Here’s Exactly What We Did to Improve Our SEO in 2016… and Beyond

Nerdy CEO confession: I love SEO.

It’s something I read about constantly when I started blogging several years ago. You could find me on Search Engine Roundtable multiple times a day reading about the latest SEO strategy or Google algorithm update.

While running a one-man show, I had to stay on top of it. SEO is constantly evolving, and your website will get left in the dust -- or worse, on the second page of Google! -- if you don’t keep up.

I was especially drawn to off-site optimization because it involved marketing. In my early blogging days, I joined Facebook groups to learn from and befriend others in the personal finance space, and started guest posting. More recently, I managed a small team of link builders close to home (hi, Mom!) for five months and used BuzzStream to track our progress.

After acqui-hiring Socialexis, a boutique blog management firm, in July 2015, The Penny Hoarder increased its production of regular, quality content, further helping us boost our SEO.

Our traffic was headed in the right direction… but I knew we could do better.

Why I Hired an SEO Manager

As a publisher, you always hear the horror stories of a Facebook or Google algorithm change completely destroying a business.

I never want The Penny Hoarder to be in that position, which is why we diversify our traffic sources.

We’ve had great success growing our Facebook page in the last year. But while our referral traffic from Facebook was increasing, our overall website traffic was declining.

To counteract this trend, I wanted to grow our search traffic.

It’s more powerful; people who arrive on your site through search stay there longer, click on other articles and are more likely to sign up for your email newsletter. They’re more engaged readers.

I also wanted to address the basics -- using correct headline tags, developing a better keyword strategy -- and focus on creating more mobile-friendly and bookmarked (the kind you return to over and over again) content.

As the company and my responsibilities grew, I no longer had the time to dedicate to SEO. And as we expanded our editorial and web development departments, I wanted to make sure we were still following best practices.

Before we could slap the job description on our careers page, we came across an individual whose skill set matched what we were looking for and hired our first SEO manager.

While working across departments for the last couple months, we’ve improved the site for the web and the user in several ways.

3 Ways We Improved the Site and Grew Our Traffic

We Refined Our Keyword Strategy and Editorial Process

Our writers and editors were using Google Keyword Planner to conduct keyword research and work it into our content. We were on the right track, and we saw greater site and social traffic, and brand recognition as a result.

However, when Darrell, our SEO manager, came on board, he outlined two major issues with our content:

1. We were targeting keywords we would never rank for

If we covered a Domino’s deal on pizza, our editorial team would most likely target the keyphrase “Domino’s pizza” because of the volume of searches. However, there’s no way we could compete with the huge pizza chain for that term!

The fix: We target “Domino’s pizza discounts” instead, which has less competition and is more true to the article content.

2. We were competing with ourselves

We cover a lot of ways to make and save money on The Penny Hoarder. But when we covered similar topics to existing content, we were also competing with ourselves for a better position on the search engine results pages (SERPs). For example, we had 10 articles on “how to save money on groceries.”

The fix: Moving forward, writers check to see if we already rank for a keyword before choosing it. They also keep an eye out for different angles -- for example, “How to Save Money at X Grocery Chain” -- so our stories can rank differently.

One of our biggest content wins of the year was our post on inexpensive leggings: “We Tried 8 Leggings Under $20 — and Ranked Them Worst to Best.”

Our senior writer, Susan, came up with the idea.

“I love leggings, but never knew which ones offered the most bang for your buck,” she said. “As fall approached, I figured readers would be preparing to buy leggings -- and would also want to know. I sourced ideas for which brands to include from our staff and community group.”

Darrell did some quick keyword research for relevant keywords. He suggested making “best leggings for women” the primary keyword, since it also included “best leggings” -- which had a high search volume -- in the keyphrase.

Since October, the article has amassed nearly 85,000 pageviews. We currently rank #2 for “best leggings” (8,100 searches per month) and #4 for “best leggings for women” (1,900 searches per month).

This article also generated a lot of conversation among readers in the comment section. It was an all-around helpful and fun piece of content.

We Put the Focus Back on Link Building

In 2016, we expanded our media relations and social media teams. The former helped secure placements and earn white-hat links from the recognition, and the latter helped broaden our reach and increase the number of sites that link to us.

The quality of our content played a big factor in getting solid links -- other sites tend to link to content they are comfortable being associated with.

We also explored question-and-answer sites. Posting on Q&A networks like Quora and Yahoo Finance is an excellent way to build quality backlinks. The benefit is twofold: We get to build links on authority sites and help people by answering questions and offering quality information to users.

Jacquelyn, one of our editorial interns, has helped us build links on Quora. Unlike Yahoo Finance, where you have to post high-level material for a while before you have the ability to add a link, you can start answering questions and adding links on Quora right away.

Under the guidance of Darrell, Jacquelyn browses through different personal finance and money-saving topics. In this example, she responded to a question about the biggest daily waste of money:

The Penny Hoarder | Use of Quora.png

Wikipedia is one of the most popular destinations on the web with over 40 million monthly visitors. We haven’t added links to Wikipedia yet, but we’re laying the groundwork.

Wikipedia has a vetting process to ensure you’re adding solid sources to its entries. We’re being good citizens of the web and editing existing articles for clarity and grammar. Once we get a few under our belt, we’re going to add some of our articles to relevant entries with broken links.

WikiGrabber is a free tool designed to help you find broken links on Wikipedia. Simply enter a keyphrase -- say, student loans -- and the tool will pull related entries with broken links or ones that need sources.

We Made The Penny Hoarder AMP-Friendly

Our biggest SEO decision of 2016 was implementing AMP.

In Oct. 2015, Google announced the Accelerated Mobile Pages Project, otherwise known as AMP. According to the official Google blog, the goal of AMP is to improve the mobile web experience:

“We want webpages with rich content like video, animations and graphics to work alongside smart ads, and to load instantaneously. We also want the same code to work across multiple platforms and devices so that content can appear everywhere in an instant -- no matter what type of phone, tablet or mobile device you’re using.”

In March, our web developer, Branndon, implemented Google AMP on our site. We installed the AMP plugin for WordPress, which helps all our posts have AMP-compatible versions.

A couple months after installing the plugin, Darrell pointed out a few errors. He and Branndon put a fix in place and worked on any remaining errors manually.

That was in early September. Here’s a fun screenshot to illustrate how we’ve done since then. :)

Searches on mobile have eclipsed searches on desktop.

More than 80% of our traffic on The Penny Hoarder comes from mobile devices.

The future of the web is mobile. Being an early adopter of AMP was smart, and I’m glad we leaned into it.

Did you experience any big traffic wins this year? Are you doing anything different to get more site traffic? Let me know in the comments!

Kyle Taylor is the founder and CEO of Taylor Media / The Penny Hoarder, one of the largest personal finance websites with 15+ million monthly readers. In 2016, the Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder the 32nd fastest-growing private company and the #1 fastest-growing media company in the United States. You can read his last article on LinkedIn, “3 Major Startup Trends We’re Ignoring -- and How It’s Helping Us Grow.”

Image credits: (1) The Huffington Post, (2) Samantha Dunscombe, The Penny Hoarder, (3) Quora, (4) Google Analytics for The Penny Hoarder

startup lifeKyle Taylor