The Mystery of the Single Post That Attracts 46% of All My Google Traffic

Photo Credit: Ryan Milani

Photo Credit: Ryan Milani

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!

There are affiliate links in this post. If you purchase a product through one of them I will receive a commission. It will cost you nothing extra. I only ever endorse products that I have personally used and tested extensively. Thank you!

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:

WordPress SEO

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:

Search Engine Visitors

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:

Search Engine Traffic

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:

Keywords

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:

Top Landing Pages

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:

Page Analysis

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:

SEO Competition

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:

  1. The site linking to the page is simply a content aggregator — it’s not adding unique content.
  2. 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.

Comparisons

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:

Post
Words
Kwd in Headline
Kwd in Page Title
Kwd in URL
Kwd in Subheader
Kwd Density
WordPress Security: Everything You Need To Know2,461YesYesYesNo0.24%
Top Five Regrets Of The Dying - What It Can Teach Us About Living1,084YesYesYesNo0.09%
Organic Search Engine Optimization: How I'm Doing It1,582YesYesYesYes0.12%
How to Start a Mastermind Group (and Why You Should)1,676YesYesYesYes1.32%
5 Things I Have Learned from a Successful Information Product Launch1,998YesYesYesNo0.20%
Why All Bloggers Should Consider Creating an Information Product1,169NoYesYesYes0.17%
9 Steps to Writing Blog Posts Quickly (and Making Much More Money)1,750NoYesYesNo0.00%
How to Succeed in Business (and Life)1,014YesYesYesNo0.00%
How to Start Blogging: Everything You Need to Know1,768YesYesYesYes0.11%
Freelance Writing: How To Find Your First Job1,636NoYesYesNo0.24%

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:

SEO Data

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:

Can you solve this SEO mystery?

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 :-)

Comments

  1. says

    What’s up Tom,

    In my view this article proves that referral traffic is the best way to “prime the pump” for search engines.

    I think people forget that search engine traffic is just another form of referral traffic after all.
    Just think, why wouldn’t the search engines want to send more traffic to the the site that’s obviously getting referred by established sites?

    Talk about smacking, Google should smack themselves for spamming my blog (Post coming soon).

  2. says

    My expertise is somewhat limited so I can’t give you a strong opinion but I’ll throw something out there. It’s a post about freelance writing jobs rather than a page that offers freelance writing jobs so it might be seen as more credible to Google as a resource for readers because it’s purely informative instead of promotional. I didn’t notice any affiliate links in the post. I’ve seem some things to show that being completely non-promotional (meaning nothing for sale or added affiliate links) can help you rank better for certain types of terms. And you link out to sites that offer freelance writing jobs making it an even stronger resource.

    That combined with your overall authority (If you’ve read anything about this from copyblogger recently) may be why Google is showing you so much love for this term. Also with the new updates Google favors content that isn’t “over optimized”. Looks like you struck a perfect balance here!

    Just some thoughts.

    • says

      Hi Paul,

      Interesting thoughts, but I think you could say the same thing about other posts I’ve done too. Plus I still see a lot of websites ranking at the top of Google that have been built solely to sell affiliate products ;-)

      Cheers,

      Tom

      • says

        No argument from me. Just pointing out some things I’ve read that may contribute to this mystery. I’m sure it will be hard to pinpoint any one or two things because google is such a mystery.

  3. Dennis says

    It appears to me that you’ve been bit favorably by a human search engine evaluator, a google-hired contractor that gives sites the thumbs up or down. Other sites w the same keyword would get lower scores due to affiliate marketing, obnoxious sales tactics, or bad design. Just my guess. Their human element of the algorithm is pretty powerful.

  4. says

    Tom Interesting analysis, I have done a few like this and never been able to figure it out :-)
    The thing that interests me more is you have linked to that post at least twice from this post with some pretty serious anchor text, I’m interested to see if this has a negative impact on your rankings in the near future, my gut says their is a good chance it will, based on things I’m seeing on my own sites. Only time will tell! keep us updated.

  5. says

    Very interesting post, Tom, which has led me through a bit of a chase in my own Analytics account!

    Given that you haven’t come to any solid conclusions about this one article’s success, do you plan on doing anything differently for future posts? There are three keywords for which my site is ranking very highly, and I’m wondering whether it’s a good idea to write more posts on those topics or to let sleeping dogs lie. What do you think?

    • says

      Hey Ophelie,

      At this point I’m not sure. I’m reaching out to SEO experts in the hope that they will be able to contribute to the discussion here. If I discover anything I’ll be publishing it here on LWB!

      Cheers,

      Tom

  6. says

    This should be interesting as I have one blog post that brings in nearly 15k unique visitors each month. Because it was so popular I did another post on the same subject and linked them both together so people stay on my site twice as long.

    It all happened completely by accident as well – although the purpose of the post was to help people and to give away free advice.

  7. says

    Absolutely fascinating… my first thought was you had more ‘likes’, tweets, etc for that post that boosted it’s results – but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
    One thing that jumped out at me was the keyword – first, is the url for freelance writing AND it’s the very first 2 words in the title that shows up. Really strong. while you may have ‘freelance writing’ in the title of other posts – I think this is the only one where it’s the first 2 words?
    That doesn’t answer it by itself – I tend to agree your blog may have been given a human review. You said yourself it happened right when it was slapped. That would explain it.
    Who know exactly, just enjoy the ride for now! :)

    • says

      Hey Jon,

      That wasn’t actually the title when the page got to #2 in the rankings — the exact match keyword wasn’t even in the title at the time!

      The high ranking didn’t happen when I was slapped — it happened over a year later!

      Cheers,

      Tom

  8. says

    Hi Tom,

    1. You mention that the article is 1600 words in length, however the entire document is considerably more due to the 2500+ words of comments the article has attracted with several mentions of the keywords freelance, writing, jobs and various synoyms.

    2. Domain Authority – you have a reasonable DA of 48 some of the pages in the SERP have a higher DA, some lower but DA has a very low correlation to rankings but is an indicator for competitiveness and clearly over the past couple of years you’ve built up some strong links to your site by writing for some high profile sites.

    3. Links to the Page – you state you have only one link to the page I found the following links:

    http://www.josepharchibald.com/breaking-away-from-the-9-to-5-grind (DA 38)
    https://managewp.com/wordpress-search-relevanssi (DA 63)
    http://writing.pinartarhan.com/review-for-tom-ewers-blog-leaving-work-behind/ (DA 29)
    http://onlinemoreincome.com/how-to-brilliantly-and-smartly-overcome-your-freelancing-writing-challenges/ (DA 25)
    wpmu.org/wordpress-related-posts-plugin/ (DA 80)

    which are 301′ing from the old URL of http://www.leavingworkbehind.com/freelance-writing-how-to-find-your-first-job/

    As well as a number of internal links pointing to the page…

    • says

      Hey Chris,

      1. That’s not unusual for more than one of my freelance writing posts — two other have 62 and 75 comments respectively.

      2. But that doesn’t explain why none of my other posts aren’t performing nearly as well…

      3. Ah…that’s a good point, I didn’t think about that! However, other posts have loads more backlinks…

      Cheers,

      Tom

  9. says

    I have a bunch of oddball posts that attract search-engine traffic day after day, while the really great, credible, ORIGINAL posts that Google supposedly wants can’t attract a fruitfly. I gave up trying to figure it all out after my AdSense was yanked, but that’s another story. I just blog. That’s all. No worries.

  10. says

    I think it’s because you hit a pain point. Word Press security and starting Mastermind groups are good topics. But they’re not pain points.

    Think about the two different kinds of readers. Someone who will read your post on Word Press security is already using Word Press, is already running a business, and may need the information but is not necessarily emotionally attached to it.

    Someone who reads your post on finding their first freelance writing job has a mess of emotions attached to that query. Fear, apprehension, desire, even desperation. All of that combines with the fact that your page stacks up as an awesome resource and you’ve got yourself a winner.

    It’s not a “SEO” answer other than to note that the human element really, really matters.

    • says

      Hey Carmen,

      I totally agree with what you’re saying in principle, but I don’t think that explains why it would rank any higher…

      Cheers,

      Tom

  11. says

    Did you look at how long people were staying on the page.

    Something called dwell time has been thrown around lately.

    Maybe your post provides some that people want to stick around for. Meaning the bounce rate for that post is really low.

    Just a thought.

  12. says

    Hi there Tom, very interesting post, especially in light that I have a very similar page that attracts a similar percentage of SE traffic for me. The interesting part about this post is that it’s not even very closely related to my main topic, plus it’s seriously shorter than my other posts. Also, it’s an above average keyword in terms of competitiveness, and I didn’t do anything to promote it. So the mystery remains the same as in your case. I’d be really interested in an explanation from an SEO expert, although I think the case will be closed as it always does when it comes to Google: we will never know. :) Good luck anyway and let’s focus on diversifying traffic sources other than Google since it proved to be a very uncertain source of traffic.

  13. says

    This is really fascinating – thanks for writing about it! I wish I could help explain it. It’s a good reminder that Google Search isn’t as simple and straightforward as we sometimes pretend it is.

    I do hope someone figures it out, though!

    • says

      I’ve had some suggestions from very authoritative guys in the SEO scene but nothing that has me convinced yet I’m afraid…the most accurate argument may in fact be, “Because Google.” ;-)

  14. says

    Great analysis, Tom! Really enjoyed reading this.

    For both my own blog and the blogs we manage, we’ve seen this happen — one or two posts kill it in Google Search. They’re usually great posts, but that doesn’t explain WHY they do so well when we’ve made the effort to optimize, back-link, etc. to other quality posts, too.

    Even if you don’t understand the why, the important thing here is to capitalize on that traffic. One reader mentioned writing another post on a topic that did well; you can also offer a freebie that aligns with that topic to capture emails, etc.

    I’m experimenting now with a pop-up on one of my pages that gets massive Google traffic, offering a freebie on that exact topic, free with your email. In general I don’t find search traffic to be nearly as high quality as other types of traffic, but many of these folks still do turn into product buyers, if not regular readers.

    Keep up the awesome work! And thanks for mentioning http://thewritelife.com in your email today :)

    • says

      Great suggestions Alexis! I have had it in my mind to try and capitalize on that traffic as much as possible but there’s definitely more I can do. As for mentioning The Write Life; that’s my pleasure :-)

  15. says

    Hi Tom, If I were you I would just be glad that Google is giving your post a lot of love at this moment in time.Because as you already know, Google can switch on you in a heartbeat

  16. says

    Asides from domain authority, I suspect a few things:
    1) You’ll notice that most of the results are sites like Careerbuilder that are freelance job listings, which is probably what most people are looking for. However, some people are probably searching for information rather than job listings, so Google will mix up the results a little.

    So in a way, you are just competing with informational posts and articles on this topic for the 1-2 spots on the first page while the other spots are going to sites that list jobs.

    2) I suspect that activity and time on site is a factor. In other words, it’s possible that people are more engaged with your post/site than others with similar links and traffic.

    I did a quick search for “freelance writing jobs” on Google blog search and didn’t find anything super awesome. In fact, in terms of social shares and links, you seem to have outperformed the other posts I saw.

    Also, it’s important to note that a lot of links will go undetected by SEO tools so there might be some more that are not showing. Anyways, that is my theory.

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