Credit: Listofimages.com

From O to 1.4 Million Visitors in 6 Months

It’s not content marketing, it’s content strategy.

and no, they’re not the same.

I really like how Robert Rose puts this in context:

Content marketers draw on the wall with magic markers, while content strategists use fine pens.

This was a follow-up experiment after growing a new website to 100,000 visitors per month — to see if we could do it again, faster.

My team and I built a website that nearly broke 100,000 visitors in the first month after launch, and grew to over 350,000 organic visits per month in 6 months.

We were operating based on a modified version of my keyword opportunity model — but we also wanted to test a new theory. So, taking the lessons learned from our early mistakes, toward the end of month 7 we decided to try it again.

The thought was that:

— With the right keywords
— Well researched and developed content
— And precision timing

we could capitalize on short-term trends and leverage QDF to gain traffic quickly.

The Initial Milestone

Our goal was to break 250,000 visitors in 90 days, which we did… sort of — it depends on how you measure visitors; total versus unique.

In our first 90 days (July 20, 2012 through October 20, 2012, pictured below) we acquired 471,475 total visits, but only 174,483 were unique visitors. So in total visits we achieved almost doubled our goal, but in terms of unique visitors we came in approximately 43% shy.

We hit the goal in terms of total visitors, but not in uniques.

Our Approach Was Simple

Our team of analysts and writers looked for patterns within out mined data and translated them into content requirements, based on our traffic projections. The goal for each piece was to look at 2 polarized sides of an issue, provide editorial citations to justify the claims, and then provide an opinion.

All blog posts were text with images and links, nothing more.

We also paid attention to a few simple, but key elements:

Quick to Market
We decided to use a 3rd party platform so we did not have to worry about website configurations, application development, or any of the other technical distractions that come with building a new content-driven website.

Focus on Usefulness
We did a lot of research, both into our target content verticals and the keywords and user intent we were going after. Keyword research was one of the battles we fought, but the war was won by developing the best answers for questions that were still out there.

Jump on Trends
As news broke, became available, or was leaked, we were on it. We curated content from as many reputable sources as possible, provided our own unique and grounded opinions, and got thorough, useful content out the door quickly.

Build Loyalty and Trust
We were able to grow so quickly because people kept coming back, so we were able to build on top of our traffic month over month. We put a lot of effort into researching our content and curating our posts to be representative solutions for the topics they were covering. For this reason visitors trusted us and would bookmark the site to return later.

Getting Started

Gleaning data and knowledge from our previous experiment into the Japanese market, we went heads down and dove deep into competitive keyword research.

We designed a publication calendar for a few pieces of core content, and then set hooks in place to monitor the news and content outlets where our topics were likely to be published.

We all set up whiteboards in our respective locations (Philly, New York, San Diego, London, Paris, and Tokyo), and used handy tools like Google Hangouts to have live brainstorming sessions.

Furthermore, tools like Evernote and Memonic proved invaluable in helping us curate and share our ideas across continents.

Publishing Prowess

We developed 10 pieces of content prior to launch, and published 4 the first day (July 19, 2012), 4 the second day, and 2 the third day. As soon as we completed publishing on any given day we went immediately back to work researching topics and content highlights for the coming days.

In total we published 20 posts our first week on the following schedule:

7/19 — 4 posts
7/20 — 4 posts
7/21 — 2 posts
7/23 — 1 post
7/24 — 3 posts
7/25 — 2 posts
7/26 — 4 posts

We kept rolling with content production, but really let the demands of our target audience drive our editorial calendar. Beyond some foundational pieces we created to hit certain keywords, we watched for what was gaining traction and stayed agile.

Timing

One of the major success factors was timing content publication with important news events, not as they broke — but before announced. I realize at face value it sounds like I have a team of psychics in addition to my research and content teams, and while that would be pretty cool — it’s unfortunately not the case.

We weren’t capitalizing on news that needed to break, we were capitalizing on events we knew were coming; when major brands have products or service releases they promote them weeks or even months in advance.

We paid close attention to major product releases within our target content verticals and made sure we were poised to take advantage of them as they were announced. This was more than just throwing together a 350 to 500 word article to grab the initial spike in QDF, and while that did help, it wasn’t the driving force behind our traffic.

Trust

What worked well for us was really baking in research, analyst reports, and consumer opinions; sometimes as many as 30 to 40 references. This helped establish our blog as a source of reliable and timely information — and was the driving force behind our strong visitor loyalty.

In the first 6 months our returning visitor rate was just over 70 percent.

We were getting people to come back — we were creating a sticky brand.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Our project requirements were pretty simple:

— Blog based (RSS) platform — User permissions with roles
XML-RPC
— Ability to create parent and child pages and categories
— Support rich media
— Support URL re-writes

So instead of creating a new application from scratch, we looked at existing platforms that met our technology requirements, and then narrowed it down based on the simplicity of the interface; it had to be simple enough to allow for the quick on-boarding of new contributors.

After testing half a dozen paid and open-source platforms, we ended up selecting a 3rd party platform called Livedoor. Livedoor is ranked within the Alexa Top 100 (#78) and is the 8th largest website by traffic volume in Japan; it’s stable, scalable, and easy to use.

The ability to lean on an existing platform gave us a short path to scale traffic. Since we were able to get moving quickly, without having to worry about all of the technology headaches that come with self-hosted websites, we were able to really focus on our content and audience.

A word of warning — being locked into a third-party platform isn’t always ideal; if later you need custom functionality or more control over the technology, you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. For us, it was a great solution because this was a content experiment, and our end goal was to create an asset to leverage in the future. This probably wouldn’t work for a SaaS business.

The End Results

In the first 7 days we gained 18,626 visitors, of which 11,186 were unique (pictured below).

Almost 19,000 visits the first week.

We were averaging 2,660 visits per day, approximately 931.3 visits per post, and in the first month we brought in nearly 100,000 visitors, coming in close at 92,778 (pictured below).

Almost 100,000 visits the first month.

A Detailed Look at the Traffic Sources

After publishing my post on growing to over 100,000 organic visits per month, I started seeing traffic from some unusual referral sources:

These are not my normal referral sources for traffic…

Further investigation revealed that these forum threads contained discussions (sometimes with hundreds of replies) where users expressed their doubt and disbelief that the traffic was all organic, located in the target geography, and didn’t require any proactive link-building.

Nearly all of our visitors were in our target geography of Japan:

Funny that Google counts this as 100%, which while close, is obviously not mathematically accurate.

And all of our traffic sources were earned (not paid):

Not 1 paid traffic channel

The Takeaway

Useful content and a solid, well-researched roadmap is the best way to acquire organic traffic.

If your content is serving a purpose, is accessible, and is easy to consume — your readers will build all of the links you will ever need, and your online presence will flourish as a by-product.

Put in the time, do the research, build your own websites, talk to everyone you can, TEST, and you will start seeing improvements in your organic search results, seriously.

Have questions about how to grow your SEO traffic? Let’s talk about it


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