SEO after Right-Column’s End: Analyzing & Optimizing Pages to Fill Potential Traffic Gaps

An SEO plan to get your program back on track and mitigate losses you might experience from paid search.



March 1, 2016


Prior to AdWords’ right-column shutting down, you could ignore or limit your SEO efforts and buy traffic to the pages that mattered the most to you. But now those query are getting more competitive and expensive. In a world with less buyable search real estate, SEO is your best alternative to spending more or accepting less traffic from search.

Whether you’ve been ignoring SEO or just want to get more from it, you can use the plan below to energize your existing efforts and grab some quick wins.

Some Ideas for Getting SEO (Re)Started

The plan below will help you jumpstart your SEO efforts. It focuses on analyzing your pages that are ranking below-fold on Page 1 of the SERPs. This position is often the most competitive, but the gains here are worth the effort if you’re targeting the right keywords.

Note: I’m not writing about keywords in positions 1-4 because there is not a lot of action that I can advise without seeing a page. At that rank range, it’s often a “battle of inches” and you need to be sure you’re not hurting your rankings as you try to improve them.

Step 1: Assess Your Keyword Opportunities

  • Collect your organic target keywords and your best Google Ads keywords

  • Identify the organic keywords where you rank below-fold on page 1.

  • Now look at the organic search conversion rates of the pages you are optimizing for those keywords.

  • Do projections of page traffic increases and conversion increases if you improve your rankings

  • Filter the list of pages so that pages with the same ranking are together. Then sort for the pages with the highest potential growth.

Note: Analysis of SERPs typically shows position #1 gets ~25-30% of all clicks with positions 2-5 taking the next 40% (see chart). That means positions 6-10 are left to fight for 30% of organic traffic. The exact splits by position can vary a lot, but its a good starting point for estimating how much rank improvements will benefit you.

Chart showing percentage of clicks by position on search engine results pages.
Chart showing percentage of clicks by position on search engine results pages.

Step 2: Assess Your Competitors’ Pages

At these positions in the SERPs, you’re likely dealing with competitors that know a bit about SEO. More to the point, you’re going to need to do more than update a title tag to improve your rankings. Start with Competitor Analysis. Identify the competitor pages that are outranking you and collect the following information:

  1. What type of pages are you competing against? If you are using a sales page, but everyone else is offering a blog post or long-form content, then you may have a mismatch between query intent and your content.
  2. What does the competitor page have that you don’t? Assuming you found pages like yours with #1, you should then compare your content to your competitor. Are there any gaps you might have in your content? For example, your product page might be missing size or care/cleaning information that makes your competitor page more authoritative. If the pages feel equivalent in terms of content, then move on to #3.
  3. Internal Link Analysis: You want to know how many links within the competitor domain point to the page outranking you. With large sites, its often the internal links that give them the edge. You might not have enough pages to match their number, but strategically placing links in your navigation, blog posts, or your site footer can help you make up the difference.
  4. External Link Analysis: Look at how many sites and which sites are pointing to the competitor page. The key thing here is both the number of links and the authority of the linking sites. If a competitor has a high number of links from weak sites, then you may be able to beat them with a small number of high authority links.
  5. On-page SEO: I mentioned at the beginning of this section that things like title changes may not be enough to move the needle. That said, make sure to note the usage of your target keywords. What are they putting in titles and headings? How often is the keyword used in the page? You may not see any big opportunities here, but its possible that you’re getting beat on page relevance because you are not as explicitly mentioning the topic/keyword as much as your competitor.

If you’ve gone through all these steps, then you’ve done a solid competitor analysis. Now we turn to your pages.

Step 3: Self-Assessment

If you are ranking on Page 1, then you are either good or lucky. But to get to the top, you definitely need to be good. Lets assume you’re doing the core things like unique title tags, h1-n headings, and internal linking correctly. If that’s the case, then we can look at some more technical and external factors..

  • Page Speed: Page load times are a ranking factor. Especially for mobile search. You can use a CDN like Cloudflare to speed up the serving of pages, but you will still want to optimize image sizes, server calls, and the use of scripts to reduce page load time as much as possible. If your page is loading slower than a competitors, then take this as an action item for improving your rankings.
  • Security/SSL: Page encryption has become the norm with most browsers even showing if a page has insecure elements. If you’re site doesn’t have an SSL certificate, then go get one. If you do have SSL, then make sure you don’t have mixed content.
  • 404s/Bad Links: Is your page as accessible as you think? It’s very possible that you are being outranked because some links you’ve depended on have gone down. Make sure that both internal and external links are working.
  • Page weight/bloat: This is very similar to Page Speed, but the emphasis here is on serving a high amount of content relative to code. Look for unnecessary scripts and CSS files. Also check that all page content is crawlable.
  • Links Analysis: You are going to do the exact same checks on your page that you do on Competitor pages. Make a spreadsheet with your numbers and your competitors, so you can compare their link profiles to yours. Be especially mindful of any bad links (e.g. .ru TLDs) you might have picked up.

At the end of this Step you’ve assessed all the non-content factors that can impact your rankings. Depending on what you’ve found, you are either going to have some technical SEO work to do or be looking to ramp up your link building program. You might also have found some content optimization opportunities.

Step 3: Make Your Plan & Get to Work

You have collected and analyzed a lot of data. Now we spin up a plan that uses your learnings.

  • Technical SEO: Fix any broken links to your content, improve page speed as much as you can, add an SSL certificate and/or replace any insecure assets on your page.
  • Links: See if it makes sense to add more internal links to your content. Run a link building campaign to get as close as you can to the link profile of your closest competitor. Remember to emphasize quality links over quantity. You should also try to have a variety of linking sites.

The SSL certificate should be pretty easy to get setup. But some of this work can take weeks or even months to complete depending on your resources. Work with your web developers to make a plan and build a timeline for Technical SEO fixes. I’d recommend fixing broken links first: they are relatively easy to fix and can benefit your entire site’s crawlability. After that work on Page Speed.

You can work your link building plan in parallel to the technical work. Just make sure you are not changing URLs on the site. I mostly recommend content marketing with links going to your target page, but link outreach and guest posting can work as well. Just make sure you are working with relevant, trustworthy sites.

Get Going!

If you’ve followed the steps in this post, then you have a good process for identifying keyword opportunities and developing a plan to take advantage of those opportunities. Now its up to you. Feel free to drop me a note if anything is unclear or if you come across something that you want some help with.

Photo: ripe by Jenny Downing is licensed under CC by 2.0

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