At HubSpot, blogging is our primary source of traffic. In fact, a significant percentage of HubSpot customers first stumbled upon our brand and our website through our blog – usually by searching for something on Google and clicking on one of our blog posts.
Why is this true? After all these years, how can our blog still be a top source of business? And how can you use blogging to increase your traffic, leads, and customers, too?
To understand how HubSpot uses blogging to rank well in the SERPs (search engine results pages), we have to first understand why blogging is great for SEO in general.
Here’s the gist of it: Blogging on topics that are relevant to your business will do two things:
- It will help you build relevance, helping you rank for more search queries.
- It will help you build authority on those topics, helping you rank higher in search engines.
Think about it this way: Every time you publish a new blog post, you’re adding one more indexed page to your website. This translates to one more opportunity to show up in search engines and drive organic traffic to your website. It's also one more cue to Google and other search engines that your website is active – and that they should be checking in frequently to see what new content to surface.
Our blogging team at HubSpot does a whole lot of work behind the scenes to help improve our blog posts’ chances of ranking high in the SERPs. But there are three major things we do that have led to our biggest SEO improvements that we want to share with you:
- Building topical relevance
- Optimising for featured snippets
- Optimising existing blog posts using a process called “historical optimisation”
In this article, we’re going to review how our team at HubSpot uses these three tactics to improve our search ranking, and how you can use them to improve your own search ranking – no matter how many – or how few – blog posts you’ve published.
Building Topical Relevance
One of the most important evolutions in search in the last few years has been the shift from keywords to topics.
Years ago, people used to enter pretty fragmented keyword queries into search engines when they wanted answers to their questions. But times have changed. Nowadays, most people are comfortable posing complex questions to search engines – and they still expect the search engine to return an accurate result.
Thankfully, search engine algorithms have evolved with the searchers – and now, they’re smart enough to recognise the connections across different queries. They understand the topical context behind the searchers’ intent, and they can tie it back to similar searches they’ve encountered in the past to give us an accurate set of results.
Building topical relevance means creating content across topics, instead of specific keywords. What’s the difference between a topic and a keyword? A keyword is one word or phrase that someone uses to describe what they need in search.
A topic is just a group of keywords. Examples of keywords would be things like “writing skills,” “blog post topics,” “content creation tools,” and “brainstorming techniques.” A topic that would cover all those keywords might be “content marketing.”
To build topical relevance, the first thing you need to do is figure out what topics you want to be known for.
If your business sells pet food, for example, then one topic you might want to be known for is “dog food.”
Next, you’ll want to publish lots of blog posts that answer every question about those topics. Going back to the dog food example, what would your target customers want to learn about that’s related to cat food? Maybe they want to know about proper nutrition for their cats or how to take care of their cats.
By writing about your target topics regularly on your blog, you’ll bring in more relevant traffic.
Combining content creation with building links to your content from websites that are relevant to the same topics can also make a positive impact on your search rankings.
As you create blog posts on your target topics, link them to one another to make it easier for search engines to understand how your posts fit together around that topic. This can help grow your authority on that topic, which can help you rank higher in search for related queries. When planning this, it can be helpful to map out your content topics visually to see how it all fits together to improve SEO.
Optimising for Featured Snippets
As Google gets better and better at understanding search intent, it wants to give searchers an immediate answer to their questions – an answer so immediate, searchers won’t even have to browse through the search results to get it. That answer comes in the form of a featured snippet.
What is a featured snippet? Let’s ask Google…
Google says, “A featured snippet is a summary of an answer to a user's query, which is displayed on top of Google search results. It's extracted from a webpage and includes the page's title and URL.”
But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Google pulls featured snippet answers from one of the pages that ranks on page one of search results, but the page that wins the featured snippet isn’t necessarily the #1 result. This leaves the door wide open for content that isn’t in the #1 spot to actually appear above the #1 spot.
That means it pays to know how to optimise your content not only for search, but for the newer organic search features like featured snippets.
There are three reasons you should care about featured snippets:
- Featured snippets show up for a lot of the terms your target customers are searching for. Google tends to serve up featured snippets for “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How” queries, which are the types of queries your online content tries to answer. They also tend to show up for high-traffic terms and overarching topics.
- Featured snippets often show up first for voice search results. In fact, 71% of search queries that triggered featured snippets on desktop led to the featured snippet result showing up first in voice search results. This is important because voice searches could become 50% of all mobile searches in the near future, a prediction reported by both Google and Bing.
- If you don't have an effective strategy for capturing how customers are changing the way they search, you will fail to attract them. Search is evolving, and the featured snippet feature is now taking significant organic search traffic on desktop, mobile, and voice search. As your customer adapts, so should you.
So, how can you optimise your own blog content for Google’s featured snippet?
Your best chance at capturing the featured snippet is by optimising blog posts that already rank in the top five positions in search results. Google tends to pick content from those spots over other spots further down on the page, making these the lowest hanging fruit.
How to optimise for Google’s featured snippet:
- Use Google Search Console to figure out whether any of your current blog posts rank in positions one through five for any significant keywords. Make a list of these high-ranking posts along with the keywords they rank for.
- Open up a new incognito window in your browser and search for that keyword to see if Google serves up a featured snippet in search results. You want to prioritise the posts that are ranking for keywords that serve featured snippets, so put a checkmark next to the ones that do. But even if there isn’t a featured snippet showing up for that query, keep in mind that Google is adding new snippets all the time, so you may want to check back in the future.
- Optimise these posts for the featured snippet. Google favours content that best answers the search query in a simple, concise format. In fact, format is the most important factor here. Google uses an algorithm to extract content for snippets, so if the text isn’t formatted cleanly, it won’t understand what’s going on and will skip that result.
List-based featured snippet
If the keyword your post is ranking for is serving up a featured snippet in a list-based format, make sure your content includes a list that is clearly labeled with headers.
You might even add a short list version of your larger blog post at the top of the page to make it even easier for Google to identify it for a snippet. List seven steps or fewer if you can – Google will cut you off at eight steps in the snippet anyway.
Paragraph featured snippet
You can do the same for a featured snippet in a paragraph format: Write a short answer to your target query and put it in a module above the rest of your post.
Google tends to prefer when featured snippets are fewer than about 50 words. As for what to write in there, take note of the content that’s winning the snippet right now to get an idea of what the search engine is looking for – but don’t copy it word-for-word. Instead, try and improve on what’s already in there.
Once you’ve made these changes, submit the URLs to Google to be re-crawled. Measure the results by the number of clicks from the results page, the change in click-through rate, and the impact on the blog post’s organic traffic. Keep in mind that because snippets are an algorithmic feature by Google, results will vary from day to day. We recommend you track your new snippets every day for around four weeks to account for appearances, disappearances, and content switching.
Why historical optimisation is a key SEO play
What if I told you that making a few key changes to blog posts you’ve already written could dramatically improve your rank in search results?
I know – we were excited, too. Optimising old blog posts for search engines is among the most efficient ways for blogs that have been around for a few years to grow their organic traffic.
One quick disclaimer here is that historical optimisation works best for blogs that have already been around for several years.
It’s meant for blogs that have tackled all the basic blog growth tactics, are generating a significant amount of organic search traffic, and have a solid subscriber base. If your blog has only been around for a year or two, I’d recommend prioritising the basic blog growth tactics first, and then trying historical optimisation.
Alright, back to the topic at hand. What exactly is historical optimisation, and why is it such a key play for improving your SEO, and how can you implement it yourself?
Historical optimisation means optimizing your old blog posts so that they’re fresh, up-to-date, and can rank higher in search results – thereby generating more organic traffic than they already do. By "old posts," I just mean posts that already exist on your blog – usually ones that are at least six to twelve months old.
The goal of historical optimisation is to improve the search rankings for posts that have “page one potential.” That means posts that rank on page two or three of search results already and could be pushed to page one with an update.
You might be wondering, Why does updating and republishing old blog content lead to better search rankings?
There are three main reasons:
- Google rewards freshness – and so do searchers. Google introduced a freshness factor into its ranking algorithm in 2011. Google wants to surface high-quality, valuable content that's fresh and up-to-date for searchers.
- You're building off the existing search authority that the post has already accumulated. In other words, you're starting with a post that already has some degree of page authority instead of starting completely from scratch.
- The surge of new visits you get from re-promoting your updated post to your blog subscribers and social media followers will naturally lead to new inbound links and social shares, which are both important ranking factors.
Remember: Historical optimisation should be a piece of your overall blogging strategy, not the whole strategy. The old content you’re optimising now was once brand new – so make sure you continue publishing new content that could one day be another SEO success story.
How to get started with historical optimisation
Want to take advantage of the many benefits of historical optimisation? Here's an overview of how to get started.
First, you’ll want to identify the blog posts that are worth updating. These will be posts that are outdated or can be improved in some way. They’re also posts that have the potential to rank higher for topics and keywords with high search volume.
The easiest way to identify these posts is to export a list of all your existing blog posts and sort them by organic traffic, with the highest organic traffic posts at the top.
Then, use Google Search Console to see where the posts at the top of that list rank right now. Pick out the posts that currently rank on page two or three of search results, because it’s those posts that have “page one potential” if you make a few key optimisations.
When you’re figuring out which posts to start with, you’ll also want to think about the monthly search volume of the topics those blog posts are about. Look up the monthly search volume of the topics your posts with “page one potential” are about using your favourite keyword tool, and prioritise the posts about topics that have at least 1,000 monthly searches. You’ll also want to prioritise posts that are at least six to twelve months old as a benchmark.
Now it’s time to update the content of the post with the hopes of achieving three goals:
In general, you should try to make enough noticeable improvements to a post that it’s worth it to republish it as new.
Improvements can be things like adding new sections to the post to make it more comprehensive, adding list items to a list post, adding detail to different sections, and updating outdated information, like statistics and examples.
Next, optimise the post for your target topic using on-page SEO tactics like:
- Including your target keyword in the post title.
- Including that keyword again in the headers in the post itself.
- Adding internal links with keyword-based anchor text to improve the keyword rankings of other posts you’re trying to boost.
Before you publish, consider adding an editor’s note to the bottom of the post, like this one. This makes sense especially for posts with old comments that might cause confusion.
Finally, you’re ready to publish your updated post as new.
Make sure you change the publish date so it's featured as a brand new post on your blog. Then, promote it like you would any brand new post:
- Email it to your blog subscribers.
- Promote it on social media.
- Leverage any other promotional channels that work for promoting your content.
And that’s it! A list of three SEO tactics you should be adding to your SEO strategy. If you want more in-depth help with getting your content ranking in search engines, then HubSpot Academy’s free SEO Course is a good place to start. Ultimately, you should always be experimenting with different SEO tactics to see what has the most impact on your organic traffic. SEO definitely isn’t a ‘set and forget’ part of your marketing strategy, so it pays to always be learning and testing.