- Less than £3000 monthly SEO budget which needed to include a link acquisition budget…
- Zero informational/supporting content. A pure product page website…
- Technically a shambles…
- Fiverr gig mass link building causing a traffic ceiling…
- From 23 to 96 average daily clicks
- Daily impressions increased from 1500 to 6750
- Organic traffic trebled from 1,000 average visitors to 3,000 daily
- Quadrupled organic sales revenue
- Increase from 38 t0 138 monthly organic transactions
- Client was already making a satisfying income selling his products on Ebay & Amazon.
- We needed to prove to him we could make those sales organically & save him money on fees with Amazon/Ebay.
- In the UK & US, the ‘automotive’ niche is highly contested & controlled by large brands with large budgets.
- We started by looking into the site’s overall health & decided on what we needed to improve to see results.
- We created a detailed content plan with the aim to build relevance.
- We developed a link building strategy that would help gain power & authority to the site.
Different countries have different algorithms controlling the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS). This can make improving an online presence & organic rankings more difficult as you need to feed the algorithm different signals.
This case study is designed to share with you how we managed to not only help this business survive through COVID, but also how we helped the business grow & thrive in a time where many were struggling.
We tripled the organic traffic to the site & saw organic sales increase by 4.5x in comparison to 2019.
Taking the time to read this should help you understand the types of tactics you need to be employing to have success.
Lets get stuck in!
The Case Study Site
As mentioned, the website is in the automotive niche, specifically the ‘aftermarket performance parts’ niche. The target audience is people who are looking to upgrade or tune certain aspects of their car or truck, and those who are looking to replace old parts or looking to build/repair a vehicle.
The market is vast, and the opportunity to grow & become a market leader is huge.
Over the course of this campaign we knew there would be certain things we needed to address early on & some that could come into play later.
We haven’t reinvented the wheel here. We have used well known SEO techniques to get these improvements. The major points we worked on (and what we are going to talk about today) are:
- Site health
- This includes performing a full manual audit & deciding which factors we needed to be addressed first.
- Content Plan
- This involved detailed keyword research to determine where we could make the most impact.
- Link Building
- This is always needed on any site, in this instance, it was probably the aspect we needed to work on the most.
In order to allow us to make improvements in the above 3 areas, we need to conduct thorough Competitor & Keyword research/analysis. If you perform this step correctly it will help you when optimising the site (site health), when creating content (content creation) & when deciding on the correct anchor text to use (link building).
This might be obvious to some of you but you would be surprised at how many people don’t look after (or even think about) the basics! It doesn’t matter what content you add to your site or what links you might build, if your foundations are not solid then you won’t be able to build a fortress…
With every site being unique, auditing HAS to be a manual process. Go ahead and use a tool like semrush if you wish, but these tools won’t tell you anything more than the basics.
Auditing can be time intensive, but it is always worth it. you must have heard the saying:
Some Issues Found Included:
- Site Structure – the site was initially a mess with no hierarchy.
- The client had built the site themselves & had just been adding in random pages when/if needed.
- Internal Linking
- We had product pages linking out to category pages that were unrelated. (not ideal as not relevant & taking customers away from the purchase)
- It was very difficult to locate any brand pages without getting lost down a rabbit hole!
- On-site Optimisation
- The site was poorly optimised. This ranges from the page title, all the way down to alt text on an image.
- We will come back to this in the ‘Content Creation’ section
- The site was poorly optimised. This ranges from the page title, all the way down to alt text on an image.
- Link Disavow
- At the time disavowing links was important, but not so much now. (If you think your site is suffering from poor links, go and refocus on E-E-A-T first).
- Anchor Text Optimisation – Internal links & incoming Backlinks
- Internal links were less of an issue (due to there not being many to start with!)
- The backlinks coming into the site seemingly had random anchor text and could definitely be improved (or worked on in future)
- We will discuss in more detail later in the ‘Link Building’ section.
- Page/Site Speed Optimisation
- THIS IS MAJOR!!! Never underestimate how important it is to have a website that loads up fast! 1 in 4 visitors will leave a website that takes more than 4 seconds to load!
- Event Tracking
- This is often overlooked by many site owners, it should be one of the first things you set up though. Being able to track (accurately) how many people have visited your site & made a purchase (or bounced off) is paramount in making improvements to your site’s UX performance.
- Competitor Research – this actually links to all the above points
- This is something you have to pay very close attention to, no matter what market/niche you are working in. We could tell that our client had not been keeping up to date with his competitors due to the issues we found/the elements his site was lacking.
So, now we had an idea of what we were working with, it was time to take action & get to work to get the needle moving.
Initially, there are 2 main things we like to do before starting any ‘on-site’ optimisation work:
- Competitor research
- Keyword research
Comprehensively researching these two areas before you begin will feed your success in the future.
Just a side note before we get stuck into this next section – the reason why competitor research is so important is because Google, and other Search Engines, show you what’s needed, and working, in your SERP’s.
To start with we analysed each ranking site in the SERP’s we wanted to rank in to build a solid foundation of knowledge around the industry/niche. This was needed to gain an understanding of how the competition structured their sites, how well optimised they were, the topical content clusters that were being targeted, and what kind of link building strategies they had been implementing.
The main aim for this competitor research was to walk away with a clear plan of what was working and what wasn’t, and what sort of content and link velocity we needed to be competitive.
Now that we had all of this information, it was time for keyword research. As mentioned above, this is vital to get right at the start. While you can monitor & potentially tweak (or add to) your keyword targets over the course of the campaign, if you can get it right the first time it really helps speed things up!
Again, there are 3 main ways we would start this off, manually or using Ahrefs & SEMRush. Using Ahrefs & SEMRush you can input your competitors into their tools and see what keywords they are ranking for organically.
This shows us the main keywords that are bringing in the most traffic, not only this but it shows the pages that are ranking for these terms. Looking at the keywords currently ranking for the competition sites helps us in multiple ways. We can take the main keywords & move onto the next step… but before that, we can also look for ‘low hanging fruit’.
Low Hanging Fruit
What do we mean by that, let me explain quickly. ‘Low hanging fruit’ are keywords that have a decent amount of search volume but are also relatively low difficulty to rank for. For example, a competitor (or your own site) may be ranking in 17th or even on page 3 at 29th etc for a keyword that has hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of monthly searches.
Once we plugged our site into Ahrefs we can see that currently we rank for multiple terms on page 2 of Google’s SERPs:
You can see that all of these terms are just outside page 1, with some further planning & some changes to the content we should be able to get these terms to continue to move up to page 1 of Google, therefore increasing our impressions & CTR.
We then just need to decide how we could incorporate these keywords into our strategy, maybe we could add more information around that keyword on an already existing page (or page we are planning on ranking for other terms) or we could create a brand new page solely for the purpose of ranking organically for this keyword if there is enough search volume & the right intent behind the words.
Once we have a list to start with, we can use the ‘keyword explorer’ tool on Ahrefs & start to look into these keywords in detail.
On the above image you can see a number of important areas:
- The keyword difficulty (how hard this KW will be to rank when looking at how many backlinks are needed)
- The total volume of organic search this KW has in the location selected (USE in this instance)
- Other keywords that use the same terminology as the main KW we are targeting
- Questions based around the same terminology as the main KW we are targeting
- Other keywords that this term could rank for (related terms but not including the whole KW)
All of these aspects help us plan our strategy moving forwards. We can include some of the ‘same terms’ or ‘also rank for’ terms directly to our main landing page or we could create a supporting page which answers all the main questions around this topic.
Doing this should allow you to move some of these terms from the top of page 2 to the bottom of page 1 which will show great improvements to your visibility & organic traffic.
So now we know a few very important things regarding the keywords we are going to target:
- The high volume terms we currently rank on page 1 for & get decent organic traffic from
- The ‘low hanging fruit’ that we discovered & we want to push onto page 1
- Terms our competitors rank for but we do not
From there we just followed some basic SEO techniques regarding ‘on-site SEO’ to help build up relevancy for the site surrounding the whole niche.
Some of the things we looked into changing/amending were: (to name just a few)
- Added our keywords to page titles & headers throughout the site
- Increased the density of keywords around the site (this was done using the help of Surfer SEO
- Alongside adding new, highly relevant content that included new keywords found in our research
- Updated alt text around the site
- Updated all the internal anchor text to help build relevancy to the right pages
- We also now had a plan on how to optimise our backlink anchor text which we will discuss a little bit later on…
After conducting this initial research & making these initial changes we were ready to take the next step, creating some new, engaging, highly relevant content to increase the organic traffic to our clients site…
We knew when we started working with this client that we would need to create some brand new content to help build up relevancy & help drive organic traffic to our site. The most important thing to think about when creating content is the ‘intent’ of the end user, is the user looking for information about your product or service, are they looking for reviews or are they ready to buy from you??
This is something every business should think about when producing any content to promote their products & services, you have likely heard of the buying cycle methodology ‘AIDA’, this is something you should think about when creating any content. Sometimes you will be able to create content that panders to more then 1 of the levels but the majority of the time you will focus a piece of content on 1 of the below:
To start with we had to build relevance & awareness for our client, so the first content we produced were blog posts at the top level. By this I mean we created content that covered a whole topic (exhausts, engine tuners etc) but did not dig into deep detail, we were trying to create ‘awareness’ around what products we sold & why you might want/need them.
Following on from these initial posts we created some more, in-depth content which covered the main benefits of our products. These alongside content that detailed how you would actually install, use & maintain these products appealed to the visitors who were more ‘interested’ in our services.
Finally, the last batch of content we created was ‘review based’ to fulfill the ‘desire’ of the customer. To explain in more detail, we created content that reviewed our similar products & provided reasons why you might select certain products over others. This final level of content was created in attempts to get the customer to actually purchase a product from our clients site.
So, now we know why we create certain content at certain times, how did we go about actually deciding on what content we should put out there in the end? There are several methods you could use to point you in the right direction, for us, it was to use the ‘Long Tail Keyword’ strategy… let’s look into this in more detail:
The Long Tail Keyword Strategy
We decided to use this strategy as it would work perfectly for our purposes & it also gives us a chance to compete with the ‘big players’ in this niche. As mentioned at the start of this case study, the aftermarket automotive industry is very competitive & dominated by a selection of massive companies spread not only over the US but worldwide! If you want the best product for your car or truck then you will be happy to get it delivered from anywhere around the world!
Let’s explain what long tail keywords actually are:
- Long tail keywords are ‘keywords’ or a phrase containing keywords made up of at least 4 or more words
- As they are more direct & specific they normally convert at a much higher rate
- This is due to the higher intent when searching in more detail
- They make up 70%+ of search queries online
- Generally there is less competition as the search volume is lower
- Meaning a lot of marketers will ignore them or not even think of them in the first place
Now we have explained what long tails are, let’s look into how we used them to help us 4.5x our organic traffic to our clients site. If we take a few examples & break them down you will be able to see how this method can work for you as well.
If you look at some high search volume keywords in this industry:
- Exhaust system
- Engine tuner
- Cold air intake
All of these keywords have a massive search volume behind them but (and this is the thing to remember) there is no real intent behind these searches. The end user could have an issue with their exhaust, they may have just been told that they could use an engine tuner or maybe they are just looking into cars as a hobby or side interest. Due to this being the case, the vast majority of people who land on our site due to ranking well for these terms will likely not convert & spend any money. This alongside the fact it would be extremely hard to rank for these terms means it is likely not worth our time & effort targeting these terms.
Now, if we look at these terms in a little more detail we can dig down, find a long tail keyword that has a lot more intent behind it. Let’s take a look at each keyword & list some more refined searches that show more intent from the end user:
- Exhaust system
- Can an exhaust system add horsepower?
- How do you install an exhaust system?
- Which is the best exhaust system? (exhaust system for ‘x’ car/truck’)
- Engine tuner
- What is engine tuning?
- Do engine tuners really work?
- What engine tuner do I need for my truck?
- Cold air intake
- What is a cold air intake?
- How does a cold air intake work?
- Best cold air intakes
As you can see, we now have a list of long tail keywords that have less search but will convert at a higher rate or be of more interest to the end users. Let’s compare these to the ‘AIDA’ theory we discussed earlier:
- Exhaust system – Awareness
- Can an exhaust system add horsepower? – Interest
- How do you install an exhaust system? – Desire
- Which is the best exhaust system? (exhaust system for ‘x’ car/truck’) – Action
As you can see, each different level delivers to a different layer in the buying cycle. The first article would be created to give an overall understanding of exhaust systems, what are they, how do they work, can they add HP to your car etc. This will cover the first 2 levels (awareness & interest).
The next article (desire) will discuss how you can install a new exhaust system & run through any problems you might encounter during this process.
Finally, the last article will discuss the best exhaust systems to use in your car or truck. (action)
So, you can see now how this strategy can work. While starting with lower search volumes, you have a higher chance of moving these end users down the funnel & eventually converting. As you can see below, while this strategy increased our organic traffic by a crazy 4.5x, it also had a massive effect on the conversions & overall revenue produced over 2020 compared to 2019:
Now we have run through how we create our content strategy, let’s talk about (possibly) the most important part of this whole campaign… Link Building!
Everyone has their own thoughts about how useful links are today. If you were to ask every digital marketer for their thoughts I’m sure you would get half that said links were still the most important aspect of a campaign, half would say that links are not needed & another half… (yes, that’s how convoluted link building can be!) that are not too sure what they think!
We just want to let you know that we sit in that first camp, while there are multiple puzzle pieces to every digital marketing campaign to ensure you see positive results, its link building that gives you that extra push towards your goal.
If you do not create an effective link building strategy then your campaign will fail, that’s why it is so important to ensure you take time to complete thorough competitor analysis to help you plan out your strategy. A few of the more important metrics you need to uncover are:
- How many links do you need to build in total? (ball park)
- How often should you build links?
- What anchor text you should be using?
- How powerful the referring domains need to be.
Let’s take a quick look at each of the above points & detail what you should know, then we can take a more in-depth look at the actual strategy we used to build the links.
How many links do you need to build in total?
You will never get an exact number for this (if anyone gives you one they are only guesstimating) but by using certain tools you will be able to get a rough idea. As mentioned earlier, we like to use Ahrefs & Semrush for the most part.
– this is how Ahrefs displays the amount of links a site has.
Using these tools we can gauge roughly how many backlinks (also how many referring domains) your competition has. You can look into this either on a domain level or in more detail by looking specifically at certain pages.
For example, if your target was to rank no.1 for the term ‘can an exhaust system add horsepower?’ you would want to look at the specific pages ranking in the top 10 & compare these pages directly to your intended target page rather than just trying to out-perform the domain as a whole. (sometimes you may not be able to outrank a very powerful domain but you can outrank them for the longtail KW’s we mentioned above).
Once you have gathered data from your competition then you have a target to aim for… which leads us to:
How often should you build links?
Now you know what your target is you need to decide how quickly you are going to get there. Some of you reading this will just be thinking ‘as fast as possible!’ but unfortunately that is not always the best method.
Let’s say you are just starting out & have no backlinks at all, you find out that your competition has (as a mean value) over 100 backlinks pointing towards them. This is now our target but if all of the sites in your competitive niche are building an average of 5 links a month then you should not go & build all of them at once. You would look to replicate the velocity of your competition, while at the same time, trying to close the gap between you & the leading sites.
In this instance, if our competition is building 5 links a month then we would look to build 5-10 links a month. We are keeping up with the competition but closing the gap without flagging up any signals to Google. This was mentioned near the start of this article, if we were to create 10-20 links a week then this would get flagged up as an anomaly & chances are, you would be on your way towards a penalty.
You can see above how many new backlinks this site has acquired in the last 60 days.
What anchor text you should be using?
This is another area where you could see yourself getting a penalty if you are not careful, anchor text optimisation is vital to a successful campaign but if done wrong you may see disastrous results!
As any good SEO knows, you DO NOT want to link back to your site by overusing certain anchors. You will need to find a happy medium (competitor research) and aim for that. Again, as with the link velocity, you want to aim for similar numbers but feel free to push it a little further!
There are 3 main types of anchor text that we focused on for this campaign:
- Brand name – this achor matches the clients brand name exactly.
- Exact Match – this is where you use the specified keyword you are targeting but ONLY this word/phrase. E.g. ‘bully dog BDX Tuner’
- Phrase match – this is where you include the keyword in a longer phrase, either a variation or expanded version of the keyword. E.g. ‘how much HP can a bully dog tuner provide?’
If you were to use all the same anchors then it will be viewed as over-optimisation and it could harm your campaign rather than hurt it. If you have some variety in your anchors then it shows you know what you are talking about & it also gives you more opportunities to rank a larger variety or terms. For example, you could have the anchors of:
- SEO Agency
- Search Engine Optimization Agency
These are both based around the same subject but mean you gain authority for both rather then just 1.
How powerful the referring domains need to be.
This goes hand in hand with the first 2 points, while investigating your competition you will be able to see how powerful their site is & more importantly, where they are getting their power from.
You have multiple options then, you can go after similarly powerful websites, you can attempt to get a link added to the same sites or you could even try to ‘steal’ their links. Now we don’t want this to sound dodgy, you are not going out looking to actually steal anything but if you find an article or infographic that is relevant to your client but you can make a better version… it only makes sense to contact the original sites to see if they want your ‘updated & improved’ content to replace their current content. (this is known as the skyscraper technique, we will discuss this further & in more detail in a separate article)
Tiered Link Building
One method that worked really well for us on this campaign was to create & implement a tiered link building strategy. This is a great method to help power up your site that isn’t quite as simple as standard link building so it often gets overlooked.
The methodology is to build a link pointing to your site (we will call this the ‘tier 1 link’) & then build further links to your ‘tier 1 link’ (these are in tier 2). Technically you can continue to do this multiple times but through extensive testing we have found that you gain the best results off a 2 tier system. (the time involved vs the gain in power diminishes after tier 2)
From the above diagram you can see how this method works, by building further links to your ‘tier 1 link’ you are also ‘powering up’ this page… which in turn, provides more power to your main page located on your website.
To break it down:
- Create/choose a page on your site you want to rank. (obviously fill it with relevant content including images/videos etc).
- Build a link to your main page from a third-party site.
- Build further links to your initial link.
- Harness all the power that has flowed through to your site!
Tier 2 links can be like any other link you would build for a tier 1 link but primarily guest posts are a great way to build tier 2 links. You would create a guest post, add a link to your ‘tier 1 link’ and then when the article is live, share it on your social media accounts to help engagement levels.
The only thing stopping this website from performing well in search engines has been the lack of work completed on the product pages in question but that has been recitief accordingly. I cant be held accountable for this if thats how this is going to move forward I am not ready for this
The only thing to take note of with this method is if you are not the sole outbound link on your ‘tier 1 link’ you will not want to adopt this method… which each tier 2 link you point towards that tier 1 link you are powering up ALL OUTBOUND links on that page.
An example of this is if you had a link on a shared resources page on a site, you would not want to power up all the other sites that page links too!
This campaign was very exciting, and the client is now a good friend.
I hope you’ve enjoyed taking the time to read it!