Over the past two years, the company that gives me my daily bread has had a sharp focus on sales which not only included outbound sales efforts but inbound as well. As the Director of SEO, some of those inbound responsibilities rightfully fell on my shoulders. A set of tasks I was eager to take on.
Here’s the thing with the company’s website – it has a lot of content on it. There are blog posts on the site from 2007, that was the year the company was founded! Not all of these early blog posts were stellar content. Over there years, there have been a lot of ‘filler’ posts added to the blog.
How to Triage My Website’s Content?
The first project I assigned myself was to categorize the blog posts into 4 distinct categories.
- Traffic Driving/Conversion posts. These blog posts are bringing in relevant traffic that either converts or at least can bring the traffic into a Service level page on the site.
- Dying. These blog posts once had solid traffic/conversion numbers but are now in a state of decline.
- Irrelevant. These posts were added to the blog as part of something internal to the company, in response to a event in the past, or as commentary to a news/trend which no longer is discussed.
- Dead content. These posts get no traffic from organic sources, there isn’t any value in promoting the content through social, and even internal links to this content aren’t being used.
The culling seems obvious. The first category is clearly in the Keep pile. The fourth category is in the Unpublish pile. The problem I faced (and technically am still facing) is what to do with the Dying and Irrelevant content.
What to do with Dying and Irrelevant Content on my Website?
Irrelevant and Dying posts required extra analysis. First, I looked at them in terms of what keyword topic they were going for. The website has a problem with keyword cannibalization. For example, there are at least 12 pages all vying for the term ‘hotel seo’ and none of them are the main hotel SEO service page.
For each topic I discovered major cannibalization, the pages were grouped together to determine which page should be the one page to rule them all in regards to the topic and keywords they represent.
The second step was to determine if the page was viable. In many cases, the content on the page was short in length – like 500 words short and barely covered the surface of the topic. Honestly, and I say this with dear love for the current and past writers of these blog posts, the posts were nothing more than a 500 word essay on the topic and written with the same level of passion a high school student writes a book report. Cover the essential facts, pump up the word count with some fluff (luckily none of these posts started with “The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines digital marketing as…”), then add a bullet list summary of what was just written, and slap a half-hearted call to action that may or may not have anything to do with what was written in the blog post.
I’ve been writing for the web for over a decade and I am guilty of doing this exact type of blog post dozens upon dozens of times. These fill the content calendar and you do it to meet the deadline and promise yourself you will never do it again. Until the next time, of course.
Measuring viability was tricky. In some cases when I ran the URL through SEMRush, the post would rank for some quality keywords, but on the fifth or sixth SERP. How much effort would it take to make the page do better and if I could make the page do better, would it ever be part of a conversion path? I’d love to announce I found a clear formula for determining this, but so far it is a page-by-page decision.
In the final step, I unpublish those posts that weren’t bringing in relevant traffic.
Pro-Tip: When you do a mass unpublishing of hundreds of pages from your website, remember to also remove references to those pages on other pages and do not forget to remove them from your sitemap file.
All of this takes time. After unpublishing, I used a website auditor tool to locate all the broken links I created. In many cases I was able to change the link to the pages I wanted to be the authority on the keyword. In other cases, I removed the link.
How to Make My Site’s Content Do More?
All those viable but underperforming pages were dumped into a spreadsheet and marked to be rewritten. These were mostly ‘dying’ pages but also some of the irrelevant pages. In some cases the page was ranking well for an industry related term but the content in the blog post was old. It referenced old standards or the language felt dated. In some cases, the blog post was about an old event. The post would fail the ‘trust test’ and would not be considered credible.
Sometimes the Analytics data would tell me which pages were failing the trust test. A lot of traffic coming into the page and a bounce rate way higher than the site average told me people were ‘noping’ right out of the page once they saw the content.
What is an example of improving site current site content through on page SEO?
The whole reason why I wanted to write this blog post is based around one particular case. I started working with a blog post about an event in 2014. It was a WeddingWire World Chicago conference. The blog post was written by two team members who attended the conference and were reporting back on what they learned. The company blog has a lot of these types of posts and none of them do well in search.
This post did perform well. For the month of May in 2017, it had 118 visits from search but in 2018 it only had 52. I was about to cut it but I went through the motions only to discover it was on the second SERP for terms I considered relevant for the company. These were not high volume keywords – 10 searches per month to 40 searches per month, but they were relevant to hospitality marketing.
I set out to rework the content in the blog post. I changed the layout slightly, added roughly 150 words to it and in a few cases extended the information beyond what was originally presented by referencing other blog posts we had written related to weddings. I did all the basic on-page optimization tricks, used questions as sub-headers and added additional links to up-to-date sources.
What were the immediate results of the on-page SEO work?
The page moved from position 14 for the relevant term to position 8 (Page 2 to Page 1). Obviously with such a low search volume term, I am not expecting to see the site traffic to shoot up dramatically, but it is clear there was a benefit from the action. Take a look at the Search Console screenshot below to see all the queries that moved from the second SERP to the first SERP.
In terms of traffic, in just the few weeks after all the optimization work was done, I have not seen the traffic return to its 2017 levels but the trend on the traffic is quite positive. First we can see the organic performance from Google’s point-of-view in the search console
And then we can see what the Analytics look like:
Traffic looks healthy, exactly what we should expect from the type of results we were seeing in Seach Console. I am concerned about the bounce rate. It never was good, but the changes I made have made it worse. I can partially explain some of it by saying the page is attracting some non-relevant traffic, but the real cause, I think, is the post is visually unappealing. It lacks any visual intrigue to convince a reader to delve into the information presented in it.
When SEO people say a site is never fully optimized, this is what they mean. There is always some metric that can be improved.
What were the additional benefits of the on-page SEO
A side benefit of digging into this particular page was seeing the pages they were competing with. A few of the company’s competition had web pages showing up on the 2nd SERP as well. I tossed those pages into SEMRush to see what else they were ranking for and realized we could create a massive (dare I say epic) piece of content that could crush everything I was seeing.
Promoting Blog Posts is As Important as Publishing Blog Posts
Fixing the dying pages and making irrelevant pages relevant is important work and will yield positive overall results for the company. We needed to do something else, though. Every week a blog post is published and we push it out through social media channels, sometimes if we are proud of the post we submit it to industry related websites for inclusion there.
Another week comes along and we forget about the old post and focus on the new on. There is no time spent on building links to the content or doing any additional promotion after the first week.
We do our best to incentivize the writer of the blog to do more promotion. The best performing blog post each quarter is recognized and rewarded.
What effect would massive social promotion have on a blog post?
I wanted to see if there was a way to supercharge our blog promotion. Every Tuesday, when there is a new blog post published, the ‘Keeper of the Blog’ does a really great job in packaging up bit.ly links of the post URL with campaign parameters and sending it to all of the team to share on our personal social media channels.
At best we get five or six extra shares.
At the beginning of the year we had a stellar piece of content written which explained how to do a live feed video using Facebook or Twitter. The blog post was thorough, informative, and really did a great job in making the case for why hoteliers should be using video like this on their social media channels.
Using this piece of content as a basis, I wanted to see what could be done if I could increase participation in promoting it. I issued a challenge, the TL;DR of which I’ve quoted below:
In an experiment to see what the effect of significant social sharing will have on traffic to a blog post, we want to get more people involved in voluntarily promoting a specific blog post on their personal social media, in exchange for a variety of breakfast treats, including but not limited to breakfast pastries and fresh fruit.
This is a group effort – we succeed or fail together.
If I could get half of the office to share the post on multiple social media channels, I promised to buy them breakfast.
Participation was off the charts. I was even able to get the company owners and support staff to help push the post.
The end results were solid but not revolutionary. I did not stumble onto a secret of blog success. I was hoping the presence of so much activity on social channels would create a sustained level of traffic, I was wrong.
The traffic falloff was about the same as any other blog post and the amount of traffic was on target as other blog posts as well. No harm but no significant benefit.
What lessons were learned from the social promotion experiment?
In failure, there are still lessons to be learned. Now I do not waste energy worrying about if the rest of the team is sharing the post on their social media channels. While I would like to run this test a few more times, I think it is more about the audiences being shared to.
My Twitter followers and my LinkedIn connections are not in the hospitality industry, for the most part. I’ve spent time collecting a group of marketers, writers, sci-fi nerds, gamers, and political hotheads in my social sphere. They may click through on stuff I share, but they are not the relevant audience for the services of the company.
How to use video to promote blog posts?
I was not going to give up on promoting the blog content, but I needed a better way. I had been playing with a tool called Lumen5 which would take blog posts and create 1 minute videos from them. Video does really well on social channels. The company does not have the resources or talent to get into video production and outsourcing the effort sounded like an additional headache I did not want. I liked Lumen5 for its simplicity and I thought there was huge potential with it.
Andy Crestodina, the CMO of Orbit Media Studies happened to publish a blog post that literally was exactly what I needed. It was titled “How to Make Solid Social Media Videos: 9 Steps for More Traffic” and in it, Andy explained in careful detail how to make a 1 minute promotional video for a blog post.
As an aside, I used to do a podcast and have a lot of audio equipment. Once I tried to do an ongoing video series called Late Night Game Store. I have all sorts of AV equipment and video editing software. I was ready to tackle this challenge but I didn’t want this to be too self serving.
I enlisted a few team members whose blog posts were recently published to do video promos. I have included both below.
These were first attempts and I learned a lot from them, but I cared more about what the engagement looked like.
Over 1,000 views and I can see from the companies there were potential clients in the mix. Analytics did not show a huge spike in traffic from the video watching, unfortunately, but I really liked the idea of getting the team’s faces in front of potential clients as well as current clients. I really liked having them speak in their own voices about the things they had written.
How to make video promotion of blog posts into a sustainable process?
Now, each month, I set up a day where anyone who wants to record a blog promo video can. We have a basic script we use to keep the videos at the minute length and I have asked for help in dressing the conference rooms we do the recording in so no more colored blocks and skeletons as decorations.
Using Andy’s suggestion, we are able to produce video content which is easily shared across many social media channels that not only allows us to promote our blog posts better but also provides a human connection. One of the company’s selling points is clients will be working with actual people who are not trying to fit the client’s needs into perfect little boxes. These blog promo videos help bring home that point.
And the Point Is…
I’m not even close to being done going through all the old content on the company’s website and I have a lot of other experiments to try in promoting the blog content. Every page I bring up to fix comes with some unique challenges, but also has the potential of uncovering new content opportunities. The reward is definitely worth the work.
Taking time to promote the content will also yield better results down the road. I know we have to be better at guest posting, interviewing experts, and working with influencers with the content on our blog. All of that sounds achievable until it is time to actually do it and suddenly it is a mad dash to the deadline and hoping all the links in the post actually work. We will get there and showcase our expertise.
I never want to lose sight of what we are actually trying to accomplish with the company’s blog. We are trying to educate those in the hospitality industry on what good digital marketing is while also demonstrating knowledge and experience. When I see fluff pieces and filler content on the blog, I feel like we lose credibility. Even if someone knows the post was written five years ago, the fact it is referencing old methodologies, processes, and procedures, it really feels like finding a carton of expired milk at the grocery store.
A review of the content on your website needs to be a task you commit yourself to either as a yearly audit or as an ongoing task.
Do You Want Help with Your Content Clean-Up?
If you happen to have a lot of content on your website and are wondering if your keywords are being cannibalized or if there is a lot of dead content which could be removed, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll gladly set up a quick call and I can walk you through the steps you need to take to clean up your content and help promote the content you do have better.