Three smart content strategies for boosting search performa…


We all know that search engines reward sites with valuable content that most effectively answers searchers’ questions. But that doesn’t always mean you have to create NEW content.

Here are three ways you can boost your website’s search visibility by working with the content that’s already there.

1. Content specialisation

Websites that are very strongly focused around a single theme or topic tend to perform better in search. Which is why content specialisation is on the rise as a way of increasing search performance.

Probably the most high profile example of the benefits of this trend is About.com. In its prime, About.com was a huge repository for information on virtually any topic you could be curious about. For many years it was one of the biggest sites on the internet.

By 2013 the site’s search visibility was huge. But then it experienced a slow death of week-over-week declines as the chart below shows.

about.com search visibility
About.com search visibility over time

So what did About.com do?

Over time the owners split the existing domain into nine separate specialised domains (and then into even more smaller specialised domains). They include, for example, the likes of Verywellfit (about eating and exercising), Verywellmind (about psychology and mental health), the balance (about money management), the balance careers (about career advancement) Lifewire (about using technology) and many others all under the umbrella brand DotDash.com.

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Importantly the new sites used pretty much the same content as before, with a new layout so the pages look different with a different user experience. And by early this year this content specialisation strategy had meant that the combined visibility of the individual websites site was not far from About.com’s visibility four years ago (see below).

about.com search visibility after specialisation
About.com search visibility after splitting domain into nine specialisations

So, a content specialisation strategy that means your website is tightly focused around a key theme can really work.

In fact About.com is part of a trend towards ‘domain splitting’ which involves broad multi-topic websites separating into smaller specialist sites.

Obviously it can work. But you need to be careful. The risk with domain splitting is that you are jettisoning the equity you have invested in building the original brand….promoting it, marketing it etc. You might need to do that all over again if you ditch the original brand and try to create several news ones.

2. Content updates

The idea here is that you should be constantly looking to improve the existing content on your site. Make it more current and up to date. The world is always changing so there may be new insights or knowledge you can bring to a piece of content. Or you can simply improve it by making it clearer or more comprehensive.

This sounds pretty straightforward right? But it’s amazing how many website owners don’t bother to review and improve their existing content. One of the main reasons is that content writers today aren’t always paid to tweak existing content. They are paid to write new articles and content.

Consider the example of our own site, Searchmetrics.com, on which we host a glossary of search and content marketing terminology. A little while ago we undertook a major project to review all the content in the glossary and improve it with longer text, more up-to-date and clearer explanations etc. As you can see in the chart below, just making those changes has driven a pretty significant improvement in our search visibility.

visibility of searchmetrics.com after content update
Visibility of searchmetrics.com after content update

Importantly, refreshing content like this not only helps to keep websites up-to-date, it can also deliver a real ranking boost – which can lead to more traffic and conversions.

3. Deleting content

If you have pages on your site that are performing poorly and generating very little traffic, the poor user signals from these pages can potentially drag down the performance of your entire domain.

However, if you delete ‘bad’ content, Google no longer has to invest time in crawling and evaluating it, and can focus on the content that’s left that is performing better -with higher traffic rates and more positive user signals. Believe it or not, removing content in this way can actually lead to a search performance boost.

For example, German travel and holiday site, Urlaubsguru.de, deleted 95% of the content from the domain. It made only small adjustments and updates to existing content such as including larger images and slightly longer text but no significant changes. Over a two-year period, this produced a steadily climbing improvement in search performance (see chart below).

Search visibility of Urlaubsguru de after content deletion
Search visibility of Urlaubsguru.de after content deletion

The first thing people ask about a strategy like this is “how do you decide which content to delete?”

The answer is to go through a structured process. First, identify all the pages that have had no (or minimal) traffic in the last 18 months (look back 18 months rather than 12 months because that way you don’t mistakenly pick out seasonal pages that get high traffic at a specific time of the year – such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day gifts).

Next, look through the URLs on your list and take out the ones that may not be receiving traffic because they aren’t ranking well – you can try to optimise the pages to see if that makes a difference.

The remaining pages can be deleted – while remembering to include redirects to other pages if they have important backlinks coming into them. In the same way that it’s often a good strategy to focus on improving sales from existing customers rather than always focusing on winning new customers, these examples show that you can often make huge strides in improving your website’s search performance, simply by reviewing and working with the content you already have.

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