This SEO Checklist = 48.7% More Organic Traffic [Case Study]

seo checklist banner imageThere’s an SEO checklist that I use for every client.

And it works.

Want proof?

Proven.com recently used this checklist to boost their organic traffic by 48.7%.

(In 3 weeks)

And in today’s post I’m going to show you exactly how they did it…step-by-step.

But First, A Quick Story…

A few weeks back Proven.com founder Sean Falconer reached out to me.

I had just sent out a newsletter to the Backlinko email list.

And this newsletter outlined my three favorite content marketing strategies for 2016.

newsletter email

Sean replied to that email and said:

Sean Falconer

“Dude. I’ve actually done all three of these. And my results have been nothing short of amazing. Take a look:

Sean Falconer
Sean Falconer

I was uber-impressed with Sean’s content marketing.

But I also noticed a few on-site SEO issues…

…issues that were holding him back from Google’s first page.

That’s when I had an idea:

brians idea screenshot

Sean’s reply:

seans reply

Keep reading to see what happened next.

Let’s See The Results From the SEO Checklist That Sean Used

Thanks to my checklist, Sean’s organic search engine traffic shot through the roof.

Proven.com saw a 48.7% increase in organic traffic…

…in just 3 weeks:

organic traffic increase in google analytics

But that was just the beginning…

Now that the checklist had time to do its thing, 6 weeks later, Sean’s organic traffic is now up 88.3%.

organic traffic increase in google analytics part 2

Now that you’ve seen how well this SEO checklist works, it’s time for me to walk you through the entire 7-step process.

Step #1: Delete “Dead Weight” Pages

Google recently said that a huge site with tons of pages can be bad for SEO.

To quote the Google rep (Gary Illyes):

Gary Illyes

“Narrow it down as much as you can. Don’t create low quality and no value add pages. It’s just not worth it because one thing is that we don’t necessarily want to index those pages. We think that it’s a waste of resources. The other thing is that you just won’t get quality traffic. If you don’t get quality traffic then why are you burning resources on it?

Gary Illyes
Gary Illyes

This is why I make sure that every page on my site is AWESOME.

In fact, Backlinko generates over 150k unique visitors per month…

…despite having only 33 posts:

published blog posts at backlinko

How is this possible?

It’s because I focus on 100% quality.

Despite the fact that this quality over quantity approach clearly works, I see A LOT of sites struggle with “Dead Weight” pages.

Dead Weight pages like:

  • WordPress category and tag pages
  • Outdated blog posts
  • Low-quality blog posts
  • Ecommerce product pages with zero sales
  • Archive pages
  • Thin content/boilerplate content
  • Old services pages

And as you just saw, Google said that these Dead Weight pages can hurt your SEO efforts.

OK, back to Sean…

In the case of Proven.com, their blog content was solid.

But they DID have a lot of dead weight pages.

In fact, their site had over 48,000 pages indexed in Google:

number of indexed pages in google

Because Proven.com is an online job board, they had a lot of old job listings hanging around:

old job posting

Not to mention profile pages for companies that hadn’t posted a job in months:

company profile page

Also, Proven’s search result pages were getting indexed…

indexed search result page

…which was creating Dead Weight pages by the thousands.

So I sent these pages over to Sean.

And Sean quickly deleted or redirected Proven.com’s Dead Weight pages:

implementing recommendations

In total, Sean deleted or redirected over 10,000 pages.

Now that Sean’s site was cleaned up, it was time to fix the pages that were left…

Step #2: Fix On-Site Issues and Errors

Next, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled Proven’s technical SEO issues.

Specifically I focused on fixing:

  • Duplicate or missing title tags
  • Duplicate description tags
  • Broken links
  • Images with missing alt text
  • Pages blocked by Robots.txt
  • 302 redirects that should be 301 redirects

Basically you’re looking for any technical issues that hurt user experience and SEO.

I used RavenTool’s site auditor to uncover issues with Proven.com.

Thankfully, we already deleted 10k pages. So there weren’t nearly as many pages to clean up.

(In fact, that’s one of the reasons you delete Dead Weight pages in step #1. It makes the rest of the process MUCH easier).

The only problems I found were:

A broken link here and there…

broken link error

…some missing alt text from a couple of sitewide images…

images missing alt text

…and a few duplicate title tags.

duplicate title tag

And Sean fixed all of these on-site issues within 24 hours.

all errors fixed

Errors=fixed.

Then it was time for the fun stuff πŸ™‚

Step #3: Optimize High-Priority Pages for On-Page SEO

A lot of people that run huge sites think:

“How can we possibly optimize thousands of pages? It would take months.”

So they don’t optimize any.

#facepalm

Fortunately, you don’t need to tweak every single page on your site.

Just pick your top 10 most important pages. And put all of your muscle behind those 10.

For example, I asked Sean to send me his 5-10 most important pages.

And Sean sent them over:

seans top priority pages

Some of Sean’s most important pages were blog posts, like this:

a blog post from the proven blog

Others were service pages, like his homepage:

proven homepage

Obviously, my recommendations were different for every page I worked on.

But in general, I applied the techniques from my massive guide to on-page SEO.

on page seo infographic

Sean’s content was already well optimized. So I only needed to make a few tweaks.

For example, let’s look at what I recommended for Sean’s post on questions to ask references.

a piece of content

First, I asked Sean to add his target keyword (“questions to ask references”) to the body of the article:

using target keyword in content

I also recommended that he sprinkle LSI keywords (like “business references”) into his content:

lsi keyword usage

Now that Sean’s content was keyword-optimized, it was time to move onto a NEW ranking factor that’s super important right now…

Step #4: Optimize for CTR

If you’re serious about crushing it with SEO in 2016, there are two skills you need to master:

Skill #1: Optimizing your organic click-through-rate (CTR)

Skill #2: I’ll cover this skill in the next step (step #5)

Let’s start with CTR.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Google uses CTR as a ranking signal.

Here’s a quote from a research paper published by Google:

ctr-seo

So:

How did I improve Sean’s CTR?

I used the techniques from this video:

To give you an idea of how I used the techniques from the video, let me walk you through an example…

Sean had a post on his blog called: 100+ Best Job Boards to Find Niche Talent.

proven blog post

Here’s what the page’s organic result looked like:

google listing

Not bad…but could be better.

Here’s exactly what I did to improve this listing’s CTR:

First, I looked at Adwords ads for keywords, like “job boards”:

And I noticed that most listed a specific number of job boards in their ads:

adwords with a number

(I also noticed that NONE of them used the term, “niche talent”).

So I recommended that Sean change his title tag to:

“100+ Job Boards For Job Seekers and Recruiters”

And his description tag to:

“Find the best job boards on the web all in one place. See our list of 100+ boards right here.”

Here’s what his Google result looks like today:

new google result

And now that page’s CTR for its target keyword is 4.88%…

64.1% higher than before.

average ctr

Pretty cool, huh?

Now that I helped turn Sean’s Google results into click magnets, it was time for the next step…

Step #5: Reduce Bounce Rate and Boost Dwell Time (User Experience Signals)

I’ve talked about this before:

Google pays VERY close attention to so-called “user experience signals”.

In other words, Google doesn’t want people to flee your site like its on fire.

On the other hand:

If people stick to your site like superglue, Google may give you a significant rankings boost.

The question is:

How can you optimize your site for user experience signals?

I cover everything you need to know in this video.

I recommend watching the entire video before reading on. Go ahead, I’ll wait πŸ˜€

Now that you’ve watched the video, here’s how I applied these strategies to Proven:

First, I asked Sean to pull his content above the fold.

How?

Well, Proven’s blog posts had a big gap between the site’s navigation and the post title:

space above a blog post

The top of your page is million-dollar real estate.

That’s why you want to avoid unnecessary space that pushes your content below the fold.

So I asked Sean to reduce that space by 50%.

Proven’s blog also had breadcrumbs navigation.

breadcrumbs navigation

Breadcrumbs navigation is OK for an ecommerce site. But it’s not necessary for a blog.

So I recommended that Sean get rid of it.

Proven’s blog posts also had massive images at the top of each post.

image usage in a blog post

These definitely looked cool…

…but they pushed Sean’s excellent content below the fold.

So I let Sean know that using smaller images significantly increases the amount of time people spend on your page.

Here’s an example from Backlinko:

example of image in content

And Sean changed his images to match this style:

example of image in content 2

Next, I made Sean’s blog post introductions “sticky”.

Your blog post introductions are HUGE.

Because the truth is this:

If you lose someone in your intro, you’ve lost them for good.

But if you hook someone with a compelling introduction…

…they’re MUCH more likely to stick around.

For example, I changed Sean’s introduction from this:

blog post introduction

To this:

new blog post introduction

What did I change exactly?

First, I cut out sentences that stated the obvious.

first sentence of content

And I formatted the content so that there were only 1-2 sentences per paragraph (this improves your content’s readability).

short paragraphs

These design and introduction improvements boosted Proven’s “Avg. Time On Page” by 12.2%:

google analytics avg time on page

Step #6: Boost Site Speed

Our recent study of 1 million Google search results found a significant correlation between site speed and rankings:

sitespeed and rankings

(Not to mention the fact that Google has said that they use page speed as a ranking signal).

So yes, site speed IS important for SEO.

That’s why I include sitespeed as step #6 of my SEO checklist.

Here’s exactly what I did for Proven.com:

First, I ran Proven.com through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool:

google pagespeed insights

Then I tested the site’s loading speed with GTMetrix.com.

Why did I use both?

Google’s tool only looks at your page’s HTML.

GTMetrix actually loads your page.

(That way you can see if server issues are slowing things down)

Overall, Sean’s site loaded pretty quickly.

The only problem was that his images weren’t well optimized.

website speed report before

Once he optimized his images (by manually resizing them and specifying image dimensions in his HTML), Sean’s loading speed significantly improved:

website speed report after

Now that Proven.com’s on-site issues were patched up, there was only one thing left to do…

Step #7: Create and Publish a Skyscraper Post

Now it’s time to wrap things up with the Skyscraper Technique.

Yes, your Skyscraper content will help with traffic and link building.

But your Skyscraper post ALSO encourages Google spiders to visit your site.

That way they can see the on-site improvements you just made.

(If you don’t know about The Skyscraper Technique, this case study shows you everything you need to know).

Now:

Sean noticed that most of the content ranking for keywords like “job descriptions” and “job description templates” were mediocre at best.

For example, most were just poorly-organized links to hundreds of job descriptions:

poor content

And the creators of these job description lists LOVED cheesy stock photos like this:

cheesy stock photo

That’s when Sean realized that he could create something MUCH better.

How?

First, Sean included all of his job descriptions on a single page.

newsletter email

(That way you don’t have to visit 15 different pages to see 15 different descriptions).

Second, Sean created a job description filtering system.

long piece of content

This made finding the right job description a breeze…

…especially compared to the massive list of links that Sean’s competitors used.

In fact, a few people left comments just to say how helpful Sean’s filtering system was:

blog comment

Third, Sean included helpful information above each description (like salary data).

extra info in content

Last but not least, Sean used images that represented each job…without resorting to cheesy stock photos.

nice image

How did Sean’s post do?

Because Sean’s content was AWESOME, it generated a big spike in traffic:

traffic spike

Sean’s post also quickly hit the first page for the keyword “job descriptions”:

first page google ranking

Once Sean published his Skyscraper post, he could put a big red “X” next to the last item on the checklist.

(And do a happy dance because his organic search engine traffic increased by 80%+)

organic traffic increase in google analytics part 2

Now It’s Your Turn

Now I want to hear from you:

What do you think of this SEO checklist?

Or maybe you have a question about something.

Either way, leave a quick comment below.

I’ll be around today to reply to comments and answer questions.

So if you have a question or thought, make sure to leave a comment right now.

  1. Brian, amazing recap.

    It’s been a fantastic experience working together and I can’t recommend this checklist more.

    It’s transformed our content marketing and SEO strategy and directly impacted our growth and cost of customer acquisition.

    We are still continually tweaking our content, page load times, titles, and so forth based on this checklist and have seen continued traffic and ranking gains.

    If you have a blog and want it to to capture more organic traffic, I highly recommend dropping whatever you are doing and get to work on these checklist items. It will pay off big time.

    1. Thanks Sean.

      As I mentioned, it was awesome working with you. You trusted in the process and the results have been insane. Even better than I was expecting. Kudos to you and the rest of the Proven team.

      1. Hi Brian. Just found your blog today and soaking up the content its killer! I run a travel blog with my girlfriend but its specific to type 1 diabetics so quite niche. We make diabetic specific content of course, but also general travel blogs.
        My question is (based on this article), is it harmful for us that we are pumping out 2 or 3 posts a week and some of them are just general travel posts? so would we have more effectiveness getting to the top of google for “type 1 diabetic travel” without all of the non-diabetic related blogs?

        Many thanks

      1. Hey Brian
        It was great to listen to you in Dublin another day. Didn’t get a chance to catch up after.
        Was looking for an info on your SEO course but had no luck. It would be cool if you could send a link. If you still doing it. We see you again in October in Dublin?

        1. Thanks Roman. Unfortunately, I won’t be in Dublin in October. But the gang has put together a great list of speakers.

          We will actually open up enrollment for SEO That Works in the fall. Hope to see you then.

  2. Honestly Brian, this “SEO checklist” is awesome. I love the part of optimizing your organic click-through-rate. I have bookmarked this post and will apply the techniques.

    Best
    Bill

  3. Hey Brian,

    Awesome casestudy and SEO checklist. I haven’t tried many things, but your skyscraper method works very well. I have used it 4 times, and it always exceeded my expectations.

    Right now I am working on to reduce my bounce rate and improve CTR. These tips are definitely going to help me a lot. And your article came just at the right time.

    Thanks a lot πŸ™‚ You have the best resource on the internet. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Vanessa. First off, congrats on your success with The Skyscraper Technique. It takes some serious work to pull off.

      Now that you have those pieces of content that performed well, optimizing your CTR and bounce rate is a smart next move. Let me know how it goes.

  4. Wow! Impressive results! Of course, I’m not sure if I expected any less πŸ™‚ And Sean, congratulations on the increase!

    I printed out the 7 point and have them taped up by my desk as a great reminder. Thanks again for the thoughtful information Brian!
    It’s clear you always have other’s success in mind.

    1. Hey Scott, nice! I’d love to see a picture of this checklist printed out. It might help me when I create a Content Upgrade for this post.

    2. Thanks Scott. I like the idea of the print out.

      We use checklists a ton. It’s a great way to make sure everyone is following every step.

      I highly recommend the book The Checklist Manifesto as a good compliment to Brian’s excellent work.

  5. OMG this post is great BUT soooooooooooooooooooooooo long, and I really don’t have time to read whole thing. Can it somehow be condensed so we get the gist but don’t have to spend 2 hours reading?

    1. Angela, this post is a goldmine for anyone that wants more traffic. So if SEO is a priority for you, I recommend taking the time to read it.
      If it’s not, no worries πŸ™‚

      1. Actually, I thought this post was going to be longer LOL I enjoyed reading it I guess and that made it a quick read, you do not need 2 hrs!

        1. @Angela – I am not a fan of reading such a long posts.

          But believe me the way Brian writes & the way he structure the post, you wont be bored at any instance. His posts are long but they are truly worthy you just spend the time reading it & at the end you get tons of information. Truly a goldmine posts.

          Love your work Brian .. Cheers!

    2. I think that the length is the point! Most blog posts are not authority pieces and therefore do not merit being shared or linked to. This is a key piece of work on on-site seo. As such it will be pickd up naturally and shared and will receive links from authority sites. In addition it will be picked up and ranked by Google, because of those authority links. Read, bookmark, enjoy.

  6. Awesome checklist Brian. I recently optimized one of my pages till it had a bounce rate of 4%. I immidiately noticed my traffic going up.

    [Question]
    I run an ecommerce website with over 25000 products. Obviously some pages have thin content, little sales and no links. I wanted to optimize my site for quality content.
    Its a print on demand category so I wouldn’t want to delete the products.

    My thought was to no-index the pages product pages which have little content or links.
    I would love to hear your thoughts.

    [PS] You have a missing image after the page speed module. Just find the “[” in your post and you’ll see it.

    Keep rocking with these amazing posts. πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Yuvrav. 4%? That’s a legendary bounce rate. It’s probably a glitch. Either way, what did you do to improve by so much?

      1. Yeah.. even I was surprised! I did a few things and it kinda happened.

        1. Remove banners, text above the fold. The products come above the fold now.

        2. Added a small “free shipping” notice on top, like Hello Bar.

        3. My design looks professional and trustworthy.

        4. Using Google GA enhanced e-com tracking, figured out which products were getting most clicks and moved them on the top.

        5. There are a lot of filters available which can help narrow down the products quickly.

        The average time on page is over a minute now. I’ll try to improve some other elements as well. πŸ™‚

        Btw, what would be your suggestion to the large number of products? Should most of them be no-indexed?

        1. Very cool. It depends. If the products are ranking/selling, I’d keep them. Otherwise I’d noindex or delete them

        2. 4% bounce rate is not legendary, it’s a glitch. Check your code, I bet you have your GA code twice on a page. You are welcome.

  7. Interesting how aligning the picture on the right instead of having a massive and graphically impressive picture, lowers the bounce rate. There are still wars among web designers about this whole above-the-fold thing. My take is that it comes down to the actual case and if the design feels natural and the picture really adds value to the story.

    1. Agreed Karsten. I personally think the huge image above the content looks cooler. But it’s terrible UX if you think about it. The user came to read your content. Why make them work for it?

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