SEO Case Study: 6-Step Process That Generated 150,732 Visits

My premium SEO training course, The SEO Playbook, is now open. Find out more about the course and see what current students are saying about it here.

Do you want to learn to rank #1 for high-traffic keywords in any niche?

In this SEO case study, you’re going to learn the repeatable 6-step process one of my readers used to get his client to #1 in Google, outrank big name brands like Mashable, and increase organic traffic 11,065% in just 6 months!

He was able to do it in a niche industry without spending any money on paid advertising or link building.

Pretty cool, right?

It gets better.

Over an 18 month period this simple SEO strategy was applied to several posts across his client’s site, generating 152,732 visits.

Every month, the organic traffic delivers hundreds of new email subscribers, affiliate commissions and potential business leads.

The best part?

Its a simple (and repeatable) SEO strategy any business can use to drive more qualified traffic from search engines. 

Organic traffic increase in Google Analytics

Note: This a monster 8,000 word SEO case study, so I’ve included a table of contents below for you to easily navigate between sections. 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. I only promote tools I personally use to run my business. If you decide to purchase through one of my links I will receive a commission at no additional cost to you. This helps me continue to publish valuable content – thanks for the support!

Editor’s note:
Need help getting more organic traffic, leads and sales for your business? Set up a free consult with me here

SEO Case Study: The Step-By-Step Process Michael Karp Used to rank #1 and Generate 20,314 Organic Pageviews (With a Single Post)

Take it away Michael.

Today’s SEO case study features UAV Coach — a fast growing business in the commercial drone space:

Screenshot of UAV coach website

A little background.

Alan Perlman started UAV Coach to help people break into the industry, and build a business around something he’s passionate about.

To do this, he needed to find a way to generate recurring traffic and leads.

I was contracted to help with this assignment.

I knew we needed to build an SEO strategy centered on evergreen content that would help generate long-term exposure, position the brand as an authority in the industry, capture leads, and ultimately convert them into paying customers.

The first post I created (and the focus of this SEO case study) for UAV Coach was called “How to Fly a Quadcopter — The Ultimate Guide“:

Quadcopter guide

It’s an in-depth 4,400-word guide to safely piloting a remote control quadcopter.

The article ranks in position #1 for its target keyword “how to fly a quadcopter”, as well as over 1,300 other secondary keyword variations:

Organic Search Positions report in SEMrush

Organic Search Positions report for the quadcopter guide via the SEMrush SEO Toolkit (affiliate)

Keyword Rankings and Search Volume

Screenshot of keyword rankings

Keyword: how to fly a quadcopter

Monthly search volume: 260

Keyword rankings screenshot - how to fly a drone

Keyword: how to fly a drone

Monthly search volume: 3,600

Keyword: how to fly a quadcopter in a circle

Monthly search volume: 50

Keyword: quadcopter

Monthly search volume: 18,100

The article has also landed 29 featured snippets:

Article ranking in featured snippets

Featured snippet results for quadcopter guide via Ahrefs Site Explorer (affiliate)

These rankings bring hundreds of visitors to the site every day:

Screenshot of Google Analytics traffic

In the first 6 months, the post brought in 21.4% of UAV Coach’s total traffic

Boasting an insane average time on page of 05:22:

Time on page analytics

Not only is the post bringing in loads of new traffic…

The traffic CONVERTS.

The post captured 2,335 emails, making it a top lead generation asset for the business.

How long did it take to reach the #1 spot in Google?

It took 3 months to hit the first page and 5 months to reach the #1 spot.

And, 6 months after publishing the guide it had generated 20,314 organic pageviews:

Screenshot of Google Analytics organic traffic

Needless to say, Alan (owner) was pretty happy with the results:

Alan Perlman

UI/UX Designer

While I’ve worked with hundreds of companies on their marketing and sales strategies, it wasn’t until working with Michael that I saw such rapid growth in organic, search engine traffic. Doubling our results month-over-month has not only helped us to grow our email list and generate revenue through our affiliate partners. It’s helped us to transform our mere industry blog into a real, thriving business.

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The Repeatable 6-Step Formula Used to Rank Content in Any Niche

You’re about to learn the EXACT process I use to create killer content, outrank global brands like Mashable and deliver thousands of targeted visitors to my client’s websites.

The process works in ANY niche.

And is designed to maximize your effort-to-reward ratio by targeting keywords that are comparatively easier to rank for.

(i.e untapped keywords.)

Here’s a snapshot of the steps we’ll be walking through in this case study:

1. Keyword research and competitive analysis
2. Content creation
3. On-page SEO
4. List building
5. Content promotion
6. Link building

You’re probably thinking: “But Michael, that’s so simple.”

And you’re right: it’s not complicated, and that’s the beauty of it!

Let’s jump in…

Step #1: Keyword Research and Competitor Analysis

While the drone space is a relatively new niche, competition is fierce. The SERPs are filled with big brand publications:

Ahrefs SEO Toolbar

As well as hundreds of competing blogs:

Competing blogs in the SERP

We needed to be very strategic about which topics we targeted, especially as a smaller blog with relatively low domain authority (more on this later).

Our first step was to perform keyword research and uncover evergreen topics targeted to beginner pilots (our core persona at the time).

Editor’s note:
If you want to learn the step-by-step keyword research process I use to scale organic traffic for my business and clients, check out my premium training program, The SEO Playbook.

Build a list of keyword opportunities

Head over to the SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool and type in some seed keywords related to your core product, service or content topic:

SEMrush keyword magic tool

The Keyword Magic Tool makes it easy to filter the data using a number of different data points:

Question based keyword research in SEMrush

For speed, I’ll just sort the Volume from largest to smallest and export all the keyword data:

Question based keyword research results

Next, review each keyword and tag the most relevant evergreen topic:

Evergreen content ideas

I decided to focus on the term “how to fly a quadcopter.

Why did I start with this keyword? 

  1. The primary keyword had solid monthly search volume (720)
  2. It’s a topic our core persona (beginner pilots) would be searching for
  3. It was a topic I could easily research 
  4. It had a large potential organic footprint (i.e. could rank for loads of secondary keywords)

Note: The final point in the list is often overlooked.

Many people make the mistake of only looking at the search volume associated with their core target keyword.

And, they miss out on a LOT of potential traffic.

While “how to fly a quadcopter” only receives 720 monthly searches, the article ranks for 1,331 different keywords:

SEMrush screenshot showing number of keywords the guide ranks for

SEMrush
Top Pages report shows the number of secondary keywords the guide ranks for.

Click the Keywords link and you’ll many of the secondary keywords carry decent search volume as well:

Secondary keywords in SEMrush

In fact, the primary keyword drives a small percentage of the total organic traffic going to the article each month. 

Find secondary keyword targets

Plug your target keyword into SEMrush and scroll down to the Related Keywords report:

Related keywords in SEMrush

You’ll see SEMrush kicked back 962 related search terms!

Scan down the list and place a checkmark next to any term closely related to the primary topic of your content:

Using the SEMrush Export Manager

Related Keywords report in the SEMrush keyword report. 

Once you’re done selecting related keywords, click the green “Add to Export Manager” button at the top of the report.

Click the numbered box and export the keyword list:

Export manager

In a matter of minutes you’ve compiled dozens, maybe hundreds of secondary keyword ideas.

Cool, right?

You’re just getting started 🙂

Google “Searches related to…”

Install the free Keywords Everywhere chrome extension:

Screenshot of Keyword Everywhere chrome extension

Next, perform a quick search for your target keyword and scroll down to the “Searches related to…” section.

You’ll see all the long tail keywords along with search volume, CPC and keyword competition data pulled from AdWords:

Google searches related to report

Tip: Take one of the keywords from the “Searches related to…” area, pop that into Google, and check out the “Searches related to…” results for that keyword. Rinse and repeat until you have a list of relevant long tail keywords to target.

Google autosuggest

Enter your keyword into Google and look at the other terms Google suggests:

Google autosuggest results

Answer The Public

Manually entering keywords into Google can be very tedious and time-consuming.

Answer The Public provides an easy way to quickly scale this keyword research strategy.

The tool grabs information from Google Suggest, but what makes it unique is that it provides a mountain of keyword suggestions from entering a single term.

How?

It takes your seed keyword and appends every letter of the alphabet after it to produce hundreds of keyword suggestions.

For example, when you type the keyword “quadcopter” into Google you get a list of suggestions, like this:

But then when you enter your keyword plus another letter, Google Suggest will spit out a different list of suggestions:

Answer The Public will scrape this data and do all the heavy lifting so you don’t have to spend hours manually entering keyword combinations like “quadcopter a”, “quadcopter b”, etc..

To use it, head over to Answer The Public and enter your seed keyword:

Answer The Public

Click the “Alphabeticals” link:

This will return hundreds of potential new keyword ideas:

Alphabetical keyword ideas in Answer The Public

Turn on the Keywords Everywhere chrome extension to pull in search volume and CPC data:

Data pulled in with the Keywords Everywhere extension

Scan the results and add any relevant terms to your keyword set.

People Also Ask…

Enter your target keyword and scroll down to the “People Also Ask” box:

People Also Ask box

These are the exact questions your target audience is looking for answers to online.

These topics can provide ideas for new sections to add into informational blog content, or even use as FAQs on more conversion-based content such as product and category pages.

You’ll notice the People Also Ask box only shows a small handful of questions. But, if you click one of the questions the list will begin to expand:

Keep clicking until you have 20+ questions in the list. 

Editor’s Note: 

Use the free Scraper chrome extension to scale this form of question-based keyword research.

Right click on one of the questions in the list, and select the “Scrape Similar” option:

Scrape Similar

This will open a window with the question and answer you clicked on:

Since we want to scrape ALL the questions, you need to navigate over to the left side of window and remove the [1] from the x-path query:

Editing X-path query

Click enter and the Scraper extension will pull in all the questions and answers from the expanded “People Also Ask” list:

Questions and Answers in Scraper

Copy the data to your clipboard and paste it into a spreadsheet. Remove all the answers and you’ll be left with a long list of question-based topics to target. I cover this process in greater detail here.

Starting to see traction…

You’ll notice a lot of the related and long tail keywords collected in the previous steps were targeted with dedicated sections in the guide:

Sections in the guide

After a few months the post started to rank for a lot of these different secondary keywords:

Ranking for secondary keywords

A couple interesting things to note here:

  1. UAV Coach was able to rank for hundreds of different subtopics with a single article. (eg: they didn’t have to write a separate post for “how to rotate a quadcopter” and another for “quadcopter controls”)
  2. UAV Coach was able to land loads of featured snippets by using dedicated sections in the article to provide direct answers to very specific search queries. Learn more about getting featured snippets.

Ok:

Now that you have a solid list of primary and secondary keyword ideas, the next step is to qualify the terms you can realistically rank in the top 5 positions within the next 3-6 months.

There are two primary elements you need to pay attention to:

  1. Domain and page-level authority
  2. SERP and content types
  3. On-page/ quality signals

By doing competitive analysis, you can save a lot of time and effort that would’ve been wasted trying to rank for impossible keywords.

Let’s start by looking at the authority of competing pages in the SERPs. 

How to analyze your competition (in 15 minutes or less)

First, install the free Ahrefs SEO Toolbar and do a quick search for your primary keyword.

Launch the extension by clicking the icon in your browser bar (make sure it’s light blue):

Ahrefs SEO Toolbar

Click the gear icon to configure which Ahrefs metrics get pulled into the SERPs.

Head back over to the search results and you should see all the domain and page-level metrics showing below each search result:

Ahrefs toolbar SERP results

The Ahrefs Toolbar shows:

  • Ahrefs URL rating
  • Ahrefs Domain Rating
  • Ahrefs Rank
  • Number of Backlinks
  • Number of Referring Domains
  • Estimated Organic Search Traffic
  • Number of Ranking Keywords

Each of these metrics is helpful for getting a top-level view of the organic traffic potential and difficulty to rank for a given search term.

Click a link in the toolbar and you’ll be taken to a report for that URL inside the Ahrefs application:

Assessing link metrics

Editor’s note:
Ahrefs studied the correlation of backlink factors across 2 million keyword searches and found that page-level link metrics had a stronger correlation with search rankings:

Ahrefs study of domain vs page-level ranking factors

As a general rule, you’re looking for domain and page authority similar to or lower than that of your site/page:

For example:

All the competing assets have low URL ratings and few referring domains pointing to them:

Domain and page level link metrics in the SERP

This looks like a promising keyword to quickly rank for.

But, you’re still not done.

There are a couple other SERP elements to consider in the keyword qualification process.

SERP and content types

This is one of the most overlooked steps in the keyword qualification process.

Before you decide to target any keyword or topic, determine which specific content types are ranking in the search results.

Are they blog posts? Videos? Category pages? Product pages? Government resource pages?

Typically, there will be a single content type displaying in the top 10 results. Basically, this is Google telling you what users expect from a given search query.

Our quadcopter is a simple example:

Content types in the SERPs

The “how to” modifier in the search string indicates that this an informational search, so it’s no surprise all the results are blog posts.

But, not all cases are this clear cut:

Editor’s note:
I was working with a SaaS company that had an interactive content marketing platform.

The client was trying to rank for product-related terms such as interactive infographic. When I started working with the company they could not get their product page to rank for the term.

Initially, this seemed a little odd. The page had a high URL rating (authority), quality content, and a healthy number of quality backlinks.

It wasn’t until we analyzed the SERP content types that the reason they were having such a hard time ranking became clear:

All the ranking assets were long form listicle blog posts.

(i.e. they were simply trying to rank with the wrong content type).

So, we built out a massive listicle post which now ranks #1 for the target search term and drives a lot of targeted organic traffic to the site each month:

Google Analytics screenshot showing the impact of proper content type targeting

In the same 12 month period the product page brought in 366 organic visits compared to the blog post with 9,565 organic visits.

On-Page SEO Competition

Studies have shown that on-page SEO has a relatively small impact on rankings these days:

Backlink vs On-Page ranking factors

While backlinks seem to have a much higher correlation, on-page SEO should not be ignored.

Think about it:

Backlinks can take months/years (and a lot of resources) to build. Meanwhile, key on-page elements can be analyzed and optimized in a matter of minutes. 

Editor’s note:
If you want to take a deep dive into how to optimize your on-page SEO, check out this massive 19-step on-page SEO checklist. It also comes with a Google Sheets template that will help you automate a lot of the more tedious on-page analysis tasks:

On-page automation sheet GIF

Prefer video? 

Watch over my shoulder as I walk you through the automation template:

I always like to look at the on-page SEO for each competing search result. Specifically, I like to see how they are using exact match keywords in the:

  • Title tag
  • URL
  • Heading tags
  • Meta descriptions (to help improve CTR)

Fortunately, the Domain Rating, URL Rating and link metrics were on our side. The competition in this area was pretty weak.

However:

Almost every article on the first page was well-optimized for the target keyword:

Examples of on-page optimization in the SERPs

You’ll also notice that some of the articles are using jump links to sections in the post optimized for secondary keyword variations.

(i.e. all the competitors were doing a solid job optimizing the on-page SEO)

If these pages had solid backlink profiles and high page/domain authority too, I would have wasted a lot of time creating, promoting, and building links to this article with very little return.

It might seem small, but don’t skip this step!

Check how well optimized the top 10 pages are for your target keyword.

Content Quality

This is the final step in the keyword qualification phase.

I typically assess content quality by looking at the following:

  • Content length
  • Multi media (images, video, infographics, gifs)
  • Secondary keywords
  • UX (readability)
  • Format (list post, expert roundup, interview, case study, how-to etc..)
  • How up-to-date is it
  • Social media optimization

Editor’s note:
If you want to learn the exact Content Layering framework I use to crush competitors in the SERPs, check out the Quick Wins Playbook in my new SEO training course here.

For example:

After examining a few of the top ranking pages, I knew there was an opportunity to crush them in a number of areas.

The top ranking article at the time had very thin content:

Example of poor content quality

The entire article was only 303 words (compared to the 4,000+ I wrote for UAV Coach).

Most of the others posts ranking on the first page were also short and offered surface-level information. Very few posts used any type of multi media – images or videos – to supplement the writing.

Editor’s note:
Check out this SEO copywriting guide to learn how to make your articles more sticky, improve time on page and convert more readers.

So, what did I learn about my target keyword?

  • High traffic potential
  • Relatively weak competition
  • Opportunity to create a dominant piece of evergreen content
  • Perfect keyword for our target audience

I had a great list of keywords and a solid foundation for the rest of the SEO campaign.

Note: Add the terms into a keyword rank tracking tool to monitor position and visibility over time.

Time to create EPIC content! 

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Step #2: Content Creation 

The content playing field has become a red ocean. Articles are longer, better researched, and formatted for user experience:

Word count of top ranking articles

Today, Google’s first page search results average close to 2,000 words in length.

When creating content, there’s one mentality everyone should adopt:

“I want to create the best piece of content on this topic — period.”

Editor’s note:
Your content should provide the cumulative value of the existing top
10 results. It should be a definitive resource in every sense of the word.

Michael will dive into this a bit more below, but if you want to learn the Content Layering framework I use to rank clients for some of the most competitive terms online, check out my premium training course, The SEO Playbook

Having a great piece of content makes content promotion and link building much easier.

Take the time to write something that will blow your competition out of the water.

It took me 3 days to research and write the quadcopter guide. I covered every inch of the topic and the article now tips the scales at 4,774 words:

Word counter tool

It includes in-text links for easy navigation:

Note: This is a smart move for any long-form content, because Google will often take display jump links in the SERP:

Jump links display in the SERP results

This can help your post stand out in the SERPS and increase click-through rates (now a behavioral ranking signal within Google’s algorithm).

I also included definitions for readers, such as how to fly safely, a pre-flight checklist, novice skills, beginner skills, advanced skills, and much more.

I looked at everything the top articles were doing and did it better.

Then I looked at everything they weren’t doing, and did that too. This is the stuff that will ultimately make your content stand out from the competition.

The result was a 4,774 word guide that was clearly better than anything else out there.

As a general rule, make sure your content is:

  • More in-depth
  • More up-to-date
  • Provides a better user experience
  • Actionable

Important: Try to beat your competition on every level – length, current information, design.

This is exactly what Robbie did to increase his traffic 272% in 30 days.

Ok:

You now have a great piece of content. The next step is to optimize on-page SEO.

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Step #3: On-Page Optimization

On-page factors are the elements of a webpage that influence search engine ranking.

But, here’s the thing:

As we saw earlier, on-page factors often get overshadowed by off-site factors such as domain and page-level authority:

Backlink vs On-Page ranking factors

While on-page elements have a relatively small impact compared to link metrics, they still influence rankings and have a big impact on user experience.

It tells Google:

1. What your page is about (relevance)
2. What keywords you want to rank for (targeting)
3. How valuable your content is (quality)

On-page SEO is quick to implement and within your direct control. Compared to off-page efforts such as link building which take months or years to execute and come with a lot of moving variables (eg: who will respond to your outreach email?).

So, what are the most important on-page SEO ranking factors?

Here’s what the same Ahrefs study found:

On page ranking factors

You have very little control over the first two factors:

  1. Keyword in domain name;
  2. Age of the page

So, you’ll want to focus most of your attention on the other elements listed in the graph. 

Editor’s note:
We’ll cover some of the core on-page optimizations in this case study, but if you want dive deeper, check out this in-depth on-page SEO checklist.

On-page automation sheet GIF

I’ve also provided a template to help you troubleshoot and automate some of the most tedious on-page optimizations. 

Ok:

Let’s start with the quickest optimizations: strategic placement of primary and secondary keywords.

1) Target keyword placement

Title Tag: Your title tag is the most important on-page SEO factors when it comes to keyword placement. Try to get an exact or semantic keyword variant close to the front of the title tag.

If you’re using WordPress, it’s easy to place your keyword in the SEO title, URL, and meta description.

First, install the WordPress SEO by Yoast plugin.

Open the page editor and scroll down to the “Yoast SEO” box.

Adjust the SEO title/meta description and get a preview of what your SERP will look like.

URL: Make sure you have a short, descriptive URL.

Google has stated the first 3-5 words in the URL is weighted as a search ranking factor. If possible, include exact match keyword at the beginning of the URL.

In addition to helping search engines understand your content, descriptive URLs will also increase the likelihood users click on your search result.

Check out this URL:

​https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/67291.php

At face value, you have no idea if the content has anything to do with what you’re looking for.

Now look at this one:

Example of descriptive URL

It’s a descriptive URL that tells you exactly what to expect on the page – a guide about how to fly quadcopters. 

Editor’s note:
There are a couple things to consider here:

1) What if I’m trying to relaunch an existing asset and the URL does not contain the keyword?

Keep the URL the same. In my experience, the risk outweighs the reward when it comes to changing URL paths for the sole purpose of keyword placement.

2) What if your current permalink structure doesn’t accommodate descriptive URLs like this?

Don’t worry too much about this. Just keep the URL as short and descriptive as possible. 

I believe that is a very small ranking factor. So it is not something I’d really try to force. And it is not something I’d say it is even worth your effort to restructure your site just so you can get keywords in your URL.

John Mueller

First 100 words: Include your target keyword (or a close variant) somewhere in the first paragraph of your body copy:

Keywords used in the first 100 words

Heading tags: Make sure your blog post title is wrapped in an H1 tag. Google views the H1 tag as your post headline, and helps bots quickly understand the topic of your post.

Try to include sematnic and secondary keyword variations in H2 and H3 tags within the post.

Also – sprinkle them throughout in-text navigation links:

Google cannot read images, so include target keywords in image alt text so Google can understand what they are about.

Note: Do NOT stuff keywords in alt text. Instead, write the alt text in a way that accurately describes what the image is about. Keep it natural.

Optimize image alt text

And finally, place keyword variations a few times throughout the body content.

2) Secondary keyword variations (LSI)

LSI keywords are synonyms Google uses to determine page relevancy (and sometimes quality).

Including LSI can not only help boost relevancy, it can also help expand your keyword footprint and organic traffic potential.

For example:

“How to fly a quadcopter in a circle” versus “how to fly a quadcopter.”

Semantic keyword examples in content

Note: this section of the post also includes variants such as clockwise, counter clockwise and rotate.

Even if keyword research tools don’t show any search volume for the variations, you should still place them in the content for relevancy and to make sure you’re not over-optimizing exact match keywords.

If you write long form content, chances are you’ll naturally include LSI keywords in your content.

Next, make sure to include the related keywords you want to rank for.

Place each of them once or twice in the body content:

Subheadings:

Semantics in sub headings

And in-text navigation links:

Semantic keywords within in-text links
3) Multi media

Text can only do so much.

Engaging images, videos, screenshots and other multi media can increase time on site, scroll depth and decrease bounce rate: three behavioral metrics Google uses to measure content quality.

Multi media will also increase the perceived value of your content: which means more people sharing or linking to your content.

Make sure your are including helpful images:

Example visual

And videos:

Example video asset
4) External links

Not linking out to (quality) external resources is a common on-page mistake. Many people fear doing this to avoid “leaking authority”, when in fact linking out to related content is a relevancy signal Google.

It can signal to Google that your content is a hub of quality information related to a given topic.

Note: adding links to quality external resources of specific topics in your article is also a great way to improve the user experience.

When optimizing the quadcopter guide, I noticed many of the top ranking competitors weren’t linking out to any other resources.

I did the opposite 🙂

Example of external link

Go through your content and find a few places to link out to the most relevant articles ranking for your keyword.

Note: Reach out to each of the sites referenced in your article. Since you gave them a link, they will likely reciprocate by at least sharing your article with their audience.

5) Internal links

Adding internal links is one of the easiest ways to funnel traffic and authority to new content: 

Examples of internal links

Editor’s note:
Here are a couple quick ways to find high-value internal link opportunities:

1) Traffic: Go to the Behavior > Site Content > All Pages report in Google Analytics:

Google Analytics top pages report

This report will show the individual pages on your site that have received the most traffic over a specific time period. Add an internal link towards the top of the asset to drive some of that traffic to your new piece of content.

2) Authority: Enter your domain into the Ahrefs Site Explorer and navigate to the “Best By Links” report:

Ahrefs Best by Links report

Sort the Referring Domains (RDs) column in descending order to find the most authoritative pages on your site. Scan the list and look for related content where it would make sense to add an internal link. This is a quick way to give page-level authority a quick boost. 

6) Site/ load speed

Ever clicked on a search result and the page takes an eternity to load?

It’s one of the fastest ways to get potential readers to hit the back button and return to the SERP to read a different result.

In fact, Google found that 53% of users will abandon a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Google monitors this behavior and has been using it as a ranking factor since 2010.

And, in July this year Google announced it would finally start using mobile page speed as a ranking factor in mobile search results:

Google Webmaster Central post

SEMrush conducted a study and found three of the top four ranking factors are directly related to a user’s experience on your site:

SEMrush ranking factors study

User experience and rankings aside, slow page speed is a HUGE conversion killer.

SOASTA found that a one second delay in page response can reduce your conversions by up to 27%:

SOASTA load speed study

To improve page speed, use the free Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool to analyze your page and identify areas for optimization:

Google Page Speed Insights tool

Here are a few simple things you should do to improve page load speed:

1. Compress images: use a plugin such as WPSmush or Shortpixel to automatically compress images and reduce file size without losing quality.

2. Use a CDN: use a free tool like Cloudflare to host your content on geographically dispersed servers so people anywhere in the world can quickly access your content:

CDN

(Source)

3. Enable caching: use a free plugin like W3 Total Cache to create a static version of your content that the web browser can load fast. Check out this guide for setup instructions.

7) Formatting and readability

Which piece of content would you rather read?

Examples of readable content

No brainer, right?

The first example breaks up the text with formatting best practices such as shorter sentences, lists, and different font sizes to create a more “scannable” piece of content.

Every chapter in our quadcopter guide uses similar best practices to increase the readability:

Example of good content formatting

 
Ok:

Once the on-page SEO is fully optimized, it’s time to shift your attention towards converting all the new organic traffic into email subscribers (leads). 

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Step #4: Turn traffic into email subscribers

Building an email list should be your #1 priority.

Why?

Because 98% of visitors will leave your site without converting.

And the average consumer will have 7 touch points with your brand or product before buying.

Building an email list is critical if you want to be able to continually re-engage your audience, establish a relationship and eventually convert them into paying customers.

Here’s the simple 3-step formula UAV Coach used to collect thousands of email subscribers:

1. Create a lead magnet
2. Configure list building tools
3. Set up automatic delivery

1) Create your lead magnet

A lead magnet is when you offer something of value to a reader in exchange for their email address.

Some common examples:

  • Free ebooks
  • Free trials
  • Checklists
  • Mindmaps
  • Infographics
  • Short videos

In this video, Robbie shows how to turn old content into a high-converting lead magnet in 13 seconds:

Here is the PDF version of the article we used as a lead magnet:

Lead magnet PDF

Nothing fancy, but as you’ll see below, it worked VERY well!

2) Optimize your website for lead capture

This step involves strategically placing opt-in forms at high-visibility touchpoints across your site.

There are many different form types to use for this:

And more…

Editor’s note:
If you’re looking for a solid list building tool that will allow you to quickly set up, test and integrate all these form types with your email marketing software, I recommend the following tools:

Thrive Leads: My list building tool of choice. I’ve used the WordPress plugin to collect thousands of email subscribers over the last 3 years. Check out my full review here.

Sumo: Another great list building tool. I use the free version to capture my first 4,635 email subscribers

ConvertKit: This is the tool I use to manage all the email marketing sequences and automtions for my business. 

Full disclosure: I am an affiliate for each of the tools mentioned above. I only promote products I personally use to run my businesses. If you purchase a subscription through one of my links I will receive a commission at no additional cost to you. This is one of the ways I fund running this blog. 

For the quadcopter article we chose two tactics:

1. Popup
2. Lead box

First, we used the Sumo List Builder app to create this pop-up form:

As you can see, our value proposition is joining the community and receiving a free PDF of the guide.

It pops up 12 seconds after a visitor arrives, and doesn’t show to the same visitor more than once every 24 hours:

List builder targeting

And it converts at 5.12%:

List builder conversion rates

We then used the Sumo Leads app to create a leadbox that delivers the PDF inside the content.

When readers click on the button:

An opt-in box pops up:

It converts 20-50% of the people clicking on the button:

Lead app conversion rates

3) Automatically deliver lead magnet to new subscribers

I’ve got good news and bad news.

The good news:

Someone entered their email address to access your lead magnet.

The bad news:

They aren’t on your email list yet.

You still have two things to do after a reader hits the “Sign Up” button:

1. Get them to confirm their email address (double opt-in)
2. Deliver the lead magnet

Luckily, you can automate this entire process.

Here how it works:

Subscriber enters email and is redirected to a custom confirmation page like this one:

Example email confirmation page

The goal of this page is to make sure people are clicking the link in the confirmation email you send them:

Confirmation email

Confirmation email sent via ConvertKit after someone joins The SEO Playbook waitlist. 

This will ensure they are double opted in.

Once the reader clicks the confirmation link they are redirected to a page where they can view or download the lead magnet:

Landing page built with the Thrive Content Builder WordPress plugin. 

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Step #5: Content Promotion

Depending on the level of competition, it can take months to hit the first page.

In the early stages, it’s important to spend time promoting your content in order to generate some initial traffic, engagement and (potentially) links.

Here are four actionable tactics UAV used to promote the quadcopter guide:

  1. Quora
  2. Forum marketing
  3. Social media automation
  4. Scoop.it

Let’s drive some traffic…

1) Mine Quora Questions

Quora is a massive Q&A website, and one of the most visited on the planet.

It’s also one of our top sources of referral traffic:

Quora referral traffic in Google Analytics

Quora threads can stay active for months or even years, driving a passive stream of organic traffic to your content.

Here’s how to drive traffic from Quora:

First, head over to Quora and create an account. Fill out the profile – headshot, description, interests, etc:

Filling in Quora profile

Do a search in the top bar for a topic related to your niche. This will bring up a list of threads that contain your keyword:

Searching within Quora

Click through to any threads where your content could help answer a question.

Write up an in-depth answer with a link to your content at the end. Frame it as a resource that can fully answer their question.

Here is one of Alan’s Quora answers that received over 4,800 views and sent a lot of targeted referral traffic to the quadcopter guide:

Answering a question in Quora

In-depth answers are trusted more and typically work better than only posting your link.

Keep joining discussions and answering questions for different search terms, and you’ll drive consistent traffic to your article!

Alan Perlman's profile with 55 answers

The first week after publishing, we spent 1-2 hours a day promoting the guide in relevant Quora threads. And, we continue to look for new threads to promote it each week.

Editor’s note: Large Q&A sites like Quora have threads that rank in the top 3 positions for millions of high traffic keywords:

Quora top 3 keyword rankings

You can piggyback off the rankings and drive loads of targeted referral traffic back to your site.

Here’s how to do it:

Go to SEMrush, enter quora.com in the search box, then go to the SEO Toolkit >> Organic Research >> Positions report:

Analyzing Quora inside SEMrush

You’ll see that Quora ranks for over 29M different keywords!

But:

Most of these keywords are either irrelevant or don’t rank in the top 5 positions.

To ensure you’re targeting conversations that are (1) relevant and (2) have traffic potential, set the following filters:

This returned 364 different Quora threads related to the drone topic that are currently ranking in the top 5 search positions:

Different threads to target in Quora

Start with the most relevant and high traffic threads, and work your way down the list. 

2) Leverage Forum Marketing

Just like Quora, forums are packed with people discussing different topics.

They’re perfect places to promote your content.

Use these search strings to find forums in your niche:

“Keyword” + “forum”
“Keyword” + “powered by vBulletin”

This should bring up a list of forums to choose from

Forum targets in the SERPs

Go to a relevant forum and use the following stats to gauge activity (and traffic potential):

  • Discussions
  • Messages
  • Views
  • Replies
Examples of engaged forum threads

Higher engagement = great traffic potential.

Create an account and edit your signature:

Example forum comment

Write a compelling description about your page that entices the click.

Next, go through the forum threads and answer related questions (similar to Quora).

Except this time, you don’t have to link directly to your article because it’s in your signature:

Example forum signature

As you become an active member, you’ll start to position yourself as an authority. 

3) Set Up Social Media Automation

We configured Buffer to share the guide twice in the first week on each of our main social media channels – facebook and Twitter – and once a week for a month afterwards.

Here’s how to do it:

First, sign up for Buffer and enter your account:

Picture of the Buffer app

Click inside the “What do you want to share?” box. Write a tweet (or another type of social post) and include a link to your article at the end:

Scheduling content in Buffer

Click the arrow next to “Add to Queue” and “Schedule Post”:

Scheduling content in Buffer

Create another post, change up the text, and schedule it again for some time that week.

Rinse and repeat once a week for a month afterwards.

This should help you get a steady stream of traffic and social signals to the page.

Note: if you have a long form guide with multiple sections, chapters or tips, promote each one as a standalone social media post to get more mileage out of your content.

For example:

Ahrefs does this a lot with their articles:

Each tip is shared as a separate post, but still directs users to the same post. This helps avoid message fatigue.

We used this same strategy with the quadcopter guide by promoting each of the 17 chapters as a separate social post. 

4) Submit content to Scoop.it pages

Scoop.it is a content curation platform. People create their own pages to gather the best content they find on a given topic/industry.

Most pages have a “Suggest” feature:

Suggesting content in Scoop.it

You can suggest a piece of content to the owner, and if they like it they’ll share it on their page.

These pages are visited regularly by hundreds of industry enthusiasts wanting to stay up-to-date with the latest information (and share it with the platform’s built-in social media integration).

Here’s how we promoted the guide on Scoop.it:

Create an account and do a search in the top bar for a term related to your content:

Quadcopter Scoop.it pages

The default result is a list of “Scoops” or specific posts, but you want “Topics”:

This will bring up a list of pages related to your primary topic/keyword. Hover over the results to see the number of views.

Click through to any that seem relevant and look for the suggestion box:

If it’s not there, the host has decided not to accept suggestions. Move on to another page.

If it is there, copy-paste your URL into the box and hit “Suggest.”

Adjust the image to the size you want (I like to go full size):

That’s it! The page owner will review your post and decide whether or not to feature it.

Rinse ad repeat until you reach the daily suggestion limit (7).

Scoop.it is a quick and easy way to build links and get initial exposure for your content.

Speaking of links…

The final part of this case study is going to break down how we built backlinks to the quadcopter guide, which helped push it to the top spot in Google.

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Step #6: Build Backlinks (4 Actionable Tactics)

A study of 1 million SERP results found the number of domains linking to a page correlated with high rankings more than any other factor:

Graph showing the impact of backlinks on rankings

Google has also confirmed this.

We knew that if we wanted to reach the #1 position we had to build quality backlinks to the guide.

So, we focused heavily on this for 90 days after the guide went live:

Link metrics in the Ahrefs Site Explorer

Ahrefs SERP overview report showing link metrics for the top 10 ranking articles. 

We’ve built almost links from almost 100 unique referring domains and established a 34 URL rating.

Both of these metrics are higher than any other result in the SERP, and is the main reason why the guide ranks in the top spot.

Here are four strategies we used to quickly build links:

1. Reverse engineered competitor link profiles
2. Identified competitor link gaps
3. Pitched weekly roundups
4. Pitched resources/links pages

Let’s take a closer look at each one…

1) Reverse engineered competitor link profiles

We set out to find all the sites linking to competing (inferior) content and pitch our content to them.

The idea here was that if a site had linked to a related piece of content in the past, they would be more likely to our content as well.

Note: We followed many of the steps listed in Robbie’s extensive competitor backlink analysis guide. Instead of repeating all of it here, I recommend you check it out for more in-depth instructions.

First – enter your primary keyword into the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer and scroll down to the SERP overview report:

Look for results with a minimum of 20 referring domains.

Click on the Backlinks number and it’ll take you through to this report:

Mining competitor backlinks in Ahrefs

Set the following filters:

  • One link per domain
  • Dofollow
  • Language (English in our case)

This will give you a solid list of outreach targets.

Repeat the process for all the results with a minimum of 20 referring domains and add all the backlinks to a master list. 

Editor’s note: Scale this strategy by mining the SERP results for secondary keyword variations. 

Here are a couple quick ways to find additional competitors to mine for link opportunities:

1) SERP top keyword report:

Navigate to the right side of the SERP overview report and you’ll see the Top Keywords column:

SERP overview report

This shows the keyword bringing the most traffic to a URL. Often, there are many different secondary keyword variations in here that will return new competitor link targets.

Repeat the process outlined above and add to the master backlinks list.

2) Have Same Terms report:

Enter your primary keyword into the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer and navigate to the “Having Same Terms” report:

Having the same terms report in Ahrefs

Click “View All” an you’ll be taken to a list that contains all of the terms in your query (in any order):

Keyword report in Ahrefs

Click the SERP dropdown to see the top 10 results for that keyword:

Note: while these articles might be targeting a different topic, I still consider them good secondary link targets. I.e. anyone linking to an article on “how high can you fly a drone” could also be interested in reading (and possibly linking to) a comprehensive guide to flying quadcopters.

Use the two tactics shown above to build out a list of 20+ articles to mine for link prospects.

Download the tracking template and outreach scripts below, and kickoff your link building campaign:

2) Identified competitor link gaps

We used the Ahrefs Link Intersect tool to find all these websites linking to one or more of our competitors.

The idea:

If a website linked to multiple competitors, there’s a good chance they would consider linking to us too.

Here’s how it works:

Grab up to 10 competing domains/URLs from the Prospects tab in the Tracking Template (shown above) and paste them into the Link Intersect tool.

Add your domain/URL under the “But doesn’t link to (optional)” section:

Ahrefs Link Intersect Tool

Find competitor backlink gaps with the Ahrefs Link Intersect tool.

Note: Select the “Any of the below targets” from the “Show me who is linking to…” drop-down at the top of the table.

Click “show link opportunities”.

The report will show you all the websites linking to one or more of your competitors, but not your domain/page.

By default, the domains are ordered by # of link intersects (from highest to lowest), but you can sort the results by Domain Rating to quickly surface the most authoritative domains linking to multiple competing domains/ URLs:

Report showing the number of link intersects in Ahrefs

Click the link under each of the URLs to view the URLs and anchor text:

Scan the list and add any relevant, high-quality link prospects to the appropriate tab in the competitor link tracking template:

Model the scripts in your outreach campaign. 

3) Pitch weekly roundups

Weekly roundups are articles that curate the best content of that week into a single post.

The publisher spends the week reading and looking for awesome articles to link to in the post.

It’s a win-win. You provide a great resource for their audience and get a quality link in return:

Example of getting a link in a weekly roundup

All you have to do is find blogs that publish weekly (or monthly) roundups and pitch your content to them.

Here’s how to do it:

First, use these search strings to find roundups in your niche:

“Keyword” + “weekly roundup”
“Keyword” + “link roundup”
“Keyword” + “weekly link roundup”
“Keyword” + “best articles of the week”

Click “Search Tools” → “Any Time” → “Past Month”:

Example of search operators used to find weekly roundups

This will return actively updated roundups:

Once you’ve found some roundups, head over to the site and find the publisher’s contact information.

Send them an email like this:

Hi [NAME],

My name is [YOUR NAME], and I’m on the team at [WEBSITE].

I’m writing to make a possible article suggestion for your next weekly [TOPIC] roundup.

I came across your roundup yesterday and got a ton of value out of it. Nice work!

We recently published an in-depth guide to [TOPIC]. It takes people through 18 chapters of step-by-step training, in the hopes that by the time they apply each step, they’ll be well on their way to [RESULT].

Here’s the link to the guide: [URL]

Either way, just thought you might like to consider it for your next roundup.

Keep up the great work!

Cheers,
[YOUR NAME]

If the publisher likes your content, it will get featured in the next roundup:

Example of getting featured in a link roundup

This got us some great contextual links on high authority sites.

4) Pitch Resource Pages

This is the strategy where we got most of our initial links.

(And it’s also how I built one of the best links I think I’ll ever build.)

Resources and links pages are similar to roundups, in that they link out to lots of useful content.

Many sites publish them to expose their audience to related content they don’t offer on their own website.

Once again, these publishers are all looking for one thing:

Valuable content.

Alll you need to do is reach out and pitch it your content.

Here’s how to do it:

First, do a search in Google for these strings:

“Keyword” + “resources”
“Keyword” + “links”
“Keyword” + “intitle:resources”
“Keyword” + “intitle:links”
“Keyword” + “inurl:resources”
“Keyword” + “inurl:links”
“Keyword” + “intitle:resources page”
“Keyword” + “intitle:links page”

Search operators to find resource pages

Unlike weekly roundups, you don’t need to filter the results based on date. Since these pages are evergreen, it doesn’t matter when they were published.

Next, head into each website and find their contact information. Then send each website owner an email like this:


Hi [Name],

I was checking out [SITE NAME] just now and found your excellent [TOPIC] resources page.

I’m on the team at [SITE NAME], and we just published an in-depth guide that helps people [BENEFIT].

Here’s the link: [URL]

I wanted to ask if you wouldn’t mind including us on your resources page: [URL of THEIR PAGE]

We’ll be improving it continuously to provide people with the most up-to-date information as the industry evolves.

Either way, keep up the great work 🙂

Cheers,
[YOUR NAME]

This strategy landed us a lot of excellent links on highly relevant sites in our niche.

Example of a resource page link

And on some high authority sites, including a DA 96 link from MIT!

(Couldn’t believe that one.)

With our strong on-page signals and these links coming straight to the page, Google propelled us to the first page for our target keyword.

We stayed in positions 4-10 for a few months, but I’m sure you’re wondering how that we hit position #1.

Let’s break it down:

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How UAV Coach Hit the #1 Position in Google

The quadcopter guide eventually leapfrogged massive sites like Mashable and landed in the #1 position.

The initial content promotion and link building campaigns pushed the article onto the first page for its primary keyword, along with hundreds of additional long tail keywords.

This got the guide some great natural mentions and links:

Case study: earning passive links

The strong on-page signals crushed all the other competing assets too.

This article deserved to rank #1.

It was the most in-depth and up-to-date, had the best multi media mix (screenshots, images and videos), and it was highly optimized for the target keyword.

As time went on and the backlinks were crawled by Google, the page began to increase in authority and gradually climbed up the SERPs.

It now ranks in the #1 position for 205 different keywords:

Organic Keywords report in Ahrefs

Along with 29 featured snippet placements:

Image showing number of featured snippet rankings

This shows just how much Google trusts the page, sees it as a top resource, and wants people to read it.

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A Key Takeaway From This SEO Case Study

This is a scalable SEO strategy you can use to rank in ANY niche.

We have repeated this process for many other important keywords with similar results:


Example of ranking #1 for drone with camera

SEO case study: ranking for cheap drone


And the site now ranks in the top 3 positions for over 3,000 keywords!

Graph showing the number of top 3 rankings for UAV Coach

Now:

You probably won’t rank #1 for every article you publish.

But, by following the steps outlined in this SEO case study you’ll be able to quickly find (and rank) more target keywords on the first page of Google.

Got questions? Looking for advice?
Let me answer them in the comments below 🙂

A final word:
If you’re interesting in learning the exact systems I use to rank clients and grow organic traffic in some of the most competitive industries on the planet, check out my training course here.  

Or, if you’re interested in working together contact me here

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