This essay originally appeared in CT No. 119: Managing your one-hit website wonders, which was sent to paid subscribers on April 21, 2022.
Today's topic: one of those "good problems to have" that afflicts the world's biggest websites to lowly niche B2B blogs like The Content Technologist. We're talking persistent content hits — blockbusters, success stories, the content that organically performs year over year.
Persistent hits are single website pages that gather disproportionally large amounts of organic search traffic for months or years on end. They're the most popular pages on your website that just keep attracting visitors, even when you haven't touched the page in months.
Sometimes single persistent hit pages attract more than 50% of a website's annual traffic, while newly created content lingers unread at the bottom of the homepage.
Persistent hits can feel like the gods of Google have smiled on you for making such an algorithmically blessed piece of writing. But these seemingly innocuous traffic magnets have their drawbacks and require semi-regular maintenance.
For publishers who would rather their newer content share the spotlight, persistent hits can cloud analytics reports and distract stakeholders from understanding the value of more newly produced content.
Like a band that can't get out from the shadow of its one hit song, persistent SEO hits can define your website for years, at least as far as Google is concerned. If you're trying to build a library of content and sustainable website business, it's key to distribute that organic search equity across your site.
Hit website pages are an extremely common phenomenon on content-driven websites, and if you publish reader-oriented content on a well-optimized website for more than a year, you're likely to snag at least one along the way.
*Not the extremely outdated traffic measurement that has been replaced with sessions or pageviews
How are persistent website hits created?
Hit website pages usually draw traffic because they've ranked for a highly searched keyword in Google. Sometimes that's intentional: the content was created to attract users from organic search, aka it was "SEO content."
Just as often, persistent hits are accidental, the result of an on-trend explainer or somehow algorithmically ideal article that Google picked up and ranked without much optimization effort on the writer's end.
The more technical explanation: when Google crawls your website, it categorizes the page based on the structure, vocabulary, and syntax of its content. It looks at the page's position in your website and the words you've used to link internally to that page. The search engine analyzes at headings and short paragraphs (snippets), and Google matches the whole of the page content to the rest of the content in its search engine.
If your content matches an existing keyword or search phrase, Google will test place your page in search results. If the page performs well in search results because users keep clicking on it, it will remain at the top of search results for that specific term.
Once a page is listed at the top of search results for a particular search term, it usually doesn't move that much unless
newly created pages from other websites better matches that keyword and push your content down in search results
the URL of the hit page is eliminated so Google loses the page
the URL of the hit page is changed and redirected to a new URL, where Google is forced to reevaluate the content
Google drastically changes its core algorithm or makes tweaks around your specific vertical
How do you know if there is hit content on your website?
In your analytics tool, sort by most popular pages. If you have a hit, it will either outpace the homepage for traffic or attract more than 2x the traffic of the next most popular page. A hit page attracts far more traffic than other comparable pages because it ranks so highly in organic search.
If you're in Google's Universal Analytics, navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All pages. Your hits will be right there at the top, either above or just behind your homepage.
If you're in the new Google Analytics 4 interface, navigate to Reports > Life Cycle > Engagement > Pages and screens and scroll down to look at your individual page titles.
If you only look at dashboards or lists of your most popular pages, you've probably seen your hits: they remain the highest traffic pages, month over month, even when they're years old. Newer content never outperforms those legacy hits.
Can website hits come from other sources besides organic search?
Yes. If your website content experienced viral social success or were linked from a high-profile website, then you likely had a temporary hit. It's unlikely that social or referral website hits last longer than a few days, whereas persistent hits drive organic traffic for years. Yes, years.
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