Keyword Expansion: My SECRET Strategy for Scaling the SERPs

One of our ninja-SEO tactics...unveiled!
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When it comes to growing your online project through SEO – you’ve probably heard it all before.

Do keyword research!

Make sure your on-page SEO is on point!

Build backlinks! 

Yea… we get it. 

Truth be told, there aren’t very many unknown SEO tactics out there that actually work. 

But there are a few. And this one is possibly my favorite. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to present to you: keyword expansion. This little-known tactic to increase rankings on difficult keywords that are otherwise proving very stubborn. I utilized this tactic for the first time last April – and the results were AWESOME.

The great thing about keyword expansion is that it is a proven method and is not complicated to use. You just need a couple of popular tools, a special spreadsheet – which I’ll provide – and a little SEO savvy. 

Follow the steps set out in this SOP and you’ll be gaining ground on those troublesome keywords in no time!

What the hell is Keyword Expansion?

Keyword Expansion is a term that I coined for a concept that has been gaining more steam in the SEO-community, and is an extremely powerful way to explode your website’s growth. 

Keyword Expansion refers to the process of adding content to your existing blog posts via secondary keyword research.

So does it actually work? 

Just take a look at the screenshots below.

As you can see, Keyword Expansion enabled us to go from #3 to #1 for a couple of big juicy keywords. These were HUGE SEO wins.

Keyword Expansion is one of the most powerful tactics we have in our SEO-arsenal, and is something we try and incorporate as often as possible.

If it sounds complicated – don’t worry, it’s not. It’s super simple to understand and implement, and I’m going to explain it all right now!

This is how you do Keyword Expansion in 4 simple steps:

  1. Find an existing blog post of yours that is ranking. It doesn’t matter if it’s ranking on page #5 or page #1 – it just needs to be ranking (and preferably it will have been ranking for at least six months)
  2. Use Google Search Console or AHREFs to see the secondary keywords your blog post is ranking for 
  3. Cross reference those keywords with the copy in your blog post
  4. If Google is ranking your blog post for keywords that AREN’T in your article – add them to the article!

This is the basic gist of Keyword Expansion. You simply update your blog posts by adding content that Google deems relevant to that post. It’s a risk-free way to improve in the eyes of Google, and to possibly reap some huge traffic benefits in the process. 

It’s very simple, but very effective.

Let’s run through these steps one by one to see how they work, so you can explode your blog’s growth through this little-known tactic. 

Step One – Find content that is ranking

If you are completely new to blogging – Keyword Expansion isn’t for you just yet.

Keyword Expansion is a tactic that best serves blog posts that have been ranking for a while and that are actually getting some traffic.

In fact – I wouldn’t recommend doing Keyword Expansion on any blog posts that have been live for less than three months.

Wait at least three months, and make sure it’s a post that is actually ranking and preferably has some traffic.

A great way to identify which of your blog posts are ranking and getting traffic is by creating a list of your best SEO-performing blog posts.

Finding potential posts with Google Search Console

Rather than spending weeks improving every blog post you’ve ever published – let’s go 80/20 and focus on your quickest wins.

​You can always go back and expand on your other posts later. 

For a quick win, Keyword Expansion best serves two types of blog posts…

  1. Blog posts that are ranking #1 and you want to solidify their position like a Spartan warrior.
  2. Blog posts that are in the 3-10 range and you want to catapult them to the top of the SERPs.

If you need help identifying which blog posts are the kinds above, you can easily do so through Google Search Console.

Let me show you exactly how.

If you don’t have Google Search Console, you need to set it up now. This is because Google Search Console is the best FREE way to see how your website is performing in the SERPs.

GSC gives you a ton of powerful data which can then be turned into actionable strategies.

To set up GSC, this is a good video to get you started. Or if you don’t want to learn how to do it yourself, we paid this dude on Fiverr $22 to set up Google Search Console and Google Analytics for DYD and he did a fine job – just get it done.

Once you are on Google Search Console, click ‘Search results’ underneath the ‘Performance’, then ‘Pages’ tab at the bottom center. This will show you the posts with the most organic traffic. Make sure you set the correct time frame as well!

Once you’re ready, all you need to do is export the data to Google Sheets. If you hit the ‘Export’ tab at the top right hand side and then click the ‘Google Sheets’ below, the spreadsheet will be automatically created for you.

It should look something like this (excluding the orange color at the top – I added that).

For this particular spreadsheet, delete the ‘Position’ row – it’s irrelevant in this case.

And now you will look something like this…

BOOM! She’s a beauty

Selecting posts for Keyword Expansion

This is a beautiful Google-Search-Console-spreadsheet. This spreadsheet will show you your best performing blog posts based on organic traffic.The metrics displayed are clicks (the amount of clicks on your article in the SERPs), impressions (the amount of people that scroll past your article in the SERPs), and CTR (click through rate).

Based on this list you can see which blog posts are receiving the most organic traffic. These posts fall into category #1 – your SEO-darlings that need love to solidify their position in the SERPs.

But let’s take it a step further.

If you want to find blog posts you are ranking in the #3-10 range, you can do it by hand or you’re going to need a premium SEO tool. The best is AHREF’s, but one of our more affordable favorites is Mangools.

If you are using Mangools, you can use SERPWatcher to help cherry pick which of your posts in the #3 – #10 spots could benefit from Keyword Expansion.

Simply go to SERPWatcher, use a timeframe of the last 90 days, and sort by search volume.

This will then show you which high-volume keywords you are ranking for, and the average position you are in for that particular keyword.

By doing this you will be able to easily identify which of your blog posts are sooo close to being at the top for a juicy keyword!

As you can see in the screenshot above, this example site is in 5th position for two EXTREMELY high volume keywords (27k monthly volume and 12k monthly volume).

A bit of expansion could go a long way for blog posts like that!

Which brings us to step two.

Step Two – Find the EXACT keywords your blog posts are ranking for

Once you have identified blog post(s) that you’d like to perform Keyword Expansion on, you need to see if there is actually room for us to do Keyword Expansion in the first place.

Sometimes there isn’t, but most of the time there is always room for some sort of improvement.To do this is super simple – we need to see all of the keywords the blog post is ranking for. Or at least as many as possible.

Remember – a blog post will rank for hundreds of keywords. If you write a blog post about ‘How to improve your jump shot’, you might show up on page one for the primary keyword ‘how to improve your jump shot’, but then it might also show up on page three for the secondary keyword ‘jump shot tips’, and page seven for the secondary keyword ‘Michael Jordan’

This is because Google is taking the keywords from your blog post, and is ranking your blog post where it believes the post is relevant.

Investigating secondary keywords

will looking for keywords
Must… find… keywords

So let’s see what Google is ranking us for!

Pick a blog post to investigate. For me, I’ll use the example of The Broke Backpacker’s ‘Backpacking India’ guide.

Go to Search Console, click on ‘Search Results’ and set your time frame…

This time though, we’re going to apply a new filter and just look at one post. Click the + sign next to ‘Date,’ select ‘Query,’ and then add the URL you want to drilldown to. 

You should then be led back to the dashboard where everything looks the same except now you’re only looking at traffic for this one post. Click ‘Queries’ rather than ‘Pages’ this time and voila – we have our ranking primary and secondary keywords!

These are all of the keywords The Broke Backpacker’s ‘Backpacking India’ ranks for (from highest to lowest)

As you can see, the keyword it gets the most clicks for is ‘Backpacking India’. This is great because it’s the post’s primary keyword, so it’s what we were aiming for.

But notice when you go further down, it then becomes clear which secondary keywords Google is ranking this post for.

‘backpacking in India’

‘backpacking through India’

‘India on a budget’

‘backpacking Northern India’

‘india travel route’

The list goes on and on…

Let’s click the arrow that says ‘export data’ so we can look at all of our beautiful data in a beautiful spreadsheet.

(I’m a spreadsheet-whore in case it wasn’t obvious before).

Cleaning up keywords

So now we are looking at the keywords (‘Query’ in the spreadsheet) that a SINGLE blog post is ranking for (‘Backpacking India Guide’ on The Broke Backpacker).

Also – do not delete the ‘Position’ column this time! Unlike the last time, the ‘Position’ column is extremely important when looking at individual keywords. You are going to use it right now to help trim some of the fat for your Keyword Expansion.

And by some of the fat, I mean a lot of the fat. Look at how many keywords this post is ranking for…

633 keywords! This is way too many keywords to sort through…

This Broke Backpacker guide for ‘Backpacking India’ is ranking for over 600 keywords.

The post that you are auditing will likely have less, but anything over 100 keywords is way too much information to sort through.

We have to trim the fat.

To do this, do a two-finger-click on the ‘Position’ tab, and click ‘Sort Z -> A’.

Once you do that, your spreadsheet will organize itself by the position keywords are ranking for.

This is an important step for two reasons.

  1. We can’t spend hours upon hours analyzing 600 keywords – it’s way too much time. Keyword Expansion is meant to take a bit of time, but overall it’s meant to be a quick win…
  2. It will show you what keywords you realistically can rank for, and what keywords you should probably not waste your time on. If your blog post has been published for 9 months and it’s ranking #72 for a keyword… it’s not a keyword you should put anytime into adding.

So to save ourselves time, let’s keep the top 50-75 keywords the post is ranking for, and delete the rest.

If you have less than 50 – that’s not a  problem! It’s still powerful information you can use to help grow your SEO-presence.

And on the flip side, you can absolutely keep more keywords in the spreadsheet if you want, but for the sake of not getting too overwhelmed, I recommend keeping it to less than 100 keywords.Now comes step three… aka the tedious part (or is it?)…

Step Three – Cross-reference the Search Console keywords with the copy in the actual blog post

The gist is simple. We are trying to find keywords on the Google Search Console spreadsheet that are NOT actually in the copy of the article enough times (or at all!)…

To do this, you simply cross reference the spreadsheet with the copy in the blog post and record the data.

If only there was a better way…

Now you could go through the list one by one and search for the keywords: copy the keyword, go to your blog post, hit command or control + F to search for it in the post, and repeat. This would be the safest route.

But it would also be the longest and most tedious route. 

If you use VA’s then you will immediately understand why this is a perfect VA-task.

If you have been thinking about trying a VA, this is a perfect first task. Find 10-20 posts you want to record data for, whip up an SOP, and see what they’re made of!

But what if I told you there was another way to do this? A cooler, more automated way?

With Google Sheets you can automate this entire process! (God I love you spreadsheets.)

What sorcery am I speaking of? Let me show you.

Automating keyword cross referencing

First: make a copy of this spreadsheet here. DON’T request edit it – just make a copy for your own use. 

Once you have your own copy, the first thing you need to do is to open the tab labelled ‘Keyword List’ and add your keywords. Copy the query data that you pulled from Google Search Console and paste it into this sheet. Make sure you paste starting at cell A2 and that format of the sheet is unchanged. Don’t overwrite anything in column F. 

Next, go into the tab labelled ‘Keyword Counter.’ Add the full URL you want to analyze to cell B1. 

automation spreadsheet keyword expansion

That’s it! 

The spreadsheet will now work its magic. There’s a lot being calculated so it might take a minute or two to finish.

The automation will populate the spreadsheet in several places:

  1. Column A of ‘Keyword Counter’ will be populated with the body text of the URL you are analyzing. 
  2. Row 3 of ‘Keyword Counter’ will be populated with the keywords you added manually to column A in ‘Keyword List.’
  3. Rows 4 and 5 will count the actual instances of keywords from row 3 in ‘Keyword Counter’ and find the sum of them.
  4. Column F in ‘Keyword List’ shows the same sums from row 4 in ‘Keyword Counter.’ This is mostly for the sake of convenience as I find the latter tab easier to work with and read.

Pretty cool right?

Step Four – Add missing keywords to your article!

Once your spreadsheet is ready and you have counts for all your keywords, it’s up to you to do the rest.

Let me show you how.

Part 1 – Keywords that are NOT in the blog post

The easiest wins are finding secondary keywords your post is ranking for that aren’t in the actual copy.

Simply find the good/relevant one’s (more on this in a sec) and add them in your blog post!

Be sure to add the really good one’s as an H2 or H3 AND in the copy.

Part 2 – Keywords that ARE in the blog post

Next up, let’s analyze the KW’s that ARE in the copy of the blog post. 

Try and find some great keywords that are only in the copy once or twice, and add them a few more times.

Please for the love of Buddha do NOT keyword stuff. Keyword stuffing is a terrible idea.

But if you see an opportunity to add a powerful and relevant keyword a few more times – do it dude!

Note: there’s a VERY important caveat to remember!

Not all keywords are created equal, and just because you are ranking for it does NOT mean you want to add it in your post.

There are four types of keywords to avoid, let’s look at some from the ‘Backpacking India’ post for some specific examples.

1. Speed-search-terms

A Speed-search-term is a query that someone types into Google when they don’t feel like constructing an entire sentence or grammatically correct query.

Some examples from the India post are…

‘travel blog India backpacker’

This is not grammatically correct so do NOT try and put it in your blog post as is. 

‘solo backpacking india’

‘daily budget india’

These two are the same – don’t try and squeeze in these keywords!

Imagine a sentence that said ‘in this blog post you will learn about solo backpacking India and the best daily budget India‘.

You will sound like an idiot.

When you are looking for keywords to put into your posts, make sure they make sense in English.

Pro Tip – Feel free to add little words to make it work. If you want to add this KW, just add a simple ‘in’ where it belongs. Google will understand what you are trying to do and you won’t come across like English is your 3rd language. 

2. Unrelated search terms

The ‘Backpacking India’ guide is showing up on page 8 for the keyword ‘travel backpacks india’.

While I can see how Google made the mistake – this article is not about travel backpacks in India.

Only add keywords that are relevant to your article. 

3. Outdated search terms

Anything with previous years (2017, 2016, etc) in it – leave it out. 

4. Branded search terms

A lot of people were searching ‘The Broke Backpacker India Guide’, but this doesn’t mean we should add these keywords in the copy. 

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Some FAQs – Why does Keyword Expansion work?

Google has stated many times on record that they want fresh and updated content. 

Updating your content is a SUPER powerful way to improve your site’s rankings.

But if you think about it, Keyword Expansion takes updating content to the NEXT LEVEL. 

Keyword Expansion allows you to update your article (which Google loves) with new content that Google already wanted you to rank for. This helps your content stay fresh AND increase in topical relevance in the eyes of Google. 

How long should Keyword Expansion take?

Keyword Expansion can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 30 hours – it just depends on what it is you are trying to accomplish.

Let’s say you were just looking to give your blog posts a bit of life and make sure Google knows that your site is a rocking site that will always stay fresh and updated?

In that case, 60 minutes for a post should be sufficient. Find your missing KW’s, put them in an H2 or H3 with a few paragraphs of (awesome) copy and BOOM -on to the next.

But let’s say you have a blog post that you are DYING to rank higher. Maybe you are in positions 3-10 and it’s a money keyword that you really want to dominate in the SERPs.

In that case, I would put a solid few hours into that post. A little TLC goes a long way.

If you don’t have hours to spend on this, then do what you can. In my experience, even a light touch of keyword expansion can lead to great results.

How often should I do Keyword Expansion?

One big mistake I see with bloggers is forgetting their currently ranking content for their soon-to-be-published content.

This is a terrible error. 

You need to treat your ranking articles like gold, and one of the best ways to do this is by sprucing it up with a bit of Keyword Expansion. 

I say give your ranking articles some Keyword-Expansion-love once or twice a year. Schedule a week in your calendar. Make it happen. You won’t regret it. 

Final Thoughts on Keyword Expansion

At the end of the day, Keyword Expansion is not a guarantee for higher rankings. I expanded a few posts that never moved from the position they were in.

But plenty of others did. 

And that’s EXACTLY why I love Keyword Expansion.

This is one of the lowest risk SEO-moves you can make. You aren’t removing anything from your articles – you are enhancing them. If done as I have outlined, there is basically a zero chance for you to lose your rankings, and an enormous chance to improve your rankings.

Ultimately you have nothing to lose, and so much to potentially gain.

And at the end of the day, even if you expand a bunch of articles and none of them improve in rankings, you’ve still gone through your best performing articles and given them a content-facelift, which Google will adore you for. 

Which is why it’s one of my all time favorite SEO-tactics.

What are your thoughts on Keyword Expansion? Are you going to try it? Let me know in the comments below!

10 Replies to “Keyword Expansion: My SECRET Strategy for Scaling the SERPs”

  1. Thanks Aaron, Awesome Post!

    I don’t know why but I’d never thought to use Search Console on a page by page basis!? Super useful!

    Digging down to a country specific level on step 2 showed up some interesting data for me. Especially the differences in language search terms between the US and U.K.

    Looking forward to more tips like this!

  2. Hi!! Great post!!! Thanks a lot!! I have a question, when I do it, I have to edit the date of publish so Google show a new one or is not necessary? google realize I did changes even if I don’t modify the date? Thanks!!!!!
    Cony

  3. Hey Will and Aaron, just wondering if you have any recommendations on good places to look for VA’s to help with website content writing?

    1. Upwork has been sensational for me recently. In the past 6 months I’ve found a social media manager, two full time VAs, coders, and ghost writers – all have been exceptional. Highly recommended.

  4. This information is just sensational Aron, I’ve been at the blogging lark for 3+ years but learning so much from this site. Certainly going to comb back through our posts and give them some content expansion love now that I’ve digested all this!

  5. That sounds really very good and logical! I have to try it quickly, I have some candidates among my posts… Thank you very much for the great explanation, very refreshing to read – despite the worksheets! Greetings! Bernd

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