Stay Put: How to Maintain Your SEO Rankings After Reaching The Top?

Written by Neil Patel on March 3, 2016

top sky

Can you guess the subject that is the most written about in the internet marketing niche?

It’s probably building traffic to your website. Just look at the number of search results on the subject.

I, myself have written many articles on marketing strategies that ultimately help you in getting more traffic. Some examples include guest posting, content distribution, social media marketing, building backlinks and more.

It’s a cornerstone for any online business, right? You cannot execute other tactics, like conversion optimization, until you get at least 500-600 visitors/day (probably more) on your website. It’ll be a total waste of time.

Download this how to guide to maintain your SEO ranking after reaching at the top of ranking.

But, there’s one subject that’s rarely discussed in online marketing blogs:

Maintaining your search engine rankings once you’ve reached the top spot.

I can see the reason why. Google favors established brands and authoritative websites in its results. But, it requires considerable effort to build your authority in the first place. It’s especially difficult for small businesses devoid of time, budget and resources.

Ascend2, in its SEO Summary report found that relevant content creation is the most effective SEO tactic.  Ironically, it was also rated as the most difficult to produce by marketers. Look at the chart below for exact numbers.


Forget small businesses. PJ Fusco reported that even cream of the crop Fortune 500 companies struggle with organic SEO. As per his analysis using the Covario SEO Audit Score™ system, here are the hurdles they face in SEO implementation.


If you are struggling with SEO, then hang out on this blog for a bit and read some of my previous posts, like SEO made simple, keyword research, driving 20,000 visitors to your website in 90 days and promoting your blog posts.

But, for a majority of you, I trust that you’re in a better position. You’ve integrated long-tail keywords in your posts and started ranking on the first page for least a couple of terms.

So what next? Will you remain at the top spot for your target term forever, even during a website redesign?


Search engine traffic is pretty stable. If you don’t do anything fishy on your website, Google won’t bring your rankings down.

But, SEO is an ongoing process. You’ve got to keep track of your competition to ensure that the information on your pages isn’t dated.

Google loves its users and it likes to serve relevant, high-quality and updated content to them.

If you leave a high-ranking webpage on its own, you’re essentially sending the wrong signal to your audience and Google.

With competition in the content marketing landscape turning fierce (just look around and you’ll see that every brand has become a publisher), you need to take special care of those first page webpages.

So, what are the tactics that you should follow to ensure that your website rankings stay safe (even during a website upgrade)?

I’ve broken down the complete process for you in this article.

Are you ready to stay competitive and prevent your website from a traffic crisis?

Let’s get started. 

How to launch a revamped website the right way? (Hint: 301 redirects are the most important ingredient)

Let’s start with the most common mistake that sends many website’s rankings and traffic tumbling:

Not setting up redirects properly when rebuilding the website.

A typical example of a terrible new website launch is visible in the analytics screenshot below.


Yep, you saw that right.

From 6,000 visitors/day to zero.


That would really hurt.

So, what are the common reasons that lead to such failures during website redesign?

Here are 4 issues with tips to resolve them.

1. Not taking care of on-page SEO and finding those hidden keyword opportunities.

During a relaunch, you need to take special care when optimizing your website’s content. You need to look for opportunities to grow your traffic, including tweaking your page titles, adjusting your meta description and updating content.


Let me share a specific keyword strategy I have used in the past at Quick Sprout. I used Google’s suggested long-tail keyword recommendations for the head keywords I was already ranking really well for.


I integrated these keywords in my published posts every month.

The result?

I was able to increase Quick Sprout’s traffic from 120,365 visitors in Jan, 2013 to 174,496 visitors in Dec, 2013.


2. If you’re messing with your website’s URL structure, then perfectly map out your 301 redirection plan

From the SEO perspective, this is the most significant aspect of a website relaunch.

If you have a large website and you change your URL structure, then you’ll lose a lot of traffic from your inbound links to your individual pages. You need to ensure that all of your older pages 301 redirect to their newer counterparts.

This will ensure that you maintain your search equity, losing only 10-15% of your traffic (which is normal).


The best strategy for tackling this issue is to keep your URL structure the same as much as possible.

But, if you’re moving to a new CMS or had a bad URL structure, then here are 3 tips to create your 301 redirect mapping strategy for the rewritten URLs.


You can also read a detailed breakdown of the 301 redirect process at SEOpoint. John Romaine shows you the exact process using Excel, Screaming Frog, Text Mechanic, Yoast SEO and Notepad.


3. Craft a user-friendly 404 page to deal with the error spikes

After launching your updated site, you may notice sudden 404 error spikes in your analytics.


You can obviously note the pages and fix them. But, you also need to have an optimized error 404 page to ensure that the visitor stays on your website.

I linked to 25-50 internal pages from the error 404 page at Techcrunch. The result was a 9% increase in website traffic in 30 days.


You can even place a contact form on your error 404 page like Ben Cook did during his client’s website relaunch. The result was emails from visitors requesting information that didn’t make it to the new website.


4. Serve the updated address of your content to search engines by resubmitting your XML sitemap

Google bots need help to index the new URL locations of your content. First, you need to check your robots.txt file and confirm that you’re allowing search engines to crawl your website. You’ll also want to be sure that your full website is getting indexed.


Next, setup the proper location of your sitemap from the file.

You can submit your sitemap by navigating to:

Webmaster Tools > Crawl > Sitemaps

If you want to further help search engines with indexing, you can also use multiple XML sitemaps.

Razoo experienced an increase in organic traffic after implementing multiple sitemaps.


Want to know how?

The number of pages sending traffic and the number of keywords sending organic search traffic increased.


Kate Morris shows you how to implement multiple XML sitemaps in this article.

If you follow the strategies I mention in the above 4 points, then you’ll most likely hold organic traffic loss below 5%.


Track your competitors’ marketing activities regularly and outdo their efforts

You may not know it, but you competitors’ might have built partnerships with brands in your industry to get help with social media marketing. Or. maybe they discovered high authority websites fertile for scoring backlinks.

The good news is that now you needn’t do the legwork. Just keep track of the content your competitors publish, the links they attract and the social media marketing efforts they perform.

If you stay abreast with your competitors’ marketing activities, you can top them to maintain your search rankings.

I know it’s time consuming to logon to multiple tools/websites, so I’ve compiled a list of 4 tools you can use to outdo your competitors’ marketing strategy.

1. Ahrefs

When it comes to rankings, backlinks still play a vital role.


Ahrefs is the perfect tool to uncover new referring domains associated with your competitors.

Head over to, key your website url in site explorer and click on the “Search Links” button.


You’ll get a graph of the referring domains and backlinks.


To find the new links, use the navigation menu to get to Inbound links >> New.


You’ll get a list of links to the domain.


You can gauge the backlink’s authority by using metrics like domain rating and URL rating.

If you’re building/attracting quality backlinks to your first page ranking webpage, then both of these scores should keep increasing with time.


You can also setup email notifications from your Ahrefs dashboard.


You’ll get a report with new referring domains and backlinks of your (or your competitor’s) website.


If you scan your website’s backlinks and find that you’re under a negative SEO attack, then:

Ahrefs premium subscription can help you in disavowing spammy backlinks by uploading them in bulk to Google Webmaster Tools.



Your traffic from head keywords (with thousands of searches per month) will likely be under 15-20% of the total. 91% of my traffic at Quick Sprout was from long-tail keywords.

But, the higher search volume keywords are like a quality check for your SEO strategy. They help in judging the following 3 important aspects.

SERPFOX is a brilliant keyword rank tracking tool. You can easily keep track of your first page ranking webpages with it.

To get started, you need to add your URL.


Then click on “Add Keywords.”


And enter the keywords that you want to track in the “keywords” box. You can change track keywords in a city/zip code or in multiple countries and search engines.


Once you add some keywords, you’ll get the ranking on your dashboard.


You can click on the graph icon to visualize your ranking changes over time.


And, you can also set rules to get notified of keyword ranking changes.


SERPFOX can also track mobile and tablet keyword rankings.


3. Buzzbundle

Content promotion is the most essential part of any SEO strategy. Buzzbundle is a time saving tool for finding your target audience and engaging in conversations related to specific keywords.

You can use the tool to find people on a number of channels that have linked/shared and are interested in your kind of content.

You need to install the tool and click on Create New Project >> Create New Stream.

Then you need to enter keywords and URLs to track.


Once the tool loads, you’ll see a list of streams from social media, blogs, Q&A websites, forums and more with scraped content that includes your entered keywords.


You can start conversations with people relevant to the content you’ve already written (sharing a link to your post).


Or, even drop your article’s link on relevant forum posts.


You can customize the streams you want to display, based on their type.


You can even filter social media posts with higher engagement.


Buzzbundle played a vital role in helping Robbie Richards increase his website traffic by 272% in 30 days.


4. Simply Measured

This is a comprehensive social media analytics tool. You can use it to find the influencers on social media that are the chief source of driving traffic to your website.


You can also get useful charts of your audience growth on social channels,


and a goals report to find how you’re faring against your set social presence goals for a particular time period. You can also include industry competitors to compare your performance.


If you want to monitor your competition on social media, then you can get a glance at their performance, using metrics like engagement, follower change with time, average response rate and more.


You can plug a competitor’s social media account into Simply Measured free suite of tools to get started instantly.


Maintain your content marketing pace and ensure that you’ve got a stellar social media presence.

Do you think that I regularly engage in email outreach for building links for the multiple blogs I run?


That would not be the best use of my time.

Then, how do I stay at the top of search rankings, even for the new articles I publish?

You might already know that every new authority backlink to your website helps in improving your overall website authority. It also helps your currently ranking website pages.

Instead of solely focusing your efforts on promoting your old content, there’s another way to stay at the top of the content marketing game.

By consistently pushing out high-quality content.

There are 3 major benefits in this approach.

  • You’ll serve value to your audience and your brand will remain at the top of their heads.
  • You can internally link to relevant old articles on your blog. It’ll help you rank for long-tail keywords without building links.
  • If you publish 16+ posts per month, your traffic will be 3.5x greater and the leads generated will be 4.5x the websites that publish under 4 posts/month.


These benefits, along with my love for writing, motivate me to blog every day and scale my businesses with content marketing.

There’s only so much you can do with a lower volume of content. If you publish content infrequently and inconsistently, you might experience a drop in traffic. Buffer experienced a 4% drop in traffic when they stopped publishing content for a month.


So what are the key aspects to maintaining your content marketing pace?

Here are 3 strategies.

1. Consistently experiment with various forms of content on your blog

Writing the same kind of content can get boring for you and make the reading experience dull for your audience.

Experiment with infographics, podcasts, videos, long-form content and other types of content.

For instance, I used to publish a lot of infographics at both KISSMetrics and Quick Sprout. At KISSMetrics, I published 47 of them in between 2010 to 2012. This helped me attract 2,512,596 visitors and 41,142 backlinks from 3,741 unique domains.

Similarly, with Quick Sprout, each infographic generated 41,487 visitors and 469 backlinks from 38 unique domains, on average. But that’s 35% less traffic than my text-based posts. One major benefit that I derived from infographics, though, was a lift in Quick Sprout’s brand searches.


Soon enough, infographics lost their sheen and I was generating less than half the number of visitors and backlinks from them at KISSMetrics. However, Unbounce found that the demand for infographics increased by over 800% in 2013 and 2014.


As a result, I pivoted to long-form content, averaging over 4,000 words per post at Quick Sprout and The results have been great as I derive traffic from thousands of long-tail keywords.

Brian Dean also serves a variety of content at Backlinko, including his original methods,


SEO case studies of his techniques,


and list posts compiling tools that are helpful for marketers.


He recently put together an original analysis of 1 million Google Search results, along with Eric Van Buskirk from ClickStream.


It has earned lots of love from his audience.


2. Grow your email list, referral traffic and social media audience by guest posting

Guest blogging is a powerful content marketing tool that has the potential to offer amazing exposure to your brand. Jeff Goins managed to get over 10,000 email subscribers in 18 months by guest posting.


I have written 300+ guest posts to derive significant traffic and expand my blog’s audience. Look at the qualified leads I generate from the likes of Inc and Entrepreneur, every month, through the guest articles that I write.


If your guest post content is awesome, then you can also earn new social media followers. Put your Twitter handle in your author bio.


Mandy Kilinskis experienced an influx of new followers on Twitter after her first guest post on Buffer.


Some authority blogs also allow you to link to contextually relevant articles on your website from your guest post. If done consistently, you’ll also see a rise in traffic from long-tail keywords. So, you can also expect SEO benefits.

I’ve already written detailed articles on starting a guest blogging campaign from scratch. You can read this article at or this one at Quick Sprout.

3. Build your social media authority

There is an ongoing debate about whether or not social signals help in your search rankings.

I would say they have at least a loose correlation.

By increasing the social shares on your post, you get more traffic. If you offer a good user experience, then your website will see a good average time-on-page and a lower bounce rate. Do you suppose that this might help your search ranking?

Moz weren’t ranking for their beginner’s guide to SEO. But, a tweet by Smashing Magazine helped them bump to the first page for the keyword “beginner’s guide”.


My following on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks significantly contributes in driving traffic and links for every post that I publish.

If you’ve built a good social media presence, your social accounts will also pop up in SERPs, which is great brand exposure.


So, how do you maintain a stellar social media presence?

By consistently sharing relevant and engaging content from your social accounts. There are 2 tools that will help you in executing this strategy.

The first is BuzzSumo for finding popular content in your niche.


Then, use Buffer to schedule regular social media updates from your accounts. You can share your older posts repeatedly to double or even triple the traffic you derive from social media.


If you want a more detailed breakdown, then read my article on social media strategy.

Forget building backlinks and other SEO/marketing jazz. Put your users first.

It’s funny how most marketers like to complicate business goals. They keep pursuing tactics without thinking about the ROI on the time they spend.

Your top priority as a business owner should be to provide an amazing experience to your website visitors.


Why else would they even bother to visit you again? Even Google has adopted a pro-user experience stance. It shows in its rankings.

Want a live example?

Just look at the number one result for the term “online marketing”.


You’ll find yours truly occupying the top spot and I am beating brands like Entrepreneur and Wikipedia.

What do you think is the number one reason that led to the guide’s success?

I spent $40,000 to hire a professional designer and a subject matter expert to write the guide. Open the guide and experience the quality for yourself.

So, in the context of maintaining your search rankings, what are the steps that you can take to ensure a stellar user experience? Here are 5.

1. Ensure that your website loads at lightning fast speed

Your website loading speed is a critical search engine ranking factor. It’s simply annoying for the user to wait for your webpage elements to show up. That’s why you lose 7% of conversions for every second delay in your website speed.

Don’t let first-time visitors abandon your website. Log onto Google’s Page Speed tool and check your speed score.


You’ll even get recommendations to fix your website for both desktop and mobile environments. You can also read my guide on improving site speed and performance.

2. “Responsive Design” is more than a buzzword: Optimize your website for mobile users

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you already know the importance of having a mobile-friendly design.

Users no longer access your website from only desktops. They also use their smaller-screened smartphones and tablets.

You can find out the devices that the majority of your audience are using by logging into your Google Analytics (GA) account.


You should aim to provide an optimum user experience to at least the mobile device most prevalent among your visitors. Use Mobile Phone Emulator to replicate different mobile devices and browsers.


Google has officially declared war against websites that are a pain for mobile users. If your website is slow, you might see a ‘slow to load’ label in your mobile search result, killing your CTR.


If it’s mobile friendly, then it shows a ‘mobile-friendly’ label.


3. Optimize your meta tags and increase your click-through rates

If your website keeps appearing at the top in search results, but also keeps getting ignored by the users, you’re eventually going to lose your ranking.

It’s called pogo sticking and it’s a signal to Google that the user cannot find the information that they’re after.


Irrelevant pages to the user’s search query only get pushed down. Once you’ve put in the hard work to get to the top, don’t hamper your brand image and let your ranking slip away.

Log into your Google Webmaster Tools. Find the keywords that are getting the maximum number of impressions and clicks for your website.


Then, find the content pages associated with those top keywords and optimize your meta tags for these pages. Here are the two steps you need to follow.


Make the 65 character headline relevant and persuasive.

Use the 160 character meta description to offer specific and enticing info to the searcher.


For more CTR tips, you can read my article on improving your click through rates.

4. Update your webpage, incorporating copywriting tactics or fresher information

Once the user is on your webpage, you want him to engage with your content and stay as long as possible. You even hope that they’ll check out other relevant pages.

The corresponding metrics used by search engines to measure your website engagement are your bounce rate, pages per visitor and time on-page.


So, how can you improve a webpage’s content experience?

Allow me to share 2 strategies.

i. Update the content and promote it again on social media – I followed this strategy with my article on getting more Instagram followers.

It used to get 121,550 visitors from Google.


Then my rankings and traffic for it dropped down to 14,952 visitors.

I thought of updating the content with fresher information.

The result?

Within 90 days, the traffic shot to 62,855 visitors/month.

Obviously the traffic will naturally drop again over time, but more visitors and interaction on your pages can help in maintaining your rankings for a considerably longer time period.

ii. Use Bucket Brigades – Brian Dean places a colon at every point where he feels the user is going to press the back button.


Using this old-school sales letter copywriting strategy, he has been able to slash his bounce rates and achieve amazing average time On-page. His sitewide average time is over 4 minutes. That’s a huge positive ranking signal for Google.


5. Conduct an internal linking audit and ensure that you put your cornerstone content front and center of your website

Most website owners don’t perform this step.

But, if you’ve got a solid content bank:

Relevant internal linking can help you distribute the link juice from your top performing website pages. It also decreases your bounce rate, enhances the crawlability of your website and helps your website’s overall SEO.


I regularly share links to my relevant articles to help my audience get more information and easily navigate through my website.


You can even boost a landing page’s rank in search results by linking to it from a high performing page.

Do you know why most of my guides at Quick Sprout rank on the first page of Google for their target keyword?

It’s because I regularly link to them from my articles.

Moreover, for a new blog visitor, they’re always accessible at the click of a button. I’ve put them in the right sidebar at Quick Sprout and also here at  They can’t be missed.


If you’ve also created such cornerstone content for your audience, then consider putting it in a one-click radar for your visitors. It’ll keep getting more traction from your new website visitors.


With the constantly changing Google algorithms, maintaining stellar search rankings can feel like a challenge. But you just need to monitor your competition, keep pursuing content marketing and ensure a superlative user experience for your website visitors.

Even during a website relaunch, you needn’t lose a lot of organic traffic if you plan systematically. Moz was actually able to increase their engagement metrics with a great redesign.


I want to hear your thoughts. Have you ever suffered from loss of traffic on your website and recovered it? What are the strategies you use for maintaining your search rankings?