Earlier this year, we managed to outrank our largest competitor for one of the most competitive keywords in Google Search: presentation software. We did that with a team of 3 people, a page built in Squarespace and with 1% of their funding.
Through a 9-month period between 2015 and 2016, we invested about $70,000 in our content marketing campaigns. It was a long-term investment that has paid itself time and time again. As of today, our organic rankings in Google bring around $70,000 worth of subscriptions *every month*.
SEO is a weird science. Google has been increasingly secretive about what drives their algorithm, which has caused a lot of speculation and inaccurate content.
There’s also a lot of outdated content online. The tactics to move up in Google’s rankings have changed A LOT in past decade, and techniques that were widely accepted a couple of years ago might now be considered ‘black hat’ and be therefore penalized by Google’s algorithms. The best sources of up to date content for SEO that I have found are Moz’s blog, and Backlinko (though his SEO-focused writing style drives me crazy).
A) A good site architecture, fast loading times and well-structured sitemap (Squarespace takes good care of that).
B) A website that has what Google consider’s high-quality content around certain keywords.
C) Highly-engaged traffic: returning users and low bounce rate.
D) Other high-quality websites that are pointing to yours.
You need to score high in all of these if you want to compete in SERP. Other secondary factors that can help but should come on a secondary priority are:
E) Having an SSL (https) site.
F) Domain age.
– Google Webmaster Tools
– A CMS: Squarespace highly recommended. WordPress is another alternative.
– Google Page Speed
When we launched our presentation tool back in 2014, we built a cute landing page of our own. We felt it was important to keep brand consistency across the page and the app itself. We also kept a blog on a subdomain, hosted with another content management system.
Soon, we found ourselves with a bottleneck, where the marketing team regularly needed to ask help from the dev team to implement testing landing pages. This was the original reason why we turned to Squarespace, to allow the marketing team to be self-sufficient when building landing pages for campaigns.
We realized our Squarespace landing pages not only converted better but also ranked better than the main site in Google’s SERP; so we decided to move all our landing pages, blog, and marketing content to that site, and moved the app to a subdomain.
Loading times are fundamental for ranking too. Quick suggestions are to compress your images and to use only 1-2 different fonts throughout the site. Optimizing images, along with keeping external scripts to a bare minimum is pretty much everything we did.
Finally, you’ll also want to create an account and verify your domain with Google Webmaster Tools. This platform lets you submit your sitemap to Google’s search engine (this is generated by your CMS automatically), and it’s also where you monitor potential errors with the site. Keep a close eye on it and make sure to tackle any errors that pop-up promptly. It is because of sitemaps that keeping a custom-built landing page can backfire: if your sitemap is not right or doesn’t prioritize the pages on your website correctly, you might be wasting all the other efforts you are making with content marketing.
I’m not going to write much about content optimization and keyword density, you can read about that from the experts. The point here is that beyond generating optimized content, your content needs to be engaging.
At the time of writing (May-2017) Google still provides a lot of relevance to long-format text content. We’ve found that articles with 2,500 words or more tend to rank extremely well and extremely fast, whereas articles 1,000 words or shorter don’t get a lot of ranking relevance.
The point, however, is that content length is related to engagement. The more content you have on a blog post, the more time users will spend reading it and the higher the chance of clicking or engaging with the page, thus reducing bounce rate.
This is also related to driving the right traffic to the website. In our earliest efforts in content marketing, when our website didn’t get any organic traffic, we ‘artificially’ boosted our engagement metrics by driving a lot of traffic from Facebook ads.
We ended up spending around $20,000 promoting our blog posts and content, with a particular focus on audiences that had high engagement rates and low bounce rates. Our combinations of audience/copy/image drove clicks for $0.30, which meant around 60,000 highly engaged website readers. We discovered a direct correlation between the number of visits to a page and how Google moved that page up in their search results.
If you don’t have $20,000 to spare, you can still boost your content engagement by leveraging platforms like Reddit and Quora. Reddit, as a matter of fact, is the ultimate test of quality for an article: if the community finds it interesting, you can bet that it will perform well on any other channel.
Getting relevant websites to point to yours is the last piece of the puzzle, this is particularly valuable if the site that’s redirecting to yours has a higher Domain Ranking.
Domain Ranking is a metric introduced by Moz and now widely accepted as a way to measure the relevance of a website to Google’s algorithm. The Domain Ranking formula uses similar variables as the algorithm behind Google Search to assign a ranking from 0 to 100 to a given site.
You can use Moz or AHrefs to check a website’s domain ranking; we use this to determine how much effort we put into our backlink efforts. A mention from a site like Techcrunch or Forbes can work wonders for your rankings, but they are really, really hard to get. Backlinks from websites with a lower DR than yours are pretty much irrelevant, so don’t spend a whole lot of time there.
Getting backlinks requires a lot of effort from the marketing team. Each backlink we’ve acquired has probably cost us around 4 hours worth of work because you have to cold-email a lot of people with very personal emails to get a reply. Make sure you only focus on sites that matter.
Another advantage we had was that the presentations that users create in our platform can be shared (with a link) or embedded, so anytime a user shares the content they generated with our service, they are inadvertently giving us an additional backlink. This tactic might not apply to your particular business, but you can still leverage your ‘shareability’ by using tools like SumoMe to motivate them to post to social media.
This didn’t happen in a week, or a month, or a year. We made our largest and strongest boost of SEO through Q1 and Q2 of 2016; during this time, we published a piece of premium content every other week, as well as a lower-quality but keyword-rich article.
The lower-quality articles targeted a very specific and low-competition keyword, so they generated little engagement; however, they were important to keep our blog updated with a new, weekly piece of content.
It was only on early 2017 that we discovered that we had outranked all our competitors for the ‘presentation software’ keywords (high competition, ~30,000 monthly searches worldwide). You’ll start noticing this first on the city or cities where you have a home office because you inevitably get more credibility and shares from people closer to you.
Caya is a co-founder and CEO at Slidebean, a 500 Startups company based in New York and Costa Rica.