I admit, the above screenshot looks like traffic grew 715%. That would be great.
But if you look closely, we are missing some analytics data for the first few months. That said, it’s fair to say, judging by how low September 2015’s traffic was, we can easily call this 400% growth.
It could even be more. I digress. If you agree, let’s continue :) For context, I have been ZOZI’S outside SEO consultant for the past few years. But I take very little credit for their growth thus far.
Most of my SEO consulting has been ‘re-active’ - you know, blocking and tackling. I’ve answered dozens of incoming questions from various teams. I’ve guided them through migrations and big site changes. I’ve helped button up technical issues that arise on a large, quickly changing, multi-faceted site.
In this post I’m going to walk you through the 400% growth of ZOZI’s B2B blog traffic (they have a B2C blog as well, which I will not be including in this analysis). So, this is a retroactive analysis of growth from my objective, outsider’s view. We’re going to start by looking at what worked in the last year, and what we’ll be doing more proactively moving through 2017.
A Look Back: What’s Worked In The Last Year
As noted, I want to take a look at how they have achieved this growth so you can then apply some of these ideas to your company’s content marketing.
1. Perform “Keyword Research” Via... Customer Service?
Their keyword targeting wasn’t a result of using fancy keyword tools, but rather listening to their customers (the business owners using ZOZI’s merchant software).
Because remember, as much as I’m an “SEO” through and through, I realize that “keyword research” with a tool or autosuggest is really just listening to people. Keyword suggestions don’t just magically appear in those tools. Real people cause that.
ZOZI has actually integrated cross department communication between the content teams and merchant account managers. It’s part of their habitual work flow. Here’s an example:
The above is just one of many examples of this (they had to dig to find one clearly documented, many happen ad hoc or disappear in Slack channels). It shows a communication across departments. The specialists dealing directly with merchants provided valuable insight and feedback to the marketing team. Do you have teams or departments in your company that never talk to each other?
2. Create Content By Providing Customer Service
One of ZOZI’s sincere intents is to help their existing customer base through content. And it shows. Their blog does not lean on popular, but often annoying marketing ‘techniques’ many other sites use.
Use In-Context, Native CTA’s That Don’t Annoy Users
Find me some normal web users that don’t hate pop-ups. I’ll wait :) Sure, as marketers, we love them. They sometimes ... (sometimes) have a time and a place. But ZOZI understands their customer base, and is careful to not distract them from the content. Rather, CTA’s are relevant to the topic, and fit natively within the content:
I believe that especially in markets that have a lot of mobile users, this is going to be more and more important. They also have a noticeable but not annoying collection form in the sidebar:
3. Create Targeted Content - Keyword & SERP Analysis: 3 Examples
I want to dig into three examples of content that has performed well for ZOZI, and show why it’s working from an SEO perspective.
Topic 1: Campground Marketing Ideas
To reiterate, this topic did not arise from “keyword research” in the traditional sense (believe me, I wish I could take credit!).
As you can see ZOZI’s article about ‘campground marketing ideas’ ranks nice and easily at the top. This single article gets a modest amount of traffic per quarter:
Ironically, if one had relied on the ubiquitous AdWords keyword planner, they might have not written about this topic. After all, does this look like a lot of monthly searches to you?
Ahhh ... no!
But the fact is ... don’t let a low search volume scare you away from a topic! Here’s the real “demand” based upon actual impression numbers:
And that’s just for the top 10 keyword driving traffic to this article. You saw the above stats - 1,000+ actual monthly impressions. So don’t rule out ‘low volume’ or even no volume keywords.
But to the more important question. Why does ZOZI rank #1 for this? I believe it’s because they are literally the only qualified company to created a relevant piece of content around this topic. Qualified means - they deal directly with Campground owners. It’s their job to know what’s actually helpful for them.
And relevance means this:
ZOZI’s content is a dead-on match to serve the user’s intent.
Topic 2: Cancellation Policy Templates
One of ZOZI’s most popular articles is a cancellation and refund policy template:
They rank really well for many of the top keywords:
But you can already see, even the article ranking in position three has a relevance mismatch. Google is ranking a return policy for an eCommerce store - yet users seem to be looking more for cancellation and refund policies:
You can tell by looking at the related searches above. Many long tail intents involve event cancellations and the proper wording for a policy. The second ranking result I believe is at a disadvantage, because they are not delivering the content in a way the user wants:
They offer a PDF download, which on the surface sounds like a great value add, but I think it poses two issues:
- One, users might get frustrated by the extra step involved of having to download a PDF, especially if they are searching on mobile.
- Second is these PDF templates, while all fancy, are not editable. You’re stuck with the exact copy. It’s not flexible.
Contrast this with ZOZI’s article. While it seems maybe ‘simple’ it could actually be delivering an experience closer to what the user wants:
It’s more like a hybrid - a template plus tips. This offers two huge value adds:
- The user can directly cut and paste the examples, rather than downloading a PDF.
- The addition tips help guide the user for how to make use of the policy examples.
Additionally, ZOZI’s post uses real examples from a variety of companies in the tour and activity space. Diving further into the SERP for ‘cancellation policy template’ you can see more results that are off the mark:
Some further results are specifically for the medical niche. Others are actual company policies, not a tutorial written for the business owner.
Topic 3: Starting An Electric Bike Rental Business
Yes I know, this topic seems super niche. And it is. However, Google in this case has rewarded ZOZI’s article by ranking it for just “bike rental business”.
My take on this, is that it’s not that different to build an electric bike rental business vs a regular ‘ol bike rental business. AND there’s not a lot of other great content out there, which you can see below:
This article has still driven almost 1,000 visits in the last year:
You can see obvious gaps in content quality in this SERP:
That’s because Google is ranking a super old forum from 2003, as well as a geographic mismatch.
Great. But Does This Traffic Convert?
One concern I hear quite often about blog traffic is “awesome, but do you make money from the blog?” I get it. Businesses want to tie marketing activities back towards measurable results. I can say for certain, this traffic converts:
A conversion for ZOZI can be many things, but generally they all fit into some form of lead generation or email signups, which the above numbers represent.
We can’t reveal exact lead numbers, but as the percentages show, YoY increases are significant.
Next Steps - Getting Proactive About SEO
That brings us full circle back to ... me.
As noted, the above growth was the result of an awesome team communicating well internally, a company that values customer service via content and has a clear vision of how their blog fits into their overall business objectives. But we’re just getting started.
Here’s just a few of my big wish list items for ZOZI’s SEO in 2017. And... they are things you should most definitely consider using in your company as well!
1. Use The ‘Last Updated’ Date On Blog Posts
Sometimes I feel like certain recommendations are overdone. But then I notice a lot of sites are still not doing them. That’s right, we’re not at “peak last updated” usage yet, folks.
And I think, it should be standard practice for time based content, that does get updated.
When working with clients on content, I immediately recommend they use ‘last updated’ - in addition to the ‘originally published’ date - or at times instead of the original date. This is such an easy way to show users, and Google - “our content is fresh, updated, maintained, cared about”.
BONUS: If you can get the technicalities right, and remove all other remnants of the original date, you can get your date updated in the SERP as well. This can bring you HUGE CTR improvements.
2. Add Commenting
Anyone who’s followed me, knows that I am a huge advocate for comment sections. They provide a way for your audience to interact, ask questions. You can gain insight on further content topics.
And as Google has now said (twice), comments are a ranking factor (and no, I am obviously not referring to comments that just say “great post” or spam. Actual comments that show true engagement.)
Even sites like CopyBlogger, added comments back after removing them because they are so important in many ways. How do you generate more comments? Jon Morrow of SmartBlogger offers up some great tips here.
3. Improve Content Architecture Via Categorization
Currently, an artefact of their original blog layout (they are on Squarespace), is these tags:
As with many blogs, tags can get very out of hand, as various writers create them on the fly. Then the sidebar tag area turns into a big mess.
My wish is to consolidate content into 7-10 clear high level categories. We are in part waiting for a possible migration of blog platforms, but I think this would provide more clear navigation for users and better architecture and crawl paths for search engines.
4. Work Cross Departmental Collaboration Into Your Process
One example of this? PPC+SEO Testing.
The folks at SEER Interactive have been doing an amazing job of this, and I encourage you to check out their case study. We did a little PPC testing for SERP CTR optimization.
In fact one big win, was around CTA language. We ran PPC tests for about a month, and had a clear winner. This language has been rolled out to be incorporated not only across organic SERP snippets, but on-page copy and other forms of ads. But I want to do more.
I also want to spend more time with their product specialists. I was able to sit in on an hour demo of the product and features. Let me tell you something. So. Many. Keyword. Ideas. Get as close to your product team, customer service ... and customers as possible. You’ll learn a lot.
The Power Of Reverse Engineering Success
I think the big punchline at the end here is this:
Reverse engineer what inputs affect what outputs of SEO.
There might be internal structures, processes, roadblocks, assumptions, that prevent SEO success. Or help it. And you may not realize what’s going on. But once you do, you can do more of what works, and try to fix negative inputs causing sub-optimal outputs. Often, success doesn’t always come from a linear path, or a clear succession of inputs to outputs. It can be messy. It can be illusive.
Plan for the future, but also take time to reverse engineer the unexpected connections of past success. We’ll all be better marketers for it. What are YOU doing to plan for growth in 2017? What worked for you in 2016?
Let me know in the comments below!