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How to sacrifice pawns to help your SEO

Sacrifice pawn for SEOI spend a lot of time working on SEO. I’ve found a way to bump up those stubborn websites that just won’t move up in the rankings by using the linkjuice of other sites.

In fact, so much that I spent several days coming up with a single page that I could reference each day that collects the best Search Engine Optimization (SEO) blog posts for my readers and me to learn SEO, as the best and the brightest sing their songs of search engine wisdom.

Between the onsite, onpage SEO, onsite, offpage SEO, offsite SEO, analyzing traffic, and going back and polishing old posts based on how they’re performing, I easily spend quadruple the amount of time on search engine optimization than I do actually writing articles. It’s a lot more work than you might think.

Think of SEO as something like working out. You work your ass off for a couple hours and look in the mirror and see no real change. The next day you do the same thing. And every day thereafter. After a while, you quit looking at the mirror and continue working out. A few months later, you walk down the hallway and catch yourself in the mirror and think, “Damn! I look pretty good” so you go back to working out even harder. SEO is the same way. You’re probably not going to see any difference for a while. Because google likes to dance around due to their ever-changing algorithms, the efforts of others trying to rank for the same things you are, and the constant variation in searches by the good people of the world, you may even see your results drop when you do the right thing and jump up when you do something stupid. Like the stock market, it’s a long-term investment.


I may not be an expert in SEO by far ( you could easily go through my posts and see where I’ve probably made some pretty stupid SEO mistakes ) but I’ve managed to get my survival/prepper website (Graywolf Survival) to over 150,000 pageviews per month in about a year, and it continues to rise. The first six months (half of which I was still deployed to Afghanistan), I scraped and crawled for a tiny amount of traffic, and pretty much zero income, until I started catching on. If you want an expert’s opinion, and a fantastic book to start with, I highly suggest getting a copy of The Art of SEO (Theory in Practice) by Eric Enge.

Luckily, I’d already had several failed blogs in the past and already made many mistakes. Now that I’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours reading about, analyzing and trying new tricks and seen several of them actually work, I know a lot more than I did back then. I broke a half million pageviews in the first year with GS, and it continues to more than double every quarter. Luckily, Man Cave Zen is well surpassing what GS did in the same timeline.

A new way to look at an old SEO trick

This is not a new idea at all, and some of you will read this and say, “Duh, you’re talking about XXX.” No crap. I’ve also probably known about your XXX for a long time but it never sunk into my thick head that I need to see things this way and I’d bet there are a few others out there that may benefit from hearing it. So if this is old news to you, go grab another Metamucil cocktail and rock on your porch for a while.

This post is about a basic, simple idea about SEO that a lot of beginners may read about but might not have sink into their heads – like I did. It’s nothing new, but it made a huge difference in how I plan and how I rewrite some old articles and how I plan some of the new ones I write.

How I traditionally learned to do SEO

I schedule what things I do each day so that I don’t spend too much time on each thing. I went into some detail about how I spend my time with my blogs in a previous post but I really need to devote a whole post to be more specific about that because it’s pretty important if you want to make money with a blog. I don’t always follow my schedule but at least I know when I pass something up and can reschedule it.

Part of my weekly schedule includes going through Google Analytics (GA) and Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) to see which pages I have that are performing well for certain keywords that have potential for even higher number of monthly clicks and which I need to be focusing on that aren’t doing so well. When I find them, I compare the similar keyword versions that the same pages are ranking for and decide which would be the best and I reword the page to focus more on the primary keyword/keyphrase I want and allow it to drop off the lower payoff keywords.

In addition, I try to find websites that rank for the exact keywords that I am targeting and try to get a link back from them through comments or hopefully some kind of mention in one of their articles if I grab their attention. I also put those keywords in the social media comments with the links to those pages when I share those pages.

That works very well. In fact, day after day, and week after week, when I look at my GA, I see about 90% green in average position changes on the first 500 keywords I am getting traffic for. For the ones that are red (falling behind), the majority of those move more than one position to the negative. The problem is, I can only get them to move so much.

My new focus on acquiring SEO link juice

Because I can only massage a post so much before you start getting spammy about things, I needed to go outside the post to make it look better to search engines. There are only so many ways you can convince movers and shakers to link to your page (but you don’t want to stop trying – other than reciprocal links), and so many ways you can get links back to your pages from social media that you control or can have people share. Not to say you should stop focusing on these – because they are critical. I just never realized another critical piece to this whole  SEO ranking thing: new or re-written internal links.

Now I’ve always linked to other posts in pretty much every article I’ve ever written, both to ensure I get a ping when some idiot is stealing my content and to help traffic to pages that are relevant, but it always seemed like I was missing a key element there. Then it finally hit me – I was missing something! That, is finally what this whole post is about.

Sacrificing a pawn for the benefit of the queen

I’ve always felt the concept that the main keyword or few keywords that your site is focused on is like the King. It’s what your whole site is about, encapsulated in a phrase or at most, a few related phrases. Being a progressive and self-serving king, he has several queens. These queens are your best performing posts.

I knew that for offsite SEO, I needed to get links from related sites back to mine, with some kind of related keywords in those links. I also knew that just like the offsite links, the onsite, onpage SEO needs to tell google what the main idea is about the page by giving it clues in the URL, title, tags, and contextual clues.

The thing I was missing was with the offpage, onsite SEO because before, I was just finding existing content and seeing if I could find some connection between old articles and the new one I was writing. 

Then it hit me. When I’ve exhausted all my resources with improving the SEO of a great article the usual way and I’m still not where I need to be, why not write some specifically-targeted blog posts that would be useful to my readers but gravitate around keywords that I am needing – and then use them to pass on that new link juice to the already-performing articles that need a bump? Also, I could find other pages that are similar in context to my primary pages, or even competing with them, and optimize them to support the best pages by giving them that extra nudge they need.

If I found a page I had written was doing fairly well (or had fallen behind) for a keyword such as ‘learn seo’, instead of just trying to find old posts that relate to SEO, why not just create new ones and then instead of competing for the same keyword/keyphrase, write it to rank something relating to the keyword I need and then sacrifice it to pass on the linkjuice to the queen post for that keywordThis means that you may need to balance things by focusing a pawn to a different keyword so you can diversify and balance your queen article’s portfolio of links. According to Search Engine Watch, a good balance of links should be:

50 percent containing the exact match keyword.
30 percent to 40 percent containing keyword derivatives.
10 percent to 20 percent containing brand terms/URL.

This only really works if the new or newly-rewritten articles follow google’s recent rules (which are somewhat a mystery and change occasionally) and are great articles on their own.

Now don’t get me wrong, this idea isn’t new. A lot of people have done this by making several sites or writing guest posts for the same thing. I always knew the underlying idea here but never thought of actually focusing new articles on my own site for it. I didn’t get it until I thought about writing new articles as pawns to be sacrificed for potentially-successful queen articles.

Because google’s Hummingbird update is all about context, you need google to understand what your page is about through signals such as your URL, title, header tags, and other key locations. They need to have something in them to provide a context for the page. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know here, it’s basic SEO 101. What I’m saying here is that google is honestly trying to get the best search engine result to the person asking that they can. To do that, they need to fully understand what your page is about before they can decide where to rank you for that idea. In addition to your URL etc, google also gets an idea of what your page is about by the links that link to it.

I hear some of you asking what Hummingbird is. Think if it this way: how do you pronounce wind? You don’t really know without context. It’s basic Hummingbird optimization 101. If the sentence (or post) is talking about the weather, trees swaying in the breeze, and/or the air, then you know wind is pronounced with a long ‘i’. If the article is talking about string, rope, or a twisty road, you know you pronounce it with a short ‘i’. Hummingbird is essentially the same thing. Find those related ideas that would give context to the keyword that you want to pass onto your queen article and write an article about that. Then link to your main article with a keyword or idea that is relevant – just make sure that the whole gist of your new article (or old article that you’re rewriting) is something relevant.

Traditionally, that has been based on just the words in your link from one website to another such as how to learn SEO. The keyword/keyphrase that is linked to the other page will send a signal to google to give them a hint about what your page is about. What you have to realize is that they don’t just look at the words between the href and the </a>. They look at the main focus of the website that’s sending the link as well as the context of the page sending it.

How to sacrifice pawns to help your pages rank higher in SERPs

So here’s the plan. Once you’ve written a great article that you want to be one of your queens, let it simmer for a few weeks with your traditional link-building and onsite SEO methods. Then take a look at google analytics (or whatever tracking you’re using) and see what keywords are starting to work, as well as the average rank and number of impressions it’s getting.

If you see blog posts that are starting to rank for words that seem to get more impressions than others for the average position they are, they may be worth polishing up. For example, a page that gets an average of 1,000 impressions at an average position of 24.0 is worth a LOT more attention than one that gets 1,000 impressions at an average position of 4.0. Now we’re not going to go into the whole personalization of search results when people are logged in here because that just throws everything out the window and really aggravates me so just set that aside for now. If you’re ranking well into the first page on google for something when you’re logged out of any google products, you’re pretty much at the mercy of what the market will bear as far as people searching for that keyword and any gain will be incremental.

However, if you’re on the third page for google on a keyword and still getting a decent amount of impressions, that means that as you move into the second and then the first page, your impressions will improve immensely. Same thing goes for something that you used to rank well with that for some reason you drop several positions (like someone else being better at SEO than you are for that word).

What you need to do is write a few blog posts just like you wrote that beautiful queen. The difference is that you want to hit that queen post with a page that shines with a very close keyword or contextual idea and a great internal context that tells google that this page is not only mentioning your queen with a useful keyword, your pawn blog post is very relevant in and of itself to what the queen page is about.

Now this isn’t in any way any kind of a replacement for proper offsite SEO optimization. I would seriously doubt that google will value an internal link equally to the same keyword link of the same pagerank from an external site. They have, however, stated that they do factor in internal links in their calculation.

If you look at traditional link-structuring in SEO planning, this is nothing new. You plan out which keywords you want to rank for as well as related keywords, and then start writing articles to fill in the blanks. In real life, for people with real blogs that they own and write themselves, people write articles based on something that they come across or some idea that comes to their head. Most bloggers don’t have a well thought-out plan of keyphrases for which to write articles. They write the best articles they can, based on what triggers their fancy at the time. This sacrificing a pawn method is a way to look at existing search relevance and improve on real numbers.

Why would you not want every blog post to rank as high as they can on their own?

Well you do, sort of but follow along for a moment. Take a look at these numbers from a study by Chitika about the average Click-Thru Rate (CTR) of articles based on what rank they are in the search engine results. Your actual CTR will depend on several things such as human engineering (how well you sell your link through the title and meta description) and if you have your image show up through rich snippets:

SERP ranking Click Thru Rates (CTR)

BTW, Chikita has a full report you can download if you sign up for it here.

First thing to notice: Once you fall off the first page, your % of people who click the link to your page drops off quite a bit. Now let’s look at a scenario. To make it simple,  let’s say you already have two articles. One is ranking 10th and one 11th for a pretty decent keyword. You’re getting a total of about 3.4% of the people who see your links (which are both in primo territory since they’re both on page one). What would happen if you sacrificed one of them to support the other?

The math here is really fuzzy and depends on a lot of factors – some of which you have no control over, but the concept is easy. If you set up your 11th-ranking article, and maybe a new article or two, you could possibly get #10 bumped up to #6 or even higher as the sacrificial pawn drops off the chart. That may seem bad but at those numbers, you’re now getting 4.4% – an increase of about a third more additional traffic you were getting from before.

This change is even more drastic the higher up you can get. As you can see, moving up from 2nd to 1st gains you a LOT more than moving up from 15th to 14th. It’s not inconceivable that you could take a few pages that aren’t even on this chart, refocus them and link them to a mid-range article, and make that article a star. Keep in mind that according to their study, the first page of google gets about 91.5% of all the traffic for your search words. Giving a little bump can sometimes pay off big-time.

You’re basically sacrificing the traffic that your old blog post- or brand new one may have gotten in order to boost the rankings of your queen so she can move into a higher-paying slot. You just have to make changes, record those changes, let them stew for a bit, and then see how things work.

Here’s how to look at it, whether you’re planning your SEO strategy from the beginning or trying to adjust fire once you figure out what you’re trying to improve:

Learning SEO from chess

Just a hint, that’s how you want every article to be structured that links to yours, no matter where it comes from. The problem is, you can’t always find good articles out there that not only have the right context and relevance, you can’t always get them to link to your site, let alone to link to your site with an appropriate keyword.

Don’t write pawn blog posts that are optimized for the exact same keyword you want your queen post to rank for.

You’ll just be competing. If you do this properly, you can write several articles that will pull in some longer tail keywords along the way and still pass appropriate ranking to the queens. Find a contextual idea or synonymous idea and rank the article for that and then pass that contextual idea as a link to your queen article.

This is probably a good place to point out that the keywords that are used to point to your page need to be natural-looking to google. WTF does that mean? I’m not 100% sure but if you have 10 pages that link to your site that say something like best site to learn SEO from  then some algorithm in google’s brain is probably going to kick in and call BS. What’s worse is that things like that can backfire if you overdo them, just like stuffing keywords or buying unnatural links.

All I’m saying here is that you have a great opportunity to build links around pages that seem to be working – or seem to be falling behind your competitors. You also now have a great way to come up with new ideas about what to write. Sometimes your keyword strategy doesn’t work. What keywords you think your pages will rank for just won’t turn out. Sometimes the strangest pages will rank higher for keywords that you wrote articles specifically for. Sometimes you need to rewrite those pages to rank better for related keywords and then sacrifice them for the page that will do the best.

Don’t always write an article to rank high in the SERPs, figure out what has the best chance and then write a few pawn articles and sacrifice their rankings to boost the rankings of your queen, or adjust existing articles that are doing fairly well to throw their link juice to the ones that will perform best overall.

That’s how you sacrifice pawn blog posts to boost the rankings of queen blog posts. If you’d like a LOT more info on learning SEO, check out my daily reference page: The top 10 best SEO websites to learn search engine optimization.

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