I was hired to create an SEO and content marketing strategy for a mid-sized business in the finance industry. The company had never had an SEO strategy, or even a marketing strategy prior to my start. I strategized and implemented a full-scale SEO and content marketing strategy over the course of 15 months, showing an average increase of 400% depending on metric.
This website had good direct traffic already and a somewhat well known brand, but next to no organic traffic. What little they got came to pages that didn’t align with their ideal customer, or any core CTA.
The extended problem was the marketing budget was pretty thin, so we couldn’t pay for things like content syndication, link building (not that I recommend it anyway), or even digital PR.
With a tight budget and high goals, the only approach was to carefully build a technical foundation, then aggressively target keywords and start building high-quality content.
I took an end-to-end approach to this strategy, starting with an SEO audit of the site and technical fixes. This particular site had tons of old, orphan pages that had been forgotten about, as well as many missing key elements such as meta descriptions, title tags, etc. Additionally, since the entire site was built using SPAs, making the code slow and bulky in places.
Once the technical side of the site was updated, I honed in on the content strategy. This included updating core pages across the site to align with their keywords and the action we wanted users to take, as well as strategizing and implementing a brand new approach to the blog.
Most of my effort went into the blog, since the keywords we wanted to target were highly competitive. This was split into four main parts:
One of the first things I did was take a look at the content that already existed on the site, and run it through Ahrefs to see how much traffic it got/how many keywords it ranked for. If it was over a year old, hadn’t gotten any meaningful traffic, or didn’t rank for any keywords, I deleted the pages and redirected the URLS to relevant and better-performing pages.
If there were any pages that ranked okay but could do better, or had good URL structure, I kept them, to utilize in another step.
One of the weird quirks about taking over a site that hasn’t had an SEO strategy before is some of the most basic rules of SEO weren’t followed, such as: keep like content together.
There was long-form content scattered across several different subfolders on the main URL, making our crawl map a mess. Not to mention there were hundreds of pages, even after the audit, meaning our crawl budget got eaten by non-relevant or important pages.
I compiled a list of all those URLs, then systematically moved them all under one main subfolder: /blog/
This required some manual work, as the /blog/ pages were an entirely different template than the other pages on the site. So we created the pages anew on the /blog/ and backdated them to their original time of publication, then deleted the original page and created a redirect to the new page.
Though we originally took a hit on the organic traffic side when the deleted pages lost their keywords, they regained their rankings quickly enough. And, as a result of the streamlining, our new pages were crawled quicker and started ranking faster.
Once the structural work was done, I focused my attention on the quickest wins possible. The easiest place to start was with the list of pages from my content audit that either started ranking, or had good core keywords in the existing URLs.
I took those and did SERP research on my target keywords, seeing what was already ranking. From there, I built out a content brief to update the page.
The briefs were then thoroughly researched, and then written. Sometimes we could incorporate some of the existing content. Sometimes it was a complete rewrite. Once the content was written, fact-checked, edited, and checked for plagiarism, it was ready to go. We then replaced the old content on the page with the new, and submitted it to Google Search Console for new indexing.
The brand new content always jumped in ranking within weeks, much faster than any brand new piece created.
By far the largest and most important part of my strategy was the brand new content my team created. We had to strike the usual balance between content people actually want to read, and content that ranks. This required several research steps:
I took a look at our main competitors who saw success in the organic space. What were they ranking for? What pages performed best? Which did they most often promote? Did they use any additional strategies, such as downloadable content to funnel prospects into nurture streams?
I took my findings and used it to inform the type of content we wanted to create, as well as the length, and how they were linked together.
The obvious step came next: researching what keywords we wanted to rank for, their competitiveness, what already ranked for them, etc.
As I mentioned above, this particular niche (finance) was incredibly competitive. And since the site didn’t already have good organic traffic, I knew targeting short-tail keywords would be an uphill, losing battle.
So, I created two kinds of keyword lists. The first, the keywords we wanted to target. These were usually short-tail, highly competitive keywords. Ranking for them would be, at best, tricky, and at worst, impossible.
Then I built a second list out of those keywords, which contained long-tail variants. I used those to create my content briefs, targeting the much-less competitive, but still highly-relevant long-tail variations. These would show results much faster than the short-tail keywords. And though the search volume was much lower for those keywords, the quicker ranking provided momentum.
Since I carefully targeted both a long-tail and a short-tail keyword with each article, the momentum provided by the quick ranking and the spike in clicks also helped the articles start to rank for the short-tail variations as well. This took longer, of course, but patience and a good strategy always pays off.
Topics, Headings, and Briefs
Once the keywords were selected and researched, then came a lot of the legwork. I researched each query individually and selected the topic that I thought best aligned with the search intent behind it.
At that point, I built out an outline of the article, including all the major headings. I was careful to place the main target keyword in relevant headings, and semantic keywords in others, but not to stuff keywords where they didn’t belong.
Then, I built out the outline and brief for each article. These varied depending on the category and specific topic. But all the briefs included those listed earlier in this case study, as well as any notes for the writer on intent or quirks on the SERP.
At that point, the articles were researched, written, edited, and fact-checked. Once all of that was done, they were published.
As I stated in the introduction, we had no budget for content syndication or link building. But our content was still promoted in several key ways:
- On social media
- Email marketing and a newsletter
- Promotion from strategic business partners
You can see the graphs at the beginning of the article. Our organic traffic rose exponentially through 2020 and into the start of 2021. You can read more about the ups and downs in the middle in the notes below.
Overall, the tactics I implemented across the site drove the following results:
Sessions: When I started in September of 2019, the website had roughly 5k a month. By January of 2021, it increased by 540%
New Users: In September of 2019, the website had roughly 2.5k new users a month. By January of 2021, it increased by 820%.
Pageviews: In September of 2019, the website gathered roughly 8.7k pageviews in a month. By January of 2021, it increased by 360%.
Some Additional Notes
One of the reasons for the up-and-down in the middle of 2020 was, of course, the pandemic. I always plan my content calendars on a quarterly basis. But when the pandemic started, I had to throw the predetermined strategy out the window and start creating timely content. That’s why we had some sharp spikes in May and July, because the timely content my team created and promoted took off, then became irrelevant almost immediately due to new information, or a pivot in interest.
Then, of course, when we started to shift back to a more normal posting schedule, we battled the same issue: people were tired of reading about the pandemic, but also didn’t want to read about anything else. That’s why it took us a little while to gain back our traction, but once we did, we saw enormous gains in January of 2021.