When I first started Cultured Vultures (CV), I was adamant that social media was the way forward and that organic traffic was becoming something of a relic.
Noticing the success of the likes of Buzzfeed (who have claimed that they don’t bother with SEO) and similar websites, CV was initially designed to produce list content that would be too tempting not to share on Facebook and Twitter.
Initially, it worked. Decent figures were being driven to the website thanks to what I would later realise was essentially “clickbait”. Being a novice in the field of digital media marketing at the time, I thought the only way to garner attention was to create misleading headlines, overly simplistic copy and to share it to the point of spamming.
How wrong I was.
After one piece of negative feedback too many, I realised that something had to change. Readers were bouncing off the site at an alarming rate and comments were becoming overly critical, which all culminated with a spot of firefighting with forum members who were hugely unimpressed by my work, going so far as to personally attack me.
It was a PR nightmare, hardly the right impression you want to be giving off as a burgeoning website in a hugely competitive environment.
Since then, I have been striving to make sure that each piece of content produced for the website, whether my own or a contributor’s, is to the highest standard. Using my SEO know-how, I have been able to craft content that is not only enjoyed by readers, but also looked on favourably in the eyes of Google.
One of the first pieces of content I created specifically with a view to ranking it well in Google and ensuring it stayed there was the 15 Best Zombie Movies of the 21st Century list. The difference between this and earlier “listicles”? Quality research, quality media, quality optimisation.
The hard work paid off. The article currently changes between being in first and second place in Google rankings throughout the world for a variety of different queries that all generate significant amounts of traffic.
156,000 pageviews and considerable ad revenue later, it’s safe to say that the shift in focus was a worthwhile one.
Here’s how I did it.
Step 1: Content Research
Going in blind and trying to write about a topic without knowing a thing about it is the quickest way to produce some really underwhelming content. Take it from a guy who used to write about electrical cables every day, you need to know what you’re talking about.
Luckily, I am something of a zombie nerd. My Netflix watchlist and DVD collection can attest to that. The biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone stuck in a writing rut is to write what you know; the words will come easily and it should be reflected in your copy.
The only real research I had to do for the piece was a simple memory refresher of rifling through the Wikipedia list of all zombie films, narrowing it down to those released after 2000. Once I found those that I had already watched, falling with the traditional sense of what a zombie movie is, I set about creating my ten, which I later extended to 15 to provide more depth.
In this case, a lot of research wasn’t necessary, but if you’re going to be writing about something completely new to you, there can be no half-measures. Been assigned an article on making the most of Premiere Pro? Sign up to Lynda and find out all there is to know.
Have something to write on water on Mars? Go to the official NASA website and pore over everything you can find. There’s a huge difference between researching from an authoritative source and a Buzzfeed article with more GIFs than lines of text.
Step 2: Competitor Research
Anyone in web marketing with a competitive streak has no doubt researched all they can about their main rivals, almost to an obsessive degree. When I was researching what else was ranking for phrases like “best zombie movies”, I noticed that the competition was slightly daunting. Huge websites like Screenrant, Ranker, IMDb, Gamesradar, and Wikipedia were ruling the roost – hardly fair competition for an independent website.
I wasn’t to be deterred, though. You achieve nothing if you don’t try, so I started combing through the articles to see what it was that made them rank so well. What I found was promising: low-quality copy, reader deterring galleries, and poor optimisation.
One of the downfalls of being a large website is that the content grind can mean that other aspects of web marketing, such as basic SEO, can fall by the wayside. For smaller websites, this is where you can really make an impact on rankings and beat the big guys.
Using tools like Ahrefs, I was able to determine that the majority of the top-ranking articles were there by virtue of their domain reputation alone. There were few supporting links, external or internal, and simple things like meta descriptions weren’t even sorted out.
In addition, I used Google AdWords’ Keywords Tool to determine how much traffic the article could possibly make. Zombies are a huge part of contemporary popular culture, so it was no surprise to see how many queries there were each month.
For your own projects, the Keyword Tool is an accurate and free resource to use. Before you go typing up content, it’s always worth researching whether your target is actually worth the effort – low amounts of queries will yield low traffic. Conversely, if your keyword targets for ecommerce products are dominated by the likes of Amazon and other big guns, try variations to find a niche audience.
Step 3: Content Production & Optimisation
It’s a sentiment you will hear over and over and over again: great content makes great traffic. Taking the time to go that extra mile for your content could be the difference between it landing on the first page of Google or the hundredth.
I set aside most of the day to write, constantly tweaking and adapting it as I went. I used a genial, relaxed tone, knowing the audience for it would be predominantly males between 18-30 years old. 1500 words later, the copy was done.
Finding media to fit the tone was simple: trailers for the movies themselves. These were embedded for every entry, making it far easier than finding suitable images and the relevant rights for publication to some really obscure films.
The featured image was one used to market the Juan of the Dead film, so it fell under the banner of fair use. The file size was crunched with WP plugin Imsanity to improve pagespeed, an important factor for rankings, without sacrificing much in the way of quality.
As a small website, Cultured Vultures isn’t hosted on lightning fast servers, so we need to make concessions where we can. Everything is on lazy load, meaning that scripts etc. will only run when the reader scrolls down – below-the-fold content loads in its own time, saving precious pagespeed.
There are plenty of easy plugins for WordPress that do this automatically and themes that already have it implemented. Install it on your website as soon as you can if you haven’t already.
In addition, Cultured Vultures also uses caching to speed everything up for readers. We have WP Rocket, which works far better with minification than most other plugins I have tried. Caching your website is vital, so be sure to check it out if you’re yet to.
As for on-page optimisation for SEO, Yoast is the favourite of many. I used it to implement some basic fundamentals of SEO on the article:
- Keyword in the URL
- Keyword near the beginning of the page title
- Keyword near the beginning of the SEO title
- Keyword in the meta description
Now compare that with the main competition:
As mentioned, large businesses are likely to miss optimisation opportunities, so it’s vital that you capitalise on their mistakes wherever you can.
Being an entertainment website, Cultured Vultures was successfully included on Google News after an application, meaning that it was reaching a whole new audience.
The Yoast SEO News plugin allowed me to set specific keywords and to promote it as a piece of outstanding journalism, which always improves views. Getting listed in Google News is no easy feat, however.
We had been rejected multiple times before we were finally accepted after meeting all their guidelines. It might not be suitable for business websites as News doesn’t allow self-promotional content and needs quite a high turnover of original news content every day for you to be considered.
Once I was happy with the result of the article, I set about trawling through the website to find related articles that would make organic sense to link to and from:
By internally linking from two more established articles about zombies, this signals trust to search engines. A good link profile for competitor articles was sorely missing, so I was already off to a good start before I even started to promote it!
Step 4: Promotion
Whether you’re a copywriter or author, self-promotion remains a vital part of having your work seen and read. In such a competitive environment, you have to do all you can to market your work to the extent it deserves. More often than not, you will see good results, whether it’s from simply updating your social media or sending out emails.
As someone who has written tens of thousands of words only for the finished product to be barely seen, the frustration of not finding an audience can admittedly be a real moodkiller. Rather than becoming downhearted, using the best channels to promote my work through started to deliver results, no less so than the article in question.
Knowing that I wanted it be the “marquee” article for the day, I set about to make sure that it was shared at the best times of day across all of Cultured Vultures’ social channels.
This meant 1pm for Facebook, 12pm on Twitter and before lunch on Pinterest and Google+. I also submitted it to StumbleUpon, a seriously underrated platform for those not in the know. Tumblr also has a popular zombie community, so I utilised a broad range of tags to make sure it was seen by searchers.
Back to Facebook and one of the most undervalued marketing methods around, I shared the article to a broad range of different Groups related to horror. The feedback was positive, resulting in a lot of shares and engagement. If you are producing niche content and can’t seem to improve your reach on Facebook (without paying for it, of course), I cannot recommend that you join and share within groups enough.
However, by far and away the most successful place where the article was shared was Reddit. It generated thousands of views and plenty of upvotes, signs of trust to Google, whether it admits it or not (there has been plenty of debate about this within the SEO and web marketing community).
This level of exposure opened the door to a perfect marketing opportunity. After using the article as an example of what I could write, I contacted several media outlets that would be interested in having me contribute a guest post for them.
Off the back of a few emails, I was invited to work with the Zombie Research Society, one of the web’s biggest places for all things zombie. They enjoyed the article and were delighted with what I produced for them, also having no qualms with the inclusion of links.
A backlink from one of the most authoritative names related to my article was a huge boost. Guest posts have a reputation as being spammy, but when they are done right, they can be massively influential for your rankings.
Step 5: “Post-Production”
If you think that your work is done once you’ve published and share your content, you’re wrong. To achieve longevity with your articles, you need to occasionally revise them to ensure they’re up to modern search standards.
After two months or so of the article being published, I noticed that it wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be in the rankings. Good SEO takes time, which is something that some might be discouraged by. Not having instant gratification is worth it when you notice all your cumulative hard work is paying off after time, though.
When revising the article, I noticed I had some alt text missing. Rookie mistake, something I tell off the Cultured Vultures contributors for. I also didn’t have headings having initially just used <strong> tags for the movie entries. I changed them to H2’s shortly after and worked on paragraphing for readability.
As mentioned, the CV servers aren’t exactly the best. Using Pagespeed Insights and Pingdom, I was able to determine that the amount of embeds and scripts loading on each page was huge, dragging the loading time down with it. By using pagination to split up every other entry, I was able to improve the pagespeed and bounce rates at the same time, two big ranking factors.
And it worked. Here is the traffic for the article three months after publishing:
And here are the results for just the past two months, including the Christmas period:
The cause of this upsurge? An organic ranking boost brought about by continuous promotional work, tweaking, and a strong link profile.
Here are the organic results three months after it was published from the 22nd of July to the 22nd of October:
Rankings do not go your way overnight, nor do they improve without you putting in the work to make it happen. If you’re producing quality content without effectively promoting and optimising it, you may as well be shouting in an echo chamber.
By using a combination of well-researched, legible content, rich media, basic SEO and backlinking, I was able to provide initial successes for the article. However, to achieve longevity within search engines, it was vital that I kept editing the piece to remain contemporary as well as to correct any mistakes that I may have missed on initial revisions.
Getting your content to rank in Google is without a doubt hard work, harder than it ever has been. By constantly looking at ways to boost your article up the rankings, long after it was initially, you are taking a step towards improvement.