To the Top SEO Course: A case study on

30 Days to Better SEO

I’d like to share with you my real-time journey through Rebecca Gill‘s SEO Training Course: To the Top: Empower Yourself with Real World SEO Knowledge.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that I count Rebecca a dear friend, as well as someone who’s work I greatly admire. So before I’ve even gone though the course, I’m certain of the value I’ll receive. Also, I’m an affiliate, so careful where you click!

I’m inviting you to come along with me as I work through the SEO course, apply the lessons here on, and analyze the results.

30 days is just a random (but nice and round) number I picked. The course is over 8 hours long and completely self-paced. With an average investment of 16 minutes a day, I should make it through the course in 30 days.

Baseline Traffic Stats for

First, let’s get a couple of assumptions out of the way:

  • I know it takes longer than 30 days to truly analyze the benefits of any changes I make for better SEO – that stuff takes time to trickle.
  • Traffic growth here on could be attributed to factors other than SEO changes, like I’m blogging more often or (hopefully) getting better at social sharing.

With those assumptions in mind, here are some baseline stats:

The chart below represents 2 years of traffic to, comparing 2014 to 2015. There’s moderate growth year over year, but nothing to write home about. I think it’s fair to say that traffic around here is pretty consistent over time (except for March, when people inexplicably love stopping by more frequently).

Traffic on comparing 2014 to 2015

In January 2016, I clocked 27,651 sessions, 21,429 users, and 38,708 pageviews.

Alright, let’s do this thing. It’s a long post ahead, so get your coffee and make yourself comfortable.

Day 1

I like to start off gently, so I watched the video and read the content for the first two movies: the course Introduction and the Introduction to SEO.

I like that we’re going to dig into the why of SEO and not just the how.

No earth-shattering information at this point, but then I take for granted that I’ve been producing web content for over a decade and SEO isn’t brand new to me.

There’s a progress bar marking my journey, which is nice. I like to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Day 2

Well my search rankings haven’t improved a bit. This is crap.

Just kidding.

What I’m immediately realizing is that in my 30-day time break-down to complete the course, I totally failed to include the time to IMPLEMENT what I learn. So, learn from me: If you decide to take the course, make sure you’re carving out time to both consume the content AND make corresponding changes.

Also, this:

I completed 2 modules today: Why SEO is Vital to your Website or Blog and the Anatomy of Search Engine Results Page (SERP). As an aside, the course modules are no secret – you can preview them all here by clicking the “Expand All” link.

To the Top SEO Course - Click Expand All link to see contents

The thing that sort of stuck in my craw today is pretty basic – page or post meta descriptions. I’m using the free Yoast SEO plugin, but must admit I rarely bother to customize meta descriptions. This was my epiphany that may or may not be relevant to you (or possibly my ultimate journey to BETTER SEO):

I have a really high bounce rate (75%-ish). It occurred to me that maybe I’m getting a nice SEO listing for some posts (I am) but that something isn’t actually what the person who clicks on the link expects to find. So they bounce.

With a better meta description, a potential visitor could judge for themselves whether or not they want to click through.

Why would I not want ALL THE PEOPLE to click through? It’s simple:

  1. I don’t want to waste people’s time (that does nothing for my brand)
  2. The only visitors that will ever convert into a potential subscriber or customer are those who clicked through to content they were happy to find.

Today’s action item:

I’ve got too much content and too little time to go through every post and add a meta description. What I’m on the hunt for is “low-hanging fruit.”*

* I hate that term but it’s a really good description of the smallest things you can do to make the biggest impact.

So, my to-do:

Create a Google analytics report to show me:

Those pages that get the highest page views, sorted by the highest bounce rate, factoring in length of time on page (I figure if they spend more than 2 minutes, they probably liked the content, but didn’t have reason to stick around – a problem to solve on another day).

Take the top 5 out of those results and add meta descriptions.

That actually sounds super-manageable except I suck at custom reports in Google analytics. If you want to leave a comment with instructions, you’re more than welcome. 😉

Day 3 – Part 1

Or I guess this could be Day 2 – Part 2. Anyhow, my brain was fried last night so I’m picking up this morning where I left off.

I finally figured out that custom Google Analytics report. Here’s a tutorial on creating your own reports I came across. Remember, my goals were to discover posts with:

  • High page views
  • High bounce rate
  • Low time on page

I identified the following pages at my top 5 “offenders” and added meta descriptions to them. My goal? Help people determine if they even want that content before clicking through.

I do want to let Captain Obvious step in and say something:

Carrie’s SEO issues are not necessarily your SEO issues. – Captain Obvious

I point this out because I’m taking you along on my journey through To the Top. Your journey and action items will most likely look different, but I’m hoping there’s still some useful takeaways from what I’m trying.

Alright, I’m off to work. More later.

Day 4

Curse you, Rebecca Gill, for your comment on this post.
I’m totally skipping school the course today because I’m busy digging through mountains of interesting data on Google Search Console. (Yes – I just used “interesting” and “data” in the same sentence. If you’re even reading this you know you like it, too)

Yesterday I mentioned my high bounce rate and that I suspected people might land on my site hoping for information they’re not actually finding. Well, as Rebecca said, GSC shows exactly what keywords I’m showing up in search results for, what my search position is, and the click-thru rate.

Seriously, I could get lost for hours in this. But I don’t have hours, so once again I’m after the delicious-looking low-hanging fruit. Using GSC together with Google Anayltics, I discovered a post that met the following criteria:

  • high page views (by my site standards)
  • high bounce rate
  • visibility on page 1 search results for one or more keywords
  • search query that surprised me

The post is this one: Know what’s a terrible idea? Mixing hosting with email.

Quick stats for this page over last 30 days:

  • Pageviews: 3,295
  • Bounce Rate: 75.24%
  • 10+ longtail keywords putting this post on page 1
  • I’ll get to the surprising part in a second

Now, I’m no Rebecca Gill, but I do know that being on page 1 means nothing if nobody’s searching with those keywords. With that in mind, I honed in on page 1 keywords that had a decent impressions (again, free data GSC hands out like candy).

I found one. And this is the surprising part: they keyword is email hosting providers.

Why is that surprising? It’s surprising because that post has very little to do with email hosting providers, yet it’s driving traffic to my site for people looking for that information.

So what am I gonna do?

I’m gonna spruce up that page with better information about email hosting providers! Give the people what they want! And maybe throw some affiliate links in there, ’cause that’s how I roll.

Day 5

Alright, so I never promised these 30 days would be consecutive days… 🙂

I spent more time today reading than doing. I’m still in the Getting Started with SEO module which is laying a foundation of knowledge. While I kinda dislike “reading the manual” and prefer to jump into the action, I appreciate that the course doesn’t take prior knowledge for granted and lays solid groundwork.

Rebecca shares a ridiculously successful SEO case study, educates on black hat vs white hat SEO, talks about the role of content marketing, and discusses the difference between organic search and PPC.

I end-capped today’s reading with the lesson on Free SEO Tools. Several of them I was already familiar with (i.e. Google Analytics and Alexa), but there were some in there I’d never heard of (possibly because I don’t get out much). I’m off to explore some of these tools, starting with

Knowledge is power and I’m arming myself.

Progress indicator for course.

Day 6

Today I completed the Getting Started with SEO module and am excited to have the Keyword Research and Selection next on deck. Before moving on though, I’d like to reflect on some fundamentals I’ve picked up in this first module:

  • SEO that results in great organic traffic is not a short-term game. I know this, but I have to admit that even with the small changes I’ve made this week, I’ve got to let the search engines percolate before I see a noticeable result. (Yes, I’ve been checking Google Analytics every day with the hopes that Santa Claus visited.)
  • Not all traffic is good traffic. I can rank in a high position (even with a decent click-through rate), but if people don’t find the content they’re expecting to find, they won’t stick around my site long enough to explore, let alone subscribe to my list or meander over to one of my off-site product offerings.
  • This crap takes planning and intention. This is probably the hardest for me. I have no editorial calendar. I have no over-arching content strategy. Heck, I don’t even have keywords in mind that I’d like to go after. I sorta just “do what I do,” writing about what’s on my mind and publishing once a post is finished. While that’s not served me poorly (at all), I think that with a even a little more intention I could see significant results.

While we’re talking about results, let me talk about what I’d like to see:

  • Growth in my subscriber list.
  • Significantly reduced bounce rate.
  • Higher affiliate conversion.
  • Better sales funnel to my course(s) and product(s).

Some part of me feels mildly smarmy for even saying those are my goals, but if you know me, you know there’s no smarm behind it. If you don’t me, then reduce your bounce and stick around! 😉

Seriously though, this site really started as 10% way to let people know what they could hire me to do and 90% just to blog my learning journey. Over time I’ve learned that my site plays a significant role in my income. Some of that income is tangible (i.e affiliate sales), but most of it is intangible (authority in my space, referrals, introductions, interviews, etc).

Allllll of that said, I’m going to quote my mom out of context about my SEO efforts:

Can’t hurt, might help. — Mom

I’m excited to keep learning how I can improve things around Onward.

Day 7

Oh boy, where did this week go? I had to take a break from the course due to other, more pressing issues (one of my client’s sites got hit with some nasty malware and I got hit with a migraine).

But I’m back. I made it 3 lessons into the Keyword Research and Selection module, which is less than 15 minutes of reading, but maybe 15-30 minutes of homework.

I love homework because it’s actionable. I hate homework, because that means I have to put effort into it. For today’s homework, I did (wrote down!) 4 things:

  1. Answer some questions about myself and my offerings (this is like trying to write your own bio – I hate it)
  2. Create rough personas of who my site visitors are (My answers: budding web developers, DIY web folk, and savvy business owners. The first two read my content and might buy one of my products. The third would hire me for web consulting).
  3. Identify the pain points for those 3 personas
  4. Brainstorm a “seed list” of keywords

There was a 5th to-do, but I’m going to save that for another day: review my existing content to see what other keywords come to light.

The lazy part of me doesn’t want to do this. But the non-lazy part of me knows Rebecca is right when she says not to skip steps or take shortcuts in the course – the SEO benefit comes from being intentional about my content.

Continue to Week 2 of 30 Days to Better SEO

18 thoughts on “30 Days to Better SEO”

  1. Carrie I love that you are doing this reporting, because it helps me understand how users digest my course and how it is providing assistance. Which in turn will help me augment the course material and/or add new courses.

    One thing to note is a GREAT place to find low hanging fruit is Google Search Console (formally webmaster tools). You’ll be able to see where you rank within Google by keyword and you can sort this data by ranking, impressions, click through rates, and clicks. If you don’t already have an account, sign up for one now. I mean like TODAY.

    I love GSC because you can see where you are on page two and a little help/modification can push you quickly to page one.

    Google states search engine optimization is truly about minor and incremental changes to your website. That low hanging fruit idea is exactly what they are taking about.

  2. This is awesome, Carrie. I am taking the course as well (through Lesson 1 now!) and look forward to reading your perspective as you complete it too!

    Are you learning about SEO just to improve your own site, or do you plan to do some of what you learn for clients too?

    1. Thanks, Sara! At this point, the knowledge is just for me to apply on my site. Of course, that could change in the future, but it’s not in the plans for now.

      And you? Curious to hear your thoughts as you progress!

    1. Thanks for the comment! The green/yellow/red sounds like the WordPress SEO plugin, too. Those indicators are incredibly helpful. What I’m hoping to dig into is whether what I’m optimizing for is really what I should be.

  3. I absolutely love this – it’s fascinating stuff. But…. the live blog format makes it tricky to read as each of your daily chunks is quite long (compared to, say, a snippet from a sports live blog). I wanted to read chronologically so started near the bottom with Day 1, then had to scroll up to find the start of Day 2, which I read (ending up back at the top of Day 1 where I started), then had to scroll back up to find the start of Day 3, then read that (scrolling down again), then had to jump up again… and so on. It says a lot about how engaging your writing is that I didn’t give up half way through!

    1. Thanks for bearing with me, Alice! You bring up an excellent point that this would make a better “regular” post with ongoing updates vs a live blog. I shall change it!

  4. You inspired me to take the course. Turns out we are about in the same place – keyword research. Love “google trends” for finding keywords. Spent most of the morning adding google analytics and bing to my two websites. I hope I won’t need to paste code on all pages! I found a really good you tube video for pasting this code into into wordpress under: appearance – editor – heading. I am hopeful that that means analytics will be set up to track for each page of the website automatically. :)….

  5. Enquiring minds want to know! What happened to days 15 to 30? And was the course worth the price? We want graphs, charts, and pictures with a circle and an arrow and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what it is a picture of!

    1. lol I’m still working on it! #slowlearner

      The course is definitely worth it, BUT there’s the issue of whether or not the student actually implements what she learns. It’s definitely a time commitment I wasn’t expecting, but even within the “14” days, I’ve seen positive results.

      1. Hi Carrie:

        Thanks for writing a thorough article. I am still working my way through it!

        I am not asking you to provide specific numbers, but did taking the course and implementing the directions materially impact your traffic (and your business)? In other words, beside the learning benefits, was the course effective?


        1. Hey Richard,
          Those are great questions. I have not seen a noticeable uptick in traffic, however, I think I am attracting better quality traffic (using bounce rate and number of email list sign-ups as indicators). Looking back, I think the biggest takeaway from that course (and other resources from Rebecca) is writing targeted posts to my audience (previously I was sorta all over the map in terms of topics).

          My affiliate revenue has decreased, but I attribute that to writing more articles that don’t have affiliate product tie-ins than I have in previous years. Hmm.

          I’d still heartily recommend the SEO course. Any failure of progress is a result of my failure to implement. 🙂


  6. Re: 301 redirect to affiliate links

    A 301 redirects passes traffic, but it also passes on 301 power. A lot of it. Thus if you are 301 redirecting to me, great. Otherwise keep that 301 goodness (SEO power) on your own site and content.

    1. Interesting. In my case, I don’t think it’s anything I care to continue writing about it (i.e. not inline with my content goals), but I guess I could update those posts and just have them hanging out.

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