How I've Increased Search Traffic by 60% without Doing Any SEO

Over the past few months I've had a steady stream of questions from my networking asking me for an update on how I do SEO.

Aside: Interestingly the questions tend to come in batches - quite often just after Google have updated their algorithm and I guess just after a whole heap of people see the resulting changes in traffic.

My Non-Approach to SEO
While I've certainly written about SEO in the past and have paid a little of attention to it in the early days of my blog - I would have to say that my approach to SEO these days if very very limited.

In fact I'd estimate that in the last 3 months I've probably spent less than an hour thinking about any aspect of SEO (and most of that hour would have been simply doing a quick look at whether search traffic was on the rise or fall and perhaps doing some basic analysis of what words people were searching Google for when landing on my site (so it was more analysis than actually doing anything).

While I once did spend more time on SEO (particularly on structuring my site right, getting keyword density up, interlinking my posts lots and quite a bit of researching keywords) I've increasingly found more value in working on other areas of my business and have found that the result in doing so has been that SEO has to some extend looked after itself.

As a result while I spend little or no time on SEO strategy I have continued to see Search Traffic rise to my blogs. I'll include a screen shot of my search traffic on Digital Photography School over the last 5 years to illustrate.

note: the last month does look like a decrease but it is the normal 'February' slump due to decreased days in the month. However if you compare it to last February you can see that search traffic is up by around 60% on the same time last year.

3 Areas I DO Focus On that Helps with SEO
There are a range of activities that I DO spend time on that I believe indirectly have helped me to build more search traffic to my blogs. Actually they also help with most kinds of traffic including direct traffic, traffic from social, referral traffic etc.

Here's what I do focus on:

1. Understanding Readers Needs - ultimately this is what I'm all about. Understanding the needs, problems and challenges of readers (and potential readers) is key. It informs everything else I do (creating content, building community, branding, marketing, monetization etc). It means what I do is relevant and ensures that the site is useful.

This relevance and usefulness has many flow on effects including helping with SEO. It means you're writing on topics people are searching for, it means that when they find your content they are content with it and are more likely to share it (link to it) - all of which helps to increase search rankings/traffic.

This is a step above and beyond keyword research. Knowing the 'words' people use to search Google for is fine - but knowing WHY they search for that enables you to be useful to them which helps you retain those readers and grow word of mouth traffic.

I work hard and getting inside the heads of my readers by surveying them, running polls, running focus groups, asking questions and giving them space to share what they are doing, learning and struggling with. All of these gives me a fantastic picture of how I can serve them better.

2. Content - flowing from understanding readers comes a natural outworking of responding to those needs - the creation of content that is both relevant and useful. This is a daily process of writing, commissioning our writers with assignments and editing their work.

It is about ensuring high quality of work but also keeping the quantity up.

Quality ensures reader satisfaction (which flows on to them becoming regular to the site and recommending it to others - which helps with SEO).

Quantity also helps with growing the site. More articles mean more doorways into the site. Every article we publish is another page that is indexed in Google, a potential page that can be linked to on our readers blogs, an article that can be shared on Twitter/Facebook etc.

To be clear - quantity isn't everything.... I'd rather fewer higher quality articles than lots of low quality ones - but increasing the frequency of posts can help.
3. Community - giving readers ways and spaces to engage with you and one another brings a blog alive.

It helps you get to know your readers needs as mentioned above - but also gives readers a place to belong.

This leads to higher reader loyalty and repeat readers but also again helps with SEO as a reader who feels a sense of belonging is much more likely to be sharing links to your blog than one who never interacts.

As a result I spend a lot of time monitoring our site 'outposts' (Facebook, Twitter etc), creating community centred content (discussions, homework/challenges), focusing our team upon our forum area and investing into customer service (I have a dedicated team on this).

1 Activity that Makes Us Less Reliant Upon Search Engines
There's one more crucial activity that I focus on that doesn't directly impact SEO but really is something of an insurance policy against a slump in our search engine traffic.

Regular readers of ProBlogger will know what it is because I've talked about it many times - it is the dPS Email strategy.

A Quick Story - Quite a few years ago when I was working on my first photography site I became very reliant upon traffic from Google. That blog was well optimized for Google and naturally ranked well. The result was 90% of our traffic was Google traffic. All was good until the day came when Google changed its algorithm and the blog all but disappeared from Google.

To this day I don't know why it happened but for the next 6 weeks 90% of my traffic (and income) disappeared. It came back almost as quickly as it disappeared 6 weeks later but the experience taught me an important lesson - to work on other traffic strategies.

It was around that time that I began to ask my readers to give us their email address so I could send them updates from the site - newsletters.

At the time I didn't really know what I was doing with an email strategy but I'm glad I bit the bullet and started to learn because today it is of massive importance to the site.

I'm including a screen shot of our last 11 months traffic to dPS below. It's the graphic with the regular spikes and troughs pattern. The troughs are weekends and the spikes.... are newsletter days.

Our newsletters drive massive traffic to the site. They also drives readers to community activities (forum pages, facebook page etc). While there are probably some indirect benefits for SEO from this what that newsletter is doing is actually insuring us against a sudden decrease in Google traffic.

While I wouldn't want to loose the search traffic - the site is now at a point where we wouldn't need it to survive because we can now drive our own traffic each week.

To a lesser extent the increased focus for me on social media (particularly Facebook) is also an insurance policy against a decrease in Search Traffic. We now have 100,000 Facebook likes on dPS and it too is sending more and more traffic than previously. The same's true for Twitter and even sites like Pinterest.

In short - diversifying our focus on multiple forms of traffic (particularly those we have complete control over like email) gives us a much much much stronger foundation than if we only focused our time and energy upon SEO.
Kulwant Nagi's profile photoVijay Kumar's profile photoDan Perez's profile photoJonathan Gunson's profile photo
The last big point here is critical. Think of search engines as that one big customer who buys up 90% of your product. If that customer leaves... ! That makes a newsletter, or other component to drive traffic, a survival tool.
Darren, possibly the best thing I have read on Google+ on social media. I have been telling people that SEO will come organically if you focus on putting out lots of valuable content so It is stuff I believe I already knew, but just needed confirmation and also I just moved toward email and was unsure of my logic. Not anymore. Thank you so much for this.
Makes sense to me. Sort of like towing a small car behind the RV just in case you need to get around in local traffic.
Love this. I don't want to share it. Because I don't want potential competition using it.
Good points Darren. Although you also have the benefits of a big online profile now. EG: Ashton Kutcher wouldn't need to invest in #SEO strategies and enhancements because there are a zillion people already looking for him. By default, the profile he has built will take care of his SEO. Similarly with your own content. You have nearly 80k followers on G+ alone. Your content is gonna be shared, discussed and linked to more than someone with 100 followers talking about the same topics.
I agree with everything you're saying though, but this is advice that should be used in conjunction with deliberate SEO efforts for smaller bloggers and businesses. Content is king, but there are many kings
(apologies for that last line, I've been watching a lot of Game of Thrones lately).
Hi Darren - I've asked everybody this, but no-one seems to know - does Google use post tags in its searches? Are they useful for SEO or just for blog navigation? Thanks so much!
+Daylan Pearce has a good point here. Once you have a strong brand, SEO can become less important (depends on market), but for little guys, they ignore SEO at their peril. Great post Darren, filled with wise advice. Just wanted to second Daylan's insightful comment.
great share, i feel the same through i don't have big communities.
Great post! Quality post and SEO will follow.
Having multiple ways of reaching people with your content, plus multiple ways of engaging them equals consistent, reliable traffic. Thanks!
Thanks for always sharing such great information!
Six weeks...yikes! Talk about not putting all your eggs in one search engine. There really is a narrow line between quantity/quality, so it's an art to creating valuable and meaningful content. But this is also great advice for continuing an email strategy. It's not always about money, but more about connecting and re-connecting with fans.
Not relying on search engines is a sound advice. We are also high diversified in Social Media and it accounts nearly 30-40 percent of total traffic. The reason I am posting here because this is Social Media. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google plus all count towards traffic.
Thank you for sharing the way you increased your traffic.
I'm always amazed by your discussions... thanks for your time and for sharing these precious info that comes directly from your own experience! They're gold!
Really, really helpful! I've seen you use the 1. get in touch with reader's needs, 2 create content and 3. build community as your core strategy for years and the results speak for themselves! Thost 3 points alone make this post pure gold. Thank you for all your do for your fans and readers!
Great post! I always think that if I simply write a log of great content on topic...stay focused on that site will organically SEO itself. As always, your tips were very useful. If only I could get my readers more engaged...
+Darren Rowse You're hitting on the power of genuine personal authority and useful blog content. I'm about to launch my richly helpful site for authors. SEO? Here are my priorities.
1. Build eMail list to drive traffic back to site.
2. Have incredibly useful content to build authority on a Personal basis.
3. SEO ... the essentials only

I'm initiating traffic flows to the blog with my large author's Twitter account:
I'll be growing my G+ account for the same reason.

Standby Sir!
Loved the way you explain SIR !! A must read Article for every blogger !!
I wish my clients listen to this advice, instead of obsessing about the title optimization :(
The more I know about blogging the less I know. What I do know is that I've realized I enjoy writing - so I write. I'm smart enough (I guess) to share my posts effectively via social media but my website (where I park my blog) is ultimately a place to showcase my video production work. I write when I get the itch to write about something and I feel very fortunate that I have that freedom.
That said, I kinda feel sorry for those people who "have to" write every day - it usually shows in their posts...
Darren, which hosting company do you use?  Low down time? Hostgator keeps dropping the ball.
Add a comment...