Metrics overview | Actions taken | How to replicate the results

This case study required 16 months of hard work. You can learn its key takeaways in 16 minutes and use them to grow organic revenue of your business consistently

A Proven 3-Step Process For Growing  Your Business With SEO campaign focused on revenue,
not rankings, traffic and other vanity metrics.

First, a guarantee:

This is going to be the most detailed & transparent SEO case study you’ll ever read.

Before this eCommerce store realised the value of long-term SEO campaign, they used to rely on Google & Facebook Ads to to generate revenue.

Even though those ad networks were bringing solid ROI, it was frustrating because the business needed a constant investment into ads to keep generating revenue.

The big benefit of organic traffic is that you don’t directly pay for each visitor. You get a constant stream of visitors and organic revenue each month without paying directly for clicks or impressions.

The problem is that growing organic traffic is hard. Its primary characteristic is that the time distance between the work and result is higher than advertising. Unlike Facebook ads, you can’t just check-in to see if yesterday’s ROAS was looking good. In SEO, today’s work will gradually show its value over the next 3-6 months. 

The Google time barrier

[time-barrier]

This technique is used by Google to create a “filter” which protects their algorithm so less spam websites and low quality websites appearing in search results.

To grow organic revenue nowadays, businesses need to:

    • Use proven strategy focused on revenue (not rankings, traffic and other vanity metrics)
    • Publish content clusters & get other websites to link to yours consistently.
    • Stay consistent for at least 6 months in order to break Google’s time barrier.

In this post I’m going to share our strategy and a proven 3-step process we’ve used to achieve everything above. 

I’ll also show you how to execute this process in-house or outsource the process almost hands-off.

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Here’s what I’m going to cover today: 

    • Section 1 – The results (metrics overview & comments on performance)
    • Section 2 – The 3-step process used to grow organic revenue 
      • Find pages & keywords with the highest organic ROI potential
      • Optimise target pages for target keywords, conversion rate & publish content clusters.
      • Link building – the exact number of links built each month & a breakdown by backlink type.
    • Section 3How to outsource whole process and get results like these (almost) hands-off

Section 1 - The results

This section is focused on data and how the results were changing over the 16 months duration of the case study.

Results overview

The table below shows the results overview from March 2018 (start) to May 2019 (end):

Explanations for each field:

    • Start revenue – Monthly revenue generated from organic traffic at the beginning of the case study (March 2018). The data was pulled from a Google Analytics eCommerce report by channel and it includes all search engine traffic.
    • End revenue – Monthly revenue from organic traffic generated at the end of the case study (May 2019).
    • End profit – Total profit based on a 34% estimated client eCommerce profit margin.
    • End net profit – Ending profit minus the monthly SEO investment (an amount which changed during the course of the case study, more details on that later).
    • End cumulative profit – All profits from organic traffic from March 2018 to May 2019.
    • End cumulative SEO investment – Total amount invested in SEO from March 2018 to May 2019 (started with $2k / month and later expanded to $4k).
    • End cumulative net profit – Total end cumulative profit minus the cumulative SEO investment.
    • End ROI – ROI in the last month of the case study.
    • End cumulative ROI – Total ROI factoring in profit margins and SEO investment from March 2018 to May 2019.
    • Months to break even – Number of months needed for the cumulative profit to be greater than the cumulative SEO expense.

How Many Organic visitors website had each month?

The graph bellow is a screenshot from our Google Data Studio dashboard we’ve used for this case study. It pulls live data from Google Analytics API and outputs it into a dashboard.

Note: I’m going to send a link to a full data studio dashboard we’ve used so make sure to watch your inbox if you’re curious to see it (the email will come from “The WooRank”).

We started to see a small improvements in traffic in the first 2-3 months but most of the monthly traffic growth rate started to increase only after month 4-5.

What was the Revenue? (from organic traffic)

Even though we track month over month traffic, the only true performance indicator is the revenue generated by that organic traffic.

Our strategy for this case study was highly revenue driven. Most people believe increase in traffic = increase in revenue but that’s not always true.

In this specific case, traffic had a solid correlation with revenue because we’ve followed a revenue driven strategy.

What I’m trying to say is that we could have focused on traffic and get huge traffic increases after just 2-3 months to show off. However, that traffic most likely wouldn’t result in proportional revenue number because we were focused on ranking for easy, non commercial keywords (like most SEO agencies do to impress the clients early on).

How much of the revenue was profit? (based on avg. margin)

One of the points of this case study is to measure the actual ROI of SEO. Therefore, we had to factor in the profit margin of this eCommerce business. These numbers were estimated based on 34% average profit margin this business had over the previous year. It was not calculated for each month separately.

Graph on the left shows month over month organic traffic profit and graph on the right shows same metric but cumulative. Total cumulative organic traffic profit was $84,581.

Cumulative organic traffic profit was used for ROI calculation later on.

What was the total investment in SEO?

The total investment in SEO over 16 months was $44,000. It started with $2,000 per month in February 2018 and increased to $4,000 per month in late November 2018.

Once we review the ROI graph, it’s going to be much more clear why we have decided to double the investment.

How the money was invested?

There are 3 core areas of investment in this project:

    • 1 – Strategy (~25%)
      • Conversion rate optimisation roadmap.
      • Content roadmap.
      • Link building roadmap.
    • 2 – Content (~35%)
      • Deploying content clusters which consist of:
        • Link magnet content
        • Supporting content
        • Updating & optimizing core pages (product / category pages)
    • 3 – Link building (~40%)
      • Guest posts
      • Drop-in links
      • Forum & QA sites

Don’t worry, I’m going to cover each of these points briefly in this case study so make sure to keep reading 🙂

What was the total cumulative NET profit?
(factoring in both margins & SEO expense)

In previous steps, we’ve calculated:

  • Cumulative organic traffic profit (factoring in the profit margin)
  • Cumulative SEO expenses
Now we’re taking those two numbers to get the actual cumulative net profit each month. The graph below represents all the capital invested in SEO, all the revenue generated from SEO and it factors the average 34% profit margin of the business.
 
The graph below is one of the best ways to measure the true impact of eCommerce SEO.
 
The slightly modified methodology can be used to measure SEO impact for other business models as well like SaaS, content websites and even professional services website but let’s not get off topic (however, feel free to email me if you’re curious to know how this can be done outside eCommerce industry).

The break even point of this project happened during month 7.

You may be thinking that 7 months is too long to reach a break even,

What can you do to speed it up?

The answer is that break even period shouldn’t be your only decision factor.

Most of the eCommerce business owners nowadays rely on channels like Facebook Ads, Instagram influencers & other similar channels. Those channels show much quicker returns for the money spent. On Facebook Ads for example, you can log in and easily see last week’s return on ad spend. SEO is different.

In SEO, all the work you do & the investments you make have a delayed reward. However, once that delayed reward start to show up, it stays there. Consistently. Even if you stop your SEO investments.

To better understand this concept, let’s look at 3 hypothetical situations below:

In this hypothetical case:

    • Situation A has the lowest investment, has a quick break even but low end revenue.
    • Situation B has mid investment, break even and revenue.
    • Situation C has the biggest investment, the longest break even period but the highest end revenue.

Even though situation C has the highest end revenue, it’s not necessarily the best option. Every business has a point where its SEO investments start to see higher and higher diminishing returns (notice how the difference in end revenue is smaller C vs B compared to A vs B). This is just a sketch of course, but that’s how you should think about long term SEO.

The key to deciding how much you should invest in SEO is finding your situation B.
The sweet spot between end revenue, break even point and the SEO investment capital needed.

How to find the sweet spot for your business? There are many factors to be considered, like:

    • SEO potential of your industry / niche. For example, automotive parts niche has more SEO potential than t-shirt niche even though t-shirt demand is probably higher. The reason is the variety of topics / keywords you can target in automotive industry. Not to mention the number of automotive bloggers vs t-shirt bloggers you can get backlinks from.
    • Your historical organic SEO traffic, revenue & profit.
    • Your current keyword rankings.
    • Other minor factors.

Note: Our team is going to start accepting new clients for our managed SEO service in February 2020. The analysis required to find your sweet spot between end revenue, break even point and SEO investment needed is included in our free proposal. If you’re interested, check out this page.

The scaling experiment

Since the store was seeing great results, they decided to double the SEO investments to see how this experiment would affect growth further

That initiative started in late November 2018.

Since the client started to invest an additional $2,000 per month, the initial ROI and cumulative profit has dropped but we knew the investment is going to pay off in the long term. 

The total investment was $4,000 per month and the number of published content and backlinks built has been doubled.

In late May 2019, we’ve analyzed the results of the experiment and have almost hit the ROI level from October 2018. This time however, with option to remove $4,000 in expense and add it as profit.

To better understand these results, I’ve added a graph comparing monthly ROI vs. monthly SEO expenses. The ROI calculation here is also factoring the 34% profit margin the client has from their products and total investment in SEO so far.

After doubling the spend in December 2018, it took 6 months to get close to the monthly ROI level we were seeing with $2k spent in October 2018.

One of the benefits of SEO is that your traffic & revenue will likely remain at least the same even if you decide to stop your SEO investments.

If we pause the investment, we would generate at least $10k of profit each month which would skyrocket our overall ROI of SEO each month. It’s often the case that websites keep growing even after you stop. More traffic you get, more people are going to share your content and generate natural backlinks which further benefit the revenue growth. SEO is known to create a snowball effect.

That would be the end of results overview.

Let’s now jump into what we actually did to achieve all these results.

Section 2 - Actions taken

This section will give you a high-level overview of what we did each month in order to achieve these results. For those interested in a more detailed explanation, we will be sending three emails over the next couple of days, each explaining a different part of the process in greater detail.

Month 1: the foundation

The essential step before starting an SEO campaign for eCommerce is to find the most profitable pages & keywords to focus on.

A target page should meet the following criteria:

    • Has the highest revenue per pageview compared to other product/category or tag pages.
    • Has keywords with search volume.
    • Has supporting content potential (for example a buyer’s guide that can be written or an article explaining specific questions people may have about the product).

After completing the research we ended up with:

    • 5 focus pages
    • 25 keywords to target
    • A few article topics to publish in the future (1 buyer’s guide and 5 blog posts)

Months 1-3: optimization of keywords, conversions & content

Once we know which pages and keywords we’re going to target, it’s time for optimisation.

During months 1-3 we managed to:

1 – Optimize all 5 pages with an advanced on-page optimization tool called CORA SEO Software.

This is a powerful tool that calculates over 500 ranking factors for the top 100 results, analyzes which factors have the highest correlation with ranking for the specific keyword and then outputs suggestions based on current website metrics.

We used a combination of CORA reports and our team’s expertise to rewrite content, rewrite meta tags, and optimize images.

Here’s an example CORA report to see what it looks like:

2 – Optimize focus pages for conversions

The second priority for the first three months was to optimize pages for conversion rates. Since this case study isn’t only focused on getting organic traffic but ROI, we added some revenue-boosting tweaks to the product pages.

These are some of the conversion triggers we’ve added:

    • Social proof booster.
    • 1-click up-sells to improve average order value.
    • Warning to induce scarcity.
    • Guarantees near add to cart button to remove customer objections and doubts.

The images below are an example of conversion triggers look like (not an actual case study website):

Social proof booster
1-click upsells to improve average order value
Warning to induce scarcity
Guarantees near add to cart to push sales

3 – Build & Publish Content Clusters

One of the essential steps of this strategy is to build & publish content clusters. A content cluster is a group of different interlinked pages on a similar topic.

Content cluster includes 3 type of content

    • 1 – Core pages (usually product or category pages for eCommerce and landing page for other businesses)
    • 2 – Link Magnets (premium, graphics-rich, long-form content used for link building)
    • 3 – Supporting articles (shorter form blog posts which answers questions target audience has about the niche/product)

The important step is that each piece of content is planned ahead following the right strategy & research of target keywords and audience.

The image bellow shows a sketch of a single content cluster. Notice how the content is interlinked in a way that makes revenue generating page the highest in the topical hiearchy. (in the case bellow it’s 4:2:1 interlinking ratio).

To help you better understand a content cluster concept, let’s go over a specific example:

To prove the concept of content clusters, we’ve chosen one cluster to be a control group for our experiment. That cluster didn’t have its link magnet & supporting articles published for a while.

Once we’ve built a cluster around that page, both supporting content and the core page got higher organic  traffic growth.

The impact of well planned content clusters can be seen in a graph below:

Important part of this strategy is to interlink all pages within the cluster. Not only they are going to help you direct traffic from your informational to transactional pages but they will also transfer SEO value from the backlinks you will build in future. 

In next section of this article I’ll show you how link building works together with the the content cluster strategy so make sure to keep reading 🙂

But first, let’s answer a case study specific question:

How Many Pieces of Content of Each Type We’ve Published?

Over 16 months, we’ve published a total of:

    • 7 link magnet content
    • 42 supporting content
    • 10 core pages updated & optimised (five in Feb ’18, five after the expansion experiment in Dec ’18)
Here’s how that looked like month-over-month:
 

Months 2-15: Link building (core action)

Link building is the core of this strategy. All of the previous steps were put in place to ensure the maximum effectiveness of each link built and maximum revenue generated from increased traffic.

The first step was the 6-month link building plan. 

The goal of the plan was to define:

    • How many links will be built each month?
    • Which type of links will be built?
    • Which pages the links are going to be built to?
    • What the anchor text percentage for each page we’re building links to should be?
    • How many content pieces will be published? (link magnets & supporting content)
    • How link building strategies are going to be executed?
    • Which tools will be used in the process?

How Were Built Each Month & Total?

Since February 2018, we’ve built 636 backlinks. This doesn’t count any earned backlinks. In December 2018, we’ve doubled the target number of backlinks per month as explained in our experiment part.

Note: as mentioned in the introduction part, we started an experiment in late November 2018 to see what doubling down on link building & SEO can do.

What Types of Links Were Built?

These link types represent the 90% of our manually built link profile:
    • Guest posts
    • Forum links
    • Drop-in links

We’ll cover each of these link building briefly so make sure to keep reading.

What Was the Link Distribution by Type?

The majority of the links built were in “other” category. Links in other category are mostly links from relevant forum discussions and Q&A websites like Quora.
 

What Was Our Anchor Text Strategy?

After analyzing the competitor anchor text ratio, our strategy was this:

Core pages (product & category pages chosen in the first step):

    • 80% brand
    • 18% conversational
    • 2% exact keyword achor (with most powerful links)

Link magnet (premium, long-form content):

    • 50% brand
    • 45% conversational
    • 5% exact keyword anchor

Supportive pages (blogposts targeting customer questions & objections):

    • 30% brand
    • 65% conversational
    • 5% exact keyword anchor

Once the 6 month link building roadmap was in place, we started building these 3 types of links:

    • Forum links
    • Guest posting links
    • Drop-in links

Note: anchor text choice varies for each link type. For example, Forum & QA links didn’t use exact match keywords since they are less powerful links compared to guest posts & drop-in links.

To Which Pages the Backlinks Pointed To?

The diagram bellow shows how our link building strategy works. We build the most links to our link magnet (the premium content).

We build some of the links to supporting articles and core pages and we interlink everything in a way that core pages get the most link power transferred.

Let’s take a look at the content cluster example from the previous part but now with the backlinks added to the diagram. This will help you understand how we’ve distributed backlinks across each of the content types.


As you can see the graph above, most of the backlinks were built to link magnet content since it’s the easiest one to do outreach for. It’s hard to get people to link directly to the product page. Especially in eCommerce.
 

However, we also try to point at least few links to the revenue generating pages when we can.

Now, let’s explain each of the link building type. 

Let’s quickly go over forum, guest post and drop-in link building strategies we’ve used:

Forum links:

We hired and trained a freelancer (which is now full time team member) to execute these popular link building strategies. Our primary criteria were that the freelancer had to be a native English speaker with copywriting experience and pass our test “50 forum links” assignment.

To execute this, we created a standard operating procedure based on popular online forum link building guides such as:

Author’s side note: I was thinking of create a guide on how we do this but I’d like to focus on showing you the content which hasn’t been told yet. If you can find a better written guide online for what we’re going, I’ll just link to it instead.

Guest posting links:

Similarly to forum links, we’ve read most of the guest posting tutorials published online to figure out our own strategy.

Since this is a more sophisticated strategy, we built an in-house team to execute the plan. Our current team consists of 3 content writers, 1 outreach specialist and 1 project manager. 

We’ve ended up using a standard operating procedure document (SOP) for guest posting by Click Minded because it brought us the best results. 

We obviously tweaked the strategy to fit our internal processes and added tricks we’ve learned along the way, but the general strategy is very close to what is described in Click Minded SOP.

Interested in seeing how our guest posting SOP looks like? Check out this PDF to see our guest posting SOP, it shows the instructions our team follows to build guest posting links (although we have lots more internal documents and steps in the process but we can’t share them all)

Drop-in links:

We have been testing this strategy for years and have pretty much perfected the process. It represents the core of our link building strategy.

Here’s how it works:

    • The point of the strategy is to find as many hyper-relevant blog posts related to keywords for which you’d like to rank. We find these by searching Google and using scraping tools like Scrapebox. Even though Scrapebox is known for “black-hat” techniques that it aided more than a decade ago, it’s still a great “white-hat” tool when you need to find websites lists.

       

    • Once we find hyper-relevant articles, we send pitches to webmasters asking them to add our relevant links to their current articles. This is why we created a link magnet in the previous step. It would be very hard to convince bloggers to link to a product page.
    • Once we get enough people to link to our link magnet content we then add internal links from link magnet content to our core pages. As a result, the link power flows through our link magnet page to core pages resulting in rank increases for both of the pages!

These guides are a great resource to learn more about how Scrapebox can help you find websites to reach out to:

    • https://www.matthewwoodward.co.uk/seo/tools/scrapebox/
    • https://www.quicksprout.com/scrapebox-link-building/
    • https://www.onely.com/blog/guide-white-hat-seo-scrapebox/ (this guide was published in 2014 but is still a great resource)

Link Building Summary:

    • We create a 6-month link building roadmap dictating our anchor text, target pages, and link type strategies.
    • We build forum, guest post, and drop-in links each month to our link magnet and supporting content.
    • We build internal links from link magnet pages to core pages to make link power flow through it.

Section 3 - How to outsource the process
and get results (almost) hands-off

Would you like our trained team of senior SEO specialists to grow your organic revenue and ROI?

3 Reasons why you should hire The WooRank team to grow your organic revenue & ROI:

      • Our team focus is always revenue.
        (Not traffic & other vanity metrics).
      • We’re a boutique SEO agency.
        (Never deal with junior account managers again).
      • We’re transparent about our reporting, successes & failures. (No false promises).

Click the button bellow to learn how we can help you.

I hope you have enjoyed this case study overview. More details on each phase will be sent to you in the following days. Do not hesitate to schedule a call if you’re interested in outsourcing the process to us.