Over the past month Leaving Work Behind has attracted nearly ten thousand visitors from search engines. Of those ten thousand visitors, almost half entered the site via the same post — a relatively inconspicuous guide to finding your first freelance writing job.
I discovered a few weeks ago that the post was ranking #2 in Google for the term “freelance writing jobs”, which attracts in the region of eighteen thousand exact match searches every month. It’s a pretty popular keyword — certainly more popular than anything I’ve ever ranked for before. The post has stayed at #2 (excluding the occasional fluctuation) for over a month now.
The success of this post has raised all sorts of questions in my head. Why does it rank so high? How did it manage to rank for a keyword I wasn’t even targeting? Why haven’t other posts in which I have focused equally on onsite SEO not performed as well?
In this post I intend to discover the answer to those questions in the hope that I can duplicate the post’s success. Read on to find out whether I did!
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The Power of One Post
As you will know if you are a regular LWB reader, I write about freelance writing here on a pretty regular basis. After I released my freelance writing guide back in November 2012, I realized that in theory I could boost sales by attracting search engine visitors through freelance writing-related posts.
So over the period of several months I published a number of freelance writing posts that targeted specific keywords relating to freelance writing. Here are a handful which you can find on this blog:
A couple of these posts do okay — one attracted 700 visitors in the past month, another attracted 250. But for the most part they don’t bring in a particularly high number of visitors; especially compared to the beast that is Freelance Writing: How To Find Your First Job.
That post alone attracted 4,500 clicks in the past month — almost 50% of total search engine traffic:
As you can see, the second most popular post (which also covers freelance writing) attracts just 700 clicks per month. Its contribution is puny by comparison. If the top post were to lose its rankings tomorrow, my monthly search engine traffic would drop by approximately half.
The performance of this post is a bit of a mystery to me, but there must be some underlying cause. Most importantly, if I can understand the cause I can attempt to replicate it, which means more search engine visitors.
The Big Picture
First of all, let’s see how Leaving Work Behind has fared in terms of search engine traffic over the past year or so.
It’s worth noting that me and Google have rarely got along. This blog was “Google slapped” back in April 2012 (ironically, the same month that my monster freelancing post was published). In that month LWB attracted just 1,408 visitors from Google.
Search engine traffic actually declined from that point to a low of just 1,052 visitors in July 2012. But later in the year referrals began to pick up and gained momentum from then on:
As you can see, from December 2012 search engine traffic has been consistently on the rise, increasing by 360% up to the end of June 2013. That’s a pretty impressive climb relative to the stagnancy that preceded it.
So it’s not like my monster post led the increase in search engine traffic — after all, it only attained its lofty rating for “freelance writing jobs” around six weeks ago. It seems that Google has been growing more and more comfortable with my site over the past ten months or so.
But that’s not all — Google seems to have been growing more and more comfortable with my site specifically as a resource for freelance writers. How do I know this? Simple — just check out the top queries by the number of clicks over the past fourteen months:
Five of the top ten queries relate to freelance writing, and three of the remaining are branded keywords. If you exclude the wild card at number seven (boring? Me?) you have to go down to number ten to find the first non freelance writing related keyword that I have specifically targeted in a post (this post). It has attracted just 90 clicks in over a year.
I have written plenty of non freelance writing posts that target specific keywords for SEO purposes, but barely any have managed to elevate themselves into a position of any real relevance. Consider for example the top landing pages from search engine referrals in June 2013:
Three of the top four landing pages are about freelance writing (with the other being the homepage). Both the first and second post are in fact the same post — I changed the permalink to optimize it further. Fifth and sixth are non writing related, but then seventh and eighth spots are taken over again by more freelancing posts.
Out of the top ten landing pages above (excluding the homepage), non writing related posts account for just 11% of total clicks. Furthermore, writing related posts accounted for 56% of total search engine traffic in June. With the subsequent higher ranking of just that one post, I can expect the proportion to be much higher in July.
It’s not like I haven’t targeted other keywords — I have targeted all sorts. Furthermore, my onsite SEO methodology has remained largely unchanged for the past year or so. The logical conclusion therefore is that Google considers my blog to be more of an authority on freelance writing than it is any other. While it is possible that I have selected a healthy handful of freelance writing keywords that happen to have performed relatively well for me, the performance of freelance writing related posts compared to others seems more than just a coincidence.
However, Google’s favor certainly isn’t all that is at play here. After all, if we strip out the most popular post, the proportion of search engine clicks that are freelance writing related drops to just 34%, which is far more representative of the balance of search engine optimized content on the site.
It would seem to me that there is something special about that one post in particular. But what?
Examining a Winner
The post in question is a guide for beginner freelance writers to finding their first job. I think it’s a good post, but no better than many other freelance writing posts I’ve written on LWB. At 1,636 words it is relatively long, but again no longer than many other posts I’ve written here.
Let’s examine the guts of the post, SEO-wise. It gets the green light from the SEO by Yoast plugin and enjoys decent ratings on various criteria:
As you can see, there is only one red light, a couple of ambers, one yellow and a whole bunch of green. Quantifiably speaking, it’s a pretty well optimized post. In reality though, it was never that well optimized for the keyword in question (“freelance writing jobs”) as I never actually optimized it for that keyword! It was however a derivative of that keyword, so one could argue that the effect is largely the same.
Speaking of the keyword, how competitive is it? Let’s take a look with Market Samurai:
There’s my post, listed in third place behind two aged domains with far more content and referring domains than me.
It’s a relatively competitive keyword — although onsite optimization and backlinks to pages aren’t massively intimidating, you’d want to have a domain with some weight behind it to hope to rank (at least, that would be my thinking).
How about backlinks? Market Samurai shows that it has just two referring domains pointing to it, which certainly seems low. Ahrefs shows zero backlinks pointing to the page, while Open Site Explorer shows just one link from this page. There are two interesting things to note here:
- The site linking to the page is simply a content aggregator — it’s not adding unique content.
- It also links to two other posts on my site — neither of which have experienced anywhere near the same amount of success.
Having examined the above evidence, it seems that a pretty unremarkable post, with unremarkable SEO (both offsite and onsite) has managed to rank for a pretty remarkable keyword. And after all of this I feel like I am no closer to understanding why.
So, it’s time to move onto the next step.
I figure that if there is something special about this post, perhaps it will stand out when put side-by-side against others. So, I made a list of ten posts from LWB, all which were written to target a specific keyword, and set out to produce a table that would quantifiably compare them. Here’s what I came up with:
Kwd in Headline
Kwd in Page Title
Kwd in URL
Kwd in Subheader
|WordPress Security: Everything You Need To Know||2,461||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||0.24%|
|Top Five Regrets Of The Dying - What It Can Teach Us About Living||1,084||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||0.09%|
|Organic Search Engine Optimization: How I'm Doing It||1,582||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||0.12%|
|How to Start a Mastermind Group (and Why You Should)||1,676||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||1.32%|
|5 Things I Have Learned from a Successful Information Product Launch||1,998||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||0.20%|
|Why All Bloggers Should Consider Creating an Information Product||1,169||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||0.17%|
|9 Steps to Writing Blog Posts Quickly (and Making Much More Money)||1,750||No||Yes||Yes||No||0.00%|
|How to Succeed in Business (and Life)||1,014||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||0.00%|
|How to Start Blogging: Everything You Need to Know||1,768||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||0.11%|
|Freelance Writing: How To Find Your First Job||1,636||No||Yes||Yes||No||0.24%|
When comparing the highly-ranked post against others on this blog, it is utterly unremarkable. Both the word count and keyword density are almost bang on average and it actually performs pretty poorly in terms of other optimization factors.
So no magic formula is unveiled there. So how about the competition of each of the relevant keywords pertaining to each post? Using Market Samurai I compiled the totals of relevant offsite and onsite factors for the top ten pages of each keyword. Here were the results:
Don’t worry too much about that mess of numbers — what I was really interested in was the average of each field compared to the results for “freelance writing jobs”. The results were interesting. Some of the numbers were within ~20% of the average and thus were relatively unremarkable, but there were a few discrepancies:
- Index Count: 32% of the average
- Referring Domains to Pages (recent): 49% of the average
- .edu / .gov links to Pages: 22% of the average
- Keyword in header: 71% of average
However, there were much bigger discrepancies the other way, such as:
- Referring Domains to the Domain (historic): 135% of the average
- Referring Domains to the Domain (fresh): 159% of the average
- Page Backlinks (fresh): 169% of the average
- Domain Backlinks (historic): 187% of the average
- Domain Backlinks (fresh): 276% of the average
But over all, and just like the onsite SEO factors I covered above, my high-ranking post is almost bang on the average for both onsite and offsite SEO factors collected by Market Samurai when compared against another nine posts on my blog.
Obviously that is an extremely small sample size, but I am nonetheless left completely clueless as to what is causing this one post to rank so well.
Over to You
So now it’s your turn.
I am appealing to all SEO experts out there to unload their wisdom in the comments section. As a relative SEO amateur I have done my very best to uncover the reason(s) as to why just one single post on this blog has ranked so highly for such a relatively valuable keyword, but I have come up with no answers.
If you think that one of your Twitter followers may be able to solve the mystery (or if you just like challenging people ) then tweet the following out to them by clicking on it:
If you’re not an SEO expert then please don’t feel like I am excluding you from the debate; please feel free to chime in with your comments and questions below too! As always, I look forward to hearing from you all