitive keywords you want to rank for
Note: Obviously, you’ll need a list of competitive keywords you want to rank for in order to do this. If you don’t have that already, check out my post listing a TON of ways to find keywords with SEMrush.
Or, watch the video below:
OK, first things first...you need to find websites accepting guest posts.
This is easily done—just enter the follow search operators into Google:
KEYWORD intitle:”write for us”
Scrape the results with this Chrome extension and you’ll have a huge list of industry websites that accept guest posts:
It’s then just a case of pitching them your topics.
IMPORTANT: Make sure the website you’re pitching is actually authoritative enough to rank for the keyword you’re targeting. The quickest way to do this is to check the KD score in Ahrefs, then check to see if the website is already ranking in the top 5 for other keywords with a similar KD score. If it is, you’re good to go!
Let’s say we wanted to publish a guest post that ranked for the keyword “long tail keywords”.
According to Ahrefs, this has a KD score of 52:
So, we need to publish our post on a website that is capable of ranking for keywords with a KD score of 52 (or higher).
We can do this with Ahrefs Site Explorer.
Just enter the domain of website you want to publish the guest post on (e.g. AgencyAnalytics.com), go to the “Organic Keywords” report, then filter by keywords ranking in positions 1-5.
If you spot the website ranking for keywords with a KD score of 52 or higher (or whatever number you’re looking for), you’re good to go:
In this example, we can see that they’re ranking in the top 5 for a KD 72 keyword.
Here’s another alternative method:
Get DR for target site (using Ahrefs Site Explorer):
...then compare it to the average DR of the top 5 ranking sites in the SERPs for the target keyword. This can be done with the SERPs report in Ahrefs Keywords Explorer:
If the average is similar to the DR of the target guest post website, go for it!
#12: Propel Organic Growth with Ongoing Backlink Acquisition (+ 3 Simple Tactics)
As mentioned earlier in the post, links are MEGA important when it comes to ranking.
(Google actually confirmed this a few months back!)
And both domain-level and page-level backlink factors consistently top the ranks in Moz’s search engine ranking factors survey:
You aren't going to rank by acquiring a few backlinks and leaving it at that…
You NEED to be acquiring backlinks on an ongoing basis!
Unfortunately, this is the exact opposite of what most people do!
Most people focus all their time and effort into content creation and ZERO effort into link building.
It looks something like this:
No authority is being built to help rank all the content being reduced. #facepalm
So, what should you be doing?
Simple. You need to put most of your resources into acquiring links in the early stages of a website.
Why? Because without building some authority, you aren't going to rank for anything (not even low competition keywords!).
Here’s a great illustration by Matthew Barby showing how every SEO campaign should begin:
The initial focus is seeding site authority in parallel with content creation efforts.
Here are 3 “quick win” link building strategies to get you started:
- Steal your competitor's links
- Keep a database of people likely to link to you (with custom search engines)
- Perform “shotgun” outreach
These three tactics have propelled the growth of my link profile over the last 6 months:
OK, let’s start with the first link building tactic...
1. Steal Your Competitor's Backlinks
There are TONS of ways to steal links from competitors (I even wrote a full post about it here) but here’s a quick and dirty tactic to get you started:
Go to Ahrefs Link Intersect tool and set it up like this:
The first three domains should be domains of your competitors, and the “But doesn’t link to” field should be your own website.
Hit “Show link opportunities”.
Ahrefs will now show you who’s linking to any of your competitors, but not your own website.
Reach out to these people, build a relationship, and see if you can get them to link to your website, too!
2. Keep a database of people likely to link to you (with CSEs)
People who have linked to you before will probably be open to doing so again in future.
So, wouldn’t it make sense to keep a database of these people, then reach out to them whenever you publish something that may be of interest to them?
(YES. Yes it would!)
Go to Ahrefs Site Explorer, enter your own domain, then go to the Referring Domains report:
This will show you EVERY domain currently linking to your website.
Export the results to .csv:
Next, import all the domains into a Google Custom Search Engine (CSE).
Note: You can find instructions, along with a bunch of templates for automating this process in this post.
Once you’ve done this, you will have a custom search engine that searches ONLY the websites that have linked to you in the past.
So, whenever you publish a new blog post, you can simply go to your CSE and search for a keyword related to the post (e.g. if I published a SEMRush review, I would type “SEMrush” into the search engine):
You can then reach out to these people, tell them about your post, and ask if they’d be happy to link to you!
Here’s a video with a more in-depth demonstration:
3. Perform “shotgun” outreach
(Hat tip to the guys over at Authority Hacker for introducing me to this process).
Have you heard of the “skyscraper technique”?
(“Um, who hasn’t, Robbie!?)
Well, “shotgun skyscraper” is like the skyscraper technique on steroids.
Let me explain…
Here are the basic steps for the skyscraper technique:
- Find a piece of content with a TON of links
- Make something even better
- Reach out to any website linking to the old piece of content, tell them about your new improved piece, and ask them to change the link
The “shotgun skyscraper” approach follows a very similar process…
Instead of trying to steal links from just one piece of content, you instead steal links from many pieces of content (hence the “shotgun” approach).
Here's a screenshot from one of the link tracking templates we used for a client in the customer support industry:
We managed to build over 50 quality links to the client's website within a 60 day period.
Pretty cool, right?
Let's go through a quick working example...
I recently published this in-depth SEMRush tutorial/review.
But, a quick search in Google shows TONs of other (much less comprehensive) SEMRush reviews...
And according to Ahrefs, a LOT of these pages have a good number of backlinks:
I believe my review is more comprehensive than ALL of these other review.
So, I can use the “shotgun” skyscraper approach to steal links from ALL of these pages.
I've been using this tactic to build links to several of my articles over the last few months:
I'm seeing about a 3-4% conversion rate.
Here's how to do it:
- Export the backlinks for ALL the pages your “skyscraper” content is better than (using Ahrefs)
- Find the contact details for each of the websites
- Reach out to them and ask them to replace the old link with a link to your new “skyscraper” content.
Ready to Get More Organic Traffic?
There you have it - 12 actionable strategies to get more short and long term organic traffic growth.
Always start with the quick win opportunities - content audits, removal of keyword cannibalization, link reclamation and quick keyword wins. Then, build on the moment to scale up for long term organic traffic increases.
Also, make sure you leverage the bonus templates and videos to get a quick start on things.
Which strategies are you going to implement first?
Let me know in the comments below.