One of the cardinal rules of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is that things change.
The internet changes quickly. Competitors create content mirroring yours and so your content drives less traffic and fewer leads. Google changes its algorithm and your content performance suffers. You produce so much content that your top-performing content gets buried and stops producing as many results.
If any of these feels like your situation, then you’ve come to the right place.
Today I’m going to discuss how you can use Google Search Console data to improve your existing content’s SEO traffic. To do this, I’m leveraging the wisdom from the field, bringing you insights from some of the SEO and content industry’s brightest minds.
Why Improve Existing Content?
The content marketing world loves to talk about producing new content. This is no surprise — for over a decade we’ve educated clients and potential clients about the power of content marketing.
But, this need has decreased because so many companies are now producing a lot of content, and have been for a long time. Just check out our Lead Generation Statistics post to see how powerful content marketing can be.
Because companies are producing so much content, the marginal gain of producing more content no longer makes sense as a goal.
The reason is simple.
Once you’ve produced content around the core topics your ideal customers are searching for, your effort is almost always better spent maintaining and improving the content you’ve produced rather than producing net new content. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen, and experienced personally, that after a certain point producing new content is simply an exercise in maintaining, rather than growing, traffic.
The return diminishes, and eventually, your content budget gets cut because you’re no longer showing progress.
For this reason, improving existing content can and should take the forefront.
Optimizing Existing Content vs Creating New Content
The big decision content teams must make is the tradeoff between updating existing content versus creating new content. Unlearning the “create more content” mode of existing can be quite hard!
To help you out, ask these questions when deciding which one could be higher leverage for your specific situation:
- Have we been producing content historically?
- Do we have a list of important keywords to create content around, and if so have we created content around all or most of these?
- How has traffic to our content trended over the last six to twelve months?
Based on these questions, you should prioritize new content if you’ve not been producing content already, if that content hasn’t been around your main keywords (usually because of a lack of strategy), and if your existing content has not seen a decline or flattening of traffic. In this situation, creating more content is probably the right thing to do.
But, if you’ve been producing content for a while, you have content created around your most important keywords, and yet traffic is in decline, then this is a signal that you should update your existing content as well as, or maybe instead of, producing new content for a while.
This is precisely what Close.com has done over the last few months. According to this webinar from Clearscope where Head of Content Ryan Robinson presented, they have spent more than half of their time recently updating existing content and they’ve seen a 40%+ improvement in SEO traffic in that time.
So You’ve Decided to Update Your Content. What Now?
If you’ve used the above framework and realized that you should be updating content, how do you do that?
First, you should check out our SEO Content Updating Services where we can handle the content updating for you!
We’ve written about one process before, but we wanted to go deeper with some experts on how they use a free data-rich tool, Google Search Console, to find opportunities for updating as well as how to specifically go about doing it.
Here’s what they said.
How to Identify SEO Content to Update in Google Search Console
Using Search Console to identify keywords and pages with high impression counts but low clicks is a common use of Search Console data for content marketers.
Noak Kain from WorkWithNoah.com said this:
One of my favorite ways to use Google Search Console is to see which pages are getting a lot of impressions, but not a lot of clicks or pages that are ranking well, but have a low click-thru rate.
These pages present clear opportunities to either improve existing content or for tweaking the meta title or description to encourage more clicks from searchers.
Combining this with Google Analytics data, comparing traffic from the past three months with the same three months a year ago, will give you a clear view of the content that has lost the most traffic over time but still receives a lot of impressions.
Of course, one of the reasons why your content is getting less traffic may be that your rankings have decreased. You’re still getting impressions because people scroll down the search results or the number of searches for your queries is increasing, but the lower ranking keeps your content from driving as much traffic as it used to.
Common Reasons Why Your Content Stops Ranking
There are some common reasons why your content has stopped ranking.
According to Dhara Tuvar, Marketing Manager at Meetanshi, these include:
- Outdated Keywords – Loss of impressions even though average positions are intact.
- Outdated Content – Content is no longer relevant for the keywords.
- Increasing Competition – Loss of impressions along with average positions.
- Weak Internal Linking – There are few or no relevant pages linking to that content on your site.
- Keyword Cannibalization – Multiple pages on your site are competing for the same keywords.
To diagnose if the keywords are outdated, or if something more macro is leading to fewer searches, use Search Console or a tool like Semrush.
Let’s look at a keyword that is increasing in volume recently: “sell my house fast.” This is an example where impressions may be improving, but if clicks are not, something else is at play:
Here is an example of a keyword seeing a decline, because of macroeconomic headwinds. This is an example where increasing your impressions and traffic short term will be very difficult because the trend is going in the wrong direction:
Compare this to “content editing services,” which is pretty spiky but also consistent over the last year. If you’re gaining impressions but losing traffic, you have a relevancy and click-through problem, which points to a need to update the content:
Look for Impressions That Are Not Driving Clicks
To dig even deeper into a specific piece of content’s issues, type that specific URL in Search Console (by entering it into the box at the top) and then sort by queries with no clicks or declining clicks. This strategy may show opportunities to add those terms to your content to improve rankings (and therefore clicks), interlink related pieces of content and make those pieces more unique, or review the intent of the queries to make sure the content matches those.
Jess Joyce, SEO Consultant at https://jessjoyce.com, had this to say:
I usually take a look at what’s driving clicks currently and then in Search Console see what queries are showing impressions for that content but not clicks (or fewer clicks) and add those into the content or update the content to see how they can be included.
I use that as an indication that Google is looking to understand the content more but hasn’t been able to make that connection with what’s there.
Also, if that page is ranking for some of the same queries as other pages then Google may be trying to make that connection so I’ll try to take a look at ensuring that content is serving the search intent and goal.
Lastly, it’s nice to see which pages Google is thinking are connected by the queries so maybe they should be linked together internally.
As an example, here are keywords for a specific blog post here on EditorNinja that have hundreds of impressions, but no clicks in the last six months. We should update that piece of content to include these as well, and use them as an opportunity to link to other pages on the site that tackle these terms in depth.
Sometimes, though, you’re dealing with a conversion and click-through rate problem, not a ranking problem.
Lauren Walter, Search & Content Director for Online Optimism, had this to say:
You can also look to see which pages are driving impressions but have a lower click-through rate. This can indicate that you have an opportunity to get your page in front of users, but it’s not grabbing their attention or fulfilling their expectations for what they’re searching for.
These can also be valuable opportunities to update your page title or meta description, as well as some of the core content itself, to better fulfill search intent.
Add New Queries to Your Content
As mentioned above, adding new queries to your content can be a great way to reoptimize it around the piece’s main keyword or query.
Google uses a version of Latent Semantic Analysis, which is a Natural Language Processing technique, to determine how relevant a page is for a specific query. You improve your content by including more of the terms that Google expects to see on a page about that topic.
Here’s what Oliver Warnes from Web Industry Limited had to say about how he identifies these terms:
Your page is gaining impressions from the SERPs (Search Results Pages), but perhaps they aren’t choosing your page for the answer to their question. In other words, searchers would have to look hard to find your site on the search results and even if they see it they aren’t picking you.
You can use the question information to edit your content and make improvements over time. It’s a quick way to make your information more useful and target more visitors with answers to what they want to know.
In Search Console, you click on “Performance” and then find where it says “+new”.
Click that and then select “query” — from there you need to select “custom (regex)” from the dropdown.
You’ll want to cut and paste this query into it. What this does is match
any question your site is gaining impressions.
You’ll then be able to see a list of questions for which your site is appearing in the SERPS.
Note that you will need some historic information to make the most of this; it won’t work with brand-new websites.
I usually sort by impressions to instances where the site is ranking but there are no click-throughs. Using impressions like this ensures there is traffic worth optimizing for. Now you make those all-important traffic-targeting changes to your text, titles, meta, and images to accommodate those questions better than your article does now. It’s an efficient way of gaining more traffic and something would be worth doing regularly.
Kyle Rushton McGregor from Common Ground gave the same tip, but said he uses it this way:
I then take these queries and find opportunities to improve the answers — making them more succinct, adding bullet points, etc.
I then add a FAQ schema to the page too.
All this gives an instant boost to rankings, and will often mean many queries now appear as featured snippets.
Putting it more succinctly, Max Peters from Technical SEO Consulting said this:
Look for keywords that are getting impressions/clicks but aren’t included in the actual content.
Now take those keywords and add them to your piece in a way that searchers will find valuable.
Should You Update the Title or the Content or Create a New Piece of Content?
Sometimes the answer to “should I update this content or create a whole new piece?” isn’t straightforward.
Some smart content marketers, like Blake Smith, who does SEO consulting at https://blakesmithy.com, use Search Console to answer this question more effectively.
I like to use Search Console as a way to identify new content marketing opportunities.
I do this by using the “Queries” tab to check the keywords the site or page currently ranks for.
I then sort by impressions to see what keywords are getting the most impressions, but the least clicks.
This can tell me I need to either:
A) Update the meta title of that page to get a better click-through rate
B) Create a new piece of content that aligns with that specific keyword to better serve the user’s search intent.
What Blake means by the first statement is that if you’re ranking ok but not seeing many clicks, updating the title of the page alone can improve rankings and get more clicks by making the page seem more relevant to the specific main query.
Sometimes though, the piece that is written quite simply does not answer the query in the way the searcher wants. Maybe you have a Feature page around a query where the searcher wants to find a blog post. In that case, providing a blog post may be the better fit for the query and would improve both traffic and conversions.
In short: use the existing search results to inform what the search engines want to rank, then [produce] that.
Find Queries on Page 2
Another common way to use Search Console to optimize existing content to drive traffic is to find queries that rank on page 2, then work to get those onto page 1 — and even within the top 5 results, which is where the real traffic starts.
Roberto Torres from The Local Marketer said this:
We’ll look at opportunities where a page is ranking on page 2 for non-branded keywords.
We’ll find these pages by using GSC Performance Reports, enabling Average Position, then filtering positions greater than 8.1, and sort ascending.
This gives us the pages that are in position 9 and up (page 2ish), then we can click on the page to see what keywords it is ranking for.
Zero Search Queries Can Be a Big Win
The SEO world has long talked about “zero search queries,” which means queries that drive traffic but that traditional SEO tools say have no search volume.
This is where Search Console can come into play. In fact, I like to use Search Console with the Keywords Everywhere Chrome extension installed because you can see these “zero search” queries that actually have impressions, and therefore searches!
Lucian Viterale from www.lucianoviterale.com gave this tip:
I generally look for keywords that are being searched where my content appears on the second or third page but isn’t directly relevant to the search query. This usually tells me I have an opportunity to write a specific piece of content for that keyword. In most instances, my keyword research tools tell me the keyword has zero search volume so the only way to know it’s worth writing is by analyzing Google Search Console.
Don’t Be Afraid to Optimize Well Performing Pages Too
Finally, it’s all well and good to talk about finding queries on page 2 or adding relevant keywords to existing posts that aren’t performing well, but let’s not forget that there is still an opportunity with posts and pages that are still doing well!
Danielle Antosz, Senior Content Marketer at Close.com (mentioned earlier in the article), said this:
One of the simplest ways to increase organic traffic using GSC is to look at Performance > Search Results, then look at pages with the highest and lowest clicks, then prioritize those for updates.
At Close, we tend to look at the 25 top and bottom pages, but smaller sites could do 3 or 4 on each end. It might seem counterintuitive to do both the highest and lowest, but this helps you grab any low-hanging fruit by improving low-engagement pages and capitalize on well-performing pages by making them even better.
Need More Traffic from Your Existing SEO Content?
Here at EditorNinja, we specialize in editing content so it performs better. This includes SEO traffic.