I have to admit the number of estimated website traffic to your website or blog was a lie. The number is actually larger… but I thought you wouldn’t believe me. The accurate, true-to-life title I should have used is “how to increase website traffic by 500,000 monthly visitors”… because that’s what we achieved.
And we did it for our clients not once…
… but three times in the past 24-36 months.
To be fair, by no means are we the only ones responsible for these lifts. Each of the above three are big, highly-visible companies with talented marketing teams.
But the numbers above directly represent the SEO increases in the past 24 to 36 months… numbers which we were specifically hired to help increase, and are strong contributors to.
And to be even fairer, since these numbers are only organic traffic, they also omit other impacts like social, referral and direct traffic, which we also helped increase.
As a team of ten that achieved that (now twelve), I’m pretty proud of those numbers. More importantly, I’m proud of the process behind them: a repeatable, achievable strategy that anybody can accomplish, even at a smaller scale.
As long as you implement the process appropriately and put in the work to get there, this kind of growth is achievable.
How to Replicate
So… how do you do it? What’s the process?
In summary, you can achieve this growth by repeatedly creating and promoting top or middle-funnel content that ranks for keywords with significant volume, that also tie back to bottom-funnel landing pages that are pushed up through the connective effects.
In this post, I’ll give you the step-by-step rubric we use to identify the right pieces to create, what to promote, what not to promote, and how to make sure your content will rank well every time.
We’ll lift the lid on the internal process on how to get more traffic we’ve been heads down creating, iterating on and implementing for our clients—which has already created massive impacts, but for you, can be used in its almost-perfected form.
All the techniques, all the strategies, all the lessons learned—all in one post.
How to Increase Website Traffic
The Skyscraper Technique is a four-step process popularized by Brian Dean that unveils a clean, straightfoward path to building a massive audience. The steps are:
- Step 1: Find link-worthy content around a topic with search volume
- Step 2: Make something even better
- Step 3: Reach out to the right people to generate the links needed to rank
- Step 4: Repeat with a new topic
Brian uses the metaphor of a skyscraper for this technique to elicit the idea that to stand out in a city, you need to build the biggest skyscraper. Nobody cares about the 8th biggest skyscraper—they only care about the tallest.
So, in summary, your job as a content creator is to create the biggest, baddest content out there—and then tell people about it.
Misinterpretations of the Technique
I fully believe in Brian’s idea, and it’s an immensely effective method of building your business, and hitting that 250,000+ increase goal. However, the technique is not without its critics—and I believe this is due to how Brian simplified the concept.
In essence, if you read the post on the Skyscraper Technique, Dean essentially says that in creating the best thing for a given keyword, and then building a ton of links to the page based on that quality, you’ll have enough for that page to rank. This isn’t always true.
The element that’s left out is the need for domain authority. If you’re starting from scratch and going against CNN, The New York Times and Business Insider, 40 links to a single page won’t be enough. You’ll need more combined authority in order to outpace them, even if their pages don’t stack up to yours.
It’s possible to build best-in-class content for a keyword, generate 40 links, and then keep building similar content like it to eventually get that page ranking #1. But that’s not the fastest growth model—and most businesses would like to see the revenue and benefit from ranking other pages in the interim.
Enter Keyword Opposition to Benefit (KOB) Analysis.
KOB Analysis, combined with the Skyscraper Technique, is the completion of your business-building equation.
How to Use KOB Analysis
What a KOB analysis does that the Skyscraper Technique doesn’t, is also consider revenue potential in combination with competition.
By looking at competition early, we can understand in advance if we are capable of ranking, even if our domain authority is low.
By looking at revenue potential, we can understand in advance that if we do rank, we’ll actually generate some business benefit from the activity—and not just rank for something without any buying intent.
A smart content strategy starts with the highest benefit content you can actually rank for, first, and then builds from there.
And after enough time, effort, and subsequent rankings, you can then consider creating the Empire State Building.
The KOB Equation for Content
Originally popularized by Todd Malicoat, KOB analysis can have many different forms and levels of complexity. For the purposes of this analysis and your own implementation, we’ll keep it relatively simple.
Breaking it down, Traffic Cost is SEMRush’s way of showing the hypothetical value of a page. Traffic Cost estimates the traffic a page is getting by estimating clickthrough rate (CTR), and then multiplying it against all the positions it ranks for. From there, it looks at what others would be willing to pay for that same traffic using Google AdWords’ CPC.
This gives us an estimated Traffic Cost, which is a strong estimator of the real value of a page. We use page-level traffic cost, and think less about individual keywords, because keywords are becoming less relevant due to Google becoming increasing intelligent at determining topics because of their recent Hummingbird update.
Given that, what we really need to do is grab the page ranking #1 for the main keyword, dump it into SEMRush, and then see what other keywords that page ranks for—showing the true “topic value” of that keyword set.
If we only use a single keyword, we almost certainly sell ourselves short.
Moz’s Keyword Difficulty Tool gives us a quick snapshot of the competition on a given keyword set, to allow us to determine Difficulty. Although we can’t really glean topic difficulty at this given time, grabbing the difficulty of one of the biggest keywords is a pretty good indicator of the entire topic set – so we’ll do that.
Although Traffic Cost is a great metric to start with, and scales well throughout a team of beginners, it is suggested you modify those numbers appropriate to your own business. Not every topic will be valuable to you, and it’s possible some topics will be even more valuable than the metric listed.
Proceed as appropriate.
KOB Analysis Example
To give an example of this process in action, let’s look at the keyword “content marketing.” Inputting it in Moz’s keyword difficulty tool, we get back the following data:
Editor’s note: Moz has shifted away from their previous difficulty score to a new tool, Keyword Explorer. It has its own difficulty metric that’s slightly different from what’s laid out here. AHREFs and SEMRush also have their own scores. Really, what tool you use is up to you/personal preference/assessment of accuracy, but there are several options for determining SERP difficulty.
At this surface level, it’s easy to see that yes, the keyword is extremely competitive, and also, that a lot of people search for this keyword each month.
But we’re missing some inputs—namely, what’s the potential value of each of those visits, and also, does this topic have lots of other long-tail that make it a much bigger keyword?
We uncover this using SEMRush and the search results. Go to Google, and grab the number one result—or whatever result you think you are capable of creating 10x content for. In this case, that result is the “What is Content Marketing?” page from CMI.
We then input that URL into SEMRush to get the breadth of the opportunity available, and also, a guess about the value based on what other people are bidding on similar traffic.
In this case, we see that the estimated traffic to the page is 13,300 visits a month, based on 1,100 keywords. That would have been a lot of missed long-tail if we had just settled on the singular keyword.
Using their estimated traffic*CPC equation, we see that the estimated value of ranking #1 for “content marketing” and other keywords in the topic area is $228,000 per month.
Once we have the traffic cost number, we divide it by the keyword difficulty, 76%, to get the KOB score. In this case, our KOB score is 300,000.
Out of context, that score means nothing. We need to do more research, and build a topic database we can utilize to appropriately prioritize the content we create.
Suffice to say, though, this keyword is an extremely valuable one. However, its difficulty means it’s not something most companies (including our own) can get even close to ranking for in the short-run.
We need to ladder up to taking a shot at it, even with amazing content—because we won’t be able to sniff page one without more domain authority. We’ll get to that soon in our upcoming section on choosing the right topic.
Scaling Keyword Research
Now that you know how to identify and properly value a topic, it’s time to aggregate as many topics as possible that make sense for your given vertical.
The SEO world has always been focused on keywords, so the idea of doing topic research is a somewhat novel concept. However, it can easily be done, it just takes a few extra steps. Here are a few hacks we’ve learned to quickly build a list of top-and-mid-funnel topics.
SEMRush’s Page Analysis
SEMRush has a relatively new feature that allows you to quickly see the highest-trafficked pages for a given domain. It’s a bit buried, so can be easy to miss, but it’s a no-brainer shortcut to quickly unveil the topics with massive traffic. Unfortunately it doesn’t immediately give you traffic or traffic cost, but one extra step will solve that for you.
We like finding the big publishers in our clients’ verticals and then opening up this feature in SEMRush—it’s a quick way to uncover topics we think we can replicate—and improve—as a method of building valuable traffic.
Don’t limit it to publishers, though—you should actually do this for any competitor or business worth a salt in your space—it’ll open up a wealth of opportunity you might miss otherwise.
Keyword Planner’s Ad Group Ideas
Although initially intended for bidding purposes, Google’s ad group ideas nicely mimic topics, and can give you a decent snapshot of the true potential of a given group. Don’t rely on the average monthly searches, though—use the same process mentioned above to build on Google’s initial research to get a more accurate snapshot.
A Video Walkthrough of the Process
If video is more your thing, I’ve created a tutorial walkthrough showing you some of the basics of the keyword research process.
Building from There—Hard Work
In my experience, good keyword research, beyond the above quick hacks, basically comes down to hard work. Get creative, grab lots of different keyword variants, use phrase match to grab a massive list of relevant terms and crop from there, and etc.
That’s not to say there isn’t lots of more detailed, in-depth resources on the topic to help you build on your list. I can go on from there, but it’s slightly outside the scope of this post to do so. If a keyword research newbie, I recommend checking out some of the following articles, which go into more depth on the topic:
KOB Research Process Example
So, what does this process look like? What should your spreadsheet of research contain? To fast-track your learning, we’ve created a 100-topic research set for a hypothetical vertical—our own.
Click the below image and you’ll see a list of 100 topics, including traffic cost and traffic numbers, we built out for our own content marketing business. You can copy the spreadsheet and clear out the data to make it pertinent to your own business.
You might think I’m kinda crazy giving out that competitive research for free, but honestly, I don’t think it matters. Research is one thing, but past the research—as you’ll see in the 5,000+ other words in this guide, execution is everything.
With your research in hand, it’s time to start segmenting the content you need to create, and then prioritizing appropriately.
KOB is a great metric that helps nudge lower competition, high benefit terms higher on your list, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically pick the highest KOB topic. That would be “SEO” on ours, and with a difficulty of 86%, it’s not something we’ll be in a position to rank for even three years from now.
What you need to do from here is establish a baseline based on the authority of your domain, how good your content is going to be, and also, where in the funnel your content fits.
To give you an example, our domain authority is currently a mediocre 41 due to not putting a lot of emphasis on it in the past. For that reason, we want to (almost) automatically scratch off any keyword with a difficulty higher than 70%—we just can’t rank today. Even the 60% range as a starting point is gutsy, but it’s achievable if the content is good enough.
On the flipside, if your domain authority is in the 60s or 70s, your analysis isn’t about whether or not you can rank – you instead are trying to determine what keywords you can rank for without promotion, a nice luxury to have. In the 40s, you most likely don’t have that ability – every topic will require cold outreach in order to see the first page.
This baseline can vary on a few different variables, such as your topic authority. If you own Flowers.com and all your content and likes thus far have been about flowers, you can probably stretch for a higher difficulty term.
On the converse, if you’re a flower company trying to create more general lifestyle content, you might need to inflate the difficulty to make up for a lack of perceived authority.
Content Layering 101
Content layering is the most powerful part of this process, and one of the pieces of this strategy that many haven’t realized the power of.
If you can create content that generates links, ranks well, and layers directly on top of one of your landing pages, you’ll not only see the value of that additional traffic, there’s also a strong certainty you’ll push your more commercial landing page to #1 as well.
Confused? Let me show you an example.
Before buying a snowboard, you probably want to know what size makes sense for your frame. Therefore, you’d probably search for something like “snowboard sizing” or “snowboard sizing chart.” These two searches are right before the purchase—but not directly commercial.
As a snowboard provider, if you could get content in front of the end user in that position, there’s a stronger-than-normal chance they’d buy from you.
Evo does exactly that. They have a nicely done guide that ranks for pretty much every keyword in this set.
But the value here doesn’t just lie in the normal marketing purchase funnel stuff you’ve probably read a million times before. The power lies in the additional SEO benefits that come from layering a page like this on top of their core landing page.
Creating this page does the following things to help Evo rank for “snowboards”:
- When people then search “snowboards,” they are more likely to click Evo due to the brand awareness that was just generated. The CTR increase may lead to a later reranking based on perceived (and real) brand authority. You might not have a massive brand, but you can generate similar signals with layering.
- Generating links to this page (that links to the landing page) may increase topic authority/funnel relevancy to the landing page. Nothing groundbreaking, but there’s no doubt that increasing your authority through links, and more content around the subject, may impact the bottom-stage ranking as well.
- Enables them to get landing page links in the outreach process. Although this is something Evo didn’t actually do, it is possible to get landing page links in the outreach process due to the semantic closeness. We go more in-depth on this strategy on our post on how to get landing page links with blog content.
When these three things are combined—particularly part one, you can push many bottom-funnel landing pages higher. We’ve seen it happen—time and time again.
Imagine ranking for a snowboard sizing page that gets you 8,100 monthly searches, that then pushes you to one for terms that get you 38,000 – like in Evo’s case.
Imagine doing that for wakeboards as well, and seeing 1,900 searches from that mid-funnel set, which powers you to #1 for wakeboards and 13,200 more visits.
Imagine doing that for every product in your product line. One by one. Layer by layer.
That’s how you see 500,000 increases in web traffic.
In simpler terms, Evo, and many businesses like them, benefit from many mid-funnel terms that exist in their space. If you can create middle-funnel content that ranks #1, it’s a strong lock you can level up your bottom-funnel to #1 as well.
Content Layering Alternatives
Unfortunately, not every business has topics that so easily layer on top of sales pages. Top of funnel is further out, more abstract, and a little less likely to have the CTR effect layering does.
For example, in a business like ours, it’s unlikely any term we could rank for would have a significant CTR impact on any agency or services related term. Therefore, it’s less likely we can create content that will have the multiplier effect that Evo is lucky enough to have.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t still pursue top-of-funnel content. But unlike Evo, it’s integral that you find ways to massage people through the funnel – such as email marketing, or latching them onto social accounts.
This isn’t anything new—what’s interesting and integral, though, is the how you pick those top-funnel terms.
The topic selection decision tree looks something like this:
Distilled, this means that we generally are searching for topics we think have an outreach market, especially at the top of the funnel. Links are still super important, not just in getting those pages to rank, but also to help boost the domain authority as a whole.
Since not every topic is inherently linkable, there’s some finesse to selecting the right concept. I get into more depth in the above post on outreach markets, but also walk you through some topic selection analysis in the video below.
If we can generate links to something top-of-funnel, not only do we benefit in getting that page to rank, but we also boost the other bottom-funnel pages – creating a micro-effect comparable to what we saw Evo encounter above.
Therefore, if all else is equal in terms of time/effort/KOB, we want to select the content we can generate links to, as that’s the fastest path to the sharp incline Evo incurred – especially in overall revenue.
Of course, we are always thinking about cost/value/likelihood we can upgrade the best content in the vertical—it is almost always the case that the low competition content, although lower benefit, also doesn’t need the same content quality the high competition terms do, so we can sometimes capture more benefit at a faster velocity by hitting those terms earlier.
A Final Option: Keywordless Linkbait
If you don’t have much middle funnel, and you don’t have much top funnel, you might find yourself in the unfortunate bucket of folks that only have one area remaining – the bottom. For these people, searchless linkbait is what’s required to move the needle traffic wise.
By searchless linkbait, what I’m implying is that “linkbait” can be achieved – and should be aimed for, with topics that actually have search volume. I disdain keywordless linkbait. We still do it, but when we do, we’re almost always doing it with low cost, high reward pieces that are done with strong confidence in success.
The best, most powerful content in the world is keyword-driven linkbait. No, you probably can’t generate viral content from most search-driven pieces, but the value from those pieces will almost always be higher. And you can still generate 40-100 links for these, which will move the needle for your bottom funnel in the exact same way.
It is these keyword-driven linkbait pieces that will almost solely power massive traffic increases. Keywordless linkbait won’t do it. It has a place, and it has value for the right business, but it’s not what we put our heart behind.
The play by play on how to create linkbait is slightly beyond the scope of this article. I suggest the following pieces for more detail on linkbait best practices:
Hopefully you now have some comfort with researching and choosing topics that make sense for your business. Now comes the hard part—actually creating the content.
You see, not only do you have to create content around a topic, it’s also recommended that you create content that’s 10x better than the competition. Simply being two to three times better may not be enough to get yourself recognized.
You’d probably ignore a 1.25x better version of Facebook, right? You’d really need a 10x option to pull you away.
The same thought process applies to content, and also, appeasing the search engines. Don’t bet on your 1.25x piece winning the race—make it a no-brainer initiative that not even an imperfect search engine could mess up.
The following infographic summarizes all the best practice data that separates most 10x content from the 1x content. Combine it all, execute like hell, and you might even end up at #1.
Now that you’ve got your 10x content, it’s time to tell people about it. Without this piece of the process, it’s almost impossible to drive traffic to your website of any significant volume.
Outreach has a lot of depth and complexity—but to operate at 80% of operational efficiency—plenty if you’ve got amazing content, it comes down to finding the right targets, and sending the right emails… at a good speed.
These are all the tools you’ll need to get to that level:
- Link Prospector – Identify targets who may link to you using advanced search queries at scale, which are combined to create a prospect list.
- OpenSiteExplorer / Majestic / Ahrefs – Identify who is linking to other content like yours, and reach out to them.
- Link Miner – Identify broken links on other people’s pages. By telling them the links are broken, you’ll add value/give them a reason to correct the page and add your link.
- BuzzStream / Other CRM – Long term, you’ll want to collect information on your targets, develop relationships, and make sure bigger teams don’t reach out to the same prospects.
- TextExpander – Allows you to quickly paste outreach templates using text shortcuts for quicker efficiency.
- Voila Norbert – The most efficient method of finding emails on the market using only the prospect’s fire name, last name, and website address.
Once you’re all tooled out, you’ll need outreach templates. From there, you’ll really only need two templates to get started—one for cold suggestions and one for broken link building.
For any sites without an existing page your content fits into, the cold outreach template is best.
Cold Outreach Template
SUBJECT: ASSET FOR WEBSITENAME: DESCRIPTION
BODY: Hey NAME,
Thought you might might like this ASSET for WEBSITENAME BECAUSEREASON.
You can see it here: HTTP://WWW.URL.COM/ASSET
If you like it, would definitely appreciate if you considered sharing it. Cheers!
For companies with existing, evergreen link pages, you’ll want to use the broken link building template. It is not suggested you use this on old blog posts, only pages webmasters will still update.
Broken Link Building Template
SUBJECT: Broken links and suggestion for WEBSITENAME
BODY: Hey NAME,
I was checking out your PAGENAME page and noticed a few broken links, specifically LINK1 and LINK2. Thought you’d like to know! COMMENT ON PAGE
I also wanted to suggest a resource I think you might like. It’s ASSET DESCRIPTION.
You can see it here: HTTP://WWW.URL.COM/ASSET
If you like it, would definitely appreciate if you considered it for your page. Cheers!
If you’re new to outreach and the above recommendations don’t ring a bell, I’ve also recorded a video walking you through how to write pitch emails, email finding, and the tools as well.
I’ve been doing link outreach for seven years. I think I’ve seen a lot.
I don’t do outreach as much anymore, but I still do on occasion just to stay in touch, and get a feel for how things are changing. Just recently I got my hands dirty, did some outreach, and thought of something new.
That’s why I was so excited by a new strategy that increased our output by 21%… almost overnight.
If you’ve ever needed to generate links to your content, you know the power of link roundups. Links of the week, “the best links of the day/month/etc,” are very powerful methods of getting links… because they’re so low friction for publishers.
There are a few tools that exist that allow you to find these posts. Link Prospector (a tool that uses several Google queries to uncover the most and creative Google queries) and the free-version, Google, are amongst the most powerful.
One of their weaknesses, though, is that you still can’t be certain they will identify all of them. Some of these link roundup posts, unfortunately, have some really weird names. For example, “Friday Finds,” “What I’m Reading,” and “Positively Present Picks.”
What? How can we possibly identify names like these at scale?
The answer comes from leaning on the high authority publishers in your space. If you can find publishers who put out really high quality content with frequency, but not too much frequency (5x a week is the perfect amount), and have a strong domain authority (normally 70-90) you’ll have a goldmine of roundups at your fingertips.
To find these, I suggest putting the domain into BuzzSumo, and then sorting shares by the past month. You’ll get the most popular content, which definitely will correlate with the highest likelihood of being included in a link roundup.
A good example of this is Moz, the blog of note in the SEO space. If I dump Moz into BuzzSumo, I’ll see Rand’s predictions for 2016 is the most shared post of the past month.
From there, you’ll want to get a glimpse of the most recent links to that post. Recent links are the most likely to be low friction roundups.
Take the URL found from your authority publisher and put it into your link tool of choice – my preference being Moz’s same tool, Just Discovered, because it’s most likely to get us links in the quickest fashion. Look at the links to that post, and that post only.
For these high authority sites, you’d get a lot of noise otherwise—so looking at recent posts, and recent posts only, is what’s most likely to give you good results.
If we do this for Rand’s post, we see the fruits of our labor—posts we would have likely never found otherwise.
… and more.
Imagine having a really good SEO post you recently published that doesn’t have quite the visibility Moz has. You can use this process for Moz, and other blogs like it, to uncover lots of these link roundups you never could have found otherwise.
You won’t just get four links to reach out to… you’ll likely have ten plus new ones… all of which will likely have a ~50% conversion rate, assuming your links are actually good enough to be included.
Do this for your search-driven content—especially the content likely to do worse from a links perspective—to create a well-rounded strategy that pushes most of your content above the fold on the first page of Google.
One issue with this process—and the numbers, is sustainability. There’s no lock that your rankings will hold. Your content could get outdated. Your rankings could fluctuate.
That’s true, but it’s possible to avoid it. This comes from content maintenance, an often overlooked, and also stupidly easy, part of the content marketing mix.
Publishing a blog post does not mean you are banned from ever updating it again.
In 2013, there was a trend of fake-updating your post timestamps to create an artificial sense of freshness that would benefit you in the search results. Google got called out for this.
It seems like its been toned down slightly, but the effect is still there. People click more recent posts, more often. As they should. This in turn enables more recent posts to benefit from engagement, hypothetically helping them rank higher. Turnover-heavy SERPs are littered with fresh posts.
The wheel turns.
However, this doesn’t mean there’s a dichotomy between manipulation and really old posts. You can update your timestamp, tell users they didn’t come out yesterday, and not be a complete liar.
Enter this example from Brian Dean. Brian keeps a lot of his posts updated, but he doesn’t fake that the posts came out last week. He includes “Last Updated,” which goes a long way towards communicating that the more-outdated parts of this post have been changed, and you can trust the rest.
This way, if you see a post published last week and it mentions something from 2014, you won’t be jarred. You won’t auto-bounce-back to Google and never trust that site again. You’ll see the difference, and not hate Brian—as long as he actually updates his content.
We’ve adopted this. On our small site, we increased website traffic by 79%. On Anthony Nelson’s test of a much larger one, he saw a 66% web traffic lift.
It’s a simple solution. You can do the same thing on your WordPress site by replacing a single code snippet in your theme’s template. If you’re comfortable modifying code, then this tutorial from wphacks.com is easy to follow.
Track your topics, update your content at a pace that makes sense for the idea, and you’ll see great growth over time. Maybe even 250,000+ monthly growth. Sustainably.
This is not easy. It was easy writing the title of this post. It was much, much harder grinding out the process over three years. But I’m glad I could finally write a post with a title that made it seem easy.
But that’s not to say it doesn’t work. Hell yes it works. But it’s tough. It’s a grind. And it’s a process of dedication and execution. You need talented people in many locations, as well as strategic oversight to glue it all together.
And do it again. And again. And again.
As should be no surprise, that’s what this kind of growth requires. But it’s possible. In my opinion, the strategy itself is not that complicated. It’s the execution—and the repetition of that execution—that will allow you to achieve the results.
If this all felt overwhelming, I created a presentation version of this post, which you can see below. I originally presented it at INBOUND in November 2016, and it contains some updated takes on this post.