Advanced Keyword Research For Quick SEO Wins [Case Study]

After the flurry of activity that accompanies the acquisition of an affiliate site, you often hit maintenance mode.

You continue publishing content and building links, all while waiting for your SEO efforts to pay off.

I call this period the steady state.

Once you’ve initially poured a ton of resources into ranking your site and increasing your revenue, the steady state is a period of relative calm.

If you’re not seeing the immediate outcomes you’re hoping for, try to remain patient and stoic.

Keep your foot on the gas pedal and wait for the results to come.

In this month’s Project Cashflow, I’ll flesh out two of my favorite advanced keyword research techniques to help you spot what Google “likes,” and what’s working for your lower-authority competitors…

And how to translate that knowledge into easy wins.

I’ll also bring you up to speed on how all the SEO tactics we’ve deployed in previous months are impacting Project Cashflow’s performance to date.

Let’s get rolling…

Advanced Keyword Research cashflow month 4The Movers and Shakers Method

In Project Cashflow Month Two, I showed you how three of our secondary product categories experienced significant ranking improvements in the wake of the December core update.

Even though these product categories aren’t directly related to our main affiliate offer, we doubled down on creating content for them in an effort to increase the traffic and SEO performance of the site as a whole.

Now, I want to share our exact process for identifying these “movers and shakers” keywords and product categories on your website.

Movers and shakers are keywords that jump 20+ positions in the rankings in a short period of time.

Significant ranking leaps of 20 positions (or more) are as clear an indicator as any I’ve come up with that Google “likes” what your site is doing for a specific keyword cluster.

Swiftly identifying keywords/pages/products showing substantial gains in the rankings puts you in a position to quickly double down your SEO efforts on the keywords that Google already likes…

As I’ve said before, if Google shows you it likes something you’re doing, it’s usually a good idea to give it more of what it wants.

For Project Cashflow, that means creating more informational content targeting promising keywords/product categories and growing topical relevance.

Why informational content instead of commercial content?

In my recent Google core update video, I discuss trends we spotted in a Surfer-powered crawl of 600 websites and share why at LeadSpring we’ve made the decision to focus our content creation efforts on informational or “top of the funnel” content for our sites. At least for the moment…

Now, here’s how we identify our movers and shakers step-by-step, using Ahrefs.

Keyword Explorer has been a part of Ahrefs since the app’s very beginnings. But to identify our fast-moving keywords, we’re going to use Organic Keywords 2.0.

Launched by Ahrefs in 2020, Keywords 2.0 was a significant upgrade to Ahrefs keyword research capabilities.

One of the coolest features Ahrefs introduced in Keywords 2.0 was the ability to see historical organic traffic and ranking data for individual keywords.

Keywords 2.0 is the tool we use to identify our “hot” categories. We go through this process every two weeks, typically on the 1st and 15 of the month.

1. Open Organic Keywords 2.0 and plug your site URL into the search bar.

2. By default, the end of the comparison date range will be today’s date. Leave that and change the comparison date to a month previous.

3.  In the “Position” drop-down menu, click the “New” and “Improved” checkboxes and input 20 in the From field. This will show you all your site’s keywords and the related pages that have appeared in the Top 20 rankings during your selected timeframe.

4. To the right of the current position, you’ll see the number of spots that a keyword and its relevant page have jumped in the rankings during the given timeframe.

As you can see inside the green box in the image below, we have numerous keywords/pages that have jumped 20+ spots in the rankings, and one at the bottom has skyrocketed by 85 positions.

5. Make a note of any keywords/pages that have shown improvement. My general rule of thumb is keywords that have leaped by 20 positions or more.

6. Manually group the high-performing pages by product or product category. This will give you a clear indication of what products and categories Google is rewarding your site with higher rankings.

7. Use this analysis to determine where you should focus your content creation efforts and other SEO tactics.

In the case of Project Cashflow, while we did see some positive movement for keywords and pages related to our primary affiliate offer, the biggest positive shift in the rankings continued to be for secondary product categories.

Without getting into the specifics of Project Cashflow’s secondary product categories, imagine you’ve got a chocolate website and all of a sudden your toffee section starts getting traction with Google…

It’s probably a good idea to ramp up your toffee category’s content offering, even though it’s secondary to your main product.

Because our content offering in Project Cashflow’s “toffee” categories remains relatively thin, we decided to double down our informational content creation efforts for these product types.

Even though this new content isn’t directly related to our main money page, it should help drive more traffic to the site and boost our overall SEO efforts.

Reverse Engineering Low-Authority Competitors

As you’ll recall from Project Cashflow Month Zero, one of the main reasons I acquired a site already operating in the education niche is that the domain had already accrued some authority and DR.

Since then, thanks mainly to our link building efforts, Project Cashflow’s DR has continued to grow:

While DR does not equate to higher rankings, it’s a positive sign to see the site’s DR climb so substantially.

When you have a medium-authority site like Project Cashflow, one of the best ways to find keywords and content ideas to target is to reverse-engineer what’s working for your lower authority competitors.

If you create superior content targeting the keywords driving traffic to their site, you have a good chance of outranking your competitors with DR inferior to yours…

When it comes to finding out who your lower-authority competitors are, there are a few different approaches you can take:

Method 1: Find Competitors by Affiliate Offer in Ahrefs

1. Finding out which of your competitors are linking to the same affiliate offers as you isn’t very difficult. In some cases, it can be as simple as plugging the affiliate offer’s landing page into Ahrefs and looking at the page’s referring domains.

But often the affiliate offer’s landing page is simply the homepage for the site in question. This is the case with the affiliate program for Semrush, so I’m going to walk you through a different method using Semrush as an example.

2. Many affiliate websites use a tracking domain or code in the URL query string, to track the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns and to enhance analytics — particularly when it comes to affiliate offers.

If you’re already part of an affiliate program, you will already be familiar with the tracking domain or query string in your own affiliate links.

In the Backlinks tool in Ahrefs Site Explorer, plug the tracking domain or query string into the “Word or phrase field” shown below.

3. For SEMrush, the portion of the URL query string that every affiliate link has in common is “utm_source=berush” so that’s what you enter in the word/phrase search bar.

4. Once you’ve run the search in Ahrefs using these parameters, you can sort all your competitors using Semrush’s affiliate program by DR to identify your lower authority competitors.

Shout out to Gael at Authority Hacker who’s Easy Affiliate Keywords article inspired this technique.

Method 2: Find Low Authority Competitors Using Competing Domains in Ahrefs

1. Use Competing Domains in Ahrefs Site Explorer. For this example, let’s use the Competing Domains of Diggitymarketing.com.

2. Plug your affiliate site’s URL into the Competing Domains tool in Ahrefs Site Explorer. Competing Domains works by finding  websites with which you share a high percentage of keywords in common

3. You can manually search for domains with a lower DR that rank for your target keywords by clicking the down arrow next to the domain and checking out the DR.

But that’s somewhat cumbersome, and there’s a quicker way…

4. In the top right corner of the Competing Domains page, click on Export

5. From the resulting .CSV file, copy the domain URL column

6. Plug the domains into Ahrefs Quick Batch Analysis tool and sort by DR from low to high.

Now that you know who your lower authority competitors are, you can reverse-engineer what keywords and topics drive traffic to their site and fuel their position in the rankings.

If you create content that directly targets those keywords/topics, you’ve got a good chance of beating them out in the rankings based on your site’s higher DR.

One of my biggest takeaways from our Surfer-powered crawl of 600 websites after the December core update was that Google appears to be favoring sites with a higher ratio of informational content to commercial/affiliate content.

Let me stress that this assumption is by no means an established fact.

Like so much of SEO, it’s more of a gut feeling supported partially by relevant data — and I’m happy to make decisions for my affiliate sites based on that.

In February, we focused on publishing informational, non-commercial content topically relevant to our primary money category and the second category money pages that Google has taken a recent interest in — as determined by the “Movers and Shakers” method above.

Once we know what our “hot” categories are, most topic ideas come from reverse engineering what’s ranking for lower authority sites, as discussed in the previous section.

In February, we maintained our goal of publishing 15 new articles per month:

  • All informational/non-commercial content
  • 3 articles topically relevant to our primary affiliate offer
  • 12 articles of supporting informational content for our secondary product categories

As most of you probably know, installing a surplus of WordPress plugins that claim to do much of your SEO and other work for you is a bad idea.

Every plugin you install increases the risk of slowing down or just full-on breaking your site.

Plugins have also proven in the past to be a convenient doorway for hackers — and you definitely don’t want to have to deal with that.

So, I try to run my affiliate sites clean, with the minimum number of plugins possible.

Having said that, I find some plugins invaluable — such as ShortPixel and NitroPack — which I’ve spoken about in past installments of Project Cashflow.

But even workhorse plugins like these can’t just be installed then forgotten.

WordPress plugins tend to update frequently, and each update typically introduces problems to your sites that you need to address.

NitroPack released an update in February that created issues with our page layout — particularly our sidebar navigation — our CSS, and our product categorization.

None of these NitroPack bugs were that difficult to squash, but you need to be vigilant with your sites whenever your plugins update.

A plugin update impacts each site differently.

When you use a custom page builder, as in our case — as discussed in Project Cashflow Month One — you need to pay special attention.

We uncovered almost all of the issues from the NitroPack update by simply eyeballing the site.

Often, your own two eyes and judgment are far more effective than any tool or SEO “hack.”

Link Building

Last month, in Project Cashflow Month 3, I shared some unconventional link building techniques — including purchasing links from Wiki sites and HARO.

I have positive news about both to share with you…

But first, a quick summary of the link building strategy I deploy immediately for all of my affiliate sites:

  • One or more expert roundups
  • Wikipedia/Wikidata/Wikimedia links
  • Niche-specific guest post links from Authority Builders. Since Project Cashflow is in the education niche, we purchased quite a few .edu guest posts from Authority Builders
  • Ongoing guest posts and link insertions built by our in-house outreach team
  • Once the site gains traction and becomes profitable enough, we’ll run a digital PR campaign

Wiki Links

Getting a link on Wikipedia isn’t that difficult…

After all, virtually all of the content is user-generated.

But getting a link to “stick” by evading Wikipedia’s army of editors and fact-checkers is another story.

For Project Cashflow, the good news is that links on Wikipedia, Wikidata, and Wikimedia went live early in February, and so far, they’ve stuck.

Of course, that could change at any moment. I’ll keep you posted.

Help A Reporter Out (HARO)

HARO is another crapshoot. You can easily devote hours to answering reporter queries and never score a backlink to show for it…

But we rolled the dice, and in February, at least, it paid off.

The freelancer we found on Upwork managed to score five dofollow backlinks from sites with the following DRs:

  • 32
  • 35
  • 66
  • 72
  • 77

Having tried many different HARO approaches for various sites over the years, I was delighted with these results.

In-house Link Building

February was a strong month all around for Project Cashflow link building.

Our in-house link building outreach team landed 14 paid backlinks from link insertions on niche-relevant or semi-relevant sites with DR ranging from 31 to 68.

February Results

Overall, February traffic, ranking, and revenue results were mostly flat…

Am I disappointed?

You always hope for hockey sticks and rank boners.

But if there’s one thing all these years in affiliate SEO have taught me is that it’s a long game.

Here’s the big picture…

February saw a modest decline in traffic — I’m hopeful for a course correction in March when search demand for Project Cashflow’s micro niche traditionally begins to ramp up.

Here is Project Cashflow’s performance in the rankings based on top rankings:

And based on positive change:

Lastly, the most important metric of all:

  • Amazon Associate Revenue February 2020: $330.79
  • Amazon Associate Revenue February 2021: $309.05
  • Non-Amazon Affiliate Revenue 2021: $36.65
  • Y-O-Y Percentage Change: +4.43%

Nothing to write home about, but earnings should start to ramp up beginning in March based on historical sales data.

Final Thoughts

For the Project Cashflow case study, all good things must come to a pause…

For now, the site has hit that steady state I talked about in the intro.

We’ll keep creating content, building links, and staying on top of every aspect of SEO…

But I want to deliver value to you, the reader — not just monthly progress reports.

In this month’s installment, I shared two of my favorite advanced link building techniques:

  • The Movers and Shakers method
  • Reverse-engineering low-authority competitors

And I’m pressing pause on the monthly installments of the Project Cashflow case study until something exciting happens — for better or for worse.

Expect to hear more from Project Cashflow when I have significant news about any of the following:

  • Google Core Update: As you know, most significant movement in the rankings occurs during a Google core update… I like to think we’re well-positioned to make some significant gains, but you never know. If there’s any substantial impact for Project Cashflow — good or bad — you’ll hear all about it.
  • Revenue: As discussed in previous installments, both search volume for our primary keywords and revenue have historically trended sharply upwards starting in March and peaking in May/June. I’ll be sharing the real revenue numbers with you when that time comes.
  • 301 Redirect: If/when the juice from the aged domain 301 redirect I covered in Project Cashflow Month Two kicks in, I’ll be sure to let you know. Had a ton of questions about this in the Affiliate SEO Mastermind Facebook group.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to do all the things…

If you want the full story on all the things I do to rank and monetize affiliate sites, make sure to check out The Affiliate Lab.

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This content was originally published here.

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