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How to Grow Organic Traffic with Less Content




Peter: It's Peter and welcome to the Australian search marketing Academy. And today we have a really interesting topic. Every SEO wants to know about how to grow organic traffic with less content. And we're joined by Victor, principal SEO manager at HubSpot. I also have my co-host Nik.

This is really intriguing I mean, lots of SEO people are always thinking about content but, so we'll get into the presentation and I'm really fascinated to see how it unfolds. But first, let me just do some introductions. 

I'd like to introduce a co-host Nik, SEO specialist at SEO Hawk at StudioHawk... she's overseeing digital strategy, data analysis, content site architecture for large enterprise, local businesses focused on data-driven results. She does a brilliant SEO audit, very focused on technical issues and a terrific co-host, so welcome to the show, Nik. 

Victor, I'll introduce Victor, Principle SEO manager at HubSpot. Victor is a cross-disciplinary search marketer who loves talking about business strategy and trade-off decisions from multiple vantage points of view. He believes in a kind of gentle internet that starts from awareness, and he's always looking for ways to give back to the community.

I love the idea that we can, all be a bit kinder on the internet and make things work a bit better for all of us, so welcome Victor.

SEO and Knowing the Ranking Landscape 

Victor: When it comes to SEO, we're always thinking about, ‘how do I get more out of like less work?’ I feel like we talk about that so much, and there's actually a lot of fundamental stuff that gets missed out because we're chasing the next hack.

The thing that really matters for you to really understand when you're doing search is you actually need to know the landscape that you're trying to rank for. And to know that landscape, you need to know who your enemies are in this landscape and who you're competing against, but most of all, you really need not to know what state your website is currently in.

If you don't know your website that well and the content that you have yourself, you're not going to be able to rank very well because you overestimate or underestimate yourself all the time. There's this quote from Sun Tzu Art of war and the rough translation there is "you got to listen to history otherwise you're doomed to repeat it and make a lot of SEO mistakes." 

I get this question a lot, "what's the best way to do keyword research," right? And a lot of SEO's will say "well it depends, what kind of business are you?" Right and it's true, but that's kind of a cop-out answer. What you should do is ask more questions."what's your goal? What are you trying to do?" And depending on what your goals are the best way to do keyword research is very different. 

Total Addressable Market (TAM) in SEO

I'm going to introduce this concept of a total addressable market. It is a term generally used for SaaS, so software as a business, so think about Spotify or even your Amazon account or what have you, these are a lot of subscription-based services. The way we will look at the industry is how much out there is there for my business to capture and of that size, how much of that is actually reachable through search, right?

And so that's your SEO total addressable market. Of all those things online, how much can you actually capture organically with your website? And so when you're thinking about well how big is the landscape? I mean, there's physical retail and then there's digital for some businesses. 

We're right now only looking at digital and then if you only look at digital, when you're looking at all these search terms, you have direct competitors that sell similar things to you or are close replacements and then you have these non-competing businesses. A lot of times they're news websites, they're a nonprofit organization. Sometimes they're government organizations too. 

Understanding that whole landscape really helps you zero in on what are the strengths of your website, or areas that you have opportunities for. Again, simple definition, SEO TAM is the organic traffic you have, plus your competitors, plus non-competing businesses minus whatever overlaps we have. 

Doing a TAM Analysis

The fastest way to do a TAM analysis is really the Magic Keyword tool in SEMrush. Just throw in a topic, filter out anything that doesn't quite fit in what you're targeting, and then select all the keywords you care about, and then export it. All of a sudden you have the digital equivalent of how much online opportunity do you have.

This works very well for startups. They're trying to get investors interested in your idea. They would ask you, "Well, how big is the market?" And you want this feasibly large number to impress them so that they'll invest in your company. 

As you iterate, you're going to figure out which topics really work for your startup versus the ones that don't. You can filter out as you need to. That's just the fastest method via tools. Again, use tools, they save you so much time. 

The other thing you can think about in terms of TAM is...start looking at all the non-competing businesses for a given topic. It doesn't have to start with, "Oh, here's the magical tool." It spits out something. Why don't I look at all of the things in that topic and all the sites that show up?

Again, there's this section in SEMrush, where you can find all of the businesses that show up for that topic, and you can go through them one by one to figure out which of these are what we would call content competitors. Sometimes they are direct competitors, they sell the same things as you, but most of the times they're not, and SEMrush sorts them out by the amount of overlaps that they do have with your website. 

Again, very easy tool to use. A lot of keywords to export one by one from all these sources. But the more you do, a better of an idea you have of what the landscape is like. This method makes a lot of sense for in-house marketers or SEOs because you care not just about the competitors you're going against, sometimes you care about partnerships that you might be able to do.

Next up for TAM is, well, why don't we just only look at competitors? If you're in an agency, this is often the way you get things done. When I was working at Catalysts, which is a part of GroupM, which is part of WPPPLC, the largest media buying agency conglomerate in the world. Proctor and gamble is a client, and I was managing Crest, and Oral B, and all these other fun oral care brands like Fixodent. 

The way we got things done was we looked at what our competitors were doing, that sold similar oral care products. We'd show our clients, ‘this is where you are, this is where our competition is, here's what they're doing that's different.’ 

This is a quick way to not pull all the keywords in the possible space, but only narrow in on the competitors, and that's what your client cares about. Therefore, you don't have to over-complicate things.

Last but not least, while working at Catalyst, I was working with Paul Shapiro and we're like, "Hey, we do a lot of keyword research. Why don't we figure out the total addressable market in a more systematic way?" If you're working in an environment where you have development resources, or you are familiar with writing code and automating things, then you can definitely leverage a lot of the online marketing tools that are out there that can pull all of these search terms data. 

Again, use Google autocomplete to fill out even more variations and get extremely granular on all the terms that could be searched for on a given topic space. And then after you pull all that data, there's a lot of duping that you need to do, but if you figure out how to do this, then it becomes a click of a button.

It makes sense for agencies to do this. It probably doesn't make sense if you're in-house because once you really know your site, you really know your site. But it is another approach that people have tried to use to solve for, what does the total addressable market look like? 

Converting Keywords to Dollar Values

At this point, you have all these keywords, you have all these exports, you need to convert now everything to dollar signs. Again, it's all about prioritization. A lot of times, as a career SEO, the problem that I ran into is, I can get you traffic, but a lot of management issues is they're wondering, "Well, what does that traffic convert to? What's an equivalent for it?" 

Without really clear numbers, the first step is to use cost per click, which is the amount that you would be spending on average to run Google ads on that keyword. Because again, this is just a starting point for you to make decisions and compare them to what the alternatives are, and once you have things in dollar amounts, it's much easier to say, "Hey, I can bring in $135,000 values worth of organic traffic." 

But in order for me to do this, I might need a headcount to accomplish this, or I can do that right now, but I can do so much more if we have more people on the team, or if we had a development resource, or if we had a full-time writer. These are how you can make those discussions happen. 

The ICE Framework for Prioritizing Content

Now that you have all these search terms, and you have these topics and you're like, "Okay, I have this giant list. Where do I start?" Remember we turned everything to dollar values, and so the question is, well,’ which of these can we rank for, that would have the highest dollar impact that we're confident that we can actually get that traffic and it's easy to do?’ 

Three things. And that's where the ICE Framework comes in. The impact that it can create in dollar values, the confidence that you have on ranking for that... and last but not least, there's also ease. These are all things that impact whether or not you feel what you're trying to do with these search terms will actually create the desired effects.

You add these points up there from three to 30 and the highest one wins. Again, this is the general framework. Feel free to weight it or change it however you need to fit your business needs. But the important thing is to have a list of things you want to accomplish and be able to move that up or down based off of new information that you might get. 

How do you actually determine impact or ease? Well, again, a lot of these things you can find at SEMrush, and these are third-party metrics. As SEMrush has come up with them, you can find other metrics to use to kind of evaluate ease as well. I like keyword difficulty; how many backlinks do you really need in that topic?

I also like competition...it is a metric where it's how many advertisers are there bidding for this search term, and how competitive is it? Because if they're willing to spend money and Google ads for it, then it's likely to be fairly competitive.

And likewise, SERP features that you see for certain keywords. If you know that there's a local image pack that it's a local search result, you pretty much have no chance to rank for that because you're not a local business, then the ease of ranking for that just increased sky-high. Whereas if you have excellent photography, you think you have a chance for people with links to a lot of the images.

Again, this is how you would evaluate, "Hey, is there an opportunity where I know that I'm really good at doing this, or I've never done this? I don't know if this would be easier or not." Oh, wait. We're missing something. We're actually not sure about how confident we are on actually ranking for the impact that we said we would get and how easy it would be to actually do these things.

At all of the places that I've worked at, what I've always done is iterate on an experiment. All these things can be tested and you can see if you can actually rank for them. Once you figure out the formula to get that ranking, the example that I'm using here is review structured data, so that we would show up with review stars. Then you can see what the impact is. 

Where Search Intent Fits into the ICE Framework

Peter: What I'm wondering is how, in my mind, the search intent; how does that factor in, in all of this? 

Victor: When you look at a search results page and you have all these different search features, you can get a sense of how fractured the intent of the search term is. The way I like to think about a SERP is you have texts, documents, you have image documents, and then you have video documents. The more variations you have of these three, plus news, which is the fourth one, and these search articles in that universal search result, the more competitive it generally is because you have to pick and choose which of those intent types could rank well, right? 

Maybe you're using stock photography and you just don't have the right to rank for this term. You don't have a video team, you're just down to text now, right? The ease for you to rank in a crowded SERP where there's all these features increases, right. It's just harder. 

Something to keep in mind in terms of intent is the more features you see that are very asset-heavy; so images, video or requires you to be a news website, or in some cases requires you to be a shopping destination.

Nik: I think that addresses competitiveness in the SERP. Whereas I think with search intent that pertains to relevancy. When you're selecting your keywords of which ones to go after. Just to go back to like when you're assessing which keywords to go after what is the primary things to really, really look at as far as search relevancy and search intent?

Victor: The way I always think about how that intent fits in goes back to impact. And I mentioned that CPC is an imperfect number, right? Because it assumes everyone is willing to pay the same amount for traffic when different businesses will weigh things a lot heavier. 

Nik: Yeah. Thank you.

Fixing Technical Issues and Updating Old Content

Victor: You have all those keywords you're thinking about prioritizing things on the content side of things, but what if we took this prioritization technique and move it to technical SEO fixes, like what should you fix next? 

A lot of times you hear about HTTPS as a ranking factor, page speed as a ranking factor, user experience as a ranking factor, mobile-friendliness as a ranking factor, the list goes on. So what do you do? Well, you can run a technical SEO audit, like the ones that are just built into SEMrush

You can look at what happens when you fix on those things, and then you can see what happens, right? And again, it's a very quick thing to do, a very quick thing to see the results for. And once you figure out what the rough impact is on those experiments, you can think about, "Well, how many of the same issues can I roll across my site?"

The larger website, the easier it is to scale using templates and the bigger the impact it would be. If you just had a page speed issue on one blog post, you're only going to get the benefit of fixing that one blog post, right? But if you have that across multiple pages on your site, then you're going to see a lot more. 

A lot of times we're thinking about, "Well, what do I do next?" And we forget about the things we already have on your website. I like to quote my colleague, Braden Becker here. Whenever there's organic traffic falling, the way he looks at it is, "Algorithm updates aren't the cause of underperforming content. They're a symptom of it." You used to rank number one for something and you no longer do. Well, why is that?

Well, a lot of times you're looking at all your content and it's actually not holistic or part of our larger group. A lot of times when you're looking at your content and you're trying to prioritize, you have a lot of traffic, but they're actually not being driven for keyword lists that you have from solving for your total addressable market. It's really important to subgroup them into themes, and to figure out whether or not within this theme, they're interlinking with each other.

Within these interlinks of content with each other, do you have a conversion mechanism where you can turn that traffic into actual business customers or leads or whatever it is that you track as your goal? Because ultimately at the end of the day, traffic is nice, but money is better, right? It's what keeps you employed. 

ICE really is a very relative framework because the impact depends on what your business cares about. And that's how you're going to beat your competitors in terms of like, how much more focus you have put on something versus something that they have put a lot less focus is because their business would care about something totally different.

You've organized all these pages with the keywords that you've put out in your TAM analysis. You're going to find some pages that simply don't rank for anything. Maybe they have some backlinks to them, but they're really not adding value the whole, it's time for you to say goodbye to those pages and redirect to the next best page. 

Or if you don't have that, the next most trafficked page within the group or a page that you do have that as a pillar page. Because again, you want to optimize for conversions. You don't want to have a lot of crufts lying around a website that isn't contributing to the whole.

This concept of taking something old and then making more out of it, isn't new. HubSpot's been doing that for a very long time. It's only been, I don't know, two, three years ago that we start to really break down the process of that and streamlining what that looks like.

One quick method that we use internally is to look at what posts are actually losing organic traffic. And then before it stays there for too long, we make some quick edits to it, to adapt what the SERPs look like, so that we can go back up to where we used to be. 

And a lot of times when you're doing forecasting or you're doing rank tracking and you're not super sure like, "Is this just rank checking, being a little off for a short time? Or is it something that's sticking around?" What we did was we compare.

You have month two, week one compared to month one, week one, and likewise the same weeks to different months. And you look at the difference between that because it's hard to see seasonality if you're looking at week by week, it's easier if you're comparing the weeks broken down into different months. 

We took that process, we automated it, and as long as you have a Google Analytics account with the right permissions, you can simply automate it with a quick tool called Google Analytics for Sheets, and just by seeing URLs that have multiple links that are seeing falling traffic, you can get a sense of, ‘hey, this is a blog post or a website page that I should go in and update so that I rank well again.’

What do you do now that you've identified these posts? Well, again, going back to SERP features, do you rank for them? Can you rank for them? Have ranked for them, but lost them? And if you're not sure what it is, my rule of thumb is don't delete anything. 

If you're not winning the (SERP) feature and it's there, try to win it because the difference, the delta and having that feature...it's basically ranking number one. If there is People Also Ask, which is a SERP feature of questions that people have asked for that search term, you can try to add that into your content so that you answer those queries, roughly, with an answer. That's what I would do with historic optimizations if I had really limited resources.

Going from CPC to Real Business Dollars for Valuing Content

CPC is nice, but again, real business dollars, again, just so much better. The way we look at it is customer lifetime value. It might be a little bit overkill if you're running a mom-and-pop shop, but given COVID and given that a lot of orders are now happening online, I highly recommend going through the exercise of figuring out, what is the average purchase value of a visitor on your site buying something? How often does that same person, if you have a CRM, do they repurchase? Given their frequency rate and how much they purchase, you can figure out what their customer value is.

By summing up all the customers that you have, like how many months have they been a customer to the number of customers you have. Then doing the math, you can figure out what your customer lifetime value is.

And that's how you'll figure out like, ‘okay, I drove organic traffic...the typical conversion rate for organic traffic is X percent. And that person from that X percent is worth this much for me. If you can get it down to this number, you will find that it's a lot easier to justify a lot of the organic search-driven initiatives that you have planned for or plan to do.

I've found through my analysis with a customer lifetime value that generally speaking, organic visitors are more valuable in customer lifetime value than paid ad visits. That's just something that I've noticed a lot. And so if you're ever in SEO versus PPC situation, I highly recommend trying to figure out what that customer lifetime value is. It's going to make your case that much more compelling to get the resources that you need and to prove the results that you can deliver.

Link Building & The Value of Content Partnerships

That's all nice if you control content, you control some budget and sometimes the developer and all these other things, but sometimes you just don't have anything, like you're in an agency you're just consulting and you're telling your client and your client expects things to happen just because you're their consultant. That's not how it works, but then you're left with link building. 

Like how do you get your stuff ranking through links? And a lot of times link building has a bad rep, because people are going about it in an unnatural way, which is the way you get punished. And little disclaimer, I've been punished before.

I now know a better way to do it. And that's...just actually do what businesses do. Real businesses will reach out to non competing businesses and refer them. A roofer might refer someone to like a plumber or an electrician or something like that. 

These partnerships are the best kinds of partnerships because it's natural for them to link to you and as relevant to the total adjustable space you care about. For digital agencies, there's clutch.com I think is a big one HubSpot actually has its own directory of agencies. 

There are these micro marketplaces where you can promote yourself that can still drive meaningful business to your website or whatever business you're selling and in some cases, some of these partnerships like third-party review sites, it might be a little hard to rank well, and you might find that sometimes they have paid advertising schemes where they'll bump you up to the top of that list.

At HubSpot, we used to have a page that tried to rank for best CRM software and we did on the first page, but at some point search results changed, and that's because for B2B business purchases, it's a huge group of people that have to make a decision. It's not enough to just list yourself and say I am the best CRM software.

The user expects a comparison of software, and I am not in the right to rank for that anymore because review sites are much more unbiased in covering that and so the best thing I can do to again, address that total addressable market is to rank on those review sites so that after they've made that X versus Y comparison, they'll come back and say now we're ready to buy HubSpot something like HubSpot CRM, HubSpot by marketing, HubSpot sales.

The way you think about total addressable market; it doesn't have to be set on just keywords. It doesn't have to be set on just to be your competitor or these content sites. Sometimes you can join these content sites. Sometimes you can work with your competitor and say, you know what? The market is big enough for both of us and you just work together and you'll be surprised.

So hi again Victor here. I am a lazy SEO, but I'm also an SEO strategist. I have covered how you really should use tools. It'll just make your life easier. The tools may not be perfect and data accuracy, but it is a starting point for you to prioritize, and you can only start prioritizing. Once you have the total addressable market marked out, this is kind of the space you're going to do all your work.

Peter: Wow. Thank you, Victor. That's terrific. I love your approach and your logical explanations of some of these ways of going about things. Thank you very much for that.

Opportunities to Update Old Content & Deciding When to Prune Content

Nik: Yeah, well, I loved your presentation and it really speaks to a lot of the work that we do here with StudioHawk. I mean we focus on technical SEO. We have a manual backlink outreach team that really helps leverage relationships with other business owners and things like that. And content is a massive thing, especially like in an E-A-T space where you really need to go back and refine and do content pruning to really make sure that the relevance is there for not just the topic, but for also the business at large.

For anyone watching, if you're having a look at your blogs at large and you're thinking like "What do I do here? I'm kind of burned out with writing new blogs all the time," have a look at the blogs that you've already done.

If there's a really great opportunity for something that could be a year-on-year analysis, have a look at the SERP, what are the kinds of results that populate in the SERP? If there's really great wrap-up lists that say like "Here are the top," however many in 2021, and it's kind of going that cyclical, that's a really great organic way of knowing that Google is always looking for some refreshed updated content because that's what the search intent is telling you.

Peter: I love the idea that you're coming from the lazy point of view. When I say lazy, I mean we really don't have the time and the resources to optimize all the things. It's just kind of crazy. So you have to be a bit lazy. A lot of what you talked about was pruning old content. I'm wondering about how does that work, especially when you've got things like your topical clusters and maybe you've got an internal link structure happening already? Do you gravitate towards the side of pruning rather than optimizing?

Victor: That's a great question and you would ask that question if you hadn't done a TAM analysis. The reason why you would ask that question without a TAM analysis would be you should only have a piece of content if it covers a search term, right? 

If it doesn't cover a search term, it's gone. If it doesn't have traffic and it doesn't have backlinks and it doesn't cover that search term, it's gone. If it covers the search term, doesn't have backlinks, it can be gone or it could rewrite it.

Again, the reason why you would map out the market is so that you can then map it to the pages that you want to create and then what are your plans for how to address that topic that makes sense for your business that you feel like you have a fighting chance to win.

If you don't have that, I mean again, you're just prioritizing things and you're just shifting things around. And you're going to learn more about your business going through this exercise and mapping things out ...because you're going to have experience going, "I tried that, it didn't work. Oh, I need to put that down lower on that list."

Wrapping Up the Webinar

Peter: That makes total sense. We're actually out of time. I just want to say thank you so much, but perhaps I'll start with Nik. What's your best channel just for people to follow you, to connect with you? Is it Twitter or what's your best channel, Nik?

Nik: Yeah. You can find me on Twitter @NikRangerSEO. I'm there most of the time if I'm not knee-deep in site migrations. Or I'm on LinkedIn on Nik as well, or you can find me at StudioHawk/team. Staff or team? I can't remember. 

Peter: Terrific. Thanks so much for co-hosting. Victor, we really appreciate all your insights and your knowledge, and your experience. That framework I think is really a great way for people to start considering how they can change up their approach. Thank you so much. 

Nik: See you next time.

Victor: Next time, you guys.

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