One of the best ways to “always be learning” is by speaking with brilliant people. Luckily I get to do this a lot on the GrowthTLDR podcast where we talk to experts in growth across the entire product-led funnel.
A common topic we talk about is customer acquisition and how competitive it’s becoming; how most channels are saturated and how it’s challenging to find leverage in those channels to scale beyond your competitors.
As we spoke to a range of different growth experts, it became evident that Google is still an incredible platform for growth but competition on the platform has never been higher.
We interviewed some of the smartest minds in search to discuss what investments companies should make in the upcoming year if they want to grow their search traffic.
Here are 4 of the most common areas that kept coming up.
1. Featured snippets are having a significant impact on SEO
Featured snippets have become a standard part of Google’s search result pages. They’re great for users who want to retrieve an answer to a query without ever having to visit a page. Here is an example of HubSpot ranking in the featured snippet box.
One of the downsides of featured snippets for companies who are dependent on Google for growth is that they’re having a visible impact on organic click-through rates, with that number on both mobile and desktop decreasing.
Featured snippets allow users to retrieve an answer for their query without having to visit the web page. They keep people on Google’s platform for longer. You can see this behavior in the above chart that shows mobile searches, which don’t result in a click-through to a web page.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact steps you should take to optimize content for the featured snippet box because Google’s results fluctuate so much.
At HubSpot, we did some analysis on commonalities between content that appeared in the featured snippet box here.
A couple of key takeaways were:
- Your web page must already rank in the top 10 for the query to stand a chance of being chosen for the featured snippet.
- You should have the target keyword in a header and a paragraph below it that answers the question.
- If required you should break the answer into steps, e.g., step 1, step 2, step 3, etc.
Along with the structure of your content, the growth of featured snippets should also change your approach to keyword research.
Instead of researching keywords and looking at their existing search volume, consider how many search clicks they get.
The presence of a featured snippet box reduces the amount of clicks a popular keyword might get, so looking at ‘search clicks’ is a more accurate representation of the traffic you can expect from ranking for that keyword.
Content optimization and keyword research are two things you should consider adapting in a featured snippet world.
2. You should take a search first approach to content
The cost to acquire a customer is more expensive than ever.
As content marketing has become more competitive it’s CAC (cost to acquire a customer) has grown quicker than paid advertising.
So, how do you ensure your content stands out from an increasingly crowded market?
Well, you don’t!
Approaching content with a search first mindset focuses your efforts on creating content around topics that have search volume. Under each topic, you would have many keywords to create content around.
For example, let’s assume you’re a company that offers video conferencing software. One of the topics you might want to create content around is ‘working remotely,’ which as a topic has 10,000 available searches per month.
That search traffic is broken out across a range of different keywords like people wanting to know how to manage their taxes when working remotely, or wanting some tips on how they can be an excellent remote worker.
The content you publish focuses on what your audience is searching for; it teaches them something or helps them to answer a question.
The entire goal of this approach is to generate both traffic and demand from Google.
3. The SEO fundamentals matter more than ever
Although Google’s search result pages have changed a lot over the years, the fundamentals of SEO can still make a significant impact on your traffic if you can do them to an incredibly high-level.
Here are the three best areas to focus on for growth.
Internal Link Optimization
Internal link optimization isn’t a new SEO tactic but something that’s probably not given the level of focus it deserves.
Most websites adopt one of two internal link structures; relatedness or trending.
For example, you might have a large website with a thousand articles and you decide to always show the most recent posts across your website (trending). That means you now have a structure where the same ten posts get all of the internal links and the other 990 get very little.
You’re essentially telling Google those pages aren’t important and so they won’t get much traffic.
You’ll experience the same problem with internal link structures based on relatedness where a large number of internal links point to a small subset of your pages.
Fixing these issues can have a positive impact on your website traffic.
Group content by topics
We’ve already described the value of taking a search first approach to your content marketing and identifying topics with search volume to create content around.
It’s not only a great way to plan what content you should publish to attract more people to your website but it’s also a great way to group existing content under those topics.
In particular, there’s a lot of potential upside in grouping together content that’s relevant to long tail phrases into a single group.
Regular content pruning
Content pruning is a surprising technique most great SEO’s are investing in to grow traffic to their site. Surprising because it’s focused on deleting existing web pages, not increasing them.
The goal is to delete pages that are of little value to your users and search engines. For example, you could create a basic threshold that says your content needs to acquire a single visitor or link.
Where do you start? Well, you can begin with a pretty basic baseline, for example, prune pages that get less than 50 visits over three months and have no links.
You can then go into your analytics tool and look for pages that fit that criteria, export them and check in any backlinks tool if they have any links pointing to them.
But does content pruning make a real difference to your numbers?
Colm Flanagan and his full stack search team removed millions of pages from HiPages.com that were getting very little traffic and in the weeks that followed, they saw three significant things happen:
- Hipages.com categorized all of their pages into two buckets; high and low quality. Once they reduced the size of their site by removing low-quality pages, Google did a better job of indexing their high-quality pages. They saw a 200% lift in high-quality pages indexed.
- With so many more high-quality pages indexed, Google started to surface those pages for many different search queries. Impressions of their high-value pages increased by 80% over eight weeks.
- Finally, “The last thing we started to see was a significant increase in organic traffic to all of those high-quality pages. We began to see a massive uplift in traffic and broke all of our previous records for organic signups.”
4. An investment in a full stack search team can accelerate your growth
One of the better investments most companies can make in 2019 is a full stack search team. It’s difficult to implement most of the things we’ve discussed in this post to a high-level without one. A full stack team would look something like this:
Aside from being able to do the fundamentals of SEO to an extremely high level, including content pruning as discussed above, it also means you can make more aggressive investments in search.
Canva has seen no shortage of growth in organic traffic over the past 36 months.
Canva Organic & Paid Traffic from SimilarWeb
They were able to see such a dramatic increase in search traffic by developing an entire library of templates users were searching for on Google.
All of the templates were indexable in Google helping them to expand the number of keywords they were visible for and dramatically ramping up their search traffic.
Transferwise has seen a similar trend in the growth of their organic traffic
Like Canva, Transferwise had a full stack search team allowing them to build sub-products based on search volume that resulted in both organic traffic and signups for their main product.
For example, they built an entire website that listed the exchange rate of all currencies and another that provided people with the swift and BIC codes for banks. Transferwise created both those products because people were searching for that information online and those people were a good fit for their main product.
Those sub-products increased the number of keywords Transferwise appeared in Google for resulting in significant increases in organic signups.
Transferwise Organic & Paid Traffic from SimilarWeb
They’ve helped Transferwise to increase their organic traffic significantly which has increased the number of users signing up to their main product from Google.
If investing in customer acquisition in 2019, it’s worth asking can you be doing better in search and if so, how much have you invested in these four areas.
We’ve made a lot of those investments at HubSpot over the past number of years and have seen the benefits of doing so.
Hubspot.com organic traffic from Ahrefs