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This post originally appeared on the ClickFlow blog.
The right title will boost click-through rates, and even your ranking, in the organic search engine results. But as this indie digital publisher discovered, knowing the best titles for your brands and readership can take some experimentation.
Indie publishing company Black & White Zebra has 10 websites in its portfolio, with a combined one million (and growing) monthly visitors. Two years ago, the company started working with ClickFlow, a suite of tools designed to help users run SEO experiments and optimize their content.
Black & White Zebra’s Content Director, Sarah Tolle, spoke to Single Grain about how the team has been using ClickFlow to experiment with titles and headings, discover what works best for their brands, and consistently improve click-through rates on their high-priority articles.
Let’s take a look at how she grew organic traffic by up to 187% with title testing.
Improve CTR on Your Most Valuable Content
The team at Black & White Zebra was initially attracted to ClickFlow for its content decay feature, which connects to your Google Search Console account and automatically finds the posts that have seen a decline in traffic over the last year or so.
However, they soon found that the platform allowed them to not just optimize pages that were performing worse over time, but to also be proactive about ensuring that their most valuable pages continued to perform well.
“We’re heavily organic,” Tolle explains. “Our sites contain a lot of evergreen content that garners organic traffic from search, so we’re always looking to increase our visibility and click-through rate in SERP.”
With performance in the SERPs key to their readership and conversions, the company doesn’t want to wait for content to decay before they start optimizing it. Instead, they identify the most valuable articles for each website based on revenue generation and memberships, and then regularly monitor their performance.
“We look at their traffic. We look at their click-through rates,” Tolle says. “Then we assess: what could be the reason why this one is not performing or growing like the others?”
ClickFlow is designed for sites with a significant amount of published content so that it can run A/B tests on reasonable-sized samples. Given this, some of Black & White Zebra’s newer sites don’t yet have enough content for testing.
However, Tolle and her team have found that they can still improve these sites’ performances by applying what they’ve learned from the more mature sites in their portfolio. When they identify an article that’s underperforming compared to other pages on the website, they analyze the content to identify potential improvements.
“Then we see things like, it looks like the headings aren’t optimized well for keywords, or perhaps the title doesn’t have a number in it while all the other article titles do have numbers. So let’s update the title,” she says.
Tolle’s team then runs an experiment based on the new title in ClickFlow to see if their instinct was correct:
By prioritizing the most valuable pages, analyzing their performance, and monitoring the effects of edits to the content, Black & White Zebra ensures that they’re not losing out on potential revenue or traffic.
Split Test What Works Best for Your Website
Tolle says that Black & White Zebra has learned a lot from using ClickFlow, including what doesn’t work for their brand.
At one point, ClickFlow’s team provided some new ideas for the company’s rotation of tests, based on trends that ClickFlow was seeing work well with other clients. But although Tolle acknowledges that testing the ideas was helpful, Black & White Zebra’s audience was ultimately looking for something different.
“With those title tests, it was interesting because it didn’t work for us. The articles didn’t show improvements.”
While it seems as if there’s a new SEO study every day on how to optimize articles, nothing beats data from your own website.
That’s because your niche and brand affect what readers are looking for.
Hard data from your site, gathered over time and with A/B testing, will clearly show which content marketing trends you should pay attention to — and which you should ignore.
Want to grow your organic traffic by 20-100%? We built ClickFlow, a suite of SEO tools designed to increase your organic rankings and scale qualified traffic for your website. Click here to learn more and get started.
How Black & White Zebra Optimizes Content: Step-by-Step
Although Tolle has had a positive experience with ClickFlow and found getting started with it easy, she believes this tool is best for people who have both the time and the budget needed to commit to establishing a structured testing program.
ClickFlow has had a significant positive ROI for Black & White Zebra because the company has invested time and effort into using it, and because they’re also in a position to assign revenue values to their content (the overall estimated revenue gain has been $36K on one site).
In addition to monitoring their highest priority content and adjusting for content decay, they regularly analyze and update all of their content.
Here’s how they do it:
1) Planning Tests and Retests
“The planning aspect is really important,” Tolle emphasizes.
Rather than running random tests and hoping they’ll reveal useful data, try to focus on tests that are relevant to your strategy and brand. This will help you get the most useful data in the most time-efficient way.
ClickFlow provides users with a Google Sheet for planning tests that include the motivation, test hypothesis and more, which Black & White Zebra has adapted into their own systems.
Dive Deeper: How to Decide What SEO Tests to Run
2) Running Statistically Sound Tests
“Always try as hard as you can to isolate variables,” says Tolle.
If you plan to change strategies based on the results of an A/B test, the tests need to be as reliable as possible. You don’t want coincidences or external factors to influence the results.
For this reason, it’s important to change only one thing per experiment and test as many similar articles as possible at the same time.
In this way, you can reduce the likelihood that results are being caused by other factors or that they’re anomalous in some other way.
“However, it is the real world that we live in, and it’s nearly impossible to truly isolate variables — you’re not in control of many variables that will affect your position in SERP. So, we also tag content for similarities in structure or business outcomes when testing,” says Tolle. “That lets us get closer to testing apples with apples because we can compare a large swath of results and generalize from many tests that all had similar conditions before we make a conclusion.”
For example, when multiple tests showed that starting the title with the number 10 led to two- or three-figure percentage increases in clicks and impressions, Black & White Zebra could trust that it was because of the change to the title structure — and not because of external factors, like a competitor’s website loading slowly on mobile.
They could then use those insights to run other tests, such as placing different numbers at the start of the title. “Does it really make a difference having 11 versus 10 in the title? Let’s test it on more than one thing so we have a good idea.”
3) Conducting Regular Analysis
“The best tip I have is just to make a little time to analyze your results,” says Tolle. “It’s very tempting to use the publish-and-move-on model, to test it and then forget it. We have monthly reviews. The meeting itself is worth it, but one of the real reasons the meeting is there is to make you analyze the data ahead of time, and that’s really valuable.”
“Every month, we’re reminded to go into ClickFlow, spend some time looking at the results, and see if we can find patterns.”
Each website in Black & White Zebra’s portfolio has its own editor who’s responsible for analyzing each site and discussing the results with the rest of the team. In doing so, the team learns from each other’s results and can share ideas.
Running a website is a lot of work. There’s always something to do, from working on new content and training writers to overhauling outreach strategies and overseeing monetization.
Scheduling regular analysis ensures that Tolle’s team isn’t overlooking valuable opportunities for optimizing existing content — something that could easily happen if the meeting wasn’t on the calendar.
The company also uses Airtable to make it easier to spot articles that are due for new tests. When someone on the team wants to run a test, they can view all articles by the last experiment date. All articles that haven’t been tested in the last six months are considered viable for individual tests and are then prioritized by the content’s importance.
4) Making Content Updates Systematic
When Black & White Zebra first started using ClickFlow, they found they had lots of updates to make. “There were basic things to fix, such as turning written-out numbers into numerals or adding the current year to a title,” Tolle says.
Now that all their existing content has been optimized, however, they have fewer updates to make. This allows them to focus more on planning ahead.
“We are very systematic about it,” says Tolle. “For example, when the 29th of December comes around, we begin updating the years in the titles and publishing updated versions of the copy. We have systemized our health checks.”
By creating systems like these, the company ensures that updates aren’t overlooked, which could put their content at risk of decay.
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Getting the Most Value Out of Content Optimization
Black & White Zebra uses ClickFlow to optimize existing content and prevent content decay from ever happening. But perhaps most important of all, this tool helps the company understand what works best with their readership.
Rather than making decisions based on what marketing blogs recommend, Tolle and her team can look at how readers interact with their brand and what really boosts numbers. When choosing titles, they know what will make people click.
To ensure that they maximize ROI, the company has also created a system in which they regularly search for areas for potential optimization. As a result, they are constantly improving both their sites and the traffic they receive.
“With ClickFlow, it’s so easy to correlate your wins with revenue and demonstrate the improving value,” says Tolle. “We’ve seen improvements in visibility, search, and click-through to our articles from organic.”