Step by Step Guide to Optimizing Existing Posts to Improve Search Rankings

I got an email yesterday from a reader named Barbara who runs her own personal finance site at barbarafriedbergpersonalfinance.com.

Barbara wanted to know how she could get more search traffic on her personal finance site which is struggling to get a lot of traffic despite being 6 years old and having a domain authority of 46, which is pretty impressive.

Barbara agreed to let me dissect one of the pages on her website and do a live case study in how I would go about increasing the rankings and search traffic for a specific page on her site.

I'll take you through the steps I follow and the step by step process I use to optimize my existing content to give it the bump it needs to go from ranking at the bottom of the first page of Google up to that coveted #1 spot that gets the lion's share of the traffic.

Finding Pages to Optimize

The best pages to optimize are the ones that are currently ranking at the bottom of the first page of Google in spots 5-10. With a few tweaks you can bump these up to the top of the search results which gives a huge increase in traffic.

I entered Barbara's site into Ahrefs to see which pages she had ranking in this sweet spot and found a good candidate.

The first thing I noticed is that Barbara has 2 pages ranking in the top 10 for the same keyword. This is a big no-no. You're basically competing with yourself in Google and confusing Google at the same time because it doesn't know which result to show.

But it's pretty clear that Barbara has a good shot of ranking for the keyword "how to make money in high school" so this is the keyword we'll be going after.

BTW you can also access this data in Google Search Console. GSC will show your rankings, impressions, keywords you rank for and a lot of other info for all of the pages on your site. So if you don't want to pay for Ahrefs you can just use GSC instead.

Step 1: Get Rid of Duplicate Pages

Even though Barbara has a page titled "how to make money in high school", it's actually ranking lower than the page titled "creative ways to make money fast". This is because the higher ranking page has 22 backlinks to it whereas the page titled "how to make money in high school and college" has 0 links.

Google loves backlinks and since this page already has 22 links that is the one we're going to keep.

Instead of deleting the lower ranking page, we're just going to unpublish it and re-use some of the content. I'd do this by copying over all of the content on the lower ranking page and removing anything that's a duplicate of existing content. So if both pages have a section on how to make money by cutting lawns, just keep one of them and delete the other.

At the end of this process you should unpublish the lower ranking page by changing it to a Draft in WordPress. Only do this after you have moved over all of the content you want to keep.

Step 2: Compare Yourself to the Competition

Google's goal is to provide the best pages on the internet to their users.

When someone searches for something, Google is testing how people react to the page (do they leave right away? do they read for 5 minutes and stay on that website?) to figure out where every page should rank.

If someone is looking for ways to make money in high school and your post is 200 words long and says "get a job at a pizza place", you're not being very helpful and you won't rank well.

If another website is thousands of words long and has a ton of detailed information, they'll end up ranking higher.

So let's look at who Barbara is competing against and see if there are any gaps between her page and the competition.

This is a screenshot from Ahrefs showing the search results for "how to make money in high school".

There are a couple of things I notice right away.

  1. The #1 ranking post is getting a LOT of traffic. 20k people per month (and usually Ahrefs is about 1/3 of the actual traffic the page is getting so it's really closer to 60k visitors per month).
  2. Barbara actually has 54 backlinks from 22 different sites. This is a really strong backlink profile for a single page and she should definitely be ranking in the top 2 or 3 spots for this keyword.
  3. Despite having the 2nd highest number of backlinks, Barbara is getting almost no traffic. Just 78 monthly visitors while ranking for 226 keywords.

Based on this, I can tell there's a lot of room to improve. If Barbara was getting close to the same traffic as her competitors and was only trying to move from #7 to #6, it might not be worth it. But she clearly has an opportunity to make a big jump in the search results which would give her a dramatic increase in traffic for this keyword.

Barbara's already done the work to build links to her page, now she just has to optimize her on page content and she should see a nice lift in rankings.

The next step is to figure out what kind of content to add and what to optimize.

Step 3: What Content to Add?

The next step is to manually review each page and make a note of any gaps/differences between your page and the #1 ranking post.

Content Length

Google loves long content. The more words you write, the more chances you have to rank for long tail keywords.

My first impression of the other 2 sites we're competing against is that they're VERY thorough. They're both over 5,000 words long vs Barbara's page which is 1,400 words long.

For some topics, 1,400 words is plenty and you can rank #1 without any backlinks. For other topics that are more competitive (like most search terms related to making money), you'll have to nail the backlinks and the length/content.

So the first takeaway is that we need to beef up the content length.

The easiest way to do this is to just make a note of all the topics your competitors are covering but you aren't.

Write them down in Google Docs and add them to your post as H2 subheadings. Then expand on each point with 200-400 words. 

The #1 ranking post is 50+ ideas to make money. If you fleshed out each of those ideas into 200 words, you'd be at 10,000 words. This is more than enough to blast away the competition but you don't have to go all out. Even matching their length of 5k words would give you a huge increase in traffic.

Page Layout

Another thing that stood out to me is that both of the competitors use a table of contents. They have a brief introduction then a table of contents that covers all 50+ ways to make money. Each of those links is clickable so people can jump right to the section they want to read.

You don't always need a table of contents, but if you're going to be listing 50 different ideas and writing 5,000+ words, it's a good idea to have a ToC.

Not only do they make navigation easier which keeps people on the page (something Google tracks for rankings), but they can also be indexed and show up in the search results! This gives you more real estate in the search results which can drive more traffic. If I search for my brand name in Google, it shows up like this:

So if my main search title and description don't look that appealing, someone might see "reading list" and decide to go directly to that page because they're looking for something to read.

Copy and Improve

The last thing to do after looking at your competitor's content is to figure out how you can make it better.

Both of these pages that are outranking Barbara are actually kind of weak.

Even though they list 50+ ideas for how to make money, the description and instructions are really weak. They just list things like "Sell on Amazon" or "Paint Fences". 

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is searching for this.

They're probably 14-18 years old and haven't worked before. They're a regular teenager and they probably don't know a lot about the things you're recommending.

Telling a teenager to "paint fences" to make money isn't helpful at all. You need to give them actionable steps they can take to actually do this. In fact, that one topic could easily be a 1,000+ word article on it's own. At a minimum you should be able to tell the person searching for this:

  • How to find customers? (flyers? door to door? word of mouth? newspaper ads? craigslist?)
  • What kind of paint to use? (water based? oil based?)
  • How much should you charge (by the hour? by the linear foot?)
  • What brands of paint are the best?
  • What kind of brush should you use?

People are searching for things because they have a problem they need help solving. So help them solve it. If you do, Google will reward you with high rankings.

The last thing I'll throw in here is that I like to add graphics and images to help break pages up. People hate reading a wall of text (like this post!) so if you can add an image for each money making idea or at least break up every 3-4 ideas with 1 picture, it will go a long way to keeping people on page and decreasing your bounce rate.

Wrap Up

Barbara has a really nice opportunity with this keyword. Not only does she have 50 backlinks to her page but she's already on the first page of Google. Bumping up to the top 3 spots should be fairly easy if she just goes step by step and follows the process.

  1. Look at the topics your competitors covered that you didn't.
  2. Cover those topics in your own post and go more in depth/detail.
  3. Add a table of contents for navigation.
  4. Break the page up a little bit with some graphics/images.

Implementing these changes isn't a quick fix though. Google moves slowly and it might take a month or more before Barbara starts to see any extra traffic. Over time Google will start to rank her page for more long tail keywords due to the new content she's added and she should see a healthy increase in traffic.

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2 comments

  1. Hi Jim, Thanks for the detailed SEO optimization tips. I plan to use them on this post as well as others! I know they will be useful for your readers. And, if you ever have any investing questions – don’t hesitate to ask. 🙂

  2. Thanks for coming up with this list. This will be very helpful especially to someone like me who has no idea in optimizing existing or new post. I hope to see more posts related to this one.

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