We grew organic blog traffic 125% and increased demo form fills 614% in the past year.
While the graph may not look like the explosive "hockey stick" growth many businesses are hunting, this is an example of realistic and sustainable growth resulting from improved strategy and processes. Not to mention, this focus on content strategy and performance delivered traffic quality alongside quantity.
Let's take a look at the data and the strategies that got us here so you can implement new processes and grow your organic results.
Table of Contents
Blog Performance Overview
Vendasta’s organic blog traffic grew by 125% and demo form fills increased by 614% when comparing Q3 of 2017 to Q3 of 2018.
For historical context, growth in traffic from 2016 to 2017 was substantial as more content was produced overall, but demo form fills were negligible. 2017 was really the year that gave the blog its legs as a lead-generation channel. However, it wasn't until the implementation of a clear content strategy in Q4 of 2017 that the blog really saw the increase in traffic quality.
So where is this organic traffic coming from? We diversified our blog content and implemented a more solid SEO and content strategy which resulted in dramatically improving the number and position of our keyword rankings.
The graph above shows the total number of organic keywords ranked for the blog—that's the number of searches you can type into Google and one of Vendasta's blogs will appear in the results.
The graph above shows the position our content appears on in the search, with #1 being the very top of the Google results page. The dense blues on the right show and slow spread of orange show how the number of keywords ranked has greatly improved overall. The orange on the top right shows that we rank on the first page of Google for roughly 400 keywords.
So how did we do it?
How We Grew Blog Organic Traffic by 125%
In early 2017, the blog had a mid-sized team and steady production rate but no clear strategy. Each post's keyword and topic strategy was dealt with on a case-by-case basis. When reviewing our blog performance data, it became clear that we needed a solid strategy to umbrella all of our content and its creation in order to improve the performance of the blog and drive new leads.
Our main strategy overhauls were in two areas: content (design, content, promotion) and technical (structure, performance, technical SEO).
|The Vendasta Blog Q3 2017||The Vendasta Blog Q3 2018|
Note: Our early 2018 blog redesign was part of both the content and technical side of improvement, with UX/UI improved in the layout, and performance improved in the back-end.
1. Content and Strategy
A big part of growing blog traffic has to do with the content and strategy. For Vendsata, the content side of the overhaul involved implementing more foundational SEO, promotion, and optimization strategies.
The topic cluster content strategy was a new effort implemented in September of 2017 to align monthly content with upcoming releases and concentrate blog efforts on a single parent keyword. By selecting a parent keyword that aligned with our product releases, we were able to research long-tail keywords to tackle and build a topic cluster with around the specific topic.
The keywords selected each month were not random or simply an area Vendasta wanted to gain authority in—a lot effort was put into keyword research to identify keywords with the right search intent. By implementing that into the early stages of the content production cycle, we could ensure every post written could bring value as well as traffic.
Content created in these cluster months included:
- Blog posts
- Downloadable content (guides, checklists, etc.)
- Relevant ad campaigns and themed newsletter updates
We implemented the topic cluster strategy officially in September of 2017, with our first cluster month being "Social Media September."
- Dark Social: Why 80% of your Social Results are Missing (and How to Find Them)
- 163 Stunning Social Media Stats to Savor
- What Social Media Monitoring Can Teach You About Your Business
- The Top 3 Value Points You’ll Get Out of Your Social Marketing
- Google Posts: The Powerful New Feature to Drive Traffic to Local Businesses
- How I Got LinkedIn to Take Me to a Hockey Game (Without Spending a Fortune)
- Dennis Yu's 3x3 Video Grid Strategy for Local Businesses
- 8 Quick-and-Dirty Video Scripts & Tips Your Clients Can Use to Promote Themselves on Facebook
- B2B Audience Targeting Tips for LinkedIn and Facebook
- White Labeled Guide: Mastering Facebook and Google Advertising for Local Business
- How to Win on Social Media: A Step-By-Step Guide for Local Businesses
- 30 Social Media Stats to Savor Infographic
- Dennis Yu's 3x3 Video Grid Strategy for Local Businesses
These topic clusters of content would begin to build authority and traffic over time, and the time it took for our blogs to rank shrank from several months to several weeks.
Over time, we trimmed down the number of posts produced within each month so we could focus on higher-value keywords and post promotion. The example above is our first topic cluster month, and admittedly we tackled too many topics and spread ourselves too thin for our small team's capacity.
Our demo form fill count greatly increased partly due to the type of posts we were creating—we narrowed in from general marketing content to long-tail and niche blog posts that were only pulling in traffic that was likely to convert.
Content Promotion Strategy
Posts don't magically start ranking for keywords and driving traffic just from being published—they need amplification on the right channels to get "picked up" by both people and search algorithms. That's why another major factor added to our content strategy was a post-promotion checklist that we used for each piece we published.
You've devoted hours of work shepherding your blog post into existence. All that time planning, researching, writing, editing. All those moments of frustration and second-guessing. After all that effort, why just leave your post's fate up to the Gods of Viral Content?
Without a reliable and effective content promotion strategy, your masterpiece will likely disappear like so many others have into the vast vacuum of the internet.
The most effective promotion strategy should be based on the foundation of a few reliable tactics while constantly testing emerging traffic sources and creative tactics. Keep an eye on what's working and what isn't, and adjust accordingly. Above all, remember that the energy you put into content promotion is just as valuable as the energy you put into creating your post in the first place!
The full blog promotion checklist includes strategies for the entire content production process, from writing the content to publishing and promoting.
Pre-publication strategies include:
- Quote gathering. Including quotes from experts in the industry would not only increase the authority of the post but would also increase the social reach when the experts would reshare. Additionally, we would gain more backlinks to the post if the expert would mention their involvement.
- Methods: HARO inquiries, Quora posting, manual expert research, Facebook group questions and discussions, ask colleagues
Post-publication strategies include:
- Internal linking. Find 3-4 older related posts to add a "related reading" section to or relevant anchor text to link to the new post.
- Branded social posting. This one's a given. After you publish a piece, have the company's branded social media profiles post about the blog. Schedule out your social posts in bulk to repromote the post for several months after publication.
- Expert audience promotion. Did you include quotes or insights from external experts? Reach out to them through email or social to ask for a reshare of the piece, and tag them in any social posts created on your profiles about the content.
- Personal social posting. Writers should share their work on their own social media!
- Community social promotion. Use insights from the published piece and reshare them in industry communities. Post key insights in a new Medium blog, answer Quora questions related to the post topic and link back to the piece, and engage on Facebook groups with insights. Be wary at this stage—you don't want to come off as salesy or overly promotional, you may get banned from the community!
- Content repurposing. Repurpose the content to promote in other avenues. Create a video with a summary of the insights with tools like Lumen5 to post on Instagram, Youtube, and other video channels. Create SlideShare presentations with key insights. Share branded images with quotes and insights on social sites.
Upkeep & Optimization
Posts shouldn't die after you publish them. If you want your content to continue to rank and bring value for your company month after month, then you need an upkeep and optimization process.
Evaluate not only the performance of the piece but also the state of the SERP in order to optimize your posts and improve their lifespan. Continuously return to high-traffic contributor blogs and look for simple ways to improve the readability, formatting, and the content itself.
Our in-house SEO would monitor the ranked keywords to identify new opportunities to optimize posts. Continuing to optimize posts for relevant featured snippets and improve keyword ops in the post was a secret key to this success.
Another way we increased our demo form fills was by consistently testing our CTAs, popups, and text ads in posts. The more relevant the ad, popup, and CTA to the post, the more likely readers were to convert.
2. Technical & SEO
The other major contributor to the growth in organic blog traffic isn't as visual or exciting, but is just as important (if not moreso) than the content and strategy. This unseen side of the story can be broken out into two major players: the site performance and technical SEO tasks of the blog itself.
A huge contributor to the SERP ranking and resulting traffic growth can be attributed to dedicated backlinking efforts. With so many organic-focused posts going out each month with the new topic cluster strategy, our in-house SEO had to rethink our backlink process to make it scalable. Overall, we increased our backlinks by 142% from Q3 of 2017.
It was a big challenge for us to fuel the topic cluster content with enough link juice. Think about creating backlinks for 5 posts every single month in the SaaS industry. Yes, that's tough!
That's why we hired 2 virtual assistants to help us scale our outreach and link building process. Rather than bringing us thousands of scraped prospects per month, the VAs focused on delivering a few hundreds every month who were hyper-relevant to our posts—and therefore more likely to give us a link. Also, we were able to make good use of community websites like Medium and Quora to leverage our initial link building and content promotion.
As a result, we managed to increase our backlinks (Ahrefs referring domains) by 142% since Q3 of 2017.
The performance of a site is critical in the performance of a website—blog or otherwise. Adam Bissonnette, our Marketing Technologist, has been working diligently to improve site performance since he started in Jan 2016.
Site structure, performance improvements, and a full redesign all contributed massively to the overall growth of the blog.
Optimizing WordPress on AppEngine is a considerable challenge—especially so for someone who is used to standard the litespeed / cpanel / ftp "legacy" (or rather the standard) method of managing a WordPress installation.
A question I get asked on a routine basis: "Adam - can I have the FTP credentials to the website?"
Actually, no, you cannot. Not because I don't want to share that with you, but because I can't. We don't have direct filesystem access to our server. We don't even have a single server. The blog is typically being served from at least two servers at any given time.
How do we add new theme/plugin updates then? By updating the git repository which kicks off a deployment through a service called Jenkins. Once that deployment is built we have the option of sending it to our production environment and then, after testing, we can switch that to over the live version.
Performance has been an ongoing battle since I started in January 2016. We used to have page load times of 10-20 seconds on a regular basis. Through optimizing the built-in caching options for AppEngine we were able to reduce that significantly and that's when we opened the doorway to massive organic growth: from fewer than 1,000 organic sessions in Jan 2016 to 9k in Jan 2017, and ultimately nearly 30k in January 2018.
Taking performance further, I explored plugin options that work using memcache (supplied by Redis) across multiple servers and eventually settled on a lightly modified version W3 Total Cache. For troubleshooting problematic plugins, we lean heavily on New Relic.
Is performance as good as it can be? No, but it's 10x better than previous iterations, and we're continuing to explore options to further drive performance.
I should also mention that AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) also played a huge role in our organic growth. We were a somewhat early adopter and AMP's inherent performance benefits allowed us to bypass our slower-than-usual WordPress hosting.
Conclusion & Takeaways
To sum it up, there isn't a single "magic bullet" you're going to find that rockets your content to the top of Google. What you need is a foundational, reliable content and SEO strategy that gives you steady growth.
Here's how we found our reliable growth pattern, and what you can implement:
- Take an organic-focused approach to content strategy—select your content by evaluating not only keyword difficulty, but also type of traffic and search intent to find the best value (even if it's lower in quantity)
- Develop a content promotion checklist to amplify your pieces as much as possible to help them get their footing
- Include more external sources and supply both external and internal quotes to get built-in audience amplification and backlinks
- Repurpose your most valuable content into as many forms as possible: videos for Youtube, quotes for Instagram, slideshows for SlideShare, etc.
- Continuously evaluate blog performance and opportunities to identify areas to optimize for keywords to improve their ranking
- Dedicate resources to backlink growth! Hiring a VA is an affordable and scalable way to build backlinks without filling up your contenteers' backlog
- Prioritize the user experience on the site to improve performance, speed, and overall usability. The easier a blog is to navigate, and the faster it is, the better your page will rank. Improving performance will be an ongoing project as the site grows, so consider devoting development power to your marketing team!
Sum up the strategy processes they can implement like clustering their content and going after keyword groups rather than one-offs, implementing a promotion strategy, and focusing more resources on backlink and site performance.
I hope this guide helps you cultivate a bountiful content garden.
See you, content cowboy...