To win at search engine marketing in 2017, you need a strategy that’s constantly evolving.
With the exception of the first few months, the best SEO strategies change each month. If you’re publishing content on the same areas, building the same kinds of links, in the same number, to the same pages, you’re not getting the most value out of your investment in SEO.
A great SEO strategy takes an action, waits (patiently, as hard as it might be), sees a result, and adjusts based on that result. Some things you do will have better results than you expected and some will have worse. A great SEO strategy keeps testing, cutting less effective techniques, and expanding on more effective ones.
This post is about how to have a constantly evolving SEO strategy. If you can do it, you put yourself in the top tier of SEO practitioners at work today.
First, A Note On Analytics
An evolving SEO strategy requires a base level of analytics.
You can’t do what I’m about to describe unless you have an analytics software, whether it’s Google Analytics or something else (including Search Console), and a rank tracking software like Ahrefs.com (that’s what I use but many others will do the job).
If you aren’t at the level where an investment in a rank tracking software like Ahrefs is viable, you may not need to be doing this thorough an SEO strategy audit just yet.
Step 1: What’s Getting Traffic?
Before anything else, you need to know where your site is at right now.
What’s getting traffic? Which pages of your site? How much traffic are they getting?
For step 1, that’s it.
Log into Google Analytics, go to Behaviour >> Site Content >> All Pages and take a look…
When you get there, you’ll see a list of the pages of your site, sorted by traffic, plus a whole lot of other useful data.
You might want to change the date at the top right corner of your Analytics dashboard, to reflect a period of time that’ll give you enough data to work with. When you’re in the habit of doing this regularly, you’ll select the time period of “Last 30 Days” since you’ll be doing this every month.
When you get to that page you’ll see something like this…
… your top 10 pages by traffic volume.
That’s it. That’s you right now. That’s what you have to work with.
If you haven’t looked at this screen before it’s worth taking a really good look. That’s what’s most popular on your site, how much time people are spending with it, what percentage of people are leaving your site after reading that page (Bounce) and more.
More than likely – and there are some exceptions** – focusing on these pages, improving their rankings and their conversions are going to have the quickest impacts on your traffic and revenue.
(**An exception would be where you have a page that’s not currently getting a lot of traffic, but it has a huge amount of traffic potential, with nothing very good ranking in the top 10, where just a few good links might push that page from getting no traffic to getting a lot very quickly. We’ll look more at this scenario later in the post.)
At this point, especially if you do marketing in multiple channels (some social, PPC etc) it’ll be important to understand what of that traffic is organic (from SEO), and what’s coming from somewhere else.
For a simple first glance, you can do that by just adding a Source column to that page, like this… (you just type Source in that Secondary Dimension box, then click the green Source button when it comes up)
When you select source, it’ll look like this…
This particular site is mainly SEO traffic so the table is pretty boring. If you end up with lots of channels showing there, you can just click the “Source” column itself, to sort by Source, so it puts all your Google traffic in a row and it’s more easily visible.
(BTW: If you’re wondering why the numbers drop when you go to Google only traffic, well done. There can be numerous reasons for this that you can explore as you get better at analytics. If you want to see that info for any given page, just click on that page itself in this table, (the URL that is blocked out in the images above) and then on the next screen, do the “Secondary Dimension > Source” thing again.)
That’s it for Step 1.
Knowing what’s getting traffic is crucial, but it doesn’t start to take meaning unless we know where that traffic is coming from, specifically what keywords that page is ranking for, where they’re ranking, and what they’re ranking against.
That’s what we do next.
Step 2: Which Keywords Are Your Pages Ranking For?
Load up your Google Search Console (which I still shamelessly call Webmaster Tools).
Select your site, and go to Search Traffic >> Search Analytics like this…
When you get there, you want to click Pages, after ticking all the top boxes…
When you do that, you’ll be able to type in a piece of a URL that you want Google to show you your stats for. If you want to see stats for a page on toaster ovens, you’d type toaster-ovens (assuming that’s the only page with “toaster-ovens” in it)…
Now you can grab a URL from your top 10 (that you got from step 1) and type the end of it (just the unique part) into this field.
When you do, you’ll see your stats for that page.
Next, you want to hit Queries (next to Pages) up the top, so it will show you which Queries brought traffic to that URL, during that time period…
Now you know exactly which keywords are bringing traffic to that particular page (just remember that in Search Console, Google isn’t showing you ALL the visits, or ALL the keywords ranking. But it’s enough to work with).
It’s a beautiful page. You can now see all your ranking positions for that page, and you can compare them by their position or click through rate.
You’re now starting to get a much clearer picture of what your site is doing in the search engines.
You know which of your pages are getting organic traffic…
You know which keywords are generating the organic visits to those pages.
A thorough review of your SEO would grab the top 10 ranking keywords for your top 10 pages and drop them into a spreadsheet, so you can look at them all side by side.
For step 2, that’s all. At this stage you’re still collecting data.
And talking about data, you ou might have noticed there’s one thing missing…
Step 3: Knowing What’s Making You Money
Traffic is one thing, and revenue is another. Your highest traffic pages won’t always be your most profitable.
To complete the picture of where your site is at right now, you need to know what’s driving your revenue. Of all the pages on your site, which is selling the most, what is it selling, and how well is the selling being done (how many clicks is it taking to make a sale)?
This part is trickier for me to explain in a “one size fits all” fashion since it changes depending on whether you’re selling your own products, selling as an affiliate, driving ad clicks, doing lead generation etc
I’ll continue this explanation as an affiliate, since it’s my expertise, and it’s the world so many of my readers are from.
To do this step you need tracking IDs. Each page (ideally each link) needs a tracking ID of it’s own so you can see when sales come through that page compared to another page.
Tracking IDs (Amazon Example)
Most affiliate programs allow you to set up a tracking ID for each of your links, so you can see affiliate clicks and sales by ID, rather than just by website or by affiliate account.
Amazon of course is no exception. If you’ve never set up tracking IDs in Amazon before, here’s a video on how to do it:
When you have tracking IDs set up, you can run a report at any time, to show you the sales generated by each tracking ID.
Just log into your Amazon Associates account…
Go to Reports…
Choose a date range (last 30 days when you’re doing it monthly)
And at the top of the table of results, choose the tracking ID option like this…
This will bring you up a beautiful report of all the clicks and sales generated by each tracking ID.
If you sort this table by revenue generated, you’ll have an ordered list of your highest revenue generating tracking IDs, which should correspond to pages on your site eg the “best toaster oven” tracking ID is your “best toaster oven” page.
Maybe your page that was 3rd on your traffic list is the highest revenue generator because it sells a higher value item. Maybe traffic and revenue correlate perfectly. Whatever it is, you need to know.
You can also click into any tracking ID to see which products were sold under that ID: Data that will be useful in your marketing even if not at this step.
What you’re looking at now is your revenue engine. There’s no more need to push hard to promote the page on “best toe nail polish” just because you’re really proud of it. If it’s only generating a 5th of the revenue of your top page, it’s not your smartest investment.
Conversely, if you can see that your “best toaster ovens” page (who knows why that would be on the same website as toe nail polish, but whatever) generates $0.50 per click, and gets 1000 clicks a month… well you can afford to spend $500 per month promoting that page until you hit the top, and max out the available traffic. And when you do hit the top, and you’re getting 5000 clicks a month and generating $2500 a month revenue, you’ll be glad you did.
*** Pause For Reflection ***
In case you were skimming, we’re now at the point where you fully understand
a) What’s getting organic traffic
b) Where the organic traffic’s coming from
c) What’s generating your revenue
Because we know all that, we can now start to make improvements, safe in the knowledge that we’re putting our focus on what’s most likely to make an impact.
Let’s go ahead and do that…
Step 4: Analyze Your Top Pages As A Person Searching The Keywords They’re Ranking For
You can do this for highest traffic pages or highest revenue generating pages, depending on what your goals are month to month.
Your top performing page is on best toaster ovens, and it’s top ranking keyword is “best toaster oven 2017”.
An easy first way to make valuable improvements is to examine that page, from the perspective of someone searching “best toaster oven 2017”.
What is the experience of someone seeing your page in the SERPS after they hit “search”, and entering your page from that place? This is an on page analysis, both in terms of search optimization factors, and conversion factors.
It would take me months to write a full description of all the checks to make to optimize for conversions, and for search. Instead I’m going to give you some basics and ideas you might run with and build upon yourself.
a) Old School On Page SEO: Title, Description, URL, First 100 Words
You can look at this two ways: Either it’s valid to include the keyword itself (not exact match, just broad match, in which ever way allows the copy to still be exciting and in perfect English) in your page’s title, description, URL and first 100 words, in which case, I can’t think of a reason not to.
Or if not, it should still be clear to the searcher of that keyword, upon reading each of those things, that the page is completely definitely for them.
b) Do they quickly know this page is specifically for them?
If they searched 2017, and you’re ranking for that term, how does your page look?
When you first land on your page is it blatantly clear this page is up to date as of 2017?
Have you noted in your article any changes that make 2017 different to previous years (this helps establish the depth of your knowledge and gives you better credibility)?
Whatever the keyword that’s bringing you traffic, you must make searchers of that keyword feel like you’re writing for them.
c) Have the searchers of that keyword been given what they want, when they landed on your page?
This requires you to know what they want, even if it’s not explicit in their keyword.
- If the keyword is “best toaster oven 2017” it’s easy: They want to know what the best damn one is.
- If the keyword is “cuisinart toaster oven price”, you better have the price on the page, preferably compared at multiple locations, with a note on when/how if ever discounts are available.
- If the keyword is “cuisinart toaster oven vs breville” you better have a comparison of those two somewhere on your page.
- If the keyword is “best value toaster oven” you’ll want a section that compares the relative price points and gives some verdict on the overall “best value” option even if that one isn’t the best overall.
You see what I’m saying?
d) Is what they’re looking for easily navigated to?
It’s one thing to have the information they want right there on the page, but if they have to scroll for 15 seconds to see it, you might lose them.
If that keyword “best value toaster oven” is bringing you traffic, I would have a section (that is a H3 tag) title called “What About The Best Value Toaster Oven?” and a table of contents at the start of the article that allows one click navigation directly to that section.
Like I said there’s plenty more to discuss here, but that should get you started on some of the conversations to have when you’re looking at which of your pages are getting traffic from which keywords.
>>> Step 4 ends when you’ve looked at your top 10 pages – as many of them as you can – and made any improvements you can see, according to the searchers you now know are landing on those pages. If there’s any gap where you’re ranking for a keyword that you aren’t providing a good experience to the searcher of, take the time to fix ‘er quick.
When you’ve done this, and you’re confident that for your current keyword set, your pages are well optimized and well set up to convert the visitors they receive from those keywords, you’re ready to bring in more of those visitors.
Step 5: What Is Ranking Around Me?
For my highest traffic pages…
For those keywords I’m ranking for…
Where do I have an opportunity to easily increase my rankings?
In other words: For which keywords are there sites ranking above me, that I can easily overtake?
It’s crucial to understand the importance of this step.
> Just because your “best toaster oven” page is bringing in the most traffic…
>>> Just because it’s generating the most revenue…
>>>>>> Doesn’t mean you should be investing the most time and money promoting that post.
Wait WHAT?! WHY?!
What if your most profitable page gets most of it’s traffic for a keyword where it’s ranking number 5.
And in position 4 is a niche relevant authority site with a domain authority of 70 and 100 backlinks from news websites, wikipedia and more.
You could be promoting your page for 6 months and not even put a dent in position 4.
It could be true that that page of yours has gotten as high as it’s gonna go (at least for now). And if that’s true, your investments in that page could be wasted, especially when other better opportunities are right under your nose.
See what I mean?
All that data gathering… all that building of an understanding about where our site’s at and what’s working was to get to this point… the point where we can compare that data to our existing opportunities for growth.
It’s time to fire up our rank tracking program. Enter Ahrefs…
I’m going to take you through an example on another affiliate site, the fairly well known TheSweetHome.com. Imagine you’re the owner of TheSweetHome.com and – in between counting money – you want to try to see where your opportunities for rankings improvements lie.
Here’s how you’d do it:
NOTE: If you’re following this guide exactly, you already have your ranking data, so you can skip this step and go to the “Keyword Difficulty” step 2 screenshots below.
Start at the SiteExplorer feature and enter your domain (If you use Ahrefs your sites will be in your dashboard so you won’t really have to do this) like this:
You’ll see I’ve clicked that “Organic Search” tab right there to get the organic results.
Scrolling down to the bottom of the Organic Search page, I can see some of their ranking data.
So their page on Essential Oil diffusers is ranking position 4 and bringing plenty of traffic.
But does that mean they should invest in trying to push that page higher? Forgetting that we don’t know their revenue, let’s take a look.
We now hop over to the Keywords Explorer tab, and run a search for that term, essential oil diffuser…
Seems like a relatively easy keyword so it’s no surprise to see them ranking.
But what’s in position 3? And could TheSweetHome.com overtake them?
To find out, you can scroll down to the bottom of this page and look at the organic rankings and some of their key stats side by side…
So Position 4 TheSweetHome has:
AhrefsRank: 110k (lower is better)
Domain Rating: 57 (this is similar to Domain Authority, for you non Ahrefs users)
URL Rating: 16 (similar to Page Authority)
21 Backlinks from
Position 3, DiffuserExpert has:
Domain Rating: 42
URL Rating: 23
43 Backlinks from
There’s a lot that’s NOT covered here. We don’t see on this table any data about the quality of the two pages (word counts, relative on page optimization etc) BUT, based on the above alone…
It’s easy for me to imagine TheSweetHome overtaking Diffuser Expert here…
They’re a much bigger, more authoritative site with (I can safely assume thanks to the AhrefsRank) more total links and total authority by far. The pages are 21 backlinks apart, but it’s unlikely TheSweetHome would need 21 links to overtake them, since their domain level metrics are so much higher. They may just beat them with an additional 10 links, and position 4 to position 3 here could be a significant boost in traffic.
NOW… (For some reason I’m using more caps as this article goes on…)
What if TheSweetHome were in position 3? Could it get to position 2?
Position 2 YoungLiving.com has…
Domain Rating: 67
URL Rating: 29
I say nope.
Those are a world apart, and for that volume of traffic (44k searches total for the keyword) I wouldn’t expect it to be TheSweetHome’s best bet.
This is a simple way to identify your best opportunities for investment each month. For bigger sites there are other ways to do this on a broader scale, but for most people, this method will suffice.
As you run this search for your ranking keywords, slot them into a spreadsheet (example 2 screenshots below) and get ready to make some decisions.
Remember: You have to do it each month because your positions change and your traffic changes, especially when you’re constantly at work publishing new content and building new links.
Step 6: Decide On Your Best Opportunities
You now need to repeat Step 5 until you have as many of these opportunities as your budget (or time) will handle, since what you’ll do next is go to work capitalizing on these opportunities.
You also need to rank your opportunities based on a few factors:
a) Potential traffic
b) Potential revenue
b) Ease of capture
Let’s say one page ranks for a keyword that has 15k searches a month. At position 1 you’re looking at 5k visits a month to your site (based on the 30% average), and you’re in position 2, getting 3k visits.
But for another page, the main keyword has 30k searches a month, you’re in position 6, getting 2k visits a month, and only position 5 looks beatable for now.
Which is your best bet?
There’s no correct answer without more information but I’m putting this to you as an example of the kind of scenario you’ll be looking at here.
Refer back to your search engine click through rate data averages here to help decision making:
This graph suggests for example, that if you’re in position 5, thinking of taking on position 4, you’ll go from getting about 6% of the total traffic, to about 8% of the total traffic. If you got 100 visitors a month in position 5, you’d get about 130 visitors a month in position 4. How much would those 30 visitors be worth? Go look at your tracking IDs from step 3.
If you have a page where the position above you… and the position above that… is only a whisker away in terms of metrics, it’s a strong revenue driver, and the traffic potential is good, then it’s a smart move investing in that page.
You’ll make your closest estimate of how the top opportunities compare to one another, rank them and write them down, preferably in a spreadsheet that looks like this…
And you’ll go to work doing your SEO promotions, prioritizing according to this sheet.
** Pause Again For Reflection **
Do you get how much better this is, what you’re doing now, than a random, ad hoc, shot gun, backlink here, backlink there, buy a few fiverr gigs kind of SEO strategy?
This is professional, data driven SEO that doesn’t make mistakes.
Step 7: Decide On A Promotional Strategy For Those Opportunities That Month
Now you have to promote those pages, to try and beat the positions above you.
The best way to get links for each page may vary. One may lend itself easily to outreach, the other to social, the other to guest blogging, and the other to discussion participation.
The full discussion on how best to get links for a variety of content types is unfortunately outside the scope of this post.
At a base level, all you’re doing here is getting links and attention to those pages, confident at last that if you do, your numbers will move. Confident that this SEO work on your site will yield a return. Confident because the data proves it.
Get out your list of link building techniques and get to work.
Don’t forget internal links in this step either. If there’s a page on your opportunities list, and you have some related, high PA (or UR in Ahrefs) pages on your site that aren’t linking to this page yet, make that happen first.
Oh, and don’t forget on site options too. If you’re ranking for a keyword, have you proven to Google that your site is highly relevant for that keyword? Have you published enough other content related to that keyword group or topic? That can move the scales as well.
Whatever you choose, that’s your SEO work for the month. When the work is done, you move to step 8.
Step 8: Log What You Did
Once upon a time, Alex Miller got me onto the old SEO log: A boring documentation of each SEO technique you perform and the date you can perform it. A diary so that as changes start to happen you can compare them to actions you took and have a better sense of what made what move.
This is really helpful for future months when you’re doing Step 7.
If you know for example that by building 3 links of this type, you helped your PA 15 page hop over a PA 17 page… and you see similar metrics for another opportunity, you have a good idea of which technique to apply.
This document doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but the more details you record about the little changes you make, the better.
Remember too that ideally, you’ll only make one change, or do one promotion for one page at one time, otherwise when a movement does happen, you’ll have trouble isolating which thing it was that caused it.
Step 9: Rinse And Repeat
Each month you look at your stats, things will be a little different. Each month, your best opportunities will adjust.
When you run this process again – even if it’s only once every 2 months – you’ll see new best opportunities. Each month you’ll know that every dollar you spend on your SEO is pressing on the most sensitive points of your niche; the keywords and positions that will be quickest to respond.
What I’ve outlined here is a version of how I run a monthly SEO audit and adjust strategy based on changing SEO data. There are other ways to do this that apply the same principle with different technique. If you have some of those, feel free to share.
SEO isn’t as simple as it once was but for those of us in the know, that’s a good thing.
If you can maintain an evolving, data driven SEO strategy, you’ll be ahead of the curve, especially for small to mid size niches.
I wish you every success.