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Content Strategy

The Content Optimization Bible: Comprehensive 22 Point Guide

By June 24, 2022No Comments

Wanna know a secret? 

Content optimization is where the money’s at. 

If you’ve been publishing content regularly and promoting it to make sure it gets in front of your target audience, you’re likely getting some results – at least, that is, if you’re following a solid content strategy.

But soon enough, every content marketing program reaches diminishing marginal utility in solely publishing new content. The smartest content marketers, at some point, need to look at old content and ask one of two questions:

  • How can I increase traffic to underperforming content?
  • How can I increase conversions to content that is driving a lot of traffic?

In both of these questions, what we’re really asking is, “how can I squeeze more value out of the content I’ve already produced?”

In this essay, I’ll walk through content optimization from all angles. We’ll cover:

  • What is content optimization?
  • Organic traffic optimization: how to increase rankings and save falling traffic
  • Blog conversion optimization: how to increase conversions from high traffic content
  • How to measure content performance and detect optimization opportunities
  • Content optimization software: tools to help you increase traffic and conversions

Look at this as the ultimate guide to squeezing more juice out of your existing content. 

What is Content Optimization?

Content optimization is the process of improving the performance of your content. 

That’s the simple definition, but it’s kind of generic isn’t it? 

After all, “optimization,” in general, is a generic concept. It requires taking measurement of your results and establishing a baseline, and then trying different interventions to improve key performance indicators.

Optimization, in search (as in, search engine optimization), seeks to take baseline rankings and improve your position among competing pages in the search results pages. 

Optimization, in website conversion rate optimization, seeks to establish a baseline conversion rate and increase the proportion of users taking a desired action (e.g. signing up for a demo). 

Optimization, in sleep or fitness, may measure various metrics like REM sleep or time in bed, and you optimize that number by increasing or decreasing it depending on your goal. 

So when you ask someone what “content optimization” means to them, you may get a bunch of different answers:

  • Some content marketers may simply mean updating content to improve the content quality, subjectively and qualitatively 
  • SEO folks may mean increasing rankings to existing content or click through rates from SERPs
  • Of course, a conversion optimizer would mean improving the proportion of people signing up for an ebook, demo, or freemium signup on your website. 

I’m fine with the generation content optimization definition, but to me specifically it means two things:

  • Increasing traffic to existing content (usually through SEO)
  • Increasing conversions to existing content (through CRO interventions)

We’ll use these two angles to map out the content optimization strategies through the rest of the article

How to measure content performance and detect optimization opportunities

First step in content optimization is content measurement. If you can’t establish baseline metrics, it’s difficult both to diagnose what’s wrong with the content as well as measure if your intervention actually improves it. 

Since we’re hinging our diagnosis on two things (traffic and conversion), there are a few ways we can identify opportunities:

  • Traffic
    • Keyword rankings and rank drops (SEO tools)
    • Organic traffic and traffic drops (Google Analytics)
  • Conversion
    • Underperforming blog posts and landing pages (Google Analytics)
    • Lead capture conversion analysis (CRM or lead capture tools)
    • Diminishing conversion rates (Google Analytics)

Measuring traffic and traffic drops

This section is going to get in the weeds a bit. We’ll dive into tools like Ahrefs to diagnose rank drops as well as Google Analytics and spreadsheets to audit, identify, and predict traffic drops. 

Rank traffic and rank drops (SEO tools)

The easiest way to find content optimization opportunities is to look at your SEO tool of choice and find pages that are almost ranking on page 1 for high value keywords. 

We use Ahrefs, typically, so I’ll use that as a way to walk through the method. You could use other tools, too, like Semrush. 

To start, just enter your domain into the general Site Explorer tool. Click on “organic keywords,” and you’ll get a list of all the keywords your domain ranks for. 

Now we need to filter down for optimization opportunities. Use the “position” filter to select only those in a given range. Here, I use between position 6 and 30. The logic is that beyond 30 is probably a super competitive keyword or an intent mismatch, but if something is within the first 3 pages, I can usually resculpt a piece of content to rank page one. 

Then filter for your minimum traffic volume. My website goes after bottom funnel keywords, which are typically lower volume, so I set my minimum at 200 and I leave the maximum uncapped. Yours might look differently depending on your content strategy and goals however. 

This will now give you a list of keywords that you *almost* rank for – all above 200 monthly search volume and in positions 6-30. 

Just a quick look shows me at least 3 content optimization opportunities:

  • Mailerlite vs Mailchimp (450 MSV)
  • Best content marketing agencies (200 MSV)
  • AI copywriting (800 MSV)

These would all be nice things for my website to rank for. I’ll use these as examples when I walk through content optimization strategies to actually boost rankings. 

Another way to identify content optimization opportunities with Ahrefs is to track rankings over time and identify those that have lost positions. 

My favorite way to do this is with their position tracking feature, because you can include keywords that you care about (this filters out the ones you may incidentally rank for). 

This gives you a quick snapshot in time. For example, I can see here my “copywriting software” article dropped from position 1 to 6. This doesn’t necessarily mean I need to optimize it – it could just be a random fluctuation. But it does put the blog post on my radar to keep an eye on so I can defensively hold onto my #1 ranking. 

You can also use Ahrefs’ keyword movements tool (in “Site Explorer”) to identify positions you’ve either dropped in or lost entirely. 

The broad view in this tool shows you all keyword movements, both positive and negative:

I can already see that, while it has low volume, I should look into optimizing “content marketing courses,” as that’s a high business value keyword that dropped from page one to page two. 

Better yet, you can see keywords you’ve lost entirely. This usually means that the blog post you wrote was a big enough mismatch for the intent of the keyword that it’s worth creating an entirely new piece of content to hit that keyword. 

For example, my “podcasting hosting” article is a very general overview of podcasting hosting platforms. It ranked for the keyword “buzzsprout vs podbean,” which is a very specific comparison of two podcasting hosting tools. If I wanted to rank for that keyword, it would be best for me to simply create an entirely new post with that search intent. 

Organic traffic and traffic drops (Google Analytics)

Rankings are a leading indicator when it comes to content optimization opportunities, and they fluctuate weekly and sometimes daily. 

So while they’re good for getting a temperature check, using Google Analytics is a more robust tool to identify falling traffic.

This method is all about time series analysis. We’ll use it to identify “content decay,” which looks like this:

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Specifically, we’ll hone in on organic traffic, since other forms of traffic like direct and social can be heavily influenced by short term virality and traffic spikes. 

Open up Google Analytics and look at Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Set your Secondary Dimension as “Default Channel Grouping,” and set up a filter for only “Organic” traffic:

Now pull back your time window to the last 3-6 months, depending on the timeline of the trends you’d like to explore:

On the time filter, also select “compare to previous period.” 

If you don’t have a ton of blog posts published, it may be easy enough simply to eyeball the data from Google Analytics. For example, I can see a clear trend with this “email newsletter software” blog post. I’ve been dropping traffic the last six months:

Otherwise, you can export this data to a CSV file and bring it over to Excel or Google Sheets. 

This allows you to calculate the delta between the two values in your spreadsheet and highlight opportunities. You’ll need to create a new column to percentage change between the two date ranges, then simply create a conditional formatting rule for those that are less than 0 (AKA those that have lost traffic over time).

This will highlight and identify all the pages that have lost traffic over your given time range. It’s the same data that you’d be able to access in Google Analytics, but sometimes it’s easier to view and filter things if you’re working in a spreadsheet.

Measuring conversion rates and low performing pages

The other side to the content optimization equation involves finding pages that do already have a ton of traffic, but they’re converting lower than the average blog post or have falling conversion rates over time. 

I’ve got three techniques for you here. 

Underperforming blog posts and landing pages (Google Analytics)

The easiest way to identify conversion rate optimization opportunities is to map out the average conversion rate of your blog posts and find those that are underperforming in relation to the average. 

Again, we’re going to pop into Google Analytics traffic reports. This time, though, go to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages. Stretch your time window out to 6-12 months to ensure proper sample size:

If you have a URL structure that filters exclusively for your blog traffic, use that. Ours is /blog/, but yours might be a subdomain like blog.website.com:

Choose your goal (I like “All Goals” because then you can further segment down later on):

Finally, click on the fourth icon here (it’s on the right side of the screen above the table view in Google Analytics):

Now select “Goal Conversion Rate” in the second column. This will give you a comparison view that shows you each blog post’s deviation from the average conversion rate across all pages included:

You should be able to quickly identify those that are converting below average and flag them as potential optimization opportunities. This view is also already sorted by the highest to lowest traffic pages, so you can prioritize those with the highest impact and reach. 

Lead capture conversion analysis (CRM or lead capture tools)

Google Analytics is great at identifying performance on a last click basis. You can also do a first click attribution model in the model comparison tool:

This is sufficient for most businesses, but especially for B2B companies, you may want something more intricate. This is especially true if you want to attribute pipeline, revenue, high fit leads, or any other metric that isn’t captured by a generic conversion event. 

This sort of data orchestration is outside the scope of this article and may warrant a full course. But there are now tools that help you connect the dots. 

HubSpot is one of them, particularly if you’re using the full product suite. 

Like Google Analytics, you can track conversions generically. But you can also view past website behavior of your leads and determine which, if any, blog posts assisted in their conversion. 

At a high level, you can also view your forms by their campaign theme to see which offers are the highest converting:

You can then click in and see which pages are driving the most conversion and highest conversion rates for that particular offer.

I also use OptinMonster and you can see the same page-by-page data in the tool:

They also have a great split testing feature:

Finally, they offer revenue integrations as well (though I haven’t set it up):

Diminishing conversion rates (Google Analytics)

There’s a phenomenon in marketing known as the “law of shitty click through rates,” or tactic fatigue.

Basically, the novelty effect of any offer or action over time will diminish, resulting in a regression to the mean

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That’s why constant experimentation and improvement is so crucial. What worked yesterday might not work as well tomorrow.

You can find diminishing conversion rates quite easily in Google Analytics by doing a time series comparison. 

Basically, find your landing page conversion rates just like we did above, but add a lookback period for comparison. 

Here, you’re simply looking for pages that exhibit a lower conversion rate in the current time period compared to the past:

Organic content optimization strategies: TK ways to increase traffic and rankings

The next two sections will cover concrete strategies to both boost traffic as well as conversions.

I’ll cover 6 ways to optimize content for rankings and traffic here:

  1. Optimize or alter content based on search intent
  2. Improve on-page SEO using content optimization software
  3. Update outdated images, links, and citations
  4. Internal linking and website architecture optimization
  5. Bolstering your content with expertise and thought leadership
  6. The content “relaunch”

1. Optimize or alter content based on search intent

The first diagnosis I look for in content optimization is a search intent mismatch.

Search intent is basically the content expectations of the person who searches for their query. Many will break down search intent into four categories:

  • Informational intent
  • Navigational intent
  • Transactional intent
  • Commercial investigation

I look at it more simply: does your content answer the implied question in the organic search query. Getting on the first page is less trying to game an algorithm, and more trying to genuinely help people who are looking for answers. 

You can do a quick SERP analysis to answer this. 

Imagine you want to rank for the keyword “live chat software.” You create “the benefits of live chat software.” But the SERPs look like this:

Your best bet is to resculpt the article to match that intent, which is clearly a listicle of the top live chat software. 

Sometimes, the primary keyword / target keyword you wanted to rank for isn’t viable, but your piece is almost ranking for a secondary keyword or long-tail keywords. 

It may be prudent to rewrite the piece to rank for the secondary keyword depending on its value and search volume (a good keyword research tool can help you out here). 

Unfortunately, I know of no tools that can perfectly predict search intent, so a lot of this work is manual (and that’s a good thing)

2. Improve on-page SEO using content optimization software

If the piece matches the search intent, the next thing I look to do is optimize on-page SEO and copywriting using content optimization software. 

Tools like Clearscope and Surfer will give you a content outline with recommendations for keywords, word count, and readability score based on what is currently ranking for that keyword. 

For example, my piece on Jasper AI alternatives could probably use some content optimization work. The score is 68/100, and the higher that score is, the more likely it is to rank (hint: this also helps you match search intent for the keyword).

Using these tools is easy AF. They give you clear recommendations for keywords and topics to include:

Note: even if you hit a perfect Surfer or Clearscope score, you should go back and audit these at later dates. Search intent changes, and you may find your once great score fades over time.

Other techniques to improve on-page SEO include optimizing title tags (page title), meta descriptions, alt tags, meta tags, etc. These things are typically marginal, though. Bigger changes include the structure of the content and HTML, like how you are dividing your piece into subheaders / subheadings, or perhaps even sculpting the piece to rank for featured snippets.

All good practices to make sure your piece is SEO-friendly, though unlikely to move the needle in a huge way. 

Many times, content is simply outdated. Times change, new research emerges, and sites you link to go out of business and become broken links.

Some of this can be found by doing a broken link analysis using Screaming Frog.

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Much of it, however, will be done using manual review and finding links, images, and other assets that are no longer relevant. 

Best case: you have your own unique images and research you can use to replace old and outdated links. Maybe even through some infographics in the mix. These things also help with social shares by the way.

Second best: update links to co-marketing partners to invoke reciprocity and get more links from them. 

4. Internal linking and website architecture optimization

Internal linking is such low hanging fruit that it should be table stakes. Website architecture optimization requires a bit more planning.

For internal links, you can use tools like Ahrefs to audit your internal link structure:

This shows me already that my piece on “free webinar platforms” has only one internal link, so I can easily add more to that one. 

I also like using Google search to see where on my blog I can include links to a piece I want to boost rankings for. 

Let’s say I want to rank for “free webinar software.” I can search site:alexbirkett.com “webinar” to see where I mention the word “webinar” on my website:

I should mention, also, that external link building is almost always beneficial in helping content rank. 

5. Bolstering your content with expertise and thought leadership

Unfortunately, a lot of SEO-driven content is boring AF nowadays. It’s written by non-experts and is simply a rehash of other stuff that ranks on Google. 

Want to stand out? Add unique points of view, thought leadership, and expert quotes.

Even with bottom of the funnel content, you can add product reviews from customers, testimonials, or expert reviews. 

Another benefit of using expert quotes is that, upon a content relaunch, you can leverage their audiences for increased distribution. Plus, it makes the content better and more useful for readers. You should be including these things, anyway. 

6. The content “relaunch”

Improve your on-page SEO, add some internal links and backlinks, and match search intent. Then what? Relaunch! 

Treat it like you published it for the first time. Go down your content promotion checklist and create some new fanfare. 

Brian Dean made this tactic famous. 

The thing you need to realize is most people haven’t read your content. Relaunching a piece as if it were new gives all these new readers a chance to discover the article. Even your biggest followers and fans will rarely notice that something is a relaunched version of an older piece. 

Blog conversion optimization: 5 ways to drive more conversions from existing content

Now let’s turn to the conversion rate optimization side of things. Here are 5 ways to drive more conversions from high traffic content:

  1. Researching UX issues and uncovering voice of customer insights
  2. Creating new offers to match content intent and buyer’s journey
  3. A/B testing messaging copy
  4. Improving salience and persuasive techniques in CTAs
  5. Lowering friction and creating frictionless signup experiences

1. Researching UX issues and uncovering voice of customer insights

There aren’t really any silver bullets when it comes to optimization. Sure, there are best practices, but the best way to increase conversion rates is to uncover what customers actually want and what is blocking them from achieving it.

We call this “conversion research.” Includes various methodologies, both qualitative and quantitative:

  • Analytics analysis (covered above)
  • User testing
  • Surveys
  • Message testing
  • Customer interviews
  • On-site polls
  • Heat maps

My goal when conducting conversion research for content marketing is twofold:

  1. Uncover hidden pain points and desires
  2. Identify UX bottlenecks on the blog or website

Identifying UX bottlenecks is the straightforward part. Run a few user tests and you’ll uncover 90%+ of problems. Set up some session replays and fix stuff as it comes in. Most issues come from form fields – either there are too many, they’re broken, or they aren’t salient enough.

Uncovering hidden pain points and desires is a full time job. What you’re looking for is “voice of customer” insights – the exact words people use to describe their problems, goals, and wishes. 

I use blog subscriber surveys, customer interviews, and on-site polls to tease this stuff out. And once I discover these things, I use the insights to form new content offers, write new content that is higher intent, and match the language of the offers to the language a customer uses. 

2. Creating new offers to match content intent and buyer’s journey

The thing that matters most in converting blog readers is matching the intent of the offer to the intent of the blog post.

Top of funnel content? Probably don’t have “get a demo” as your CTA. 

Bottom funnel content? Should probably go for the sale. 

Some of this stuff is obvious and can be changed at a glance. Some of it, however, needs testing and tweaking. One way I like to find good offer ideas is to look at what keywords my content ranks for. 

In this example, there are many potential offer ideas, one of which is a guide to “A/B testing analysis.” 

You could create a net new offer for this if you have high confidence in it, or you could just change the messaging and copy on an existing offer that is similar in nature. 

Another way to find offer ideas is to place on-site polls on your website and ask, “what is still unclear about this topic?” or “what information would you like us to create on this topic?” or “what’s your biggest challenge with [topic]?” 

Comb through the responses and you’ll likely find some gold. 

3. A/B testing messaging copy

Sometimes you don’t need to create an entirely new ebook, offer, whitepaper, or webinar. Often it’s enough simply to change the wording of your offer. 

You can easily run A/B tests with most lead capture tools nowadays, and if not, you can set up Google Optimize for free. Running copy tests is super easy. 

CXL, for example, has a unique email newsletter where they have growth case studies from their own internal efforts. Popup one is here:

The exact same offer can be reworded (and can incorporate voice of customer insights). Popup number two here:

Copy and messaging is a high leverage action you can take to drive more interest, attention, and conversions. 

4. Improving salience and persuasive techniques in CTAs

One of the easiest ways to drive more conversions is to include more CTAs and make them more prominent. 

Lots of blogs just have a CTA at the bottom of their blog posts, which, if you look at scroll depth data, few people actually reach. This is fine. Brian Massey calls it a “dripping pan” CTA since it catches the few drops of visitors that reach that point in the page.

But, generally, the more CTAs you have, the better. And the more visible and prominent they are, even better. Check out HubSpot’s author bio CTA:

They also have a text CTA in the intro to the blog post. 

When in doubt, look at how affiliate bloggers are using CTAs since they are directly incentivized to convert at the highest possible level.

It’s not just the number of CTAs, though – it’s also how noticeable and persuasive they are.

Andy Crestodina wrote about the 3 Ps that affect form conversion rates, the first one being “prominence.” 

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Constantly look for and test creative ways to make your offers and forms stand out. There’s clearly a point of diminishing returns where you start harming the user experience (just look at neil patel’s website). But that threshold is much further out than most content marketers would believe. 

5. Lowering friction and creating frictionless signup experiences

There are two ways to influence behavior:

  • Increase motivation
  • Decrease friction

The above tips focused on increasing motivation – i.e. making readers want to sign up for your offers or product. 

You can also decrease the friction to doing so. Basically, this means making it easier to sign up. Literally endless ways to do this:

  • Offer Google authentication for your product or email list
  • Allow readers to directly sign up and receive the “templates” in your blog post
  • Remove form fields
  • Add privacy policies or guarantees
  • Add trust symbols
  • Make CTA obvious and prominent

Finding where in your user experience it would be most viable to reduce friction is the key. Do this through user tests, customer interviews, and good old fashioned experimentation.

Content optimization software: 6 content optimization tools to help you increase traffic and conversions

Content optimization software is a growing product category. Some tools help you plan your content, some help optimize on-page SEO. Some help increase conversions, and some help find user experience problems. I’ll cover 6 of my favorite ones that I use all the time.

  1. Clearscope
  2. Surfer
  3. Jasper
  4. Optinmonster
  5. Wunderkind
  6. HotJar

1. Clearscope

Clearscope is a content optimization software that helps you optimize your on-page copy and SEO. 

It reverse engineers the ranking factors of the top few pages of the SERPs and then gives you recommendations to match the search intent of that query.

I use it for every post I write. See this report for my recent post on “content marketing metrics

It gives you a high level score (aim for A or above), word count, readability, and keywords ranked by importance. I’m currently using it to write this very piece:

Clearscope also audits and identifies optimization opportunities so you can proactively update old pieces. Pricing is a bit high, but the tool is amazing. 

2. Surfer

Surfer is also a content optimization software. A bit more affordable than Clearscope, but largely the same thing. 

Three main differences:

  • Surfer creates mini content briefs for you to guide production
  • Their scoring is a little more difficult / challenging to attain
  • They include images and other assets in the content score. 

Here’s my score so far for this piece of content:

I love both Clearscope and Surfer. Try them both and see what you like better. 

3. Jasper

Jasper is an AI copywriting tool that helps generate text as well as rewrite content.

It’s a little different than the other content optimization tools, but I like using it for optimization for a few reasons:

  • It helps me add value and create new content on top of what I’ve already written.
  • It helps me create briefs for writers quickly.
  • It helps me rewrite paragraphs and paraphrase things with SEO in mind.

Honestly, AI copywriting tools are getting pretty good today. If you’re updating a few hundred blog posts, this will help you speed up the process (it…optimizes the optimization process!). 

Plus, they have a direct API integration with Surfer SEO. 

4. Optinmonster

OptinMonster is my favorite all-purpose lead capture tool. 

A platform like HubSpot gives you lead capture popups and forms, but they suck when it comes to custom design and placement. OptinMonster is clunkier but it is more powerful and flexible. 

I use it for the popups on my personal website as well as on the Omniscient website. 

There are honestly tons of popup tools out there, though. Other alternatives:

  • Unbounce
  • Sumo
  • Privvy

Also, most marketing automation tools have their own popup forms now (like ConvertKit and ActiveCampaign).

5. Wunderkind

Wunderkind is the king, the pinnacle of lead capture technology. They invented exit intent technology, and they’ve only innovated further from there. 

While they’re much more expensive than the other options, the platform is super powerful and it comes with managed services and experimentation. You can rest easy and let them take care of your design, implementation, and testing, while you focus on creating and optimizing content and creating new offers. 

I’ve never been disappointed working with Wunderkind. If you have the budget, it’s incredible (and they have other tools like email automation and triggered emails so you can actually drive revenue with your email signups).

6. HotJar

HotJar is my favorite full-suite conversion and UX research tool. 

It includes tons of features like:

  • Form field analytics
  • Session replays
  • On-site polls
  • Surveys
  • Heatmaps

It’s easy to use, affordable, and is a perfect compliment to whatever quantitative digital analytics tool you’re using. The product team can use it for qualitative research as well. Great product and team. 

Conclusion

While content creation is important, digital marketing professionals systematically underindex on content optimization.

In many cases, it’s low hanging fruit. Optimizing content helps you learn more about your visitors. It helps you squeeze more ROI from your efforts. 

It’s not just trying game search engine results pages. It’s also finding out what your customers actually care about and delivering that to them via your content and offers you create.

Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.