Last summer when I interviewed Neil Patel, one of the traffic hacks he recommended during the podcast was to make strategic updates to your existing content based on data from Google Search Console.
Several months later, I finally decided to give it a shot.
In this post, I’ll show you how it works, how you can do the same for your website, and my results so you can judge if it’s worth your time.
The basic idea is to find the content you’ve already written and that Google is already indexing and sending you some traffic for, and try to make small changes to it to get even more traffic.
What is Google Search Console?
First things first — what’s Google Search Console? Well, it’s Google’s new name for Google Webmaster Tools.
Once you setup your account and link your site, you’ll have insight into all sorts of SEO goodies — straight from the source.
You can upload your sitemap, see how many of your pages are indexed, look at crawl errors, and get notifications of any pressing issues with your site as Google sees it.
But my favorite report — and the one we’ll focus on today — is the Search Analytics report.
Inside Your Search Analytics Report
You can find the Search Analytics report under the Search Traffic menu option on the left side of the screen.
Ever since Google Analytics changed all your keyword data to “not provided”, this is where you’ve had to go to get any meaningful information on what people are typing in to find your site.
It’s a really powerful report. By default it will show you which keywords are generating the most traffic to your site, but you can also ask it to pull in the number of impressions, the click through rate, and your average position (rank) for those search terms.
You can even filter by specific pages on your site, countries you’re trying to target, and what kind of device the searcher was searching from, perhaps to determine if your listings are performing better or worse on mobile.
There is a date option as well, but the biggest drawback I’ve found in Search Analytics is it only goes back 90 days at most. That meant by the time I’d let another 90 days elapse after making my tweaks, the original data was lost and gone forever. (Thankfully I’d exported a couple reports to Excel.)
So how to run your report?
I like to check all the boxes up top (Clicks, Impressions, CTR, and Position), and then select the date range I’m looking at. The default is the last 4 weeks, but you might want to zoom out the full 90 days to get a broader picture.
The chart is pretty worthless unless you see a dramatic spike in one direction or the other, in which case you’d want to figure out what happened there.
Where the report gets good is in the keyword data down below.
Here you’ll find your top 999 keywords in terms of the clicks they generated for your website. You can see how well you’re ranking for those keywords and how well you’re performing in terms of click through rate.
As you might expect, the top keywords for Side Hustle Nation are mostly “side hustle” related terms.
So how do you decide which keywords and posts to target for this blog improvement project?
Keyword and Post Selection Criteria
I wanted to pick a variety of posts for this experiment; some new, some old, some monetized, some not.
Here’s what to look for you in Search Analytics report:
- Keywords that are on the first page of search results, with an average position of 2 or lower.
- Keywords that seem to have an abnormally low CTR.
- Keywords with a high number of impressions.
Targeting keywords with a position of 2 or lower gives you a chance to gain ground and move up the search results. If you’re already at the top, don’t fix what ain’t broken.
Targeting keywords with a low CTR gives you chance to re-examine searcher intent and align your title and meta description accordingly.
And finally, targeting keywords with the highest volume of impressions gives you the greatest chance to increase your traffic. A small improvement in performance on a high volume keyword can add hundreds of extra visitors a month.
The posts I chose:
- Mechanical Turk Review: How I Made $21,000 a Quarter at a Time
- The 134 Best Udemy Courses for Entrepreneurs, Freelancers, and Side Hustlers
- Earn $500+ This Weekend: An Intro to Car Flipping
- Hustle Quotes: 23 Famous Quotes About Hustling
- 5 Ways to Monetize a Podcast … and One Way Not To – Plus My Results
- The Sharing Economy: 200+ Ways to Make Extra Money in Your Spare Time
- What Makes SmartWater Smart?
- Why Southwest Business Select is a Ripoff
(A couple of those pre-date Side Hustle Nation!)
Now the other thing to consider is the value of each post the keyword is currently driving traffic to. If I were to do it again, I’d prioritize the posts that are strong income generators or strong email opt-in performers.
Not all of these really fit that bill, and because of that didn’t have as great a business impact as it could have.
What Actions Can You Take?
OK, now that you’ve got 5-10 keywords and posts to look at, what tools are at your disposal? What can you do to try and get even more traffic to your site?
You have 6 main weapons, and I’ll detail those below.
1. Improve the title tag of the page.
This is the single most important on-page SEO factor. It’s what shows up in big font in the Google search results and the text that shows up at the top of the browser tab.
For example, I search “best webcam for streaming” and got these results (below the ads):
The title tags are the big blue lines.
It’s normally the title of your post, but it doesn’t have to be word-for-word. You can update this using the free Yoast SEO plugin.
Think of it like a headline. Does it make you want to click for more? Which of the ones above is the most compelling?
You can even use a tool like Coschedule’s free Headline Analyzer, which will give you a score for each title you submit and offer suggestions for improvement (after you give them your name and email).
For example, it gave my Mechanical Turk headline a score of 63 (out of 100) and suggested I add more Emotional and Power words or phrases — though it frustratingly didn’t tell me what emotional or power words would qualify or offer any suggestions.
2. Improve the meta description.
The meta description is like your two-line sales pitch as to why someone should click on your listing in the search results over everyone else’s.
It doesn’t carry any weight in the ranking algorithm, but can help you improve your CTRs. If you leave the meta description field blank in Yoast, Google will pull a random couple lines it thinks are most relevant to the query, but if you don’t want to leave it up to chance, you can fill in your own little blurb.
Here’s what it looks like inside your WordPress post editor:
I normally don’t fill in the meta description, so it was an interesting exercise to go back and try and come up with a compelling “hook” for these posts I was trying to improve.
3. Update the H2 tags with the post.
Aside from you title tag, which is going to be an H1 tag, Header 2 subheads can be another good way to send the signal to Google what the post is all about.
I like to use subheads to break up the text and make the post easier to read, but also to reinforce my primary and long-tail keywords.
You’ll notice this post has H2 subheaders like “What is Google Search Console?” and “Inside Your Search Analytics Report”.
You can highlight any text in your post and make it an H2 by selecting Header 2 from the Paragraph format drop down menu.
For some of my older posts, I noticed I didn’t have any subheaders, so it was an easy win to go back and add those in. Not only did it improve the readability, but it also helped the rankings.
4. Improve the content of the post.
If the post is a few months or a few years old, it might be due for an update. Perhaps you have more to say on the topic or you’ve learned more and could add to what you’ve already written.
In any case, adding a paragraph or two can make the post seem more authoritative in the eyes of Google, AND increase the amount of time each visitor who comes to your site spends on your page, which can also improve your rankings.
5. Update the publishing date.
It seems that both users and Google prefer fresh content. Look back up at the “best webcam” search results.
Which one would you click on? The result from 2014 or the ones from 2017?
For any post in WordPress, especially if you’ve significantly updated the content, you can update the publishing date by clicking “Edit” next to the date in your post editor.
I do this quite a bit and have seen some strong results from it, and it was recently Joseph Hogue’s #1 tip during our conversation about SEO for bloggers.
Note: This is something you definitely DON’T want to do if your permalinks have a date parameter.
6. Build more links to the post.
If a post is already seeing some traction in Google and is perhaps on the bottom of the first page, it stands to reason they already like your content. Now if you could just increase the Page Authority, you might be able to improve its rank even more.
And that often comes from building links to that specific page. Joseph talked about this in depth during our interview, but that could mean writing related guest posts to support that content, creating an infographic, or doing some broken link building to that post.
My Search Console Improvement Project Results
In total, the Google organic search traffic to these 8 posts is up 24.3%, comparing the last 90 days to the 90 days prior.
To get these numbers, you need to go to your Google Analytics (which thankfully stores more than 90 days worth of data!), and go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
Select the date range you want to look at and the previous period to compare it to. Make sure the “before” and “after” ranges have the same or similar number of days.
In All Pages, click on the post you’re targeting. (If you don’t see it, you can search for it in the search bar.)
On the next page, you want to hit Secondary dimension > Acquisition > Source, to find only the change in Google traffic for your test. It will look something like this:
But the raw traffic volume doesn’t paint the whole picture.
What if more people just happened to be searching for these topics after I made the changes? Did my tweaks really have an impact on the search result click through rates (CTRs) and rankings?
In other words, was the work worth it? Or should I have left everything alone?
It turns out, many of the keywords didn’t see an improved performance at all.
While 3 of my posts saw their highest volume keywords improve, 3 saw performance declines, and 2 didn’t see much of a measurable impact one way or the other.
It was a little depressing to see the main keywords go down!
So what caused the traffic gains across the board?
I have a theory. My theory is that updating the meta description and H2 keywords within a post, the posts were able to rank for a wider variety of long-tail keywords, which more than made up for any declines in the primary keyword.
For example, the primary keyword “amazon mechanical turk review” dropped in average position from 1.4 to 2.7, which dropped the CTR from around 35% to around 26%. And yet the overall Google traffic to the page increased because the post appealed to a wider range of mturk-related searches.
Oh, and you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to reconcile the data from Google Search Console with the numbers in Google Analytics. I have no idea why the two datasets are nowhere even close for identical date ranges!
Have you ever gone through your Search Analytics report to uncover some potential opportunities to increase traffic? I’d love to hear your results or your thoughts on my methodology. Let me know in the comments below!