How to SEO your content

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Is finding your website content in Google like trying to find Wally?

How do you get more Google traffic? Take the words that people are searching for, and put them in your titles and URLs. In this post we’ll go through a case study from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) where we increased Google traffic with the recipe above. It’s a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) technique, and we’ll show you how to use it to increase your Google traffic and measure performance. We’ll also reveal a bit of a fail that effectively illustrates some ‘SEO don’ts’.

Project brief
Approach
Example
Results
How to SEO content for Google
How to measure performance
Lessons learned

Project brief

MPI manages a whole host of laws regulating what happens to food from farm to plate. For most of us the only visible sign of these regulations is when we check the labels to see what’s in our food, but there’s a lot more going on.

Much of this content had been created without Google in mind – it was assumed that people would start on the MPI home page and navigate to the page they needed. This resulted in page titles that didn’t give enough context about the page content. For example the ‘Fees and charges’ results below each cover totally different areas (importing, arriving in NZ, wood products), but you wouldn’t know that from the titles:

Fees and charges bad Google 2.png

Approach

I worked with the MPI Digital team and Contented agency to sort this out, by using the words that people actually search for in titles and other important places. We also ‘A/B-tested’ the effectiveness of doing SEO keyword research by taking two different approaches – using keyword data to inform some content sections and just common sense for other sections. Traffic to all improved content increased, but there were only significant increases in Google traffic for the SEO-ed content. The moral of the story is that SEO is worthwhile if you want more Google traffic.

Results

We got significant increases in traffic to all content sections where redirection went smoothly. Year-to-year performance:

  • traffic to new processing content increased by 9% to 56%
  • new users increased by 6% to 55%
  • Google traffic increased by 13% to 78%

Traffic to all processing content only increased by 7%, showing that revised content is outperforming content that was left alone. SEO improvements often need time to take full effect, so we should see greater increases in time.

How to SEO your content

There are many different ways to optimise your website for Google, see the blog post SEO is content for an overview. For most projects I’ve worked on, keyword research is the quickest and easiest way to increase Google traffic. It involves finding out what people are searching for in Google and your on-site search function, and using these terms in content to help Google find it.

How to use keyword research to increase Google traffic:

  1. Find popular Google searches using the Google Keyword Planner.
  2. Search for these terms in Google to check your competitors.
  3. Decide whether you can compete with competitors.
  4. Find your on-site website searches using Google Analytics.
  5. Focus on one main search term for each page for a strong signal.
  6. Use keywords at the start of the page title (title tag).
  7. Use popular keywords in summary, headings and content.

Note – one of the things that Contented did at the start of the project was to add a title tag field to the MPI Content Management System (CMS) to allow people to enter additional titles for Google. These are independent from the on-page titles so they give you more freedom to use popular Google search terms.

Honey example

There are a lot of honey processing pages, and some of these didn’t have honey in the titles, for example the page Honey and bee product labelling and composition requirements was previously called ‘Labelling and composition’. There are hundreds of searches for ‘honey label’ per month, and including this in the title caused Google traffic to this page to quadruple year-to-year.

If the honey label example seems more ‘common sense’ than ‘SEO’, we also found that ‘tutin’ was a popular search relating to honey contamination. The term receives 100 – 1K searches per month, and including this at the start of relevant titles caused traffic to these pages to increase by 165% year-to-year.

Google traffic increase to the page Tutin contamination in honey:

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How to measure performance

We used Google Analytics (GA) to measure performance. The basic GA setup isn’t great at showing the actual words that people search for in Google before landing on your website, however it does show whether Google traffic to your pages has increased.

The Organic search report in Google Analytics will allow you to see Google traffic volumes to each of your pages.

  1. Go to Acquisition → Overview → Organic search (in the table beneath the pie chart) → Landing page
  2. Select your date comparison period

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The report shows pages where the Google audience start their journey. To see a group of pages you can search for their common URL parameter. So if you want to see all the pages with ‘honey’ in the URL, you can filter this in the search box.

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Of course, you can search for the terms in Google yourself to see whether your website appears. Just keep in mind that your search history will influence your results. Even if you use an incognito window you still pass a lot of identifying signals.

Lessons learned

There was one content section where SEO changes didn’t result in a significant increase in Google traffic, which is why the lower end of the percentage increases aren’t so impressive. The section is ‘Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicine’ content – and the acronym ‘ACVM’ gets a fair few searches in Google.

We identified these reasons for not getting a significant increase in Google traffic:

1. There weren’t many popular keywords for this topic which meant that only a small number of pages could be effectively optimised.

2. MPI pages were already getting decent traffic for the terms and inflated search volumes from the Google Keyword Planner made us overestimate the demand for this content.

3. Another MPI page is getting traffic for two of the popular ACVM keywords, and our revised content was not able to compete (yet!).

Hopefully sharing our failure will help you choose content that will get the best results!

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