Why Some SEO Campaigns Have Mind-Blowing Success (And Why Some Fail Miserably)
I talk with a lot of people who work at tech startups who have tried SEO or want to get started with it, but they’re not sure what to do. There’s a few typical scenarios that play out:
- They paid a ton of money to their current (or past) SEO agency, which didn’t get them the results that they were hoping for
- They’re interested in SEO, but everyone tells them that it takes 6-12 months of work before you get any kind of results
- They’re writing content and getting some organic traffic, but it’s not converting into leads or sales
Does any of that sound familiar to you?
What makes the situation even worse is that SEO is so dang confusing.
Search engine optimization involves equal parts front-end development, content creation and PR. Such a diverse group of disciplines, and you can’t just hire one person to do all of it.
Fortunately there is a scalable playbook for consistently generating traffic, customers and revenue through organic search.
You just have to know the plays and run them at gametime.
There Are People Crushing It With SEO
Before you swim too far in that vat of cynicism, let me show you some websites that are absolutely “crushing it” with SEO.
Yes, I can confirm that there definitely are people getting great SEO results in 2020.
My favorite example that I just stumbled across a few months ago is a guy who is a complete 1-man show. He created a WordPress website from scratch and then grew it to over 140,000 visits/month in pure organic search traffic all by himself.
He did this on the side of his full-time job, while managing clients. He wrote all of the website content by himself and didn’t know any code. Just an SEO marketer doin’ his thing.
Check out this graph of adamenfroy.com:
Organic traffic graph from SEO tool Ahrefs as of 3/7/20
And if you’ve ever used Ahrefs before, you know that its traffic estimates are conservative. He’s probably getting 15-50% more site traffic than what is shown here.
If you look closely at the traffic graph, organic search growth looked like this:
|3 mo.||6 mo.||9 mo.||12 mo.|
Adam’s example shows us that there definitely is truth to the snow-balling nature of SEO. But as you can see even at month 3 his website traffic had already grown significantly. And by month 6 it was through the roof.
How he did it
To kick off his site, Adam wrote five 2,000-3,000 word articles around high-volume keywords. He made his content better than any of what the other competitor sites on Google had for those keywords.
And then he promoted them like hell.
According to his website, he pitched and had written just over 80 guest posts on relevant, high domain authority sites within the first 3 months of launching the site.
As a result of writing great content and priming the pump with quality backlinks, his site gained over 150 additional backlinks from the notoriety it received. (That is, 150 more than the original 80 that he built.)
Ahrefs graph of referring domains of adamenfroy.com
(Side note: referring domains = separate websites linking back to you.)
He kept on aggressively building links back to his website and creating keyword-centric content throughout the whole year of 2019.
He now claims his website is making over $40,000 per month in totally passive income – only 14 months after launching it!
(His active income is actually much higher.)
If a one-man show can do this in one year, how far can your company go?
A Company Example
I was the first “content strategist” (yes, that was actually my job title) on Business.org. After working on mega-agency Clearlink’s biggest B2B Fortune 100 clients for two years, I was tapped to help get their first inhouse B2B web property off the ground.
(In case you were wondering, .org websites can be for-profit businesses.)
This is an interesting case study because in many ways they took the exact opposite approach to what Adam Enfroy did.
In the first 6 months of business.org, it:
- Built very few links
- Had absolutely no personal connection or brand strength
- Had no social media presence and did absolutely no email marketing
In other words, like adamenfroy.com, the website was completely an SEO play.
But unlike adamenfroy.com, they barely did anything to promote the site. (There were I think maybe 30 links built to it over the whole first 6 months.)
Instead of focusing around a personal brand, business.org was (and still is) a faceless, corporate entity.
But the website pulled different levers for organic growth. It:
- Published around 5 long-form (2000+ word) articles every week targeting valuable keywords with good search volume
- Had an aged, authoritative domain
- Already had dozens of pieces of content on it
You see, Clearlink previously owned another unmonetized website that already had a bunch of SEO content on it.
When they decided it was time to get serious about launching a small business brand, they bought the expensive business.org domain and redirected over all of the old content onto the new domain.
This is a very common and successful formula for SEO success.
Powerful aged domain + tons of keyword-centric content = massive organic traffic
Here is a screenshot of the traffic from business.org:
Ahrefs screenshot of business.org organic search traffic
12 months in, business.org was already up to 30,000 per month in traffic. (As shown in the screenshot.) I didn’t start working on the site until April 2018, which is the beginning of when they really started to invest resources into the site.
Here is the timeline of the organic search traffic:
|July ‘17||April ‘18||July ‘18||Nov ‘18|
If you count the beginning of the SEO campaign as April, then in a 6-month time period (when I worked on the site actually), they took organic traffic from 18,000 to 60,000 per month.
The content was ok, but it wasn’t anything special. The writers on that team had flare and great skill, but they had little expertise on the topics they were writing about.
So even with limited subject-matter expertise and zero brand personality, SEO content took business.org to incredible new heights.
The Two Ways to Grow Organic Search Traffic
I picked these two startup website examples because they illustrate the two different methods for growing the organic search traffic of a website.
- Go deep
- Go wide
Adamenfroy.com went deep. He only wrote five articles on his website, and then went to town building links back to his website.
He did publish more content on his site throughout the first year, but backlink acquisition was always his #1 priority.
Business.org went wide. It already had some established website authority built up, so the website managers decided to publish a ton of keyword-centric SEO content, to the tune of 10,000+ words per week.
Going wide means publishing lots of articles so that you can rank for lots of keywords.
Going deep means getting lots of backlinks so that your website can rank better for the keywords that you’ve already started to rank for.
Business.org is a particularly interesting case study to me because it showcases the power of content. Even with bad branding, no advertising and no promotional budget, a website with a little pre-existing authority can go from zero to hero in a very quick time.
Most tech startup websites that I meet are actually in a very similar position to business.org when it started out. They have some authority and some content already created, but no one has yet started an aggressive SEO content creation campaign.
How to Go Deep with Backlink Acquisition
The great thing about backlink activities is that they’re verifiable and easy to understand. Your SEO agency can give you a list of links that they built every month and you can quickly and easily see what they were.
Here is a quick list of proven, safe link-building activities:
- Guest posting
- Broken backlink building
- Content promotion
- Product promotion
- Linkable asset promotion
- Content syndication
- Partnership cross-promoting
- Giveaways (like scholarships and grants)
This is just a short list of proven tactics. Link building is all about creativity and hustle, so there are probably limitless link acquisition tactics.
Links are the currency of SEO. The more high-quality, authoritative websites link back to yours, the better.
Links are the currency of SEO
The more backlinks a particular website has, the more quickly newly-published pages will rank for SEO keywords, and the more rankings will rise across the whole website.
The more backlinks a particular webpage has, the better that particular page will rank for its keywords.
It’s a truism in SEO to say that “more backlinks equal more search engine traffic”.
How to Go Wide with Content Creation
This strategy is so easy that every startup should be doing it. If you have freelance writers or inhouse writers or any kind of content creation going on on your website at all, you need to drop everything and implement this strategy.
This is the fuel behind all of the great websites on the internet. Here’s a few in the finance niche implementing it:
And on and on and on.
These are just a few websites that I’ve personally seen aggressively working on their SEO content and it shows.
Before I tell you how to do it, let me tell you how NOT to do it. Because this is how content marketing at 99% of companies looks like.
The Typical Corporate Blog
Your typical corporate blog and (it pains me to write this) most tech blogs are compendiums of wasted effort.
They usually work like this. Somebody on the marketing team says “we need a blog”. They decide this right around the time that they say “get up some social media pages!”
But the website blog, like the social media accounts, have zero strategy, forethought, budget, or expertise put into them.
So a writer starts writing. About whatever they feel like.) If they’re smart, they write about things that are related to what the company sells.)
This lack of discipline is how you get FinTech site blog articles about conference call services.
Full disclosure: I help run this blog, so I can poke fun at it. We decided to keep this legacy blog article live because it gets a lot of (worthless) traffic.
Or telecommunications companies talking about digital marketing. Or business tech blogs doing “Taco Bell vs. Del Taco” articles. (This one used to be on business.org until we took it down.)
The crazy thing is, writing consistently is better than not writing at all, so this 2009 strategy of writing about random stuff still kind of works at getting some organic traffic.
This is the “throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks” corporate blog strategy.
It doesn’t make you grow fast, and it doesn’t drive conversions.
Here’s what to do instead.
The Winning Blog Playbook
Here is your winning blog playbook. It works in every industry every time.
Follow these steps:
- Do strategic keyword research
- Write blog articles optimized for keywords
- Rewrite/revamp old content to keep it fresh
That’s it. Write meaty, in-depth content around keywords with decent search volume and revamp old keyword-centric content.
Create a content calendar. Stick to it. And publish, publish, publish.
There’s a lot that goes into keyword research, but at a high level, the point is to rank articles for keywords that have some search volume.
For example, you might see that the keyword “how to raise credit score by 200 points” gets 500 searches per month, and it’s keyword difficulty score is extremely low – only 5/100.
(“How to” posts make for excellent blog content by the way.)
Then you would simply write an optimized article around this keyword and BAM – you find yourself ranking for that keyword within a week and getting some decent traffic from that new page.
The goal is to find dozens, or even hundreds, of keywords related to your products and services, and then write a separate article around each keyword.
Then you’ll have hundreds of pages bringing your site traffic and leads all day.
Can I Go Both Wide and Deep?
Thank you so much for asking.
The short answer is that YES, you can and should go both wide and deep with your SEO campaign.
But most companies won’t do that.
Why not, Garit?
Again, thanks for asking. You’re super smart.
The reason that most companies won’t invest aggressively in both backlink acquisition and SEO content is because they’re hesitant to commit.
“What if it doesn’t work?” they ask.
“Show me some ROI first.”
“It sounds risky.”
These are entirely reasonable objections. But they all come from the same place of fear and misunderstanding.
Because if you really understood the power of SEO, you would throw yourself into it and never look back.
According to Ahrefs, they went from 11,000,000 to 13,000,000 organic visits per month over the past 12 months.
NerdWallet is at the top of their game, and they are still HUNGRY. Nerdwallet.com is a mature website, and it increased search traffic by 18% year-over-year.
Let that sink in for a minute – a company that already is bringing in millions (apparently worth over $500M) with entire teams of people working on its SEO is still achieving double-digit organic search growth as a mature company.
They’re not the only ones. Red Ventures, an SEO mega-agency with thousands of employees, bought Bankrate.com for over $1B (yes, one billion dollars) partially on the strength of its SEO presence.
Red Ventures bought an already mature SEO-based website for $1,000,000,000 because it thought it’s SEO growth wasn’t already tapped out. They acquired it because the site “still had potential”.
Clearlink, Red Ventures, Perch, Merkle – these are billion-dollar marketing titans that all rely heavily on SEO to boost their web properties. They invest heavily in going both wide AND deep because they know that SEO works.
Do you think that executives at Red Ventures are asking themselves, “I wonder if link building works? Should we hire any people to do link building this year?”
The organic traffic growth of gusto.com
Now It’s Your Turn
First, I want to apologize on behalf of the SEO industry. There’s a lot of crappy agencies out there that will take your money and do a terrible job.
But don’t say that you haven’t been warned. Now you know.
Now you know that SEO works. You know the billion-dollar playbook that is growing tech and finance companies.
And you now know that small, hungry teams like the ones behind adamenfroy.com and business.org are getting fantastic results within the first 6 months of their SEO campaigns.
They get these kinds of results because they whole-heartedly commit manpower and resources into creating content and backlink promotion from day 1.
Now it’s your turn. The season is starting, and you need a new playbook. What will your SEO campaign look like this year?