(Case Study) This SEO Checklist = 48.7% More Organic Traffic

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seo checklist banner imageThere’s an SEO checklist that I use for every client.

And it works.

Want proof?

Proven.com recently used this checklist to boost their organic traffic by 48.7%.

(In 3 weeks)

And in today’s post I’m going to show you exactly how they did it…step-by-step.

But First, A Quick Story…

A few weeks back Proven.com founder Sean Falconer reached out to me.

I had just sent out a newsletter to the Backlinko email list.

And this newsletter outlined my three favorite content marketing strategies for 2016.

newsletter email

Sean replied to that email and said:

I was uber-impressed with Sean’s content marketing.

But I also noticed a few on-site SEO issues…

…issues that were holding him back from Google’s first page.

That’s when I had an idea:

brians idea screenshot

Sean’s reply:

seans reply

Keep reading to see what happened next.

Let’s See The Results From the SEO Checklist That Sean Used

Thanks to my checklist, Sean’s organic search engine traffic shot through the roof.

Proven.com saw a 48.7% increase in organic traffic…

…in just 3 weeks:

organic traffic increase in google analytics

But that was just the beginning…

Now that the checklist had time to do its thing, 6 weeks later, Sean’s organic traffic is now up 88.3%.

organic traffic increase in google analytics part 2

Now that you’ve seen how well this SEO checklist works, it’s time for me to walk you through the entire 7-step process.

Step #1: Delete “Dead Weight” Pages

Google recently said that a huge site with tons of pages can be bad for SEO.

To quote the Google rep (Gary Illyes):

This is why I make sure that every page on my site is AWESOME.

In fact, Backlinko generates over 150k unique visitors per month…

…despite having only 33 posts:

published blog posts at backlinko

How is this possible?

It’s because I focus on 100% quality.

Despite the fact that this quality over quantity approach clearly works, I see A LOT of sites struggle with “Dead Weight” pages.

Dead Weight pages like:

  • WordPress category and tag pages
  • Outdated blog posts
  • Low-quality blog posts
  • Ecommerce product pages with zero sales
  • Archive pages
  • Thin content/boilerplate content
  • Old services pages

And as you just saw, Google said that these Dead Weight pages can hurt your SEO efforts.

OK, back to Sean…

In the case of Proven.com, their blog content was solid.

But they DID have a lot of dead weight pages.

In fact, their site had over 48,000 pages indexed in Google:

number of indexed pages in google

Because Proven.com is an online job board, they had a lot of old job listings hanging around:

old job posting

Not to mention profile pages for companies that hadn’t posted a job in months:

company profile page

Also, Proven’s search result pages were getting indexed…

indexed search result page

…which was creating Dead Weight pages by the thousands.

So I sent these pages over to Sean.

And Sean quickly deleted or redirected Proven.com’s Dead Weight pages:

implementing recommendations

In total, Sean deleted or redirected over 10,000 pages.

Now that Sean’s site was cleaned up, it was time to fix the pages that were left…

Step #2: Fix On-Site Issues and Errors

Next, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled Proven’s technical SEO issues.

Specifically I focused on fixing:

  • Duplicate or missing title tags
  • Duplicate description tags
  • Broken links
  • Images with missing alt text
  • Pages blocked by Robots.txt
  • 302 redirects that should be 301 redirects

Basically you’re looking for any technical issues that hurt user experience and SEO.

I used RavenTool’s site auditor to uncover issues with Proven.com.

Thankfully, we already deleted 10k pages. So there weren’t nearly as many pages to clean up.

(In fact, that’s one of the reasons you delete Dead Weight pages in step #1. It makes the rest of the process MUCH easier).

The only problems I found were:

A broken link here and there…

broken link error

…some missing alt text from a couple of sitewide images…

images missing alt text

…and a few duplicate title tags.

duplicate title tag

And Sean fixed all of these on-site issues within 24 hours.

all errors fixed

Errors=fixed.

Then it was time for the fun stuff 🙂

Step #3: Optimize High-Priority Pages for On-Page SEO

A lot of people that run huge sites think:

“How can we possibly optimize thousands of pages? It would take months.”

So they don’t optimize any.

#facepalm

Fortunately, you don’t need to tweak every single page on your site.

Just pick your top 10 most important pages. And put all of your muscle behind those 10.

For example, I asked Sean to send me his 5-10 most important pages.

And Sean sent them over:

seans top priority pages

Some of Sean’s most important pages were blog posts, like this:

a blog post from the proven blog

Others were service pages, like his homepage:

proven homepage

Obviously, my recommendations were different for every page I worked on.

But in general, I applied the techniques from my massive guide to on-page SEO.

on page seo infographic

Sean’s content was already well optimized. So I only needed to make a few tweaks.

For example, let’s look at what I recommended for Sean’s post on questions to ask references.

a piece of content

First, I asked Sean to add his target keyword (“questions to ask references”) to the body of the article:

using target keyword in content

I also recommended that he sprinkle LSI keywords (like “business references”) into his content:

lsi keyword usage

Now that Sean’s content was keyword-optimized, it was time to move onto a NEW ranking factor that’s super important right now…

Step #4: Optimize for CTR

If you’re serious about crushing it with SEO in 2016, there are two skills you need to master:

Skill #1: Optimizing your organic click-through-rate (CTR)

Skill #2: I’ll cover this skill in the next step (step #5)

Let’s start with CTR.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Google uses CTR as a ranking signal.

Here’s a quote from a research paper published by Google:

ctr-seo

So:

How did I improve Sean’s CTR?

I used the techniques from this video:

[embedded content]

To give you an idea of how I used the techniques from the video, let me walk you through an example…

Sean had a post on his blog called: 100+ Best Job Boards to Find Niche Talent.

proven blog post

Here’s what the page’s organic result looked like:

google listing

Not bad…but could be better.

Here’s exactly what I did to improve this listing’s CTR:

First, I looked at Adwords ads for keywords, like “job boards”:

And I noticed that most listed a specific number of job boards in their ads:

adwords with a number

(I also noticed that NONE of them used the term, “niche talent”).

So I recommended that Sean change his title tag to:

“100+ Job Boards For Job Seekers and Recruiters”

And his description tag to:

“Find the best job boards on the web all in one place. See our list of 100+ boards right here.”

Here’s what his Google result looks like today:

new google result

And now that page’s CTR for its target keyword is 4.88%…

64.1% higher than before.

average ctr

Pretty cool, huh?

Now that I helped turn Sean’s Google results into click magnets, it was time for the next step…

Step #5: Reduce Bounce Rate and Boost Dwell Time (User Experience Signals)

I’ve talked about this before:

Google pays VERY close attention to so-called “user experience signals”.

In other words, Google doesn’t want people to flee your site like its on fire.

On the other hand:

If people stick to your site like superglue, Google may give you a significant rankings boost.

The question is:

How can you optimize your site for user experience signals?

I cover everything you need to know in this video.

[embedded content]

I recommend watching the entire video before reading on. Go ahead, I’ll wait 😀

Now that you’ve watched the video, here’s how I applied these strategies to Proven:

First, I asked Sean to pull his content above the fold.

How?

Well, Proven’s blog posts had a big gap between the site’s navigation and the post title:

space above a blog post

The top of your page is million-dollar real estate.

That’s why you want to avoid unnecessary space that pushes your content below the fold.

So I asked Sean to reduce that space by 50%.

Proven’s blog also had breadcrumbs navigation.

breadcrumbs navigation

Breadcrumbs navigation is OK for an ecommerce site. But it’s not necessary for a blog.

So I recommended that Sean get rid of it.

Proven’s blog posts also had massive images at the top of each post.

image usage in a blog post

These definitely looked cool…

…but they pushed Sean’s excellent content below the fold.

So I let Sean know that using smaller images significantly increases the amount of time people spend on your page.

Here’s an example from Backlinko:

example of image in content

And Sean changed his images to match this style:

example of image in content 2

Next, I made Sean’s blog post introductions “sticky”.

Your blog post introductions are HUGE.

Because the truth is this:

If you lose someone in your intro, you’ve lost them for good.

But if you hook someone with a compelling introduction…

…they’re MUCH more likely to stick around.

For example, I changed Sean’s introduction from this:

blog post introduction

To this:

new blog post introduction

What did I change exactly?

First, I cut out sentences that stated the obvious.

first sentence of content

And I formatted the content so that there were only 1-2 sentences per paragraph (this improves your content’s readability).

short paragraphs

These design and introduction improvements boosted Proven’s “Avg. Time On Page” by 12.2%:

google analytics avg time on page

Step #6: Boost Site Speed

Our recent study of 1 million Google search results found a significant correlation between site speed and rankings:

sitespeed and rankings

(Not to mention the fact that Google has said that they use page speed as a ranking signal).

So yes, site speed IS important for SEO.

That’s why I include sitespeed as step #6 of my SEO checklist.

Here’s exactly what I did for Proven.com:

First, I ran Proven.com through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool:

google pagespeed insights

Then I tested the site’s loading speed with GTMetrix.com.

Why did I use both?

Google’s tool only looks at your page’s HTML.

GTMetrix actually loads your page.

(That way you can see if server issues are slowing things down)

Overall, Sean’s site loaded pretty quickly.

The only problem was that his images weren’t well optimized.

website speed report before

Once he optimized his images (by manually resizing them and specifying image dimensions in his HTML), Sean’s loading speed significantly improved:

website speed report after

Now that Proven.com’s on-site issues were patched up, there was only one thing left to do…

Step #7: Create and Publish a Skyscraper Post

Now it’s time to wrap things up with the Skyscraper Technique.

Yes, your Skyscraper content will help with traffic and link building.

But your Skyscraper post ALSO encourages Google spiders to visit your site.

That way they can see the on-site improvements you just made.

(If you don’t know about The Skyscraper Technique, this case study shows you everything you need to know).

Now:

Sean noticed that most of the content ranking for keywords like “job descriptions” and “job description templates” were mediocre at best.

For example, most were just poorly-organized links to hundreds of job descriptions:

poor content

And the creators of these job description lists LOVED cheesy stock photos like this:

cheesy stock photo

That’s when Sean realized that he could create something MUCH better.

How?

First, Sean included all of his job descriptions on a single page.

newsletter email

(That way you don’t have to visit 15 different pages to see 15 different descriptions).

Second, Sean created a job description filtering system.

long piece of content

This made finding the right job description a breeze…

…especially compared to the massive list of links that Sean’s competitors used.

In fact, a few people left comments just to say how helpful Sean’s filtering system was:

blog comment

Third, Sean included helpful information above each description (like salary data).

extra info in content

Last but not least, Sean used images that represented each job…without resorting to cheesy stock photos.

nice image

How did Sean’s post do?

Because Sean’s content was AWESOME, it generated a big spike in traffic:

traffic spike

Sean’s post also quickly hit the first page for the keyword “job descriptions”:

first page google ranking

Once Sean published his Skyscraper post, he could put a big red “X” next to the last item on the checklist.

(And do a happy dance because his organic search engine traffic increased by 80%+)

organic traffic increase in google analytics part 2

Now It’s Your Turn

Now I want to hear from you:

What do you think of this SEO checklist?

Or maybe you have a question about something.

Either way, leave a quick comment below.

I’ll be around today to reply to comments and answer questions.

So if you have a question or thought, make sure to leave a comment right now.

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