White Hat SEO Case Study: How To Get a #1 Ranking
Today you’re going to learn how Emil rocketed his site to the #1 spot in Google.
(You’ll also see how he turned this #1 ranking into $100k in monthly recurring revenue)
But wait, there’s more!
I’ll ALSO show you how Richard boosted his organic traffic by 348%…in 7 days.
And in this post I’ll walk you through the exact white hat SEO strategy that they used, step-by-step.
How Emil Used The Skyscraper Technique to Generate 41,992 Pageviews, a #1 Ranking and $100k In Monthly Recurring Revenue
Emil’s Skyscraper content went live in April.
But he didn’t eat Doritos on his couch and hope that his post hit the first page.
Instead, he promoted his post using email outreach (more on that later).
And that email outreach directly led to…
645 social shares:
(Including Tweets from peeps with thousands of followers):
And most important of all, fistfuls of high-quality backlinks:
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg…
“Shares and Pageviews are nice and all…but what about the long-term ROI?”
Even though Emil’s post came out over 7 months ago, his post continues to generate traffic, leads and sales.
Gool ol’ fashioned white hat SEO.
His newly minted backlinks skyrocketed his site to the #1 spot for his target keyword, “wellness program ideas”.
That #1 ranking (and traffic from social media) brings in 10,000+ Pageviews per month…like clockwork:
And because Emil’s post attracts high-quality organic traffic, a good chunk of his visitors convert into leads:
But most important of all, this guide helped boost Emil’s homepage traffic by 59%.
Here’s why this is so important:
Because Emil’s homepage converts so well, this traffic boost drives over $100k in monthly recurring revenue.
How Emil Turned a “Blah Blog” Into an Online Sales Machine
OK so who is this Emil guy?
Emil Shour runs content marketing and SEO at SnackNation, a healthy snack delivery service.
On Emil’s first day his boss sat him down and said: “get us some backlinks”.
At this point, Snack Nation’s SEO strategy was scattershot.
They were publishing generic posts like, “3 ways to do X”and “5 tips for Y”.
Here’s an example:
These posts didn’t move the needle…despite the fact that they referenced Office Space
(I LOVE that movie)
In fact, most of their posts generated only a handful of shares:
In Emil’s own words:
“When we first started out, the blog had a couple of okay posts. We weren’t going after keywords that were outside of our really tiny niche. There’s only so many things people are looking for in terms of office snack delivery.”
Emil quickly realized that his “get us some backlinks” mandate wasn’t going to work if they kept pumping out content like this.
Like most people do in a tight spot, Emil started Googling…
How a Random Encounter Changed Everything…
Emil’s search led him to a blog post at Backlinko, “Content Strategy Case Study: 36,282 Readers + 1,000 Email Subscribers“.
In that post I wrote about Jimmy Daly…
…and how he used The Skyscraper Technique to generate 4,865 Pageviews in a week:
When Emil saw this post, a light bulb went off:
“I read that post maybe ten times because I was just amazed. I was like ‘holy crap. I have to do this.’ And I just modeled it completely after that.”
I already showed you the impressive results that Emil achieved thanks to The Skyscraper Technique.
Now it’s time to show you exactly how he did it.
Step #0: Find an Awesome Keyword
Emil kicked things off with keyword research.
It didn’t take Emil long to figure out that VERY few people searched for healthy office snacks.
For example, a keyword like “healthy office snack ideas” gets only 20 searches per month.
But here’s the interesting part:
Emil realized that people interested in healthy office snacks are ALSO interested in the broad topic: “employee wellness”.
So he popped “employee wellness” into the Google Keyword Planner…
…and voila! — he found this gem of a keyword:
This is a keyword that Emil’s customers search for every day…which is great.
But here’s the important thing to keep in mind:
This keyword has a $7 suggested bid…
….and a ton of Adwords ads on the first page.
All that Adwords action told Emil: “there’s strong commercial intent behind this keyword.”
In other words:
People that search for that keyword AREN’T a bunch of tire kickers.
These are people that are going to buy from you.
The Google Keyword Planner ain’t bad.
But if you want to find untapped keywords that your competition doesn’t know about, then I recommend trying these 3 tools.
MetaGlossary.com is one of my favorite long tail keyword generators.
Just put a broad keyword into the tool…
…and it will pop out dozens of awesome suggestions:
FaqFox.com finds questions that your target audience asks online.
(And these questions usually contain untapped long tail keywords)
Let’s say you’re in the paleo diet space.
Just enter the keyword “paleo diet” (and a few sites you want FaqFox to scrape).
And you’ll get a list of questions that people ask about your topic.
(You’ll also get a few…ummm…interesting questions):
But the normal questions are long tail keywords that you can create content around.
I saved the best for last.
Udemy is a keyword research goldmine.
First off, you have Udemy autosuggest.
As if that wasn’t helpful enough, the curriculum for each course hooks you up with a TON of keyword options:
And just like that you have a boatload of keywords that your competition will NEVER find.
OK, let’s get Back to Emil’s story…
Now that Emil had a keyword in-hand, it was time to size up the first page competition.
Step #1: Find Content That Already Ranks for That Keyword
Once you’ve found a keyword, it’s time to get a feel for what’s already out there…
…so you can destroy it.
(Yes, I let out an evil laugh when I wrote that 😀 )
How do you find content that’s already done well?
A simple Google search.
Simply search for your target keyword (and a few closely-related keywords), and see what comes up.
Emil Googled “employee wellness program ideas”, “wellness programs” and “corporate wellness programs”:
And he noticed a few trends in the results:
First, most of the first page results were lists of different wellness program ideas.
Second, Emil noticed that the first page results had some major flaws.
For example, 4 of the top 10 results were PDFs.
Needless to say, PDFs aren’t very user friendly.
Emil also took note of the fact that these lists lacked important details. Some were literally just lists of ideas:
(As you know, it’s hard to take action on a piece of content that leaves out meaty details)
Emil also saw that the first page lacked visual content…like images, videos, charts and screenshots.
Content with at least one image generates an average of 43% more social shares than pure text-based content.
Last but not least, Emil noticed that the content on the first page was BORING.
Obviously, “employee wellness programs” isn’t the most exciting topic on planet Earth.
But that’s no excuse to write stiff, dull copy like this:
As you’ll see in a minute, Emil went the extra mile to make his topic fun and interesting.
But first, we need to dive into step #2…
Step #2: Create Something That Deserves To Be #1
Here’s the truth:
First page rankings have NOTHING to do with “keeping your site updated with fresh, quality content”.
Instead, your ability to hit the first page depends on two things:
Thing #1: Creating something that deserves to rank #1.
Thing #2: Promoting that content.
Seriously, that’s it.
How do you create content that deserves to be the best?
Let me answer that by showing you EXACTLY how Emil did it.
1. Emil’s post listed more wellness program ideas than any other guide.
Most of the content that Emil found listed 5–10 wellness program ideas:
And a few authors went crazy and wrote 50+ ideas:
But even the craziest authors weren’t as crazy as Emil…
…because Emil set out to list out a whopping 120 ideas (!).
There was only one problem:
Emil got stuck at idea #50.
So he asked everyone in the office to chip in with ideas. That got him to 60 total ideas.
60 is good…but not good enough.
Emil had hit a brick wall. How the heck was he going to rank #1 with only 60 ideas?
That’s when he had an idea…
2. Emil asked experts to contribute ideas
Emil realized that he was sitting on top of a GOLDMINE of employee wellness program ideas.
SnackNation partners with dozens of healthy snack companies.
And Emil guessed that these health-focused offices would be happy to share the wellness programs they used.
And he was right.
Emil got his sales team to ask their partners to send creative ideas:
And these partners were happy to lend a hand:
Emil also asked a few bloggers that write about employee wellness to contribute an idea or two:
Again, they gladly sent some amazing ideas his way:
(As you’ll see in a minute, these expert contributions generated LOTS of bonus traffic to Emil’s post)
Thanks to contributions from a handful of experts, Emil finally had 120 ideas.
(And a post that was 4979 words long)
Now it was time to take his content to the next level.
3. Emil split up his content into sections.
Let’s face it:
Sifting through 121 items on a list is a chore.
Despite that fact, many of the articles ranking in Google didn’t organize their ideas into sections:
That’s why Emil decided to organize his list of ideas into 7 categories:
Not only do these sections make Emil’s content easier to skim, but they got him nifty sitelinks in Google:
In my experience sitelinks can significantly boost your CTR…
…and therefore, your organic traffic.
4. Emil added multimedia to make his content more visually appealing.
Like I mentioned earlier, most of the articles ranking on page 1 had zero images:
That’s why Emil peppered his post with eye-catching images…
…and helpful videos:
5. Finally, Emil made his copy fun and interesting.
Here’s the deal:
Whether you write about life insurance or life hacking, your writing CANNOT be boring.
If you bore people, they’re going to click over to YouTube faster than you can say “cute cats”.
That’s why Emil made sure his writing was upbeat and engaging:
Once Emil made his content more compelling than the competition — bada bing, bada boom — his draft was good to go.
And after a few tweaks, Emil’s kick butt post was live: “121 Employee Wellness Program Ideas For Your Office“.
Now that Emil’s post was live, it was time to celebrate right?
I probably don’t need to tell you that hitting “publish” is just the beginning.
That’s why I want to show you the 6 content promotion strategies that Emil used to get the word out about his new guide.
Step #3: Promote Your Epic Content
Despite what you may have heard, there’s A LOT more to white hat SEO than “posting great content.”
Sure, awesome content makes link building easier…
…but it’s just the first step.
That’s because there are 2 million blog posts published every day (source).
And from launching several sites since 2010, I learned the hard way that if you really want to rank, you need to get out there and build links.
With that, here are the 6 promotional strategies that Emil used to get the word out.
1. Emil got influencers on board with “Pre-Outreach”
Once Emil put the finishing touches on his post, he knew he had something special.
That’s why he decided to promote his post…
…before he even published it.
(This is known as “Pre-Outreach”)
Here’s how it went down:
First, Emil found blogs that wrote about employee wellness. And he sent them this message:
Because he didn’t beg for a link, they were happy to hear from him:
Then Emil sent a link to the post when it went live:
And that led to a nice contextual backlink:
I recently used pre-outreach to promote my SEO tools guide.
2. Use “Weak Ties” to generate early buzz
You may not realize it, but you have “weak ties” that will happily promote your content for you.
What are “weak ties”?
And how can they help you with content promotion?
I’ll explain with an example:
“Weak ties” are people in your professional network that you’re acquaintances with (for example, old colleagues or people that work in other departments).
After Emil’s post went live he asked the entire SnackNation team to share his new post:
Even though most of Emil’s coworkers don’t work in the marketing department (and were therefore “weak ties”), they were more than happy to lend a hand:
And these shares from weak ties got Emil some early buzz.
“We had thirty people in our office. And if you have LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Facebook — if everyone’s sharing, it already gives us some social proof. That’s like eighty shares right off the bat. And people like sharing their friends’ stuff. So it just gave us a lot of social proof, gave us some amplification.”
Because this is so easy and works so well, I reach out to my “weak ties” to promote every post at Backlinko:
These may not be people that I have beers with every weekend, but I know them well enough to gently ask for a share.
3. Emil used “The Content Roadshow”
Next, Emil promoted his content with “The Content Roadshow”.
Let me show you how The Content Roadshow works:
First, Emil searched for bloggers that wrote about employee wellness, human resources and other related topics.
And when he found a high-quality piece of content like this one…
…he emailed the author:
In this case, Kristi asked Emil to submit his content to her roundup:
He did…and got a sweet DA49 backlink in return:
4. Next, Emil emailed brands that he mentioned in the post
Next, Emil emailed the other companies that he referenced in his post.
For example, Emil mentioned Authority Nutrition here:
And sent them a message to let them know that they’ve been featured:
As you can see, these brands happily shared his post:
5. Then it was time for Emil to let his expert contributors know that they were live
Remember when Emil asked a bunch of workplace wellness experts to contribute a quote?
(Here’s an example:)
Well, when the post went live, Emil let the experts know that they featured their wellness idea:
Not only were the experts happy to share the post on social media, but one of them even linked to Emil’s post:
This is yet another content promotion strategy that I recently used to promote my SEO tools guide (that guide now has over 3,500 shares from social media).
I personally emailed the people behind all of the tools that I mentioned…
…and most of them were PUMPED to share my guide.
At this point Emil’s outreach racked up a bunch of social shares and traffic.
(It even generated quite a few comments — a first for the SnackNation blog)
Comments and shares are nice…
…but they’re not going to get you to Google’s first page.
To do that, you need lots of high-quality backlinks.
Which leads us to our last promotional strategy…
6. Finally, Emil reached out people that linked to the content Emil found in step #1
Now that Emil had some social proof going, it was time to get down and dirty with link building.
Here’s the exact process that Emil used:
First, he searched for his target keyword in Google…
…and popped the top 50 results into a spreadsheet:
Use the free Chrome Extension Scraper to quickly export Google results into a spreadsheet.
Just search for a keyword and right click on any of the results.
Then choose “Scrape Similar…”
Then pick “Export to Google Docs…”
And just like that you’ll have the results added to a spreadsheet.
Next, Emil found out who linked to the top 50 results.
He popped each URL into a backlink analysis tool:
And went one-by-one through the results.
Then he emailed each of those people to let them know about his new, superior resource.
Let’s take a look at a real life example of Emil’s outreach in action…
Here’s his first email:
His second email (with a link to his content)
Boom! A link:
And these backlinks pushed Emil’s guide above his competitors.
Sure, a ranking #1 in Google is great.
But last I checked you can’t pay your mortgage with a first page ranking.
In other words:
For your SEO to pay off, your content needs to generate leads and sales for your business.
And that’s where this bonus step comes into play…
Bonus Step: Generate Leads With The Content Upgrade
Now that Emil’s #1 ranking was secured it was time to turn this targeted traffic into revenue.
Here’s how he did it:
At first, Emil pitched a generic ebook to everyone that visited his post.
Even though his post was about employee wellness, the ebook was about employee engagement.
And that pitch generated around 20 new subscribers per week.
20 subscribers a week isn’t bad. But it could be better.
So Emil decided to swap out the generic ebook with a laser targeted Content Upgrade.
Specifically, Emil created a PDF version of his post:
(His PDF also contained 10 bonus ideas that weren’t found in the post)
And to pitch his Content Upgrade, Emil embedded a CTA at the top of his content:
How well did The Content Upgrade work?
Instead of 20 subscribers per week…
…the Content Upgrade blasted that rate up to 59 per week.
(That’s a 195% increase)
Backlinko Update: Did Richard’s Traffic Blast Stand The Test of Time?
Back in 2013 I revealed how Richard Marriot used The Skyscraper Technique to boost his organic traffic by 348% in 7 days.
Did Richard’s results last?
Or did his site slip to page 2?
Let’s find out…
Here’s How Richard Marriot Used White Hat SEO to Skyrocket His Search Engine Traffic
As an SEO newbie, Richard wanted to know which white hat SEO tools the experts used (in other words, not automated black hat tools).
So Richard searched in Google for things like “SEO tools”, “white hat SEO tools” and “link building tools”:
And he noticed that the results didn’t answer the fundamental question: “Which SEO tools should I use?”
That’s when he decided to create something that did answer that question.
He asked SEO experts which link building tools they used.
In total, he emailed 115 influential people in the SEO space…and got 47 replies (that’s a 41% conversion rate).
Even though he didn’t have any connections and only a few followers on Twitter, he was able to get contributions from ballers like Neil Patel.
The end result is Richard’s expert roundup post, 55 SEO Experts Reveal 3 Favorite Link Building Tools:
Once Richard’s guide was live, he built links to his guide with email outreach.
First, he found pages with broken links. And he sent the author of that page this script:
When they replied saying “What’s the broken link?”, he sent them this email:
And he was rewarded with a handful of high quality backlinks:
Including links from:
- SearchEngineLand.com (DA92)
- A PR2 resource page
- A PR6 digital marketing firm blog
Where does Richard rank today for his target keyword (“link building tools”)?
Here’s What to Do Next…
If you enjoyed this case study, I want you do one thing:
Leave a comment to let me know.
Whether you have a site about baking, bodybuilding, or bird cages…The Skyscraper Technique works.
And I REALLY want to see you succeed.
And step #1 is to leave a comment to let me know you’re ready to try The Skyscraper Technique.
So leave a comment below right now.
Originally published at backlinko.com on December 17, 2015.