This is a guest post by David Vallance.
We launched a brand new website for our newly rebranded agency Digital Impact on Tuesday 7th July 2015. The next day our traffic had grown to 200 unique visitors. By the next week our traffic had tripled to 600.
Come the weekend, we were receiving between 1,800 and 2,400 visitors per day. Oh, and we did it with absolutely zero adspend.
It felt fantastic to see all that blue on Google Analytics. All those people flocking to a brand new website, signing up for our newsletter and engaging with our content. When I wasn’t trying to keep up with all the comments, I was skipping round the office with a stupid grin on my face.
So how did we do it? How did we turn a barren blog into a hotbed of traffic and activity?
In this case study I’ll show you a little of what we did and explain why it drove huge volumes of traffic to our site. And if you replicate what we did, there’s no reason why you can’t achieve similar success.
Content is King
All the content marketing and SEO blogs out there will tell you the same thing: Content is King. Funnily enough, everyone keeps saying it because it’s true. If you write good content and show it to the right people, you will do well on the web.
It’s as simple as that.
Unfortunately, people tend to get lazy, cut corners and then get frustrated when their traffic barely gets out of the double figures.
I don’t subscribe to that mentality though. When it comes to content strategy I’m more energetic than an Energiser Bunny on overdrive. We based our strategy on the production of genuinely valuable content and carefully considered outreach.
Here’s how it works.
Step 1: Find a Problem
We decided early on that we wanted to gear our blog towards providing practical advice to professionals and SMEs. You have a problem and we have the answer so come read our lovely content.
How we arrived at this particular problem requires a little story telling so bare with me. A while ago, we took on new business as an SEO client – let’s call them Blueridge Cupcakes.
Blueridge had worked with a different agency on their SEO for the past couple of years. This agency was content-forward and focused on creating long-term traffic sources through a highly targeted content strategy. The work they produced was good. However, for whatever reason, Blueridge decided they wanted a change and opted not to renew their contract when it expired earlier this year.
We pitched our services and won the contract.
When they came onboard the first thing we did was audit all previous work done on their site. We were pleasantly surprised. The content was good quality, everything looked unique and they had an engaged group of readers who would regularly comment and share. Everything looked shipshape so get moved on to planning our own work.
Fast forward two weeks and our main point of contact at Blueridge forwards us an email. The email’s from Getty.
Anyone who’s worked in content marketing knows what an email from Getty means: someone’s used an image they weren’t supposed to. And sure enough, a blog posted nine months ago had used an image came from Getty’s Rights Managed section. Yep, the most expensive bit of an already pricey website.
It was just one image and not even a particularly good image at that. A fairly unspectacular sunset someone had presumably found on Google Images and thought would fit perfectly in their blog.
In case you haven’t heard about Getty’s practices, here’s a summary. Getty uses an Internet crawler to trawl websites for images in its collection. If it finds one, it checks to see whether you have a license for it. If you don’t, it pings you an automatic email encouraging you to pay for its usage. We were charged a couple hundred of pounds but others have reported bills in the thousands.
Since we were currently in charge of the SEO campaign, we opted to pony up the cash for the image. Then we swifty instructed Getty to getty on out of here.
And that got us thinking. We don’t think people use copyrighted images because they’re cold and heartless and hate photographers. We think they use copyrighted images because they’re there. You type in your search, hit images and pick the shots which look best. It’s convenience above all else. When we asked a handful of designers where they look for free stock photography, they gave us some blank looks.
And just like that we had a problem to fix.
Step 2: Research
With a solid problem, all we needed was a solution.
I somehow persuaded our Digital Marketing Manager to give me two full days dedicated to searching for the very best sources of free stock photography. So off I went in search of the best of the best. The creme de la creme. The Navy Seals of the photography world.
I pored over other blogger’s lists, ran reverse image searches and trawled hundreds of pages of search results.
Every site I came across was measured against three criteria: quality, breadth and freshness.
Quality is probably fairly self explanatory. Are the images sharp? Are they large enough to use in designs? Are the shots composed well? Any site that couldn’t answer these questions went straight in the bin.
Breadth measured the size and variety of each website’s collection. Some sites had a clear speciality so they got in so long as they had a couple hundred shots in the bank.
Freeness was a bit trickier. First of all, I checked what license the site owner used to release their images. Since this blog was going to be geared towards professionals, I filtered out all the licenses that prohibited commercial use. I did allow sites that released images under attribution licenses, but these were flagged up in the article.
Finally, before I added any sites to the list, I ran a reverse image search on Google for a random selection of shots from the website. If I found them for sale elsewhere, I struck the website off the list. We didn’t want anyone getting sued off the back of our blog.
Step 3: Write the Post
With the list compiled it was just a matter of getting everything written down and looking good. I selected an image from every site and included it to give readers an idea of each site’s particular style.
Additionally, I tried to inject some personality into each snippet to reflected the personality of the site. This kept the feel fresh throughout and gave readers an instant feel for the mood of each site.
Step 4: Community Outreach
And just like that we had a blog. Time for the good stuff. How did we get so many eyes on our article?
All our content promotion is founded on community outreach.
We have a huge list of outreach opportunities, covering every niche under the sun. We really only wanted the ones frequented by our ideal readers so I picked through the lists looking for places geared towards designers, developers and artists. If there was someone in need of images, we wanted to reach them.
So I worked through the list, introducing myself, sharing our content and providing a little background to the article. We generated a huge amount buzz around the blog and saw it spreading to new groups before we had a chance to post it there.
As well as driving traffic, a number of these communities offer nice backlink opportunities. For example, top level posts on Reddit provide dofollow links so every community you share your content with gives you another valuable link.
Here’s a snapshot of our acquisition via social sources from a couple of the busier days.
Reddit and LinkedIn provided the lion’s share of traffic during the earlier days of our promotion but they were replaced by a more varied spread of sources as time rolled on.
I really like starting with content curation platforms because they always reward genuinely valuable content. If you post something useful, the community will promote it to the top and you’ll get the attention you deserve.
Step 5: Influencer Outreach
With our list of communities exhausted, it was time to call in the favors. I fired up our CRM and cherry picked influencers involved in either design or content.
I fired them all our a personalised email and waited to hear back. From the influencers I contacted, I received a reply rate of about 30 percent and the majority of them promoted our article through their social media. A handful promoted the article through their own blog which gifted us around five more high quality links.
One even commissioned their own cut-down version of our article which I happily provided.
Finally I emailed all the websites we featured in the article, thanking them for their good work and asking them to help promote the article. Every single one promoted the post on social media. Three even added a link to the article on their website under Featured On sections.
Step 6: Keep Promoting
If there’s one secret I can share for content marketing, it’s this: the promotion of your content never ends. While the biggest push should come in the days immediately after your publish your content, you should continue promoting your content to entice new readers.
Some techniques we use for ongoing promotion include:
- Email marketing
- Posting to news aggregators – Hubski, 3Tags, Aktwall, etc
- Monitoring social media for outreach opportunities
- Posting your link in the comments of related articles
- Updating your article and re-releasing
With this particular blog there was another extra opportunity for continued promotion opportunities. As soon as the site went up our comments section was flooded with other photographers asking whether we could include their sites.
Of course we could but now that we had a blog post receiving tens of thousands of visitors the value proposition had changed somewhat. Before we had a barren site and no readers. Now we had a vibrant site and a subscriber list full of readers. Of course we could add them but we would need something in return. Links.
Every new addition was required to link back to our site from theirs, gifting us around ten high quality links from rapidly growing sites in just a couple of weeks. Not bad for a couple minutes work.
Why You Can Do It, Too
And that’s how we did it. That’s how we attracted 6,618 visitors to a site which was a barren wasteland a couple days before. When we published our stock photography article, our blog was one day old. We had no social following and no connections tied to the new brand. However, what we did have was a good idea and a sense of determination. And that’s all you need.
If you work smart and follow our lead, you can easily replicate our success in your blog.
David is the senior copywriter at Digital Impact. He works with clients to define their brand voice, craft compelling content and tighten up their on-site copy.