Building a content optimization strategy for traffic, leads, and revenue
Updating your existing content is almost always the best and fastest path to increasing your organic traffic and meeting your performance goals.
Yes—updating your existing content. Not creating new stuff!
That’s where this guide comes in.
Based on strategies we’ve developed and executed with dozens of real-life clients at Ercule, you’ll get a simple framework and a set of exercises to identify, prioritize, and execute on opportunities that are ready and waiting in your existing content library.
Every business is different, so you’ll need to make some judgment calls along the way, but this tried-and-true approach will empower you to build a content optimization strategy you can present and execute with confidence.
Here’s what we’ll talk about:
- A quick overview of our content optimization template
- A breakdown of content performance metrics
- How to populate the optimization template
- Deciding what order to tackle your pages in
- What to do for each type of page
To build your strategy, you’ll need access to Google Analytics. (That’s it! Just Google Analytics. And we won’t even spend that much time there.)
1: Content optimization template
We’ve built a simple spreadsheet that will help you work through this guide.
Once you click on that link, you should make a copy to save in your own Google Drive. You can do this under the “File” menu, using “Make a copy”. (Questions or problems? Give us a shout.)
This template has two tabs:
On the first tab, “Content Data”, we’ll paste statistics that we can export (in just a couple clicks) from Google Analytics. We’ll show you how to do that shortly!
On the second tab, “Strategy Output”, we have a formula that gives you an ordered list. We do some math on your engagement stats to classify your posts into different categories, and rank them within those categories.
Is it perfect? No. It’s a bunch of formulas and a few decisions we’ve made on the best places to start, based on our experience.
But will it give you a good place to start prioritizing and editing your existing content? We think so. And at the end of this guide, you’ll make a copy of the output tab and use it to start adding your own notes and analysis.
2: Understanding content metrics
To keep things simple, we’re going to bucket your pages and blog posts by the basic metrics that Google Analytics gives us.
We can make a lot of use out of these, and they’re easy to access—which means you’ll have an easier time getting to and acting on our recommendations.
(Easy is good, by the way! A simple optimization strategy you use is way better than a complex one you don’t.)
In this section, we’ll introduce and define all the metrics we’ll be looking at throughout the rest of this guide. This will give you the background knowledge you need to understand how our recommendations are developed (and explain your optimization strategy to any curious stakeholders). Later, we’ll show you how to find and collect them in the spreadsheet template.
We can break these metrics down into two main types: traffic metrics and engagement metrics.
Traffic metrics tell us about a page’s ability to bring visitors to our site. We’ll use all of these metrics to help build your content optimization strategy.
|Metric||What it measures||What it tells us|
|Pageviews||Total number of clicks onto this page from any source (paid, organic, social, other posts on your blog, etc.)||Broadest possible sense of overall traffic performance|
|Unique pageviews||Number of website sessions where someone saw this page||A more refined view of traffic|
|Entrances||How many times this page was the first page someone visited on your site||How often this page is attracting new visitors or the return of a previous visitor|
The total Pageviews metric refers to all users, coming from absolutely anywhere—ads, internal links, referrals, and organic search.
Unique pageviews are all pageviews, minus pageviews that happened multiple times in a single session.
For example, if a user views your “How to improve sales productivity” post, then clicks over to the demo page, then clicks back to “How to improve sales productivity”, that counts as two total pageviews for that post, but just one unique pageview.
Entrances equals the number of pageviews that are the first within a session.
For example, if a user searches “how to improve sales productivity” and clicks on your post in the search results, that’s an entrance for your “How to improve sales productivity” post. If they click over to the demo page as above, and then back to this post, that’s still just a single entrance.
Entrances don’t necessarily have to come from organic search—the example above would still hold if they got to that page from an ad click or a social post. The point is that their session on your website started on that page.
If the user landed on some other page, and then clicked on “how to improve sales productivity”, the entrance would be counted for the other page.
Engagement metrics tell us about a page’s ability to get visitors interested in the rest of your content.
It’s not enough for people to find and visit your content—they need to actually engage with your page or blog post in order for it to be successful.
We’ll focus on the bounce rate and exit rate metrics in this guide, but for extra background info, we’ll explain the other default engagement metrics that you’ll see in Google Analytics in just a minute.
|Metric||What it measures||What it tells us|
|Bounce rates||How many visitors who land on this page leave without going to another page||Generally, high bounce rate means that the page didn’t match what the user was looking for with their search|
|Exit rate||How often this page was the last one in a user’s session||High exit rates usually indicate the user doesn’t have a compelling next step after reading this page|
|Entrances||How many times this page was the first page someone visited on your site||How often this page is attracting new visitors or the return of a previous visitor|
A page’s bounce rate can tell us whether people are finding what they’re looking for when they clicked on your search result on Google—or whether they’re going right back to the results page because your post didn’t hit the mark.
We want to see the lowest percentage possible for bounce rate. It’s all relative, but a bounce rate of 50-80% is usually acceptable.
Google search can tell when a user bounces from a page (sometimes called “pogosticking”), so a high bounce rate can also negatively impact your rankings.
A page’s exit rate can tell us a few things. Like bounce rate, it can tell us whether visitors who landed on this page from outside the site found that the content matched their intent. But exit rate also applies to visitors coming from other pages on your site.
So we usually summarize exit rate as a measure of whether the next steps are clear and compelling.
As with bounce rate, we want to see the lowest percentage possible for exit rate—aim for 50% or less, but up to 80% can be acceptable for certain types of pages.
Bonus: ATOP and page value
Bounce rate and exit rate are the metrics we use in this guide because they’re relatively easy to understand and their meaning is clear, and you don’t need to do additional setup to pull this data from Google Analytics.
However, Google Analytics includes a few more engagement metrics. We won’t use them in the content optimization template, but they’re still good to understand:
Average time on page, or ATOP, measures how long each visitor is spending on your page. Longer ATOP means higher engagement, generally, though a very short or very long ATOP can also indicate technical problems or other special circumstances.
ATOP has some quirks. For example, Google only tracks someone’s time-on-page if they visit two or more pages on your site—that is, if they don’t bounce. So, if your bounce rate is 60%, that means that Google is only providing time-on-page data for 40% of that page’s visitors.
Since ATOP is generally used to measure engagement, and we have other high-quality metrics (bounce rate and exit rate) that already do that, we don’t include it in this guide. But it can give you interesting insights into performance.
Page value tries to tell us the economic value (in dollars and cents) of a page. It requires specific setup and is mostly useful for ecommerce and other sites where an immediate purchase is made.
For example, a purchase of a particular book might be $10, or a demo request might be worth $100. If we define these values in Google Analytics, pages that lead visitors to complete these goals—to make a purchase, or fill out a lead form, say—will get credit as page value.
Page value can be an extremely helpful measurement, especially for e-commerce sites. But, it requires significant work to define and measure correctly, which is why we don’t include it in this guide.
To sum it all up: analyzing these basic metrics can give us a reasonably clear picture of how different pages on your site are (or aren’t) driving traffic and engagement.
Now it’s time to dive in and put the numbers to work.
3: Building your optimization strategy
Assessing your existing content library follows four steps:
- Export data from Google Analytics
- Paste data into the Ercule optimization template
- Review the report that the template generates
- Customize your plan of action for optimizing performance
The Ercule optimization template does a lot of the work for you—a little slicing and dicing of the metrics you enter from Google Analytics to give you a list of posts to address, in a suggested order.
It’s not exact. We’ve made some decisions about what fits where, and what order to go in, based on our experience working on SEO and content performance with dozens of clients over the years. That’s why taking time to review and refine your results is an important step—so you have a useful framework to follow as you actually get to work on optimization.
Getting your data into the Ercule optimization template
Here’s a .gif summarizing the process, and we’ll write it out step by step here, too:
- Open your Google Analytics account and navigate to the All Pages view
- Update the timeframe to include last 90 days of data
- Optionally, adjust the number of rows Google Analytics shows us. To start, we recommend focusing on the top 100 or, at most, 250 posts, ordered by traffic.
- Export the data to Google Sheets
Pasting data into the optimization template
- Copy the specific page data (not including header columns)
- Make a copy of the Ercule content optimization template
- Paste your page data into the template’s Content Data tab
That’s it—the hard part is done! Now, the template will crunch your numbers according to our formula and generate a report in the Strategy Output tab.
What if I just want to optimize a single section of my site (say, the blog)?
You have some flexibility with what you export from Google Analytics for analysis in this template.
If you just want to look at certain pages and not others, filter your Google Analytics view before exporting, like so. The content optimization template will work just fine with any filtered view, as long as it comes from the “All Pages” report.
Reviewing your content optimization strategy
In the “Strategy Output” tab, you’ll find that each library page has been grouped into one of four performance categories, based on traffic and engagement metrics: stars, sloths, wallflowers, and lemons.
|Category||Traffic metrics||Engagement metrics|
|⭐️ Stars||High pageviews High organic entrances||Low exit rate Low bounce rate|
|🦥 Sloths||High pageviews High organic entrances||High exit rate High bounce rate|
|🌼 Wallflowers||Low pageviews Low organic entrances||Low exit rate Low bounce rate|
|🍋 Lemons||Low pageviews Low organic entrances||High exit rate High bounce rate|
Note: You may see fewer rows on the Strategy Output tab than you entered in the Content Data. That’s OK—if a page doesn’t have enough data (10 or fewer pageviews), or if its bounce rate or exit rate is zero, we omit it from the spreadsheet to avoid skewing the results. If you want to include more content in your spreadsheet, go back to Google Analytics, extend your timeframe to the last six months, and repopulate your spreadsheet with the new data.
Defining content categories
We created these four categories so it’s easy to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your existing content. We’ll get into how to make specific improvements shortly, but first, here’s a quick rundown of what each content type means:
These pages are your bread-and-butter. They have high traffic (which we measure by pageviews and organic entrances) and high engagement (measured by exit rate and bounce rate).
In other words, your star performers rank well on search engines, and the people who click on your links stay on your site! That could mean they’re part of your target audience, they’re interested in your product, or they like your content and find it helpful. Or all three of these things.
Pages in this category are attracting decent traffic and probably rank fairly well, but aren’t keeping your readers’ attention. These posts have relatively high traffic but low engagement—so your efforts could have a big impact.
We call these posts “sloths”. They’re so cute! Lots of people love them! They’re very trendy! But it’s not clear what they do all day.
Why do these popular pages fail to convert? It may be that your target audience isn’t finding value in the page. This could happen for any number of reasons, including…
- Audience intent is mismatched
- Writing and paragraph structure are subpar
- UX and page experience are a drag
For example, let’s say you sell pizza-making robots. (If you really do this, please reach out!)
Your site has a Sloth post, “Where To Buy Pizza Robots.” It’s top-ranked in Google and the search intent is right on, but your site’s UX is miserable: slow, cluttered, loaded with obnoxious pop-ups, and the copy is one endless paragraph of fluff. You’re attracting bottom-funnel leads but they hate how your site feels. So they bounce.
Or you’ve got another Sloth post entitled “History of Tomato Sauce.” It’s the top-ranked page in Google. The problem? Nobody searching ‘history tomato sauce’ is looking to buy a robo-pizzaiolo! This voluminous traffic you’re getting is not your target audience. So they bounce too.
These pages have low traffic and high engagement numbers. These posts should perform well, but they’re not showing up in search results as they should. Often you can boost their ranking by making some quick fixes and prioritizing distribution.
The people who do know your wallflowers love them. These pages could be superstars—if only they got out into the world a little more.
Since the content itself is already strong, its problems are probably rooted in optimization and distribution. Things like…
- Isolation. If it’s a one-off piece, with no related posts, no internal links, and no clear place in your service offering, then it’s going to be hard for users to find.
- Keyword volume. If the page is discussing common pain points, but does it in heavily branded or niche language, new leads won’t find you in search.
- Meta-tags. If your page doesn’t look appealing in search results, people won’t click through.
- Page experience. UX basics like site speed might not derail bottom-funnel leads, but they will hinder your overall conversion performance.
- Distribution. If you don’t tell the world about this post, and repeat the message strategically across platforms, you can’t expect anyone to know that it exists.
You’ve got a few pages or posts on your site that aren’t doing anything for you. Traffic is low, bounce rate is high. No conversions. Maybe the people who wrote these posts wince when they scroll past them on the blog.
These pages probably need a lot of work to see meaningful improvement. We call them “lemons”. They deserve attention, too—and, in some cases, pruning.
Let’s say you sell saxophones, and your blog has a lengthy post entitled “How To Play Jimi Hendrix Guitar Solos On A Saxophone.” And the page is a lemon. Big-time lemon: the content, the format, the audience targeting…everything is terrible. Rehabilitating each element probably requires more energy than it’s worth.
But you have to do something with it because, in your content library, a lemon is a liability. Lemons can…
- Distract visitors away from posts that actually convert. Blog index views and search engine results might present the lemons first, which send new leads running away.
- Waste Google’s time. Google’s crawlbots don’t have infinite amounts of time to spend on your site. Lots of bad content can mean that the good stuff doesn’t get indexed as quickly, or at all.
- Diminish your brand. Lemon posts tend to accumulate formatting problems, and other issues, that nobody notices except for the very occasional visitor.
- Take up your resources. All of your content requires maintenance, and maintaining a lemon isn’t worth the time you put into it. Plus, lemons show up in analytics and reporting at the strangest times, throwing off your analysis.
4: Prioritizing pages
You now have a nicely-bucketed view of all (or much of) your existing content. Hopefully you can already see some trends and some interesting insights. The next step is to start acting on this data.
This analysis tool is imperfect, so the next step is to put it in a format where you can start assessing it, making notes, tracking status, and so on. We recommend making a copy of the Strategy Output tab to work with. (Because the Strategy Output tab is generated from a formula, there are three steps involved):
- Duplicate the Strategy Output tab.
- Copy all of its data, and then “Paste As Values”, which gives you a static copy of the raw data.
- Select the Exit Rate and Bounce Rate columns, and use the shortcuts in the toolbar to “Format as Percentages” and “Decrease Decimal Places”—just making your data a bit cleaner.
Once you have it in this format, you can start making notes. You can even make some adjustments:
- Recategorize. For example, new pages may take several months to generate traction for organic traffic. You may feel like your amazing new page is Star, even though it’s been classified as Sloth. That’s great—change it!
- Incorporate more data. Say you know a Star page isn’t strategically relevant for your brand. Its traffic and engagement metrics are strong, but since it’s not on topic, it doesn’t help generate leads. You may choose to reclassify this post as Sloth instead.
- Make corrections. Sometimes a page doesn’t have enough data to make an accurate data analysis. A post may be categorized a Sloth because it has decent engagement metrics—but if those metrics are based on a grand total of 15 page visits, then you may want to reassess it for yourself. Or not.
Bottom line: you are the expert on your content library. This analysis is simply a starting point for you to be able to deal with your content library in an efficient way.
The optimization spreadsheet automatically ranks the pages you should work on, and the approximate order you should work on them in. We recommend prioritizing Star and Sloth pages at the outset, in an alternated fashion.
- The top 5 Star pages
- The top 5 Sloth pages
- The next 5 Star pages
- The next 5 Sloth pages
By working with pages that already have momentum, you’ll get a better return on investment. (Of course, every page in your library can benefit from action, so we’ve included plans of action for all 4 groups of page performance here as well.)
Different pages require different time investment
Since each category of page performance has its own strengths and weaknesses, each category requires different types of action.
With a Sloth page, for example, the focus might be basic user experience features, or simple rewrites. Tasks like these might be completed for a page in an hour or two.
Wallflower pages benefit from more attention paid to distribution. Depending on your existing distribution workflow, this could feel like a simple task or a really time-intensive one.
Star pages ask for unique action because they’re already pretty darn optimal. So the action we recommend is to repackage that content for other platforms, and to design new posts on similar topics. Some of the Star page actions will take longer than a Wallflower page action. So the first stage of your action plan might feel like it’s slow to spin up. That’s normal.
The goal here is to steadily create and refine the best quality content. That’s not always a quick and easy task, but it pays off in the end.
Next, it’s time to take action!
5: What actions to take
Let’s get into the nitty gritty: how do you actually update existing content in strategic ways, according to what the data tells us?
Actions for Stars ⭐️
The Star posts are thriving already. They’re a proven formula for success, so start replicating the effort.
- Adapt the post to a webinar
- Build a guide around the post
- Create new posts about related topics
- Promote the star post with Google ads
- Talk about it on social
- Add material to the post
- Send to sales team and say ‘this is what’s getting traction on our site’
And monitor for ongoing performance. Make sure UX is optimized and site speed is competitive. This star post is a high performance machine, so make sure it gets its scheduled maintenance.
Actions for Sloths 🦥
Your goal with Sloths is to put them to work for you by improving engagement. Start by assessing the page experience:
- Does the site load quickly? (Check with Google’s page speed insights tool.)
- Are pop-ups and visual design making it hard to actually read?
- How is the quality of writing and header tag organization?
If the UX fundamentals seem to be strong, take a look at the call-to-action and internal links. People bounce when they don’t see anything compelling to do next, so make sure you’re providing clear steps:
- Are there internal links to other relevant posts on your site? (If not, add some. If you can’t find any, then this might be a sign that the post isn’t a great match for your audience.)
- Is there a CTA that can match the visitor’s intent? (Top-funnel leads maybe not be ready schedule a demo of your pizza robot, but they might sign up for your brand newsletter.)
Lastly, if the fundamentals are there but the search intent is mismatched, a heavier touch is required. Consider revising the piece to better fit your topic strategy then post it as something new. Something like “First Androids in Tomato Sauce History” might attract your true audience.
- Include quality, compelling CTAs to additional content, newsletter signups, or lead gen forms
- Add internal links to other relevant posts
- Check page speed and accessibility
- Improve content organization by using engaging headers or revising the structure for better flow
- Add relevant images, videos, or illustrations for visual engagement
- Add relevant statistics or quotes
- Improve your intro paragraph to grab attention or get to the point right away
Actions for Wallflowers 🌼
Wallflowers need to bring more traffic to your site, so revisit your optimization and distribution strategies for these pages. Some things to look at:
- Update the meta description. Each Google result is like a little ad for your content, so make yours descriptive and engaging.
- Assess the page experience. We mentioned this is important for driving conversions. It’s important for driving traffic, too.
- Add relevant internal links for the Wallflower post on other pages of your site. It’s a kindness for readers and a proven method for boosting visibility.
- Confirm the search volume for the post’s target keyword, and explore adjacent keywords. A slight change in terminology can lead to a wider audience.
- Adapt the post for other formats (eg. social posts, video, or newsletters). It makes content more accessible and extends the mileage you get from each post.
- Add social sharing CTAs.
- Update the page title and H-tags to meet Google’s recommendations. Make it easier for the search engines to see, comprehend, and promote you. For page titles, this looks like: - Focus keyword included - Correct length (<60 characters) - Unique title (not used elsewhere on your website) - Relevant to the content itself - Include your brand name in the title tag (but not at the expense of the correct length)
- Tell the world! Across all of your platforms. Then remind the world. Then do it again.
And keep doing all of these things. Distribution is a cycle and not a one-and-done sprint. (And optimizing old content is crucial to a distribution strategy.)
Actions for Lemons 🍋
Even the biggest lemon has the potential for lemonade. Do a quick content assessment to evaluate:
- Is any of this material relevant to our audience and value props?
- Is any of this material useful or insightful enough to salvage?
Extract that quality material and add it to relevant pages that are already performing well—or doing OK, at least.
Then delete the lemon (and be sure to redirect the deleted page to the new article, or something else that might match the visitor’s intent!).
You’ll be making successful posts more robust while streamlining your content library at the same time.
If you do find a lemon that you think is worth salvaging, set aside some time and:
- Follow all of the above recommendations for engagement and distribution
You’re done! What’s next?
Content optimization is not a one-and-done initiative. You’ll never stop monitoring, identifying, and prioritizing as your business continues to grow and evolve. Here are a few tips to make it simple to support an ongoing content optimization program:
- Highlight your most important pages—your star performers or posts targeting vital keywords—and monitor weekly for any dips in traffic.
- Refresh your content optimization metrics monthly, adding in newly published posts.
- Lather, rinse, repeat: identify, prioritize, and address opportunities to keep your existing content fresh, accurate, and ranking.