How to Improve Existing Content: The Simple 3 Step Method

By Chris Shaffer •  Updated: 02/16/21 •  20 min read

If you have been creating content for a while, chances are you're taking at least a little bit of time to see you where you rank in the search engines.

 One of the most common questions we get is “how can I improve where my content ranks ?” and that's what we're going to be diving into today.

 The first and most important thing you need to know, before we dive into how you can help your article ranked better organically, is that you need to be patient.

 If a piece of content you're trying to increase the rank of is less than a minimum of six months old, you need to give it more time in order to understand where you will rank organically.

 Typically this process can take anywhere from five to eight months for you to “ settle into your natural organic position.”

 If you waited at least that period of time, feel free to read on.

Find Where You Rank

Before we dive into the methods that we suggest using to help improve the way a piece of content ranks, we have to understand where that piece of content is now.

 We're going to dive into two different methods to show you how you can find where your piece of content ranks.

Keep in mind, that the second method is easier and more reliable than the first, but it does cost a bit of money so we wanted to show you the way that you could do it for free as well.

The Free Google Method For Finding Where You Rank

Unfortunately, with everything that Google and the other search engines know about you finding where you rank is not as simple as searching for your term inside of

 If we do that, we're likely to appear much higher than we do naturally in the search results, because Google will personalized search results based on what they think we want to see and the site that we visited in the past.

 In order to get around this, we need to create a place where Google doesn't know anything about us.

 This typically means starting with either an incognito window in your browser, where you've never logged into Google, or a different browser all together ( this is actually the preferred solution).

For example, if you typically use Google Chrome browser, you can use Microsoft Edge, Safari, Firefox, or Brave as long as you have never logged into Google using that browser.

Once you have your “Google History Free” browser open, the process here is as simple as heading over to Google ( or Bing if that's your thing)  and typing in the keyword that you have been trying to Rank for.

 Next comes the fun part, we are going to manually look through the Google search results Page by Page until we find where our article ranks.

 Keep in mind that the standard Google search result page has 10 results, so if you are the third result on page 5 you would be result 43.

 If you're lucky and already ranked well, and this process is fairly simple.

Once you find where you are located, simply write the number down either in a notebook or spreadsheet and move on to the next search term.

Using a Tool To Find Where You Rank

If you are not a glutton for punishment and you have a few dollars to spend, there are a wide variety of tools that you can use in order to track where your site ranks for different keywords.

 My suggestion would be to use something like ubersuggest  or if you have a slightly bigger budget and are really into the more technical side of things, you can look at a tool like ahrefs. 

Using UberSuggest To Find Where You Rank For a Keyword

While you are able to use the free version of ubersuggest to find where you rank manually, if you're tracking more than a handful of keywords the paid version of the tool will provide you with keyword tracking capability.

 As far as tools go, it's one of the cheapest and they have a  7-Day free trial, so even if you've never used it before, you can use it for a few days in order to take advantage of this feature.

 Once you have created your account, you're going to want to login and click on the “Tracked Keywords” option inside of your site dashboard.

From there, we are taken inside of the keyword tracking tool and are able to see a dashboard of all the keywords that we've asked them to track previously.

If the keyword you are trying to find your rank for was not previously part of the list, you can add it easily.

Simply click the add keyboard button in the upper right hand of the dashboard, and add the keyword or keywords that you're trying to find your rank for.

After you've added all the keywords that you would like uber suggest to find your rank for, move on to another project for a few hours, while they scrape the web…when you return, you’ll have all of your organic positions in an easy to read dashboard.

Understand WHY You Rank where You Rank

Now that we have a better understanding of exactly where our content ranks, we need to spend a little bit of time understanding why we are ranking where we are ranking.

 Now this obviously is not as simple as saying “  my competitors have more links than I do”  like it was in the early 2000s, especially given Google considers hundreds of ranking factors.

 Realistically, the best way to think about how Google ranks content for each keyword that someone may search for, is by thinking of each search as a question.

 The number one search result for any given key word is what Google sees as the “best answer”  to what that person is searching for.

 This is what is referred to as ‘ Searcher’s intent”. 

 At the end of the day, it's Google's job to give people the answers to their questions and so if someone ranks above us for a specific keyword they are a better answer in the eyes of Google then we are for that specific question.

 In order to understand exactly why the content that ranks above us is a better answer to that question, we're going to take three different steps.

Using Google Analytics To Get a Deeper Understanding Of What is Happening

The first place that we should start when trying to figure out why content is ranking the way that it’s ranking is by taking a look at the analytics we have for the existing piece of content.

There are three key things we are going to be taking a look at inside of our Google analytics accounts.

If you don't have an analytics program like Google analytics installed, please do that now. Even if you are not very savvy with the data, I would rather that you have the  historical data, for someone else to look at, then to not have the data at all.

The report we are going to be using to analyze what's happening with our content is called the landing pages report.

If you're not sure how to find this, once you're inside your Google analytics dashboard, click on the behavior tab along the left hand side.

 From here, we're going to click on the “Site content” section, and finally landing pages.

Since we are trying to understand what happens when someone finds us in organic search, it's important that we remove the filter that is showing us all visits to that page as a landing page and only show what happens when someone comes from organic traffic.

 To do that, you're going to Click at the top of the analytics dashboard where you see that it says all users (If you're inside the landing page report, this drop-down should be located directly underneath the phrase landing pages).

Once you are inside the traffic filter, you are going to unselect “ all traffic”  and select the option for “ Organic Traffic”.

This will make sure that Google is only showing us the visitors who came from organic search.

 I would also suggest that before we dive into the metrics we are looking for, that you adjust the date range to incorporate at least the last three months worth of data.

 To do this,  simply click on the dates in the upper right hand corner and select a minimum of three months worth of data.  If we use less data than this, our results can be skewed.

Bounce Rate

Typically, the very first thing we're going to look at inside Google analytics is the total number of people who have landed on a page.   In  this case, we're less concerned with the overall number of people landing on the page then we are with their behavior once they arrive there.

 With that in mind, the first metric we need to take a look at is the bounce rate.

 Anytime you see this in a report, it means the number of people ( as a percentage)  who landed on that page and then left the website without visiting another page.

This  is important for two reasons when it comes to understanding why you're contacting ranks where it ranks.

 The first, is because Google is very concerned about a behavior they call pogo sticking.  If someone clicks on your search results in a Google search comes to your site and you haven't answered their question, they bounce back to the Google search and enter another website in order to get their question answered.

Google obviously wants to provide the best answer the first time someone uses the Google search result, so an extremely high bounce rate (the actual percentage will vary from industry to industry, but typically if you see 85% or higher you potentially have a bounce rate problem, meaning you're not answering the question correctly) can be negative sign to Google.

Time On Site

The second metric we're going to want to take a look at is the amount of time that the typical user spends on our website.

Just like with bounce rate,  Google understands that the longer the amount of time someone is engaged in your website, the more likely it is that you have answered the question correctly and won over the affection of the user.

Again what's good will vary from industry to Industry,  but if your average time on site is under 2 to 3 minutes, chances are you need to improve your piece of content.

Pages Per Session

The last metric we're going to take a look at to see how we're doing is the number of pages per session that a user is looking at it.

 Just like with the other two metrics, what's good for the metric can vary slightly from industry to industry, but if you are 2 pages per session or higher, that is considered to be generally good.

 If we are under that number, chances are there's something that we are missing in our piece of content.

 These three metrics in and of themselves do not necessarily give us everything that we need to know in order to improve our content, they simply serve as a guide post to see if we are on the right track.

 If all three of these metrics are good, there's something else wrong with the content.  If these metrics are not so good, we need to take a deeper dive into the user experience from the website.

 Are there pop ups or other distracting things that are stopping people from being able to consume the content  or do we simply need to do a better job of answering the question that the Searcher is actually asking? 

What is The Question Searchers are Actually Asking:

The next step we're going to take to understand why we rank where we rank, is to make sure that we're actually answering the question that someone searching that key word is asking.

 Chances are, if we rank on the first page that we are actually answering the correct question.

If we ranked lower than that, we need to take a little bit of time to think about what someone might be searching for when they type in that query. 

Sometimes, the intent of the Searcher is very obvious.   If we take a look at the example of a keyword like “ how to use a garlic press”,  it's fairly obvious that someone typing that in is searching for instructions on how to use a garlic press.

 If on the other hand, the search term is something more like “ vegan hamburgers”, there are a variety of things that someone could be searching for.

 They could be looking for “ vegan hamburgers near them” ( meaning they're looking for restaurant results),  they could be looking for “ vegan hamburger recipes”,  or they could even be looking for something like the impossible Burger ( which is a premade vegan hamburger substitute and a nationally known brand).

Google is constantly testing to see what someone means when they type this, by placing different search results in different positions and seeing how consumers react.

We need to keep this in mind as well, and take a look at which of the three examples of content listed above is actually ranking well for that keyword.

 If the person is actually looking for vegan hamburger recipes  an article we wrote is all about the merits of the impossible Burger, Chances Are We aren't ever going to rank on the first page for that keyboard.

 If that's the situation we find ourselves in, we're much better off creating a new piece of content that directly addresses what the Searchers are looking for, then trying to redraft our article about the impossible Burger to be a recipe ( especially given that the impossible Burger is pre-made).

At this point we need to make a decision about whether our content that is currently ranking for this keyword is answering the correct question.

 If it is, it's time to move on and actually take a look at our competitors' content to see what they are doing  a better job with their articles than we are.

What Are Your Competitors Doing that You Aren’t:

This next step is going to be one of the most time-consuming of this entire process, but it's also the single most important.

 We need to take a deep dive into our competitors' content to understand what they are doing to better answer the question the Searchers are asking when they are typing in the keyword we are trying to rank, than we are.

This means, we need to actually take the time to read and analyze their content to understand exactly what it is that they are doing.

In order to do this, we're simply going to run a standard Google search for our keyword, and start looking for our competitor's content.

Article Title:

When evaluating one of our competitors pieces of content to see why they're ranked better, the first thing I like to look at is the article title.

 The more closely an article title matches the actual intent of the searcher, the more likely it is to rank for that particular keyword.   

 There's two main reasons behind this, the first is the more obvious  reason if somebody sees the title that exactly matches what they're looking for they're going to click on it.

 The second has more to do with how users behave inside of a Google search result page.

 If the intent behind a search is to find a step-by-step guide, such as in the how to use a garlic press example, and you include how to use a garlic press in your title along with the words step-by-step guide, you're going to  increase the likelihood someone is going to click on your result if they see it, which is a positive sign into Google to rank you highly for that content.

 Take a look at the structure and the way that your competitors are naming the pieces of content that are ranking  and consider using a similar structure if you aren't already.

Article Outline

The second thing that we need to take a look at in terms of content ranking better than us is at what I like to call the article outline. 

 Just like how we have a table of contents at the beginning of this article, you can think of the headings and subheadings inside of your competitors article kind of like an outline ( this is a concept we dive into in depth in this content creation article here).

Essentially, what we are looking for is to see if there are any additional topics that our competitors are  covering or to see if they're doing a more in-depth job of talking about something that is directly related to the searcher’s intent.

 For example, if we return to the “ how to use a garlic press”  search, if our article is simply telling people to put the piece of garlic inside the press and squeeze oh, and our competitors are giving a step-by-step guide for exactly what to do, we may want to build out a step-by-step guide, rather than only giving the obvious answer.

 Additionally, if they're answering related questions in that same piece of content, such as “ do I have to peel garlic before I put it in a garlic press”  or “ how to clean a garlic press”  we may want to include those topics in her article as well.

 While they aren't directly related to the initial portion of the Searcher intent, it's likely that that is one of the next questions that the Searcher may be interested in looking for.

If we are able to answer their next question, without them having to return to Google, this means they spend longer consuming our content and they don't bounce directly back to Google to run another search, both of which are positive signals to rank our content well.

Images/Other Media

Once we have a better understanding of what our competitors are doing from a written content perspective, it's time to take a look at the images or other media they may have on their page.

 It's important not only to look at the images, but also additional resources they may have such as charts or graphs that can give the user a better understanding and more completely answer their questions.

 Take a look at each of your competitors and make a list of the resources they are taking advantage of that you may be able to duplicate or make better to include in your own piece of content.

Update Your Content:

Now that we have a better understanding of exactly what people are looking for when they're searching for the content and what we could do to better actually answer that question, it's time to make the changes to our content.

Make Changes You Discovered During Your Deep Dive

The first step in updating our content is obviously going to be  to make the changes to our content that we learned about during the competitive research.

 Take the time to go through the list of article outlines and resources that you could add to your piece of content and make sure to add them in a natural way.

 It's never smart to copy exactly what your competitors are doing, so take the time to understand why those resources or additional subheadings are useful to the reader and make them your own.

Once you have made all of the changes to the content itself, it's time to do a little bit of a deeper dive into the other content that you created that may be useful to either link to from this article or to link to this article from.

 For example, if we go back to the how to use a garlic press example,  if we've also written content such as the “ 10 best garlic presses”  it may be useful to include a link to that piece of content from the how to guide.

 Additionally, it may make sense to link to this article from the 10 best garlic press articles so that the people who don't understand exactly how to use their garlic press, can take advantage of this Resource as well.

 While this in and of itself, just like all other links to your content, is not going to be a silver bullet, it is worth taking the time to do because you're going to drive additional traffic and Google will get a better understanding of exactly what your piece of content is about.


 The last and final step in upgrading your content in order to rank better inorganic search results is quite frankly the hardest.

 After doing all of our competitive research and making updates to our content we now have to do what we all hate to do…….  spend time waiting.

 At the beginning of this article I said that you should stop reading at the piece of content that you are trying to upgrade is less than 6 months old oh, the same thinking applies here.

It will take time, although typically not as much as your initial ranking, for Google to understand all of the new resources that you have to offer and to test it to see how they perform with the Searchers.

 Give yourself a good two to three months, before taking a deep dive into analytics again and understanding what's happening.

 It's okay to keep a closer eye on where you are ranking. In a tool like uber suggest, but I wouldn't get too bogged down in checking it daily or weekly. Afterall, what we're really looking for when we make these updates is long-term and Lasting change.

Chris Shaffer

Chris lives at the intersection of business strategy and growth tactics. Having consulted with dozens of different businesses (as well as building several of his own), he brings a unique perspective on what's working across the eCommerce world in businesses of all shapes and sizes.