Step-by-step content and SEO strategy to grow a blog
October 6, 2021
While I've published mostly about self-improvement and productivity on this blog, I'm a content marketer by day. I manage the blog and am responsible for SEO at AppSumo.
When I first transferred from Sumo to AppSumo, we had a simple blog that shares product and team updates. With the results we've gotten at Sumo, my role was to grow the organic traffic for the AppSumo blog.
We spent the first few months hiring new writers and getting some processes in place. And in the past 13 months, we've grown the blog from 8,000 to over 127,000 monthly organic pageviews.
SEO could be intimidating for many writers and creators, especially when you're not a marketer. At first, your effort might hardly move the needle because SEO is a lagging metric. But once you get the wheel turning, it's essentially free traffic from Google day in day out.
In this post, I'll share how we 15x the organic traffic for the AppSumo blog in 13 months with the step-by-step guide that you can follow and get traffic from Google.
Disclaimer: While we started the AppSumo blog from scratch, AppSumo has been around for over a decade. That means it has the domain authority to better compete with other websites. If you're building a new website from scratch, it might take longer for you to get traffic from Google.
The first step to creating an SEO strategy is to know who you're targeting. Your content usually talks to many people. But if you're trying to reach everyone, you will end up communicating with no one.
Before we have a clear SEO strategy, the AppSumo blog is where we share content around what we learned internally and product updates. We were talking to existing Sumo-lings who are already familiar with AppSumo.
While there's nothing wrong with setting up a blog to communicate with your customers (this should be a core objective of a blog), we wanted to build the blog into an acquisition channel. That means we need to attract new visitors to our blog.
So instead of creating content for existing Sumo-lings, we identify the people we want to reach. In our case, they are solopreneurs, online creators, digital marketers, and small agencies.
With the target audience in mind, we get to define the common pain and desire of our target audience and figure out what they are searching for.
SEO is a long game. Before you start creating content for your website and business, decide your posting frequency. It's important to create high-quality content, but most of us won't know what works in the beginning. So having posting frequency to keep you consistent is essential.
Posting more also means you're going after more keywords. You can't expect your website to get ranked when you only have content to go after less than 10 keywords.
At AppSumo, we started with three posts per week in the beginning. We then scale it down to two posts per week to hammer out a few processes before scaling. Now, we're getting back to three posts per week.
Depending on the resources available to you, aim for at least one SEO-optimized post per week in the beginning. And use it as an opportunity to develop your editorial process.
Then, scale that up to 2-3 posts or even more posts per week. HubSpot, the content powerhouse, operates like a publication and publishes 1-3 posts every day. They win by seer numbers. But you can still compete by focusing on creating better content for a niche topic. For example, Ahrefs only posts twice a week but does it incredibly well for a specific topic.
If you're a creator, you might not play the SEO game in the beginning. But post frequency is still important to help you hone your skills and tones. Follow Noah Kagan's Law of 100 to create 100 pieces of content before thinking about scaling and dwelling on the details.
It could still be too broad when you have a target audience. Take AppSumo's target audience as an example, they could search for anything from online business ideas to time management tips to how to sell digital downloads.
So before you do your keyword research, you need to niche down on your topics. At AppSumo, we narrow down our topics by asking two questions:
These questions help us understand what to focus on now. We're not reinventing the wheels and not attracting visitors that we can't convert.
For keyword research, we use Ahrefs to find keywords that are high in search volume and low in keyword difficulty. You can check out this post by Ahrefs on how to do keyword research.
A big part of getting ranked on Google is about matching the search intent. Essentially, Google is working hard to show the most relevant content to its users. If someone lands on your content and leaves immediately, it tells Google that your content is not relevant.
To make sure your content matches the search intent, study the first page of Google. Your competitors are ranking because they are doing something right. Go through these posts, especially the first three, and find ways to do better than them. It's called the Skyscraper Technique.
Another trick is to go through the People Also Asked section. See what people are asking when they are searching for the search terms and answer these questions in your content.
For keywords that you don't have a better story to tell, leave them and go after those that you can add the most value. You can always come back when you find a unique angle and have a better story.
After you've done your research, create content briefs for writers. You could be the one who writes it or you could send it to other writers, but having a content brief will help you or your writers stay in the right direction.
Now you've done with all the mice-en-place, all the preparation, it's time to write a great piece of content. Again, you can write it yourself or hire freelance writers to do it for you. If you're hiring a freelance writer, make sure he or she understands the basics of SEO writing especially on-page SEO, which we'll cover more later.
One key insight I learned from the book On Writing Well is to put in great efforts to craft an opening that captures attention immediately. We all have a short attention span. If you don't capture your reader's attention quickly, you lose them forever.
The intro doesn't need to be long. If we're creating a how-to guide, we will start with the results we get to capture attention and tell readers why they should listen, like this one on the Sumo blog.
For some keywords, you can skip the long intro and go straight to the point. For example, the post on the best video editing software doesn't need to explain what it is and the benefits of it because visitors who are searching for it already know that. What they want is a list of video editing tools with content that helps them pick the best one for themselves.
After capturing attention, your goal is to keep it. While the content itself is important, I see most people forget about readability. Make your content easy to read and skim through so your readers stay on the page. Imagine going into a retail store where you have no idea how to find what you need. It's frustrating. To learn more, check out this post for tips on formatting your blog post.
Ultimately, you don't want to create me-too content. But how do you know if your content is any good? The goal of your content should do one or more of the three things below:
Providing useful and interesting information should be the bare minimum. Then, strive for making your content actionable so readers come back for more.
Transforming beliefs is hard. And often, it's even harder to pair it with an existing keyword. You can create content like case studies and thought leadership posts for this purpose. You can also sprinkle it onto every post through your brand tones and voices. Post frequency and consistency come into play here because it helps create an overarching belief.
You need to promote your content after creating it. A great piece of content will promote itself because people want to share it. But before that, you need to get it in front of someone first.
I like to think about content promotion in two different groups: internal promotion and external promotion.
Here's a great resource on content promotion by Ahrefs.
A pro strategy would be repurposing your blog post for other platforms like YouTube, Quora, and SlideShare. While it could be powerful, it often takes a lot of time and resources to do it well. You need to make sure your repurposed content is designed for the platform rather than a quick link dropping or content plug.
Getting more eyes on a post means it has more chance for people to link it to it. It's critical in growing search traffic that we will talk about it more later.
While on-page SEO doesn't guarantee great results without great content, not doing it properly means leaving search traffic on the table. Besides, it doesn't need to be hard, a few best practices will bring you a long way.
The top three elements you need to get right: title tag, meta description, and OpenGraph image. Think of them as the name, description, and photo of a dish on a menu. The goal is to entice people who click on your content (before they can read it).
Another on-page optimization you can make is image SEO. Make sure they are not too large in file size so they load quickly. And always set an alt text for every image you use on your post.
There are many on-page optimizations you could make such as keyword density, incoming and outgoing links, post structure, etc. If you're using WordPress, you can use SEO plugins like Rank Math to go through the checklist.
Links are one of the most crucial elements in getting your content ranked. After you create your content and optimize it for search engines, find ways to link to them both internally and externally.
While a lot has changed with the Google algorithm, high-quality backlinks still play an important role in ranking, if not more important. The best way to get backlinks is to first create extraordinary content so people want to link to it.
Then, make an effort to build backlinks for your target pages and posts. You can do that by writing a guest post for another blog or doing link partnerships with other websites.
You don't need to get every single piece of content backlinks because some of them might not be as interesting and useful for other blogs to send traffic your way. Come up with a few content types that will usually get links. For example:
Google likes updated content that provides the most accurate information to what people are searching for. Because of that, you want to make sure your blog posts are up to date by regular content audits and refreshes.
Besides getting your content up-to-date, regular content audit and refresh also help you optimize blog posts that haven't ranked well since you published them.
Believe it or not, out of over 180 blog posts we've published on AppSumo blog to date, only 20% of them get ranked on the first page of Google, and even fewer get on the top three places.
This doesn't mean that the content isn't any good. The first page of the Google search result is a competitive battlefield. Even when you do everything right, there are still factors you can't control.
If you published a blog post and it hasn't ranked well after six months, go back to check what gets ranked and improve it. Just like writing a great piece of content is about editing and rewriting, it works the same to get ranked on Google. And it usually takes fewer resources compared to creating new posts. Keep creating new posts but refresh your content to increase their chances to get ranked.
Here are a few things to look for when you're doing a content audit and refresh:
Now you've done a ton of work to create great content, optimize your page for search engines, and get your website ranked, the last thing you want is for your visitors to land on your page, spend a couple of minutes and leave. Instead, you want to turn them from cold visitors into an email lead and then from there, nurture them into your customers and fans.
Email marketing has always been one of the most successful customer acquisition channels for AppSumo. Other than driving people to the main site and show them the products we have, we want to collect their email addresses in case they are not ready to buy yet.
It doesn't need to be complicated at first. Simply define the action you want your visitors to take next and add a call-to-action to every single blog post or page you have on your websites.
Here's the call-to-action where we drive people to our store to browse our products:
Here's the discount popup that incentivizes potential buyers to join our email list:
And we also create lead magnets and content upgrades in case our visitors are not ready to make a purchase but interested in learning more about us and our future content:
As mentioned above, SEO could be terrifying if you're just getting started. But you don't need to do everything on the list to see results. Start from the top and slowly move down the list.
And if you're stuck, you can always skip to the next step or reach out to me via Twitter for questions.
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Head of product and engineering