White Hat SEO Case Study: How To Get a #1 Ranking

white hat seo case study imageToday you’re going to learn how Emil rocketed his site to the #1 spot in Google.

(You’ll also see how he turned this #1 ranking into $100k in monthly recurring revenue)

But wait, there’s more 🙂

I’ll ALSO show you how Richard boosted his organic traffic by 348%…in 7 days.

And in this post I’ll walk you through the exact white hat SEO strategy that they used, step-by-step.

Free PDF Checklist: Download a free checklist that will show you exactly how to execute the strategy from this post. Here’s a link where you can download the PDF

How Emil Used The Skyscraper Technique to Generate 41,992 Pageviews, a #1 Ranking and $100k In Monthly Recurring Revenue

Emil’s Skyscraper content went live in April.

But he didn’t eat Doritos on his couch and hope that his post hit the first page.

Instead, he promoted his post using email outreach (more on that later).

And that email outreach directly led to…

41,992 pageviews:

google analytics pageviews

645 social shares:

social share count

(Including Tweets from peeps with thousands of followers):
influencer tweetAnd most important of all, fistfuls of high-quality backlinks:

contextual backlink link in a blog post

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg…

“Shares and Pageviews are nice and all…but what about the long-term ROI?”

Even though Emil’s post came out over 7 months ago, his post continues to generate traffic, leads and sales.

How?

Gool ol’ fashioned white hat SEO.

His newly minted backlinks skyrocketed his site to the #1 spot for his target keyword, “wellness program ideas”.

number one ranking

That #1 ranking (and traffic from social media) brings in 10,000+ Pageviews per month…like clockwork:

monthly pageviews

And because Emil’s post attracts high-quality organic traffic, a good chunk of his visitors convert into leads:

email subscribers

But most important of all, this guide helped boost Emil’s homepage traffic by 59%.

pageview increase

Here’s why this is so important:

Because Emil’s homepage converts so well, this traffic boost drives over $100k in monthly recurring revenue.

revenue graph

How Emil Turned a “Blah Blog” Into an Online Sales Machine

OK so who is this Emil guy?

Emil Shour runs content marketing and SEO at SnackNation, a healthy snack delivery service.

emil shour

On Emil’s first day his boss sat him down and said: “get us some backlinks”.

Now:

At this point, Snack Nation’s SEO strategy was scattershot.

They were publishing generic posts like, “3 ways to do X”and “5 tips for Y”.

Here’s an example:

older blog post

These posts didn’t move the needle…despite the fact that they referenced Office Space 🙂

(I LOVE that movie)

In fact, most of their posts generated only a handful of shares:

total social shares

In Emil’s own words:

“When we first started out, the blog had a couple of okay posts. We weren’t going after keywords that were outside of our really tiny niche. There’s only so many things people are looking for in terms of office snack delivery.

Emil Shour

Emil quickly realized that his “get us some backlinks” mandate wasn’t going to work if they kept pumping out content like this.

Like most people do in a tight spot, Emil started Googling…

How a Random Encounter Changed Everything…

Emil’s search led him to a blog post at Backlinko, “Content Strategy Case Study: 36,282 Readers + 1,000 Email Subscribers“.

older case study

In that post I wrote about Jimmy Daly…

…and how he used The Skyscraper Technique to generate 4,865 Pageviews in a week:

first week pageviews

When Emil saw this post, a light bulb went off:

“I read that post maybe ten times because I was just amazed. I was like ‘holy crap. I have to do this.’ And I just modeled it completely after that.

Emil Shour

I already showed you the impressive results that Emil achieved thanks to The Skyscraper Technique.

Now it’s time to show you exactly how he did it.

Step #0: Find an Awesome Keyword

Emil kicked things off with keyword research.

It didn’t take Emil long to figure out that VERY few people searched for healthy office snacks.

For example, a keyword like “healthy office snack ideas” gets only 20 searches per month.

keyword search volume

But here’s the interesting part:

Emil realized that people interested in healthy office snacks are ALSO interested in the broad topic: “employee wellness”.

So he popped “employee wellness” into the Google Keyword Planner

GKP search

…and voila! — he found this gem of a keyword:

google keyword planner keyword

Now:

This is a keyword that Emil’s customers search for every day…which is great.

But here’s the important thing to keep in mind:

This keyword has a $7 suggested bid…

suggested bid

….and a ton of Adwords ads on the first page.

adwords ads

All that Adwords action told Emil: “there’s strong commercial intent behind this keyword.”

In other words:

People that search for that keyword AREN’T a bunch of tire kickers.

These are people that are going to buy from you.

Brian's pro tip:3 Advanced Keyword Research Strategies
 

OK, let’s get Back to Emil’s story…

Now that Emil had a keyword in-hand, it was time to size up the first page competition.

Step #1: Find Content That Already Ranks for That Keyword

Once you’ve found a keyword, it’s time to get a feel for what’s already out there…

…so you can destroy it.

(Yes, I let out an evil laugh when I wrote that 😀 )

So:

How do you find content that’s already done well?

A simple Google search.

Simply search for your target keyword (and a few closely-related keywords), and see what comes up.

For example:

Emil Googled “employee wellness program ideas”, “wellness programs” and “corporate wellness programs”:

example google search

And he noticed a few trends in the results:

First, most of the first page results were lists of different wellness program ideas.

list post

Second, Emil noticed that the first page results had some major flaws.

For example, 4 of the top 10 results were PDFs.

pdfs in google search results

Needless to say, PDFs aren’t very user friendly.

Emil also took note of the fact that these lists lacked important details. Some were literally just lists of ideas:

content thats a huge list

(As you know, it’s hard to take action on a piece of content that leaves out meaty details)

Emil also saw that the first page lacked visual content…like images, videos, charts and screenshots.

text based content

Content with at least one image generates an average of 43% more social shares than pure text-based content.

social share graph

Last but not least, Emil noticed that the content on the first page was BORING.

Obviously, “employee wellness programs” isn’t the most exciting topic on planet Earth.

But that’s no excuse to write stiff, dull copy like this:

boring copy

As you’ll see in a minute, Emil went the extra mile to make his topic fun and interesting.

But first, we need to dive into step #2…

Step #2: Create Something That Deserves To Be #1

Here’s the truth:

First page rankings have NOTHING to do with “keeping your site updated with fresh, quality content”.

(Yes, really)

Instead, your ability to hit the first page depends on two things:

Thing #1: Creating something that deserves to rank #1.

Thing #2: Promoting that content.

Seriously, that’s it.

Question is:

How do you create content that deserves to be the best?

Let me answer that by showing you EXACTLY how Emil did it.

1. Emil’s post listed more wellness program ideas than any other guide.

Most of the content that Emil found listed 5-10 wellness program ideas:

blog post example

And a few authors went crazy and wrote 50+ ideas:

huge list post

But even the craziest authors weren’t as crazy as Emil…

…because Emil set out to list out a whopping 120 ideas (!).

There was only one problem:

Emil got stuck at idea #50.

So he asked everyone in the office to chip in with ideas. That got him to 60 total ideas.

60 is good…but not good enough.

Emil had hit a brick wall. How the heck was he going to rank #1 with only 60 ideas?

That’s when he had an idea…

2. Emil asked experts to contribute ideas

Emil realized that he was sitting on top of a GOLDMINE of employee wellness program ideas.

I’ll explain.

SnackNation partners with dozens of healthy snack companies.

And Emil guessed that these health-focused offices would be happy to share the wellness programs they used.

And he was right.

Emil got his sales team to ask their partners to send creative ideas:

expert contribution email

And these partners were happy to lend a hand:

expert answer

Emil also asked a few bloggers that write about employee wellness to contribute an idea or two:

asking for a contribution

Again, they gladly sent some amazing ideas his way:

expert answer 2

(As you’ll see in a minute, these expert contributions generated LOTS of bonus traffic to Emil’s post)

Thanks to contributions from a handful of experts, Emil finally had 120 ideas.

(And a post that was 4979 words long)

total word count

Now it was time to take his content to the next level.

3. Emil split up his content into sections.

Let’s face it:

Sifting through 121 items on a list is a chore.

Despite that fact, many of the articles ranking in Google didn’t organize their ideas into sections:

list of ideas

That’s why Emil decided to organize his list of ideas into 7 categories:

blog post categories

Not only do these sections make Emil’s content easier to skim, but they got him nifty sitelinks in Google:

SERP sitelinks

In my experience sitelinks can significantly boost your CTR…

…and therefore, your organic traffic.

4. Emil added multimedia to make his content more visually appealing.

Like I mentioned earlier, most of the articles ranking on page 1 had zero images:

a text blog post

That’s why Emil peppered his post with eye-catching images…

blog post image

…and helpful videos:

blog post video

5. Finally, Emil made his copy fun and interesting.

Here’s the deal:

Whether you write about life insurance or life hacking, your writing CANNOT be boring.

Seriously.

If you bore people, they’re going to click over to YouTube faster than you can say “cute cats”.

That’s why Emil made sure his writing was upbeat and engaging:

upbeat writing

Once Emil made his content more compelling than the competition — bada bing, bada boom — his draft was good to go.

content draft

And after a few tweaks, Emil’s kick butt post was live: “121 Employee Wellness Program Ideas For Your Office“.

emils blog post

Now that Emil’s post was live, it was time to celebrate right?

Wrong.

I probably don’t need to tell you that hitting “publish” is just the beginning.

That’s why I want to show you the 6 content promotion strategies that Emil used to get the word out about his new guide.

Step #3: Promote Your Epic Content

Despite what you may have heard, there’s A LOT more to white hat SEO than “posting great content.”

Sure, awesome content makes link building easier…

…but it’s just the first step.

That’s because there are 2 million blog posts published every day (source).

wordpress publishing stats

And from launching several sites since 2010, I learned the hard way that if you really want to rank, you need to get out there and build links.

With that, here are the 6 promotional strategies that Emil used to get the word out.

1. Emil got influencers on board with “Pre-Outreach”

Once Emil put the finishing touches on his post, he knew he had something special.

That’s why he decided to promote his post…

…before he even published it.

(This is known as “Pre-Outreach”)

Here’s how it went down:

First, Emil found blogs that wrote about employee wellness. And he sent them this message:

pre outreach email

Because he didn’t beg for a link, they were happy to hear from him:

email outreach response 1

Then Emil sent a link to the post when it went live:

sending the content

And that led to a nice contextual backlink:

contextual backlink

I recently used pre-outreach to promote my SEO tools guide.

email outreach exampke

2. Use “Weak Ties” to generate early buzz

You may not realize it, but you have “weak ties” that will happily promote your content for you.

Question is:

What are “weak ties”?

And how can they help you with content promotion?

I’ll explain with an example:

“Weak ties” are people in your professional network that you’re acquaintances with (for example, old colleagues or people that work in other departments).

After Emil’s post went live he asked the entire SnackNation team to share his new post:

weak ties promotion

Even though most of Emil’s coworkers don’t work in the marketing department (and were therefore “weak ties”), they were more than happy to lend a hand:

facebook share

And these shares from weak ties got Emil some early buzz.

“We had thirty people in our office. And if you have LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Facebook – if everyone’s sharing, it already gives us some social proof. That’s like eighty shares right off the bat. And people like sharing their friends’ stuff. So it just gave us a lot of social proof, gave us some amplification.

Emil Shour

Because this is so easy and works so well, I reach out to my “weak ties” to promote every post at Backlinko:

email outreach content promotion

These may not be people that I have beers with every weekend, but I know them well enough to gently ask for a share.

3. Emil used “The Content Roadshow”

Next, Emil promoted his content with “The Content Roadshow”.

Let me show you how The Content Roadshow works:

First, Emil searched for bloggers that wrote about employee wellness, human resources and other related topics.

google search

And when he found a high-quality piece of content like this one…

quality content example

…he emailed the author:

blog content promotion email

In this case, Kristi asked Emil to submit his content to her roundup:

email outreach reply

He did…and got a sweet DA49 backlink in return:

roundup backlink

4. Next, Emil emailed brands that he mentioned in the post

Next, Emil emailed the other companies that he referenced in his post.

For example, Emil mentioned Authority Nutrition here:

brand mention

And sent them a message to let them know that they’ve been featured:

youve been featured email

As you can see, these brands happily shared his post:

reaching out to people mentioned

5. Then it was time for Emil to let his expert contributors know that they were live

Remember when Emil asked a bunch of workplace wellness experts to contribute a quote?

(Here’s an example:)

expert quote

Well, when the post went live, Emil let the experts know that they featured their wellness idea:

expert outreach

Not only were the experts happy to share the post on social media, but one of them even linked to Emil’s post:

backlink example

This is yet another content promotion strategy that I recently used to promote my SEO tools guide (that guide now has over 3,500 shares from social media).

social share buttons

I personally emailed the people behind all of the tools that I mentioned…

emailing people mentioned

…and most of them were PUMPED to share my guide.

email reply outreach email that resulted in a tweet 2

At this point Emil’s outreach racked up a bunch of social shares and traffic.

(It even generated quite a few comments — a first for the SnackNation blog)

blog comments

Comments and shares are nice…

…but they’re not going to get you to Google’s first page.

To do that, you need lots of high-quality backlinks.

Which leads us to our last promotional strategy…

6. Finally, Emil reached out people that linked to the content Emil found in step #1

Now that Emil had some social proof going, it was time to get down and dirty with link building.

Here’s the exact process that Emil used:

First, he searched for his target keyword in Google…

searching target keyword

…and popped the top 50 results into a spreadsheet:

outreach list
Brian's pro tip:Scraper Extension
Use the free Chrome Extension Scraper to quickly export Google results into a spreadsheet.

Here’s how:

Just search for a keyword and right click on any of the results.

google result

Then choose “Scrape Similar…”

linkclump extension

Then pick “Export to Google Docs…”export search results

And just like that you’ll have the results added to a spreadsheet.

link prospects

Next, Emil found out who linked to the top 50 results.

He popped each URL into a backlink analysis tool:

backlink analysis search

And went one-by-one through the results.

backlinks to a page

Then he emailed each of those people to let them know about his new, superior resource.

Let’s take a look at a real life example of Emil’s outreach in action…

Here’s his first email:

first email

Her response:

reply

His second email (with a link to his content)

the pitch

Boom! A link:

contextual backlink

And these backlinks pushed Emil’s guide above his competitors.

number one ranking

Sure, a ranking #1 in Google is great.

But last I checked you can’t pay your mortgage with a first page ranking.

In other words:

For your SEO to pay off, your content needs to generate leads and sales for your business.

And that’s where this bonus step comes into play…

Bonus Step: Generate Leads With The Content Upgrade

Now that Emil’s #1 ranking was secured it was time to turn this targeted traffic into revenue.

Here’s how he did it:

At first, Emil pitched a generic ebook to everyone that visited his post.

Even though his post was about employee wellness, the ebook was about employee engagement.

original popup

And that pitch generated around 20 new subscribers per week.

email subscribers before the content upgrade

20 subscribers a week isn’t bad. But it could be better.

So Emil decided to swap out the generic ebook with a laser targeted Content Upgrade.

Specifically, Emil created a PDF version of his post:

pdf version of the post

(His PDF also contained 10 bonus ideas that weren’t found in the post)

bonus ideas

And to pitch his Content Upgrade, Emil embedded a CTA at the top of his content:

pdf version cta

How well did The Content Upgrade work?

Instead of 20 subscribers per week…

…the Content Upgrade blasted that rate up to 59 per week.

email subscribers after

(That’s a 195% increase)

Backlinko Update: Did Richard’s Traffic Blast Stand The Test of Time?

Back in 2013 I revealed how Richard Marriot used The Skyscraper Technique to boost his organic traffic by 348% in 7 days.

Traffic Spike

Question is:

Did Richard’s results last?

Or did his site slip to page 2?

Let’s find out…

Here’s How Richard Marriot Used White Hat SEO to Skyrocket His Search Engine Traffic

As an SEO newbie, Richard wanted to know which white hat SEO tools the experts used (in other words, not automated black hat tools).

So Richard searched in Google for things like “SEO tools”, “white hat SEO tools” and “link building tools”:

google first page results

And he noticed that the results didn’t answer the fundamental question: “Which SEO tools should I use?”

That’s when he decided to create something that did answer that question.

How?

He asked SEO experts which link building tools they used.

In total, he emailed 115 influential people in the SEO space…and got 47 replies (that’s a 41% conversion rate).

Even though he didn’t have any connections and only a few followers on Twitter, he was able to get contributions from ballers like Neil Patel.White Hat SEO Experts

The end result is Richard’s expert roundup post, 55 SEO Experts Reveal 3 Favorite Link Building Tools:

clambr post

Now:

Once Richard’s guide was live, he built links to his guide with email outreach.

First, he found pages with broken links. And he sent the author of that page this script:

Broken Link Building Outreach Email

When they replied saying “What’s the broken link?”, he sent them this email:

Broken Link Followup Email

And he was rewarded with a handful of high quality backlinks:

Broken Link Success

Including links from:

  • SearchEngineLand.com (DA92)
  • A PR2 resource page
  • A PR6 digital marketing firm blog

So:

Where does Richard rank today for his target keyword (“link building tools”)?

#1 baby!

richards #1 ranking

Here’s What to Do Next…

If you enjoyed this case study, I want you do one thing:

Download the free checklist that I put together just for this post. Click the image below to get the PDF checklist.

Skyscraper Technique Checklist

751 Comments

Nathan

Dannnng Richard is PERSISTENT. But in all seriousness, I really liked that he refined his outreach technique to be more efficient and the fact that he actually saw far better results.

Nice work Richard and thanks for the write-up Brian!

Reply
Brian Dean

I know, right? But that’s what it takes to grab the attention of the ballers in any industry. Thanks for reading, Nathan 🙂

Reply
Richard Marriott

Thanks Nathan! It was a huge relief to discover that short, snappy emails worked better!

Reply
Brian Clapp

Brian – great article and I already have an idea I can execute this technique on… but I have one question – how do you discover broken links on other sites that are relevant to your article? If you’ve written on this in the past, can you point me toward the resource?
all the best,
Brian Clapp

Reply
Brian Dean

Glad you enjoyed it, Brian. That’s a great question. I actually use a Chrome extension called Check My Links. It finds all the broken links on a page VERY quickly. To help automate the process of finding pages and checking for broken links, I’ve also used the (paid) tool at BrokenLinkBuilding.com, which I really like.

Reply
Joe

I’m sure you’ve heard of it Brian, but the Domain Hunter Chrome extension is another great tool.

Reply
Brian Dean

Thanks Joe. I have tried their tool and REALLY like it. I just prefer Check My Links because I found that it works a bit faster. But you’re right: that’s another great tool to use.

Reply
Brian Clapp

thanks for the responses guys, i will look into these tools – appreciate the help

Kendal

Hi! Can’t wait to try out Check My Links, thanks for that. 🙂 But I’m also wondering how to find dead websites or pages that had something to do with your website or page? For me… I’ve been trying to get traffic from people looking for employment in the UK or information on the JobCentre but I haven’t had luck yet finding broken links on pages that I think would want to link to my site. But I like the idea, and will keep trying! Could use some suggestions though.

Brian Dean

Kendal, if a page is relevant to your sites, so are the outbound links. So I’d just keep plugging away at UK career info pages.

Moazzam

Thanks for the article. What about scrape-box for hunting dead links

Brian Dean

That can also work, Moazzam. Ahrefs also has a broken link finding feature now.

Stephan

If I am not mistaken, Brian was wondering how to find contextual broken links on websites other than his own? Check My Links only verifies pages that you open in your browser. For 404 discovery you would need to use tools such as brokenlinkbuilding.com that was mentioned by Brian, right?

Reply
Jeremy

Sure you guys know this but the real power of the Check My Links extension idea is not only being able to see broken backlinks on for example with Kendal’s situation UK job related resource pages, but what you can then also do is grab the backlink profiles of those broken link sites from say Ahrefs or Majestic, and ALL those links will be broken too :).

So each broken link can yield possibly hundreds more prospects if you can that’s site’s link profile as well, which can be kinda cool.

Reply
Adam Roseland

Great post. Looking forward to SEO That Works!! Tried to sign up and find out when it launched and the realized I was already on the list! NICE!!!

Reply
Brian Dean

Thanks Adam! I can’t wait to get the course out to everyone. And I’ll definitely have to stop by for another podcast session in a few weeks 🙂

Reply
Kathy Long

Great stuff as usual, Brian, but he missed my favorite SEO tool. It’s called Brian Dean.
Thanks!

Reply
Brian Dean

Thanks Kathy! That means a lot to hear 🙂

Reply
Peter Kanayo

Damn Brian, You rock like mad, this is simple to implement though it requires a huge amount of energy. But it’s worth the effort. Signing up for your article is really worth it. I give you a thumbs up.

Reply
Brian Dean

Thanks Peter! You’re 100% right: it’s simple but not easy. Let me know if you give it a try.

Reply
Richard Marriott

Hey Brian, thank you so much for doing this case study and for all your guidance over the last couple of weeks 🙂 The Skyscraper technique is earth shatteringly powerful! I can’t recommend it enough and will continue using it for many future posts.

Reply
Brian Dean

My pleasure, Richard. Glad to see that the technique worked out so well for your site.

Reply
Brad

Very detailed article. I especially like the sample emails. I’d be interested to see the email which ‘gently encourages them to share’.

Reply
Brian Dean

Thanks for reading, Brad. I’ll see if Richard will send me that email template (even though it didn’t work especially well in his case).

Reply
Brad

In that case, I’d be interested in knowing what you’d suggest for copy to get the best possible success rate.

Reply
Brian Dean

For straight up link begging, I’ve found that something simple and straightforward works. My script is something like: “I found your list of resources. I also have a good one. It’d be great if you could add mine to the list”. There are a few tricks to make it more effective, but that’s the basic gist.

Reply
Rob Jenkins

I was wondering how you could apply the same type of method with local businesses. For instance a hotel, most have a corporate face where you cannot exactly email the web guy or whatever seo firm is in charge of their social marketing

Reply
Brian Dean

Good question, Rob. This can definitely work for local businesses. But you’re right: it takes a slightly different approach. One of the hardest parts of doing outreach for brick and mortar business or large sites is finding the right person to get in touch with. If you dig deep you can usually find the right email address somewhere on the site. If not, I recommend using the general “contact us” page and asking them to forward your message to the right person.

Reply
Heather Brebaugh

When I published 151 Things to Do in Carmel CA, I wanted to contact the businesses/places that I had referenced in the article. Many just had a contact form on their site or something like [email protected]. I just sent my generic intro email and 100% responded positively that they wanted the link to the article. In most cases I got a ‘real’ email address and name when they replied. That’s the beauty of using Brian’s strategy of sending an intro email first (without the link), asking them if they would like to have it. It forces them to reply, versus if you simply send over the link.

Reply
Brian Dean

Great tip there, Heather. That’s a great way to squeeze some helpful info out of a generic email.

Reply
Adam Dukes

Excellent case study, Brian/Richard. I have bee blogging for a few years and just recently found out how important promotion really is. Like Derek Halpern says, “20% of your time should be focused on writing and 80% should be focused on promotion”.

Richard obviously spent a ton of time on this one post, but it should work FOR him for the long time. Well done, Richard! Way to take action and as always, thanks for the tips, Brian!

Reply
Brian Dean

Thanks for reading, Adam. I 100% agree with Derek’s take on blog growth. I’d even go as far to say — especially when you’re first starting out — that you may even want to spend 90%+ of your time promoting the content you already have.

Reply
Richard Marriott

Cheers Adam! It was indeed an incredibly time consuming process and I lost a lot of sleep over it, but in the end it was totally worth it 🙂

Reply
Jay

Old school beating the pavement and finding content holes! Great read. I plan on trying to do the same for my niche which is selling niche websites based on Adsense monetization. I can see the hardest part is going to be the initial outreach, luckily I can use the short and sweet approach you posted with a little modification to suit my topic. This will be interesting to see how it goes. As always, great post bro, keep em coming.
-Jay

Reply
Brian Dean

Absolutely, Jay: this is the type of SEO people were doing back in the 90s. And as you can see, it still works well today! Let me know how the technique works out for your site.

Reply

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