How To Grow Your Website Traffic with SEO
by Mike Khorev
Here’s the catch: it’s only natural that it’s now harder than ever to get website traffic.
More websites and blogs are being published every single day, people spend more time on social media and Youtube than going to websites, and Google with its featured snippets and infrastructure tend to hoard traffic to its own platforms.
On the other hand, website traffic is very important. We can’t convert visitors and prospects unless we actually have a steady—or preferably, growing—website traffic to convert. Too often, we put too much emphasis on maximizing the conversion rate but knowing how we can get traffic and maximize it should be the first priority.
SEO used to be the most prominent way to get and grow website traffic, but as mentioned, due to the changes in Google’s algorithms and especially the zero-click search phenomenon, our approach to SEO must also change.
Here, we will discuss and learn about how we can grow website traffic through SEO in 2020.
The Anatomy of Google SERP in 2020
Google’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page) has significantly evolved since its launch in 1996.
Back then—as with everything else on the internet—, Google SERP is very, very simple: it’s just paid search ad placements on top followed with organic search results below it. Ranking on the top spots of these organic search rankings back then (for the right keywords, obviously), would translate into guaranteed website traffic.
Nowadays, however, it’s not that simple. Let’s take a look at the current search result for “when is black Friday”
As you can see, it’s no longer that simple. There’s now:
- A “featured snippet” box to inform us about the date
- The knowledge panel on the side featuring a result from Wikipedia
- The “People Also Ask” box with 4 different questions
- Video results
Only after all of these, we are presented with organic results.
In short, ranking on the top spots of these organic ranking spots is—in theory—not as valuable than back then in the early 2000s. It doesn’t however, mean that these organic rankings, and SEO, are totally worthless in relation to website traffic, considering several different things:
- There are keyword opportunities that don’t involve featured snippets and have high organic CTR.
- Not everything can be answered with a featured snippet. For example, the “what is SEO” query might be easily addressed with a featured snippet (answer box), but queries like “SEO strategy” would require in-depth content as an appropriate ‘answer’.
- We can certainly optimize our content on Google’s platforms and properties (YouTube, Google Maps, Knowledge Panel, AMP, Google IMages, etc.) to maximize exposure.
To summarize, SEO to optimize our site/page to rank on Google SERP’s organic results is still relevant in generating and growing website traffic, it’s just, we have to be smarter than before, as we will learn together below.
However, let us first discuss the important SEO ranking factors in 2020.
SEO Ranking Factors 2020
SEO, is in essence just a series of optimizations on our website, or pages of our website to align better with Google’s preferences, that is, to deliver more reliable and relevant information to the human audience.
So, to rank higher, we simply need to meet these Google’s preferences, which we often refer to with the term ‘ranking factor’. Google, however, utilizes a highly complex algorithm and can take account of 200+ different factors to rank a website.
Also, with each and every year, the ranking factors have always changed according to the changes in Google’s algorithms, so it’s very important to keep ourselves up-to-date with the most recent ranking factors.
With that being said, here are some of the essential SEO ranking factors in 2020:
- Backlinks from relevant sources: backlinks, or inbound links, remain the most important ranking factors in 2020. It’s important, however, to understand that the quality and relevance of the backlink’s source is more important than quantity.
- Quantity of direct links: the total number of domains and pages that link to your site (link quantity). However, getting too many links at any given time can be considered fraudulent link-building activity, and can get your site penalized by Google.
- Mobile-friendliness: since 2015, Google has prioritized mobile-friendly and/or mobile-responsive sites to rank higher (and can even exclude non-mobile-friendly sites from SERP). You can use Google’s test tool to assess your site’s mobile usability.
- HTTPS or SSL Certificate: a site that uses HTTPS is more prioritized to rank than a site that does not. In fact, if you are still sticking to HTTP, Google might warn users that your site is unsecured if you are using the Chrome browser.
- Site load speed and user experience metrics: the longer you can keep visitors on your site (higher dwell time) and lower the bounce rate, the higher your site will rank. Your site’s loading speed, on the other hand, is a very important factor in determining the bounce rate.
- Page category: a page that is placed and structured in a relevant category might be prioritized in SERP ranking.
- Site Structure: overall site architecture. The more optimized and well-structured your site’s architecture is, the easier time Google bots can crawl and index your site. Without indexation, our site wouldn’t get ranked, period.
- Page Layout: Google now utilized the Page Layout algorithm to recognize—and penalize— sites that abuse distracting pop-ups and misplaced, obstructing ads.
- Internal Linking Structure: simply put, links from one page of your site to another page of your site. A proper Internal linking structure is mainly useful to tell Google which of your page(s) is the most important, but also provide other SEO-related benefits.
- Content-related optimizations: this one can be pretty broad, ranging from the overall quality/comprehensiveness of the content, optimizations of the images, content structure, Keyword usage in page URL and meta description, and so on.
Again, these are not the only factors that will affect SEO ranking—and thus, your website traffic— in 2020 and onwards. Yet, they are among the most important and should be the core focus of your SEO strategy, as we will discuss below.
Step-by-Step SEO Implementation To Grow Website Traffic
Let us first begin by having the right mindset: what should we consider as a positive SEO result?
It’s very important to understand that ranking high—even ranking on #1 spot— on Google SERP is not the end goal of SEO, and it’s often considered a vanity metric for several reasons:
- We can certainly get ranked higher on keywords with lower competition
- We can get ranked on popular keywords but we don’t get enough SEO traffic to our website for one reason or another
- Even after people clicked on our top-ranking search results and visit our website, they might bounce right away for one reason or another.
You get the idea: SERP ranking is not the end goal of SEO, but a means to an end for the ‘real’ goals which is website traffic. Other results, like brand awareness, lead generation, and ultimately purchase conversions, all began from getting organic traffic.
So, here is the #1 mindset: we should focus on ranking on keywords that:
- Can generate organic traffic (has high organic CTR)
- The organic SEO traffic generated should consists of your ideal/target audience
The #2 mindset we should have, is to remember that Google’s—and the other search engines’ — mission is to provide relevant and valuable content for the human audience. We should remember that the objective of SEO is not to please the search engine’s algorithm but to provide value for our human audience.
So, when we discuss the step-by-step SEO strategy below, keep in mind that the core is to provide valuable, high-quality content for our target audience.
Finally, let us begin with the first step:
Step 1: Define Our SEO Objectives
As we have discussed above, remember that SEO—as a strategy—, is not a method to beat the search engine algorithm, but to reach and attract your target audience.
With that being said, the first step here is to define the objective(s) of your SEO strategy. As we have established, SERP ranking is not and should not be the end goal of SEO. Instead, here are the common SEO objectives you can follow:
- Organic SEO traffic. It should be an objective even if it’s not your end goal, since you can’t achieve anything on your website without traffic. In essence, this one is about getting more people to click on your SERP result and visit your website in the process.
- Lead generation: convert some of the organic traffic into (qualified) prospects.
- Brand awareness or presence: get people to visit your website and consume your content to improve awareness and perceived credibility.
- Sales conversion: especially for eCommerce sites or sites with affiliate marketing objectives.
- Maintain a positive reputation: online reputation management purposes, for example, to drown negative content and reviews by ranking higher on branded keywords.
- Customer service purposes: pushing content that can provide useful information and educate them about your product/service. Useful in building engagements and encouraging customer advocacy.
You can choose more than one objective, but it’s important to define KPIs and/or metrics for these objectives. For example “x% increase in organic traffic” or “20% increase in sales conversion”, KPIs in brand awareness, and so on.
Your goal(s), however, should follow these principles:
- Achievable: it’s better to have a realistic and achievable goal to maintain your team’s morale. Break bigger objectives into smaller milestones if necessary.
- Specific: that is, well-defined and comprehensive
- Measurable: the campaign’s performance in achieving this objective should be measurable by monitoring specific metrics or assigning KPIs.
Make a list of your target SEO objectives. Remember that no matter what your primary goal is, getting more website traffic with SEO should be a part of it. For the next steps, our focus is to develop a working strategy to achieve this objective.
Step 2: Finding Keyword Opportunities With High Organic Traffic
SEO today is no longer solely about keyword optimizations, but proper keyword research is still the core of a working SEO strategy—although our approach might be slightly different compared to a decade ago—.
Here are some important considerations when conducting keyword research to find keyword opportunities:
- The key to successful keyword research is to properly understand your target audience, and especially their search intent. Understand your audience’s needs, pain points, and behaviors by conducting proper market research.
- Always go back to your SEO objective(s) when finding your ideal target keyword. Remember, however, that these keywords must have high potential organic traffic. For example, if your main SEO objective is to generate leads, you might want to look for keywords that are geared towards informational intent. Similarly, if your objective is sales revenue, then you should try to find opportunities to target keywords related to transactional intent.
- There are several key considerations when trying to find keyword opportunities:
- The keyword must align with your target audience’s intent, as discussed above. In general, we can target keywords with high enough search volume.
- The keyword must be relevant/valuable for your business. Fairly obvious, not all queries that are popular with your audience are going to be valuable for your business.
- As mentioned, the keyword must have the potential of generating organic SEO website traffic, and you should be able to expand the keyword into proper content.
- Based on your timeline and resources, the competition of the keyword must be manageable. If you are using a keyword research/SEO tool like Ahrefs, you can evaluate the keyword difficulty metric for this aspect.
- There are various keyword research tools that can help you, from free ones like UberSuggests to competitive analysis tools like SpyFu to all-in-one SEO tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs. Use as many as you can (depending on your budget), and explore all of the possible keyword options.
Make a list of your keywords and define their priorities. If necessary, also divide them by user intents and objectives.
Step 3: SERP Analysis
As established at the start of this guide, Google’s SERP has significantly changed, mainly due to the inclusion of featured or rich snippets.
More than 40% of total search queries now have a featured snippet in the SERP page, positioned above the top organic spot. There’s also the knowledge panel on the sidebar, and the “People Also Ask” boxes that are also positioned above the organic results.
Being featured as this rich snippet—as also mentioned—, might not guarantee a generated traffic to your site. However, it might be a good branding opportunity and can help your overall SEO campaign.
Some featured snippet opportunities might help in achieving your SEO objectives. For example, if you are a local business, then optimizing Google My Business and being featured in Google Map results (a type of featured snippet for local queries), can significantly help with store visits and conversion rates, which might be your goal in the first place.
You can use keyword research tools like Ahrefs to help find keywords with a high potential organic click-through rate (CTR). There are cases where organic CTR is still relatively high even when there’s a featured snippet. These should be your main target keywords.
Step 4: Competitive Analysis
Next, analyze your target keywords to find out about competing sites. You can do a quick Google search for each keyword manually, or you can use various keyword research tools for this step.
Check out the sites that already ranking for these keywords (including sites that are ranked as a featured snippet), your main goal here is to beat these competitors by:
- Developing bigger, better, more in-depth content than these competitors
- Take a unique angle and cover the keyword with different content than your competitors
In most cases, being unique is generally an easier approach, but there’s not always the opportunity to do it. Why? Because if it’s a very competitive keyword, being just slightly better in most cases won’t cut it. Also, others might simply publish even better content and ‘reset’ the cycle.
For example, let’s say the target keyword is “best digital marketing tools”. The first page of Google SERP might display pages/sites discussing 10 to 30 different digital marketing tools. If, for instance, you publish another “top 10” or “top 20” content, in most cases it’s going to be really difficult to rank. You’d need to create a really big guide covering, for example, 50+ tools or a really, really good content.
With that being said, if you can find a different angle to cover the keyword, go for it. Being different usually will translate to a higher chance of getting this content shared and linked (which are important ranking factors).
Step 5: Content Creation Plan
The core of SEO is content, period. This is even more true with how Google’s algorithm is getting better in recognizing content quality and relevance.
That is, there’s no shortcut in getting SEO results besides actually publishing high-quality content that is relevant and valuable for the target audience. So, creating a content marketing plan will significantly help in your whole SEO campaign.
From the previous steps, we have gathered all the necessary data to create a proper content plan, and here is how we can create a content plan:
- Decide upfront who is going to be responsible for the content creation process for each content (i.e. if you have a content writer or several different ones)
- Check your target keywords list, and expand them into a topic (or a working title)
- Decide where you are going to distribute the content (i.e. which channel):
- Your blog
- Guest post on other sites
- Medium.com or other similar sites
- YouTube or other video streaming platforms
- Email newsletter
- List when you are going to publish the content (and how frequent, if it’s a repeated/serial content)
- Create a working editorial calendar by listing:
- Content publication date
- PIC (creator/author)
- Working title
- The objective of the content
- Distribution channel(s)
- Monitor and evaluate the content marketing plan when it’s executed. Review elements such as:
- Whether the content is performing well according to the content objective(s), SEO goals, and overall marketing objectives.
- The tone of the content, the overall quality, and whether the content is better than the ranking competitors
- The execution of the content marketing plan and the editorial calendar
If necessary, adjust the content strategy based on the evaluation, and especially whether the content’s SEO performance is up to expectation. It’s important to remember that SEO content in 2020 is no longer about keyword optimization: include your target keywords naturally, but focus on publishing relevant, valuable content for your target audience.
Step 6: Link Building in 2020
As we have established at the start of this guide, nowadays the quality of the incoming backlinks is significantly more important than quantity.
A backlink’s quality is, in general, directly related to the authority of the source website. You can use various tools (free and paid) like Moz’s Domain Authority checker, among others to check for site authority.
The secret in getting high-quality backlinks, however, is the quality of your content. If your content is good and contains useful information, someone will link you sooner or later. On the other hand, no tactics can help low-quality content to get backlinks (at least, legally).
So, the tactics we’ll list below are just means to amplify the performance of high-quality content:
- Include something linkable in your content (the ‘link hook’)
The most common reason for adding an outbound link is to back-up any information mentioned in our content or to provide indirectly related information to our content that is too long to discuss. For example, in this SEO content, we might need to cite another page that discusses topics like “backlinks” or “ranking factors”.
Another common reason is to add data references to give the information presented in the content with some authority. For example, when we claim that 10% of the total population are babies (just an example), we can link a source that provided similar (original) claims.
With that being said, we can include these types of data in our content, the link hook, such as:
- Data roundup, like this, can generate a lot of backlinks when properly done.
- Original information/data like an original research report, case study, datasheet, etc. are always very valuable
- Visually-pleasing assets like infographics, images, and beautiful photos are often linked. Optimize these images properly so Google can properly index them.
- Unique content (how-to guides, actionable tips) can often attract backlinks.
- Content promotion to get website traffic and backlinks
We have mentioned how the quality of your content is very important in generating backlinks. However, no matter how good your content is, it won’t bring any value when nobody knows about it.
Content promotion is just as, if not even more important than the content creation process with two-fold benefits.
- Getting more organic traffic to your website (which is the main focus of this guide)
- Getting more backlinks in the process. This, in turn, will improve our ranking on the SERP and further. generate more traffic to the website.
Promote your content using all the possible channels, and always aim to get backlinks/inbound links in every possible opportunity. Building relationships with business partners, influencers, press, and relevant websites are very important here.
Also, the good news is that you don’t really need to be too aggressive in building your backlinks. In fact, getting too many links too fast can get you penalized. In general, you ‘only’ need to get 2-5 high-quality backlinks for each page per month.
Step 7: Website Optimization
There are three core aspects of achieving SEO success:
- The first is to make sure your content is valuable and relevant for your human audience—as mentioned above—.
- The second is to make sure your site performed just as intended (optimal user experience). User experience metrics like dwell time and bounce rate are now accounted as ranking factors
- The third is to make sure Google can properly crawl and index your site. Not indexed means not ranked, period.
This step is about optimizing your site for the second and third aspects (with the first aspect already covered in the previous steps). On-site optimization is a very deep subject on its own, and we won’t give it much justice discussing it here. Yet, here are some of the important factors to consider:
- Your site’s loading speed. More than 50% of visitors will bounce from a website if it loads in more than 3 seconds.
- Mobile-responsiveness of your site. You can use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool to check your site’s current condition.
- You can follow this guide to make sure your site is indexed quickly and properly by Google.
- Implement structured data markup properly. This will allow your site to be viable for featured snippets, and also provide Google with more information to properly index your site.
- Optimize the website’s interface (navigation menus, layout, etc.) to maximize dwell time.
- Optimize your content’s structure, including images and videos.
- Test everything regularly on as many different devices as possible.
Step 8: Evaluation and Continuous Optimization
This last (but not least) step is to ensure there’s a system in place to help us monitor and evaluate our SEO progress.
This is important since SEO is a long-term game where we would generally need to spend 6 to 18 months before we can see any significant results.
Schedule a regular evaluation of your SEO progress, and re-optimize your content according to its performance.
To reiterate, the goal of your SEO activity shouldn’t be ranking on Google’s SERP, but to get more website traffic to achieve other objectives like getting more brand awareness or generating more leads.
As we can see from the guide above, however, SEO is not a secret tactic to ‘cheat’ the search engine algorithm, but to align our site’s and content with Google’s mission to provide more reliable and relevant information for the target audience. If you need help with growing your organic traffic, hire a professional SEO expert to work on your on and off-site optimization.
June 6, 2020