How to Make a $65k Per Month Living Blogging About Informational Content

How to Make a $65k Per Month Living Blogging About Informational Content

Interested in learning how to make a full-time income from blogging?  Today I’ve got some inspiration for you and perhaps someone that you can learn from.

Jon Dykstra is the founder of Fat Stacks, an online resource teaching others how to make a living blogging or building niche sites.

I’ve known Jon for a while now, and he is no stranger to us here at Niche Pursuits. Jon has been publishing niche sites as a professional blogger full time since 2012. 

As we all ride the Google wave, bracing ourselves for each new update, Jon has found ways to leverage other traffic sources with social media, Pinterest, paid advertising, and essentially no link building.

The best part? Jon is now making $65,000 a month from his blogging efforts!

So, I decided to ask Jon a few questions about how he got started, what strategies work well, and how others could follow in his foosteps as a full-time blogger.  You’ll find all his answers below.

Want to Learn from Jon?

Before I dive into the interview, I wanted to share that Jon actually does have a full collection of training material that teaches others how to make a living blogging.

Lucky for us, Jon is a fantastic teacher and better yet, has agreed to give the Niche Pursuits audience full access to ALL of his courses at a massive discount. 

This week only for you can get $200 off all of Jon’s courses for the one price. The courses are usually bundled together for $499, and you can only get the $200 off discount through my special link for this week only.

  1. Pinterest Magnate (Reg. $197): Learn precisely how Jon is driving massive (300,000 views +) with Pinterest each month!
  2. Long Tail Deep Dive (Reg. $97): How Jon makes a living blogging with long-tail keywords
  3. Content Site Autopilot (Reg. $147): A multi-module training program to show you how to create systems and processes for putting your content creation on autopilot.
  4. Natural Link Building Formula (Reg. $97): Learn how to attract links naturally with your blog post.
  5. Display Ads Deep Dive (Reg. $97): Your ultimate guide to monetizing niche sites and blogs with passive income display ads (i.e. AdSense and other ad networks).
  6. On-Site SEO Deep Dive (Reg. $147): Learn everything Jon does for on-site SEO (structure, schema, etc.) for ranking content. His search traffic isn’t an accident. It’s the result of setting up sites’ on-site SEO properly and publishing lots of killer content.
  7. Niche Exponential (Reg. $147): The ultimate guide to building specialty blogs such as recurring commission niche sites and others.

Get Access to the Fat Stacks Course Bundle Here

I recently caught up with Jon to find out what he is focused on, how his sites are performing, and some tips on making money blogging with niche sites. Here is what Jon had to say.

What are you working on right now with your sites?

Recently I streamlined my content publishing business by selling 6 sites with a 7th still on the chopping block with Motion Invest.  

That leaves me currently focusing on three sites. It’s looking like I’ll be scaling back even more and focus on only 3 sites. I’m once again merging content from one site to another.  

One of the three sites is Fat Stacks. Lately, I’ve been publishing quite a bit of long form content on that site to bolster search traffic.

My other two sites are run-of-the-mill content niche sites. They’re in different niches. One is quite large. The other is an up-and-comer recently hitting 150K monthly page views so it has real promise.

It’s been interesting expanding and then scaling back in a relatively short period of time. What I’ve learned is that I’m not a good fit for all niches.

I suspect that’s the case with many folks. My biggest niche site was an instant fit but other than Fat Stacks, finding another great fit took time. In fact, it tools launching a pile of sites to see what sticks.  

What makes a niche a good fit?

For me at this point a good niche is one where I can effortlessly find great topics to cover and then write killer content on those topics all the while enjoying the entire process. I’ve entered niches I thought would be fun but weren’t. They weren’t bad niches, just not quite as good of a fit as other niches.

How much are you currently making from your largest blog?

For the past three months (September, October and November) it’s been around $65,000 per month.

The lion’s share of that revenue is from display ads courtesy of AdThrive. Another $9,000 or so is from the video ad network Ex.co. And the $5K to $7K is from affiliate marketing, including Amazon and other merchants.

How much traffic does your largest blog currently get?

Traffic has grown to my biggest blog quite a bit over the last year. Over the last 30 days it topped 2 million sessions. About 1 million is from organic traffic. 336,000+/- is from Facebook. 218,000+/- is from Pinterest.

The rest is a smattering of sources.

Here’s a traffic screenshot for another niche site that I’m excited about:

And just so you know it’s not all fun and growth, here’s the traffic of one of my sites that took a beating from the very recent December 2020 Google algo update:

Why is informational content your go-to strategy to make money blogging?

I used to focus on affiliate marketing which requires focusing on a particular type of content that generates sales. It’s called pre-selling with buyer intent content. I still do some of this but it’s a very small percentage of my content strategy.

I love monetizing with ads because I can monetize any topic I want. I’m not stuck writing about products and commercial topics. I can write about how to find quartz crystals in North Vancouver and if that article gets traffic, I’ll make money.

A complementary benefit of that is I can seek out easy-to-rank keywords so that I can get decent traffic to content quickly without expensive or risky link building schemes.

Switching to focusing on display ads was a game-changer for my content publishing business.

Why are you focused on updating old content and what’s your strategy there?

When I first read about updating old content a couple years ago I scoffed. I was naive.

About 6 months after that I had the aha moment where I understood that updating old content, especially content with decent rankings but not number one rankings in Google could grow traffic considerably with little effort.

After all, if Google ranks an article in position 9, that means it’s not useless. Google kind of likes it which means it’s worthwhile to put more spit and polish into it to nudge it to the top.

In other words, updating content can be a very low cost, little time method to yield big traffic growth.

I also believe the stronger and better your content is overall, the better your site will do overall.

How do you choose what you’ll be writing about for your blogs?

My niche sites (other than Fatstacksblog.com) are broad in that they cover quite a few related topics. I don’t restrict myself to just “basketball shoes” for example. I cover footwear or even broader yet, fashion or sports.

However, there is kind of a method to the madness.

When starting a niche site I’ll publish on many topics within the niche seeking out ridiculously low competition keywords. My aim is to get some content ranking in Google.

After 3 to 9 months I check to see which topics are ranking. I then hone in on those and publish more content on those already successful topics. This method takes the guesswork out of it. Google tells me what they like the site for so why not give Google more of it.

Since I monetize with display ads, I’m not so concerned about whether content will generate affiliate sales. I just need traffic.

Over time as a site attracts more links and gains authority, it can start ranking naturally for more competitive keywords. This is a great development because this is when traffic can grow considerably.

And then sometimes I just write about what I feel like writing about. Just today I wrote an article about jogging pants because I just bought some that I really like.

I also wrote an article on Fat Stacks today on whether incorporating a blogging business is worth doing and if so, when to do it. This topic arose as a result of my accountant calling me back about some questions I had.

When I dream up my own topics I always run them through Ahrefs to determine the best wording to match as closely as possible a decent keyword.

How do you choose when to monetize with affiliates vs display advertising?

If an article could effectively sell something with affiliate links, I’ll plug them in. However, it has to stand a reasonable chance of actually generating affiliate links. I don’t pepper in affiliate links in everything.

Usually, I restrict affiliate links to the obvious articles such as reviews and comparisons.

When starting a new site, how long until the blog makes money?

It takes a while to start making money. If you aggressively build links you could probably make money inside 6 months. If not, it’ll take longer… 12 months to see any decent revenue at all. It’s a long process.

Are you making money from other channels Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube?

I generate about 200,000 monthly visitors from Pinterest and a tad more than that from Facebook. That’s about it.  

If someone was starting from scratch today, what would you have them focus on to generate traffic to their blog?

Choose a niche that interests you that also has some commercial viability to it as in there are products being sold. Once chosen, focus on very low competition keywords and start ranking some articles. You won’t get much traffic but the thing is traffic gets traffic. With traffic comes links. With links come more traffic.  

So, focus on finding easy-to-rank keywords. There are billions of them.

How long does it realistically take for someone to become a full-time blogger?

This is impossible to answer.

If you’re single with a part-time job and need almost nothing to live on, you could conceivably be a full time online in 12 months with a big effort.

If you have a family and a demanding job you probably have very little time to devote to this so it’ll take quite a bit longer.

It also depends on how well you choose keywords, whether you take on more risk and build links, etc.  

There are many variables involved. However, I know folks who managed to get to $5,000 per month inside 18 to 24 months.

Do you have a strategy for managing your multiple websites? Do you find it better to focus on one or build multiple?

At this stage, I find it’s best to focus on a few sites.

I believe there’s merit in sticking with one site. I could easily devote my days to my biggest niche site. However, I really like the idea of being slightly diversified with another site or two performing well. None of us are immune to Google updates so I’d like to be in a position where I have more than one site pumping out a healthy revenue.

Do you ever get discouraged in blogging, and if so, what do you think or do to motivate yourself to continue?

I sure do.

Everything I do today won’t yield any results for a long time so sometimes it seems pointless. However, and I tell myself this often, consistency is critical. I can’t move the needle with one day of work but if I publish one to three articles every day for a year, that’s significant.

It’s amazing how fast a year goes by. You could sit and read about how to blog, or you could bang out one to three articles per day. I strongly encourage you to just write and publish. By the end of year one you could easily have 250 to 750 articles published. That could be a decent amount of traffic and revenue.

Whenever I procrastinate or am not sure what to do, I write an article. It’s my default activity because if I do nothing but publish one article per day, it’s a good day. If I spend the day looking at stats and reading about blogging, that’s not going to do me any good.

Can you give us a sneak peek of what someone may learn in your course bundle? 

My course, which is now a massive bundle of courses has grown like crazy over 18 months. It started with my course on how I find low competition keywords and grew from that to what it is now which is an A to Z program for growing fun niche sites on topics you love and earning good revenue from them with display ads.

You don’t have to chain yourself to writing product reviews. There’s a wide world of topics to cover that are fun to write about. Thanks to the mighty display ad, you can make money from any topic.

In addition to long tail keyword research, the course includes a huge module on writing, outlining and ordering content. I also cover everything I do for on-site SEO. I’m not an SEO tech but there are some things I’ve figured out over the years that’s made a big difference.

I also teach how to get decent traffic from Pinterest based on my getting more than 200,000 monthly visitors from Pinterest.

Finally, the course offers a unique approach to link building. I’m not anti-link building.

Instead, I’m all about publishing content that attracts links naturally. To date I’ve attracted links from over 10,000 referring domains. I did not do outreach or guest posts or anything. I just focused on publishing great content.

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FatStacks Course Bundle $200 OFF This Week Only

Includes All Courses!

  • Pinterest Magnate: Learn precisely how Jon is driving massive (300,000 views +) with Pinterest each month!
  • Long Tail Deep Dive: How Jon makes a living blogging with long-tail keywords
  • Content Site Autopilot: A multi-module training program to show you how to create systems and processes for putting your content creation on autopilot.
  • Natural Link Building Formula: Learn how to attract links naturally with your blog post.
  • Display Ads Deep Dive: Your ultimate guide to monetizing niche sites and blogs with passive income display ads (i.e. AdSense and other ad networks).
  • On-Site SEO Deep Dive: Learn everything Jon does for on-site SEO (structure, schema, etc.) for ranking content. His search traffic isn’t an accident. It’s the result of setting up sites’ on-site SEO properly and publishing lots of killer content.
  • Niche Exponential: The ultimate guide to building specialty blogs such as recurring commission niche sites and others.

GET THE COURSES

What makes your courses different from other how to make a living blogging courses?

I’ve carved my own way in this business and my course explains in minute detail exactly what I do. For example, I don’t build links. I attract them. I don’t try to rank for big keywords. I look for those obscure gems other sites missed or won’t target.  

Most of my growth is a result of trying different things and then focusing on what works.  

You recently sold a few sites on Motion Invest. Why did you decide to sell? What was your experience with Motion Invest?

There were a number of reasons. Here they are:

  • Distracting: I find it distracting to effectively grow 12+ sites. These days sites need a lot of TLC, especially when it comes to content. I’m still at the helm of these sites issuing instructions, tracking results, etc. While this work doesn’t take up tons of time for one site, it adds up with many sites.
  • Sites end up better quality when I care and I only care when I’m involved: I’m at the stage in my content publishing business where I’m still involved. Here’s a weird psychological phenomenon I’ve noticed over the years. When I 100% delegate a site or let it sit untouched, I stop caring. As soon as I roll up my sleeves and get involved I start caring and want it to succeed. This caring and motivation to make it succeed makes all the difference in the world. It makes this work more fun. It’s like an artist enjoying the painting process. I enjoy digging into niche sites and making them great. But I can only do this with so many sites.
  • Interest: I’m now down to focusing on 4 sites. Fat Stacks is one of them. It’s a diverse set of sites. Two are general info sites monetized with ads (mostly). One is a pure product site (smartwatches and wearables). And then there’s fatstacks. These niche sites are my absolute favorite topics.
  • Costs: It used to be most software could be applied to unlimited sites. These days, with better software available, you have to pay for each site or on a per use basis. 2 examples include Nitropack and MarketMuse, both of which I’m using. They charge for each site. Costs go up instead of being able to dilute costs across as many sites as you want.
  • Fat Stacks: I have a lot of plans for the course bundle over this next year. I’ve received plenty of suggestions for new modules and details to fill in existing modules. I want to add it all plus more. I also want to add more video tutorials. This stuff takes time. Time permitting, I’ll do more YouTube vids and podcasts as well.
  • Investment: I have an investment opportunity independent of niche sites. I’m keen to pull the trigger in the new year. The proceeds will fund that.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a beginner blogger who wants to earn a living blogging?

You have to enjoy the process. If you don’t there’s an easier way to make a living. But if you do like it, it’s a terrific lifestyle business.

What’s next in your professional blogger career?

I’ll stick to what I’m doing which is growing a few niche sites. They aren’t nearly as big as they could be so I’ll just keep hammering away.

As with every conversation I have with Jon, he truly knows what it takes to be a successful blogger, and the proof is in his monthly income reports. 

If you want to learn how to make a living blogging, Jon is a great resource, and I highly recommend his courses. Read more about how you can get Niche Pursuits Fat Stacks deal here

<imgsrc=”https: www.nichepursuits.com=”” wp-content=”” uploads=”” 2020=”” 12=”” copy-of-fatstacks-280×255.png”=””></imgsrc=”https:>

FatStacks Course Bundle $200 OFF This Week Only

Includes All Courses!

  • Pinterest Magnate: Learn precisely how Jon is driving massive (300,000 views +) with Pinterest each month!
  • Long Tail Deep Dive: How Jon makes a living blogging with long-tail keywords
  • Content Site Autopilot: A multi-module training program to show you how to create systems and processes for putting your content creation on autopilot.
  • Natural Link Building Formula: Learn how to attract links naturally with your blog post.
  • Display Ads Deep Dive: Your ultimate guide to monetizing niche sites and blogs with passive income display ads (i.e. AdSense and other ad networks).
  • On-Site SEO Deep Dive: Learn everything Jon does for on-site SEO (structure, schema, etc.) for ranking content. His search traffic isn’t an accident. It’s the result of setting up sites’ on-site SEO properly and publishing lots of killer content.
  • Niche Exponential: The ultimate guide to building specialty blogs such as recurring commission niche sites and others.

GET THE COURSES

Here’s What We Learned About Google Searches

Here’s What We Learned About Google Searches

We analyzed 306M keywords to understand the types of queries that people use in Google search.

Specifically, we looked at keyword distribution, query length, keyword difficulty, CPC, SERP features, and more.

Using data from DataForSEO and Ahrefs, we uncovered some very interesting findings.

Now it’s time to share what we found.

Here is a Summary of Our Key Findings:

1. 91.8% of all search queries are long tail keywords. However, long tails are responsible for a relatively small percentage of total search volume (3.3%).

2. Search demand is concentrated in a small percentage of high volume terms. In fact, the top 500 most popular search terms make up 8.4% of all search volume. And the top 2000 keywords are responsible for 12.2% of all searches conducted in Google.

3. The average keyword gets 989 searches per month. However, the median search volume for a keyword is only 10 searches per month. Which shows that low-volume long tail keywords are extremely prevalent in Google search.

4. 14.1% of searches are in the form of a question.

5. “How” keywords are the most common type of question keyword. Followed by “what”, “where” and “who”.

6. The mean CPC of a keyword is $0.61. Search terms related to finance and real estate have the highest average CPC.

7. The average keyword is 1.9 total words.

8. Not surprisingly, longer keywords get searched for less often than shorter keywords. In fact, keywords with 5+ words get an average of 10x fewer searches than search terms that are 1-3 words in length.

9. Industries with the highest search volume are “News and Media”, “Internet & Telecom”, “Arts & Entertainment” and “Consumer Electronics”.

10. Popular keywords have significantly higher keyword difficulty scores. In fact, each time search volume doubles, keyword difficulty goes up by 1.63.

11. SERP features are extremely common in Google search. In fact, only 2.4% of all Google search results don’t contain at least one SERP feature.

12. The most common SERP features present in Google are People Also Ask (19.5%), image packs (19.4%), video results (17.9%) and Top Stories (15.5%).

We have detailed data and information on our findings below.

According to our analysis of 306M US keywords, the vast majority of search terms (91.8%) are long tail keywords.

91 Percent Of Search Terms Are Long Tail Keywords

However, we also discovered that long tails don’t account for a large percentage of search volume.

Head Terms Account For The Vast Majority Of Search Volume

In fact, all long tails combined only account for 3.3% of total search volume.

In other words, we found that most keywords tend to be long tails. But even when added together, long tails only make up a small part of global search demand.

(For this study we considered any keyword with 1-100 searches per month as “long tail”).

This finding is largely in-line with a keyword analysis conducted by Ahrefs earlier this year.

Like the Ahrefs analysis, we defined long tail keywords as any keyword getting less than 100 searches per month. The exact numbers differed due to differences in sample size and analysis. But we both found that a) long tails account for most keywords and b) long tail keywords represent a relatively small slice of the search demand pie.

Key Takeaway: 91.8% of keywords are long tail keywords. However, even when added together, long tails only account for 3.3% of overall search demand.

Search Demand is Largely Concentrated Among a Relatively Small Number of Keywords

A relatively small number of search terms make up a large percentage of total search demand.

Specifically, the 500 most popular search terms make up 8.4% of all search volume.

Search Demand Is Largely Concentrated Among A Relatively Small Number Of Keywords

It’s not surprising to see that monthly search volume is not evenly distributed. But we were surprised to see how skewed search behavior is towards a small number of search terms.

For example, when including misspellings, 2-3% of all searches conducted in Google are for 4 keywords: YouTube, Facebook, Amazon and Google.

Most popular keywords in Google (ranked by % of all searches)
Keyword Volume
YouTube 0.546%
Facebook 0.530%
Amazon 0.407%
Gmail 0.296%
Google 0.271%
Weather 0.164%
Yahoo 0.161%
Ebay 0.161%
Walmart 0.145%
Yahoo Mail 0.143%
Netflix 0.139%
Google Docs 0.100%
Translate 0.098%
USPs tracking 0.093%
News 0.091%
Craigslist 0.091%
Fox News 0.091%
CNN 0.083%
Calculator 0.073%
Hotmail 0.064%
Roblox 0.063%
Target 0.063%
Instagram 0.057%
MSN 0.057%
Trump 0.054%
Twitter 0.054%
Bank of America 0.051%
New Year 0.051%
Maps 0.050%
NFL 0.044%
UPS Tracking 0.042%
Pinterest 0.041%
Linkedin 0.041%
ESPN 0.038%
Disney Plus 0.037%
Etsy 0.036%
USPs 0.035%
Finance 0.033%
AOL 0.029%
Women’s World Cup 2019 0.026%
NBA 0.024%
You 0.023%
Amazon Prime Video 0.022%
Internet Speed Test 0.021%
Bed Bath and Beyond 0.021%
Ikea 0.020%
Dow 0.018%
Food Near Me 0.018%
United Airlines 0.018%
Speedtest 0.017%

This finding is interesting for two reasons. First, it shows that a large amount of Google searches are navigational.

Second, it demonstrates the popularity of the four dominant internet brands compared to all other brands.

Key Takeaway: The 500 top keywords account for 8.4% of all search volume.

Average Search Volume for a Keyword Is 989 Searches Per Month

The typical keyword gets an average of 989 monthly searches.

The Typical Keyword Gets An Average Of 989 Monthly Searches In Google

However, this number is slightly skewed due to the concentration of extremely high-volume terms that we just talked about. Which is why we decided to also analyze median search volume.

And we discovered that median search volume is only 10 searches per month.

Median Search Volume Is Only 10 Searches Per Month

This shows that, again, the vast majority of keywords are “long tails” with relatively low monthly search volume.

Key Takeaway: The average keyword in Google gets searched for 989 times per month. However, it’s likely that this number is impacted by the top 500 search terms. And when we analyzed the median search volume, we found that the typical search volume for a keyword was only 10 searches per month.

14.1% of Search Queries are Question Keywords

As the name suggests, a question keyword is any keyword that contains “who”, “what”, “where”, “why” or “how”.

Considering that many people use Google to search for information, it should come as no surprise that question keywords are relatively common.

Indeed, we found that 14.1% of searches in Google were conducted via a question keyword.

14 Percent Of Search Queries Are Question Keywords

We also brokedown the most common types of questions that people used.

How What Where Are The Most Common Types Of Question Keywords

As you can see, the most common types of question keywords were: “how” (8.07%), “what” (3.4%), “where” (.88%), “why” (.82%), “who” (.6%), and “which” (.33%).

Questions, by their nature of being relatively long and specific, are typically long tail terms. And as we also previously outlined, long tails are common in terms of keyword frequency. But they typically have low search volume (even when added together).

Key Takeaway: Making up 14.1% of all search terms, question keywords are relatively common in Google search.

The Average Keyword Has a CPC of $0.61

One of the main insights we wanted to look at for this research was Google Ads cost per click (CPC). And how CPCs varied between different industries.

We found that the typical keyword has a Google Ad CPC of $0.61.

The Average Keyword Has A CPC Of 61 Cents

We also broke down CPC by industry.

Finance Real Estate And Health Industries Have The Highest CPC

Overall, keywords in the real estate, finance, health, legal and home have the highest average CPCs.

On the other side of the spectrum, keywords related to the news, arts & entertainment, food and fitness have the lowest CPCs.

Key Takeaway: CPCs vary greatly between different keywords. When averaged together, the typical keyword costs $.61 per click. The finance, real estate and health verticals have the highest Google Ads CPCs. While fitness, food, and arts have relatively low CPCs.

The US Has Higher Average Search Volumes and CPCs Compared to Other English-Speaking Countries

For this analysis, we used a dataset of English language keywords from 5 countries: the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

When adjusted for population size, Americans search in Google far more often than any other English-speaking country.

Americans Search In Google More Than Any Other English Speaking Country

In fact, Americans use Google 38% more than the UK. And 90% more than Australia.

The US also has significantly higher CPCs on average.

The US Has Higher CPCs Compared To Other English Speaking Countries

While the absolute numbers are different between the US and other countries, search patterns tend to be fairly similar.

For example, with some exceptions, searches that have high US volume tend to have high international volume, and vice versa.

Popular Searches In The US Tend To Be Popular Internationally

Key Takeaway: The US uses Google far more than other English speaking countries. In fact, Americans search in Google 38% more than the UK and 90% more than Australia.

Mean Keyword Length is 1.9 Words and 8.5 Characters

Our analysis found that, among the 306M keywords that we looked at, the average keyword is 1.9 words and 8.5 characters in length.

Mean Keyword Length Is 2 Words And 8 Characters

We also looked at the relationship between keyword length and search volume. When looking at character count, extremely long and short keywords get relatively few searches.

We found that keywords between 5-10 characters tend to get searched for most often.

Keywords between 5-10 characters get searched for most often

And that 1-2 word terms have the highest average search volume.

1-2 Word Terms Have The Highest Average Search Volume

Key Takeaway: Mean keyword length in Google search is 8.5 characters and 1.9 words in length. We also found that shorter keywords (in terms of word count) have higher search volumes. In fact, short keywords (between 1-3 words) get 10x more searches than longer keywords (5+ words).

Industries With The Highest Mean Search Volume Keywords Include Internet & Telecom, News and Media, and Consumer Electronics

We decided to categorize each keyword in our data set. And investigate which industries had relatively high and low volume search terms.

Here’s what we discovered:

Industries With The Highest Mean Search Volume

When it comes to mean search volume, the most popular keywords in Google tend to fall under the categories: Internet & Telecom, Retailers, News, Arts & Entertainment, and Consumer Electronics.

On the other hand, keywords related to Real Estate, Vehicles, Occasions & Gifts, Home & Garden, and Law get relatively few searches.

We also ran the same analysis with a focus on total searches. In other words, instead of analyzing each keyword’s mean search volume, we looked at the total number of searches conducted under each category.

Industries With The Greatest Total Search Volume

As the chart indicates, the results are similar. But not identical.

Specifically, at 19.5% of all searches, “News & Media” is the most popular search category in Google. With “Internet & Telecom” (17.5%) and “Arts & Entertainment” (17.4%) 2nd and 3rd.

These findings make logical sense. Millions of people use Google to find information on current events. Which is why news-related searches make up nearly 1 out of 5 Google searches. However, each term isn’t going to rack up significant search volume. Which is why mean search volume for news-related keywords tend to be low.

Key Takeaway: “Internet & Telecom” is the most popular search category in terms of average search volume per keyword. However, when looking at the total number of searches per category, “News & Media” comes out on top. In fact, 19.5% of all Google searches fall under the “News & Media” category.

To get keyword difficulty data on our data set 306M keywords, we analyzed a subset of terms (approximately 2.5M) using Ahrefs.

Perhaps not surprisingly, popular search terms have higher average keyword difficulty scores compared to keywords with low search volume.

Popular Keywords Have Higher Keyword Difficulty Scores

For this analysis, we ran a subset of keywords from our dataset in Ahrefs. Although each SEO tool has a different approach for analyzing keyword difficulty, the keyword difficulty measurement in Ahrefs is considered reliable. They’re also transparent about how the metric is calculated.

Overall, we found that popular search terms tend to have more competition in the SERPs.

Specifically, each time search volume doubles, keyword difficulty goes up by approximately 1.63.

For example, as search volume goes from 100 to 3200 (6 doublings), the difficulty increases by roughly 10 (1.63 * 6).

This is likely due to the fact that popular keywords are attractive to SEOs and content marketers. Which leads to heightened SEO competition for those terms.

We also looked into the relationship between keyword difficulty and CPC. We found a clear relationship between those two variables. Specifically, the more competitive the terms, the higher the CPC.

Keywords With High Keyword Difficulty Scores Have Higher CPCs

Again, this finding is something that most digital marketers would expect. Keywords with high CPCs tend to have strong buyer intent. While many businesses are willing to pay to get in front of those searchers via Google Ads, others prefer to rank organically. Which leads to a glut of competition for high CPC terms.

Key Takeaway: Popular keywords have higher average keyword difficulty scores compared to keywords with low search volume. We also found a relationship between keyword difficulty and CPC. Specifically, keywords with high CPCs tend to have higher SERP competition levels.

People Also Ask Boxes, Image Packs and Videos are The Most Common SERP Features In Google Search

Next, we looked at the prevalence of SERP features. And the relationship between SERP features and keyword difficulty.

Firstly, we looked at which SERP features appear most often in Google’s search results.

The Most Common Search Features In Google Search

We found that the most prevalent search features in Google’s organic results are People Also Ask (19.4%), image packs (19.4%), video results (17.9%), Top Stories (15.4%) and Sitelinks (11.0%).

And the least common SERP features include Tweet boxes, Google Shopping results and Knowledge cards.

We also looked at which SERP features appeared together in the search results. Here are the most common SERP feature pairings.

The Most Common SERP Feature Pairings

Interestingly, keywords that bring up SERP features tend to be more competitive than those without SERP features.

Search Results With SERP Features Are More Competitive VS Those Without SERP Features

And Google search results with more SERP features have higher mean keyword difficulty.

Google Search Results With More SERP Features Have Higher Mean Keyword Difficulty

All in all, SERP features appear in almost all Google search results. In fact, 97.6% of searches contain at least one SERP feature.

97 Percent Of Searches Contain At Least One SERP Feature

We also noticed that searches without SERP features tend to have low volume.

Search Results Without SERP Features Are Usually Results For Very Low Volume Queries

This is likely due to the fact that these low-volume queries are extremely specific long tails. Which means there’s less likely to be a “match” in terms of a relevant YouTube video or Google Shopping result to use as part of a SERP feature.

We also looked into the impact that various SERP features have on clicks. Interestingly, knowledge cards tend to significantly reduce clicks-per-search. While the other SERP features appear to have limited effect on drawing clicks away from the “10 blue link” organic results.

Knowledge Cards Significantly Reduce Clicks Per Search

Key Takeaway: 97.6% of all Google searches result in a SERP feature. “People also ask” is the most popular SERP feature in Google.

Conclusion

I hope you found this analysis interesting.

I’d like to thank DataForSEO for providing the data on 306M keywords that made up the bulk of this research.

For those that are interested, here is a PDF of our study methods. And a link to a GitHub repository with all of the raw data.

Now I’d like to hear what you have to say:

What’s your #1 learning from today’s research?

Or maybe you have a question about something from the study.

Either way, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

What Scraping & Analyzing 1.1 Million Search Results Taught Us About The Way Google Ranks Your Content in 2019

What Scraping & Analyzing 1.1 Million Search Results Taught Us About The Way Google Ranks Your Content in 2019

If the scientific community took a deep look into the SEO industry, they’d probably laugh so hard that a couple of them would probably die from a stroke.

Despite the fact that the industry is maturing at this point. Most SEO rules are merely based on anecdotal evidence.

… or theories some well followed guru came up with based on a 6 years old Matt Cutts’ tweet.

So we wanted to do what we can to try to level things up and bring actual data to the table, especially after the recent batch of huge updates that came to Google’s core algorithm.

Be kind, this is our first shot at it but we have been building a custom crawler for this post just to analyze 1.1 million search results and share our findings here (wow, just writing this, I can tell this made a looot of business sense).

one part of the custom crawler we built for this post

Here’s a summary of what we’ve learned:

  • The top position is most likely to be the most relevant result. If there is an obvious result (like a brand), Google will show it, even if it goes against all other ranking factors and SEO rules.
  • For less obvious results (i.e. non-branded keyword searches) Featured Snippets are taking over. 50-65% of all number one spots are dominated by a Featured Snippets.
  • In other words, this is the area where most SEO competition happens. Google is heading towards more immediate answers and fewer clicks on SERPs.
  • Because of these 2 things, lot of the actual SEO competition happens at the second and third place nowadays.
  • Backlinks, measured by the number of referring domains to a URL are still the most strongly correlated factor for SEO success.
  • Some of the popular link authority metrics like Ahrefs Rank or Domain Rating have shown to be less correlated in our study than we expected.
  • Keywords matter. Both the number of keywords in the content and keyword density. Keywords in URL proved somewhat relevant. Keywords in metas, h1 and title tags showed much stronger correlations.
  • While longer content does correlate with higher ranks, it’s sensible to think the length is not the factor – rather it provides a room for more keywords to be inserted at a non-spammy density.
  • It’s better to optimize for the parent topic (highest volume keyword the top result ranks for) than the actual keyword it covers. All high ranked results dominated the “parent topic” over the keyword they ranked for.
  • HTTPS is now a must to rank. No news here, Google made it clear already.
  • Some of the SEO hearsay proved completely invalid. For example, the rumor that Google treats high volume keywords differently or that it holds a preference for content with embed YouTube over other video platforms.
  • Some well-established beliefs might just be a result of bad data science in previous studies. For example, the length of the URL being a strong ranking factor.
  • All first page results show a high average score (over 90%) for Google’s Lighthouse Audits (SEO), but no link was found between higher scores and top ranks.
  • Page Speed seems to help, but not as much as expected. You should want your pages to load fast, for various other reasons anyway.
  • Needs further study: Some results on page two mimic the metrics of the top results on page one – there seems to be a thin line between doing everything right and appearing spammy.

Keep reading to learn more details about the findings …

About This Study

In short, for this study, we pulled out 120,000 random keywords from Google Keyword Planner, half of which we made sure get at least 1000 searches a month.

We then got top 10 SERP results for each and pulled additional data from Ahrefs (such as domain rating), Google APIs and our own custom-built crawlers.

Overall, we ended with quite a rich dataset of some 1.1 million SERP results. The details of how this study was done and example of data we worked with can be found here.

This is the tech stack we used to gather the data

Existing Studies, What’s Out There

Naturally, before getting started with this we had a look at what studies have been done in the past. Surprisingly, not so much.

What’s done, either comes out as a study released by one of the SEO data vendors like Ahrefs (who are doing a great job) or a third party analysis of the data donated by vendors, such as this 2016 study by Backlinko, which served as our inspiration for this piece but felt a little outdated given the massive algorithm changes we have had in 2018 and 2019.

Then you have something like Moz’s annual survey of SEO pros, where they report their day-to-day experience. All of these we found valuable to help us get started.

The rest of what you find is based on hearsay, anecdotal evidence, analysis of Matt Cutts’ past blog posts and tweets and recycled findings from the past studies.

Obviously, we were excited to do this.

Limitations and Challenges of Our Study

It was quite an eye-opening experience working with so many data points and we ran into many challenges.

Those were some tricky things that would get results that seemed perfectly fine but were actually invalid or unreliable. The eye-opening part was that a great deal of what we know about SEO may come from such results.

For example, when dealing with such a large set of random keyword data (100,000 in this case) you are going to get a lot of branded keywords there.

That means comparing the results of the first rank with the rest will yield very different results as with branded keywords Google won’t care much about the small SEO factors like HTTPS or page speed when there’s one obvious answer to the query.

As a result, the average of rank one stats will often look very different to everything that ranks below.

This is something that has also shown up in other people’s case studies like Ahrefs or Backlinko. Often the effectiveness of SEO can be seen on the aggregate data from rank two and three results.

Or another example – a great deal has been written about how shorter URLs lead to better ranking and it’s been backed by past studies.

Well, if you work with aggregate results and diverse keywords, it’s more likely the higher ranks will be for the actual homepages, without a suffix, because they’re relevant to specific keywords and would rank for the query anyway, not because they have a short URL.

In other words, for many keywords, you’re more likely to find something like www.website.com among the higher ranks while something like www.website.com/top-ten-something yielding a shorter average length.

We’ve done our best to filter a lot of such statistical noise out.

OK, so here are the actual findings….

#1 It’s still worth fighting for the #1 Spot

Ever heard of Pareto Rule? It’s the idea that a great majority of results in any area come from the “vital few” – many internet blogs have written about it.

Well, first of all, Pareto was an economist and the Pareto Rule is an economic concept. And the world of business and economics seems to be dominated by this rule.

For example, 99% of apps in the mobile app stores make no or little money while all the billions go to the top 1%. Or 95% of retail securities market investors barely break even.

Organic Traffic And Google Search Rank

On average top result gets the 40% of aggregate organic traffic. For keywords that matter (i.e. >1000 searches a month) the figure goes up to 47%.

It’s the same with SEO. The number one ranks dominate the market leaving the rest pretty much in the dust.

That is not only due to the fact that the #1 result is #1 for the keyword we looked at. It is also because the #1 result ends up ranking for way more keywords on average.

And its #1 ranking makes it gain more organic links which reinforces its position. It’s a virtuous circle.

From time to time I come across some “alternative facts” and SEO ideas like that you should aim for the spot number two or three in an assumption that most people skip the first result in distrust.

Looking at the organic traffic we obtained from Ahrefs, it doesn’t seem to be the case.

Conclusion: It’s worth fighting for the #1 spot when you are on the first page for a keyword. Often moreso than battling for new keywords if you have a fighting chance.

Overall, 46% of the top positions in our study were occupied by a SERP feature. For keywords that get a decent amount of searches, the figure was slightly higher at about 48%.

Serp Feature Example

If you’re an SEO, this is not the most relevant figure.

Basically, with branded keywords, there’s no need for a SERP feature if searching it can yield a very specific result such as a particular Amazon page.

So, after we stripped the results of likely branded queries, the results jumped to 65.5%.

That is a lot more than the 12.29% Ahrefs found in mid 2017 even considering a healthy margin of error.

In other words, for non-branded keywords, the number one rank is getting replaced by an immediate answer.

Featured Snipped SERP Feature In Search Results

What this means is that there’s a clear shift towards Google monopolizing the traffic and its users may end up getting immediate answers, never clicking on the links and reducing the overall volume of organic traffic over time.

Our advice here is to optimize your page so you end up in one of those SERP features.

Hubspot did a case study on this and showed that, for large queries, when they  did appear in the featured snippets, their page was getting a higher CTR than when they did not.

Ideally, you’d want to occupy the second rank as well as optimize towards attracting traffic in the new SERP feature dominated world. For example, by having a strong title.

Conclusion: We are heading towards featured snippets dominated search results and there is nothing you can do about it. Don’t just optimize with an aim to become one, aim to be the first “classic” organic result as well.

#3 HTTPS Matters, But Relevance Beats it

There’s nothing new here, Google has been pushing for HTTPS for quite a while. There’s been a threat of losing ranks and Chrome will literally call your site insecure if you don’t have an active SSL certificate.

So far, well over 90% of the page one results already have HTTPS which shows most sites have now transitioned to SSL and Google is rewarding them for it.

The #1 ranking, however, has a lower correlation most likely due to that relevance factor we mentioned earlier.

That’s simply because if you search something like “child support center” from an IP in Ohio, Google will place the website of the local child support center at the top of the page, regardless of whether they have an SSL certificate or not.

For such queries, we found out that neither HTTPS nor any other SEO factors play a huge role.

Conclusion: Secure your site with HTTPS if you haven’t done it yet. Whatever the results of this study, Google made their direction clear and you will probably suffer the consequences if you delay this more.

There’s no news here. Backlinks remain the most important ranking factor.

We measured the total number of referring domains pointing to the URL and that yielded the highest correlations with top ranks.

At this point, we can only talk about quantity and IP diversity being a factor. (I believe Ahrefs has done some more extensive research into backlink profiles, but I couldn’t find it again).

Number Of Referring Domains And Google Search Rank

Chart: While the average number of backlinks per SERP changed depending on the dataset (high-volume keywords vs. all, includes branded vs. non-branded) the ratio remained the same for all the analyses we performed.

Right now I tend to believe, that when SEOs talk about factors like length of content or presence of an image they may not be factors Google considers at all, but simply happen to correlate with a higher quality content that gets linked to.

We’ve looked at other popular metrics too, like Ahrefs Rank and found no correlation. Domain Rating seemed to be somewhat relevant.

Conclusion: Spend more time building content that gets linked to, instead of reading all those SEO guides and articles.

#5 URL Length and Keywords in URL

The current belief in the SEO industry is that the length of the URL impacts the rank. The previous studies have also correlated higher search ranks with exact match of the keyword in the URL.

URL Suffix Length And Google Search Rank

We also found the same correlations but were suspicious about it. It’s just logical that the higher you go in the search ranks the shorter the URL is going to be as you’ll be getting more results for the homepage with no suffix, and short category pages.

When using a large sample of keywords, a few of such results will dramatically impact the average length.

With the presence of keywords, it’s a slightly different story. Take a look at two URL examples below.

  • www.mywebsite.com/protein-bars-vegan-athletes
  • www.mywebsite.com/vegan-protein/

Let’s say you want to rank for a keyword “vegan protein bars.” The standard advice is to use a suffix like the latter example, i.e. /vegan-protein/.

When looking for an exact match in the URL suffix, in general, we found no correlation.

If we included the root domain, the top few would stand out with higher numbers so it’s sensible to assume the keywords in the root domains (or subdomains) seem to be somewhat relevant despite what Google says.

Now let’s say the keyword we look at is “vegan protein bars.” When we tokenized the keyword as follows “vegan,” “protein,” “bar” and simply counted the occurrence of these we found a much stronger correlation.

With this method, the first, longer URL would be more likely found higher in the search ranks.

Conclusion: I think URL length and keywords in it bear much smaller significance than generally believed. Even with some correlations, looking at all the results we’ve got the case isn’t that convincing.

It might, however, be a good practice to keep it short and concise, but long enough to feature all the important words in high-volume keywords you want to rank for.

#6 Keywords in Meta, Title Tags, H1 Tags, etc.

We managed to crawl 90% of the entire 1.1 million URLs dataset (the other 10% blocked our request or somehow weren’t accessible for crawlers).

We found a much stronger correlation for keywords in meta descriptions, H1 and Title tags than we did in the URL analysis. In fact, we can take it for a fact that Google looks at these, as their Lighthouse audit tool makes it relatively clear that they matter.

In each case, there was a quite solid correlation for the keyword we got the ranks for, but even stronger for the parent topic.

Keywords In H1 And Google Rank

In fact, parent topic keywords (the highest volume keyword the top result ranks for – read more about this metric here) were as much as twice more likely to show up in these properties.

This encouraged us to look more at the parent topic when looking at keyword presence for the next tests to see just how valuable it is for SEO’s.

One thing that I noticed looking at the actual list of Parent topics though is that they are often shorter tail versions of the keyword we were analyzing which explains why they often beat the actual keyword in correlation.

Conclusion: Optimize these properties for your keyword, but don’t forget to aim at the parent topic in the first place. We measured exact match in this analysis by the way.

#7 Content-Length and Content Keywords

There’s a strong belief in the SEO industry that longer content delivers higher ranks, or that Google somehow prefers long-form content.

There’s also a general belief that the optimal content length for SEO is at around 2000 words. While the study did find the correlation for content length, I tend to disagree with the general view.

First of all, any bigger study will have a hard time to precisely assess the length of content, unless done manually. Web scrapers tend to grab elements that don’t belong in the word count and inflate the numbers.

Things like comment sections, side navigation and author boxes.

Other times, the studies published on this topic would come from software companies that have their business in content marketing and thus they’ll be biased to tell you that longer content is better.

Content Length And Google Search Rank

For this study, we tried a bunch of different solutions and finally settled on one built around Readability library that powers the reader view in Firefox browser as it was by far the best at isolating content and removing navigation, comments etc.

While we found a beautiful correlation for word count the overall content length was shorter than generally believed once you strip much of the noise more generic scrappers tend to pick up.

But here’s the most exciting finding.

Keyword And Parent Topic Count : Google Search Rank

For top results, the keyword would appear on average 5.7 times in the readable text (e.g. article body) and 17.2 for parent topic. That’s about 3 times more when compared with rank 12 results.

Keyword count showed beautiful correlation too. On average, we found the keyword appeared in the readable text six times.

What’s more exciting is that the parent topic would appear in the readable part of the text almost 3 times as more often as the keyword we pulled the SERPs for.

Another interesting thing is that the density of keywords correlates too, in spite of higher ranks having a longer average word count.

Conclusion: What that leaves us with, is that it may not be the length of content that affects your SEO as much as it allows you to show Google more keywords while maintaining some credible density.

In other words, if you don’t optimize your content for keywords, the length of content won’t help much. (Unless it’s so good that the sheer quantity of its value makes more sites linking to you).

#8 Lighthouse Audit and PageSpeed Insights

Finally, we wanted to have a look at page speed and whatever else was accessible using Google’s API tools.

A great deal has been said about how speed is critical for SEO.

Some correlations were found in the past, but they usually came from sources like Alexa. I assume because it’s the cheapest and the easiest way to get some additional data.

We considered Alexa too, but many users report inaccurate data, so we turned to Google’s own PageSpeed Insights tool, a much costlier way to obtain data.

This tool gives you an overall score for a URL, looking at a number of factors, including speed, overall performance, SEO best practices, and mobile optimization.

A few months ago, it has been updated with the latest version of the Lighthouse audit tool. It contains an SEO audit which looks at the following points and scores them:

  • Document has a valid `rel=canonical`’
  • Document has a `

While we learned that on average over 90% of all pages comply with all points, there was no correlation between the high rank and higher scores. In fact, it seemed slightly inverted.

Then we looked at the page speed results. We looked at:

  • First Input Delay (FID): the time from when a user first interacts with your site to the time when the browser is able to respond.
  • First Contentful Paint (FCP): the time from navigation to the time when the browser renders the first bit of content from the DOM.
  • … and overall speed.

The results are that the top ranked pages are slightly faster, but most scored AVERAGE or SLOW overall, and AVERAGE for FID and FCP.

Conclusion: It seems to be a good practice to optimize with the updated PageSpeed Insights, but don’t expect miracles for your rankings and don’t sacrifice premium user experience and functionalities for a few points of pagespeed.

Obviously, there are numerous other reasons why you’d want your page to be fast – such as better conversions and lower bounce rates.

#9 Other Observations

All of the above are just the interesting or mention-worthy findings we obtained from the study. However, we looked at a bunch of things while conducting it.

For example, we wanted to see if the presence of a video in the content has any impact on SERPs or whether it’s true that Google prefers pages using YouTube to other video platforms.

None of these assumptions proved valid. At least not in our analysis.

We also assumed the rumor that Google runs a different algorithm for high-volume keywords is true, and ran each analysis on different volumes separately, only to find similar results every time.

Finally, the most interesting thing to see, and something Authority Hacker observed before too, often time the top results on page two seem to show similar metrics to actual top ranked pages.

For example, similar keyword density, Ahrefs Domain Rank, HTTPS prevalence, and so on. Yet, they’ve never made it to page one.

It seems, there are some credibility issues (maybe EAT?) or a thin line between doing things right and coming across as spammy exists in Google’s algorithm.

Final Conclusion

After looking at these results, I think a lot of people have the interest in making SEO seem overly complicated to maintain a guru status.

I do believe a lot of the little technicalities like keyword in url or page speed are important for extremely competitive queries where 1% advantages can make the difference.

But in most cases, they are not as impactful as most people think.

The study has proved once again that Google does a great job at establishing relevance and when there’s a clear choice it pays little attention to the technical aspects of SEO.

You could already observe this in Backlinko’s study from 2016 – notice how the first rank always shows lower scores in most charts.

For all the content where SEO does play a role, I think the answer is straightforward. Do your keyword research, build a unique, highly-valuable piece of content and promote it so you get links.

Have a clean site both from the technical perspective and user experience perspective and you should be good to go.

It gets a bit more challenging when your sites become very large and you need to organise content in a logical way.

But once again, this does not apply to most site owners.

People tend to believe Google is deploying some overly sophisticated NLP and AI algorithms to establish which pages to push higher and which to penalize.

I rather think it does a great job at collecting, sorting and organizing incredible amounts of very basic data (like keywords occurences and links), finding patterns in it and drawing conclusions.

So I’d focus on those simple things.

But that’s my personal opinion based on what I know about the current state of NLP and AI technologies – they’re way more primitive than people think they are.

The results from this study have only solidified this opinion.