I used to think SEO case studies with titles like this were written by snake oil salesmen. After all, saying you increased someone’s organic traffic―especially someone who’s a multiple time New York Times best-selling author and already had a bunch of traffic―by 600% can’t be true, right?
I certainly didn’t think it could be several years ago.
Back then, I was frantically trying every SEO technique known to man in hopes that I’d finally find something that worked.
The sad reality? Most of my efforts didn’t move the needle at all.
But I kept chugging along, and soon I found a few specific strategies and tactics that got some real traction. I doubled down on these. Can you guess what happened next?
Yep―those few things helped me see ridiculous results. And I’m here to share the four main areas I focused on to finally breakthrough and help my biggest client see massive results with SEO so that you can use these strategies, too.
One important caveat before we jump in: I’m not suggesting that what I’m about to tell you is the only way to succeed with SEO. Every campaign and niche will have different nuances, and some strategies that might work great for me might not work great for you.
That being said, there are several principles throughout this case study that you can apply to pretty much any campaign you’ll ever run.
When I started working with this client, he was generating about 20,000 visitors per month from search. Pretty solid.
He ranked for a few competitive keywords that had between 1,000 and 5,000 monthly search volume and got hundreds of email subscribers every month from SEO.
But there was potential for so much more.
He had truly fantastic content―and the ability to write incredible content on pretty much any topic in his niche since he had so many years of experience and results―so it was clear he had a shot of ranking for almost any keyword in his niche over time.
He had a big problem, though: His content was unoptimized, and he needed a lot more quality links.
I started by identifying all the best content assets on his blog from a traffic standpoint (with Google Analytics and Google Search Console). He had hundreds of blog posts, but only 10 of them got consistent traffic.
So I unpublished 90% of the content on his blog.
What did I do with it? I put each post in one of two buckets.
1. Revamp, optimize, and republish: This bucket was for any existing content that had untapped potential. Content made it into this bucket if it:
Only five posts fell in this category. I had the author add tons of content to each of these posts, along with new sections based on long-tail keywords.
Once we finished, I updated the publish date in WordPress and promoted it as a new post (but kept the same URL).
2. Leave the post as an unpublished draft and redirect: This bucket was for content that didn’t have much, if any, SEO potential.
Most of these posts were either written on very specific topics without much search volume or had content related to one of the content assets we kept.
If there wasn’t SEO potential for a post, I unpublished it and set up a 301 redirect to either a relevant content asset or the homepage. We kept these as unpublished drafts in WordPress so we could use the content for future posts. If the content of a post was very similar to one of our content assets, we added the content to the content asset and 301 redirected the post to the asset.
By the end of the content audit, he only had about 30 blog posts left (including those we revamped). But within a few months he was generating MORE traffic than he ever had before because every post on his blog was incredibly valuable and SEO-driven.
Of course, the content audit by itself didn’t get us to a 600% traffic increase.
We needed more links.
You already know you have to build high-quality links to compete in organic search results. So did I, but that didn’t help me actually get those links at first. I sent hundreds of outreach emails per week but only got a 1% conversion rate at best … until I rethought my outreach strategy.
At first, I followed exactly what experts told me to do in blog posts I read. I even used their pre-written templates. When that didn’t work, I started testing new angles.
I even started offering free access to courses and membership sites from my author regardless of whether someone added my link or not. And over time, I realized something: If you have outstanding content, reach out to someone who’s already linked to or written similar content, and offer them exceptional value, you’ll see incredible conversion rates.
While I was building links regularly, I also worked with the author to create new SEO-driven content.
By SEO-driven, I mean content created based on the best keyword opportunities in his niche. A lot of people write content then find a keyword to “optimize” it for. This is backwards if you want your content to rank. Instead of finding great keyword opportunities your site can actually rank for, you’re essentially picking keywords out of a hat with varying levels of competition.
You might get lucky a few times and find a low competition keyword you can rank for with your pre-written content, but most of the time you won’t, and you’ll have trouble ranking across the board. So, before we created ANY new content, I did in-depth keyword research to find the best opportunities in the author’s niche (I’m talking a Google Sheet with 5,000+ keywords in there).Then, I sorted the sheet based on competition and picked medium-to-high traffic keywords with low competition (as it relates to his site’s ability to rank for that keyword) to create content around.
Notice how I said keywords instead of keyword?
Another huge part of creating traffic driving SEO content is targeting a group of related keywords instead of just one.
Since the Hummingbird algorithm update in 2013, you can rank a single piece of content for 1,000s of keywords. So we created 25 pieces of content over two years. Just a few months after each one was published, they all started ranking for hundreds, and some even thousands of different keywords.
One even ranked for 12,000 keywords…
And even with only 72 posts on his blog today (compared to the 100+ he used to have) he generates 140,000+ visitors every month from search:
Here’s the big thing you can’t miss when it comes to content: It really doesn’t matter how much content you produce and how often you produce it. What really matters is how valuable and optimized your content is, and that you produce it on a somewhat regular basis (whether that’s once a month or even once every other month).
Isn’t it funny how something as simple as adding a link to another page on your site can help your SEO? I mean, it literally takes five seconds, but it really does help (especially on a large scale).
When I first started working with this author, there were a few internal links on most of his pages and posts, but there wasn’t a clear strategy behind them.
That changed real quick.
After I completed the initial content audit, I went through his entire site adding new internal links and optimizing the anchor text of old ones.
The strategy I used was simple. Add about ten internal links to every blog post using anchor text that included either:
Simple enough, right?
As I did this, I found two options for doing this as fast as possible (because, let’s be honest, this takes a whole lot of monotonous screen-staring hours if you’re going through 50+ posts):
1. Go through each post in your CMS in order of publication date adding internal links.
If you decide to go this route, it helps to have a spreadsheet open with links to all of your blog posts so you can add internal links as you scan the content. Simply go through each blog post looking for good anchor text opportunities, then copy/paste links as you see fit. If you don’t have great anchor text opportunities, you can always tweak the content.
2. Use the search bar in your WordPress admin for certain phrases and add internal links to posts containing those keywords.
Here, you can search target keywords, long-tail keywords, and LSI keywords in your WordPress dashboard to find posts that already have those phrases.
Then, all you have to do is go through those posts and add internal links (repeating this process for every post on your blog).
You’ve probably heard most of the advice in this case study before―just like I had.
I was implementing these strategies just like everyone else was, too, but I wasn’t seeing any notable results.
So it wasn’t that I was using the wrong tactics; I was simply using the right tactics in the wrong way.
I wasn’t focused on helping the author create incredibly valuable content using his unique insights―therefore making his content different from everyone else’s. I wasn’t focused on offering incredible value to site owners in my link building outreach. And I wasn’t focused on reaching out to people who’ve already linked to similar resources to mine or wrote content on a similar topic.
These changes helped me experience an SEO breakthrough―not only with this author but with all of my clients—and they can help you, too.
About the author
Hunter Branch is a digital marketing consultant and the founder of Rank Tree, a content marketing and SEO blog dedicated to teaching small businesses and brands how to create great content that generates traffic and leads from Google on autopilot.
WordStream’s guest authors are experts, entrepreneurs, and passionate writers in the online marketing community who bring diverse perspectives to our blog on a wide range of topics.
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