Almost Ranker Audit for SEO: Identify Your Lowest Hanging Fruit

Welcome to the 2nd part of our 3 part series on Blog SEO.

  1. Part 1: Designing Your Blog for SEO
  2. Part 2: Running an “almost ranker” analysis
  3. Part 3: Blog Analytics ( coming soon ).

Today we’ll discuss the steps to run an “almost ranker” analysis to boost traffic to your existing content.

An almost ranker audit has been a trusty tool in our SEO tool belt for years. We use it on new clients who have an existing content library, we use it with old clients on a regular basis, and it’s usually our first recommendation when someone asks us “How can we grow organic traffic quickly?”

The idea is simple – instead of creating new content, optimize existing content that’s already indexed on page 2 or 3, but not optimized enough to drive traffic.

We’re taking this approach due to a couple assumptions:

  • It’s simpler to optimize existing content than create new content
  • We have more data to base our optimizations on with existing content
  • Positions 1 – 3 get a large majority of the traffic
  • Bounce rates have a negative impact on SEO

The basic steps to this approach which we’ll describe in more detail are:

  1. Identify keywords / page combinations where your site is within striking distance of top 3 positions.
  2. Identify a checklist of optimizations for these pages which you have access to
  3. Compare your current page metrics to your competitors
  4. Execute optimizations to beat competition by 10%
  5. Collect data, rinse & repeat if necessary

1. How Do We Identify Opportunities

To spot almost ranker opportunities we like to use the Ahrefs page tool, but you could do this with any tool that collects broad data on they keywords your domain ranks for.

Set up a filter that shows you keywords in positions 5 – 20 ( or up to 30 depending on how many keywords you have )

We see a few good opportunities to start with, and we evaluate them based on:

  • Search Volume: High search volume = more traffic, pretty straightforward.
  • CPC: High Cost Per Click is a great metric for conversion, if you have an opportunity to rank for a high CPC keyword you’re strongly increasing the probability of sale from that traffic
  • Relevance: Double check that your content matches the purpose of the keyword. In our example “go daddies website” is a good example of a fool’s gold keyword. It does have high search volume, but likely the top results from it will be GoDaddy’s documentation and a third party will is highly unlikely to rank for it.

2. Identify a Checklist of Optimizations

This is where we discuss the variety of levers we can use to optimize existing content. This is different from the tactics you would use for new articles ( which are mostly based around keyword research ). Let’s touch on them in detail.

Internal Linking

Internal linking with keyword rich anchor text gives Google a strong signal that says this page is about XYZ keyword. Since you have full control over internal anchors – take full advantage of that!

  1. Identify the keyword / page you want to rank for.
  2. Find all mentions of this keyword or variations of the same keyword on your website.
  3. Add a hyperlink to the page you want to rank for that keyword with this anchor text.
  4. Don’t be afraid to overdo it, there are no penalties for “too much internal linking”.
  5. Bonus Tip: Link your target page in the footer for an extra boost. This puts your anchor / target link on every page on your site!

In our case we might find all instances of blogs that mention “seo relevance” or “seo connection” and link it to our target page:

There is a helpful report that does this report automatically but we recommend doubling this with a manual approach as well.

External Linkbuilding

Some strategic linkbuilding can be a powerful tool to increase ranking. Concentrate your linkbuilding on these “almost ranker” pages with variations of generic anchor text ( learn more, click here ), keyword anchor text ( seo strategy, saas analytics ), or branded terms ( brand name ).

We recommend focusing on acquiring links on existing pages that already rank ( top 50 positions ) for keywords related to your target page. This has been the strongest linkbuilding signal in our experience is if Google already ranks the source page for a keyword related to yours.

Bonus Tip: Try competitive lnikbuilding. You already know what competitor pages you need to beat for your target keyword so try to acquire the same links + a few of your own.

Content Additions & Increasing Word Count

On its own – content length – is not a ranking signal, but – content coverage – is. So our ultimate goal is to make sure our content whether it’s landing pages or articles, answers all possible questions a user might regarding their search query.

This is where it’s necessary to understand the topic from all angles, we can utilize the following tools to find ways to round out our content:

  1. Google’s Suggest Search: type in your keyword in the search bar and see what recommended topics pop up.
  2. Common FAQs: most keyword research tools will have a way to isolate all “why, how, what, where, when” searches related to your keyword. Incorporate them, and add them to your page.
  3. Competitor Content: if your competitors are covering an aspect of your keyword that you’re not, try to copy and expand on what they’re doing.
  4. Think Like a User: Consider a popular search like “accounting software” – it might be obvious to include a list of various accounting software services, however the next thing a user would look for are “reviews” of specific tools. So make sure to include that adjacent information that a user could find useful.

It looks like we’re generally on par with the top rankers for our “content relevance” keyword.

3. Pick Your Battles: Compare Your Competitor’s Metrics

Once you understand your levers and strategies it’s time to pick which keywords have the best chance of winning, and which competitors to go after. It’s worth mentioning that depending on your site’s size it might be worth taking the time to optimize all pages and all opportunities if you have a smaller site.

But let’s discuss situations where it may be wise or unwise to target the competitors.

Good Opportunities

  • Competitors have low or comparable DA: Compare your DA vs your competitors’ and if you’re within about 20 you should be within striking distance.
  • Competitors lack a direct keyword match: If your keyword is “accounting software for SaaS” but the top competitors are targeting generic keywords like “accounting software” and fail to mention your “SaaS” keyword modifier!
  • Competitors have poor intent match: if you anticipate that the content your competitors show are not answering the true intent of the search query. Consider a situation where you want to rank for “best sales tactics for enterprise”, and the top ranker is an article titled “An in Depth Guide for Enterprise Sales”, you may be able to beat it with a listicle that lists a number of tactics since that’s more inline with the search intent.
  • Competitors have poor SEO metrics: keep an eye out for generic signals like:
    • page speed
    • backlink count
    • general spam
    • poorly optimized design

4. Execute Optimizations

It’s important to remember that in SEO you’re not fighting against Google, but against your competitors. So the general goal should be to match what your competitors are doing and improve it by 10% to 20% percent.

This point is especially important in page speed optimizations, often clients think they need to have their website “in the green” for page speed scores, in reality they just need to be better than their competitors. Often the last 5 – 10 points on page speed may take the most time and effort, so is it really worth it if your competitors are hovering around 50?

This is an approach we recommend on all aspects of SEO – there’s no magic number of backlinks, words, topics that you need to cover for top rankings. You just need to do it better than your competition.

5. Collect Data: Trial & Error

We often see websites fall into the trap of waiting for “perfection” before publishing their content. This approach may make sense for paid traffic, but in the world of SEO you have a strong advantage when publishing at volume and then optimizing for perfection after the fact.

Live content gets indexed and re-crawled faster and more importantly the ranking data you receive from it is much more powerful than keyword research we do ahead of time. While both are important, and keyword research should never be ignored, it’s important to do both.

This is why we recommend publishing content quickly, and then going through multiple rounds of optimizations until you get your desired results.