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

White Hat SEO
Today 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.


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”.


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:

Emil Shour

“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 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:

Emil Shour

“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
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


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 😀 )


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.


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?


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.

Emil Shour

“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
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:


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.


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


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)
  • An authority resource page
  • A popular digital marketing firm’s blog


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


  1. Another great post Brian – thanks for pointing me to Richard’s post which is also very insightful. The lesson is simple – write epic content and then tell people about it. Good luck with your SEO That Works course – I’ll be buying it!

    1. Thanks Ryan! That’s a great takeaway message from this case study: write epic content and tell people about it.

  2. Hi Brian, I typically love your advice and posts, but there were 2 things about this post that didn’t thrill me:
    1. All those 100-300% improvements look good in a headline, but they are quite dependent on working with super low traffic to begin with – a few hundred visits! Of course the technique works, but it will not produce the same % lift for sites with traffic in 5-6 digits. Need to set realistic expectations.
    2. I read about the skyscraper technique on QuickSprout blog by Neil Patel about a month ago – you and him applied the same technique while writing about it and the outcome is – the content isn’t unique!

    Thank you for all the advice. If you think getting 200% traffic lift in less than 6 months is possible for a content rich (200K indexed pages in Google) site with 100K+ visits a month, please contact me for a lucrative consulting gig 🙂

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Lilia.

      You’re totally right: that kind of dramatic change isn’t possible for a site already getting traffic. But as you said, it can still give them a significant boost.

      Yes, Neil and I covered The Skyscraper Technique in our Advanced Guide to Link Building. But I thought it’d be cool to show people a real life example of the strategy in action 🙂

  3. I think it work because is about seo – so everyone want to know more info. Hmm how about surveillance camera niche? Will this tehnique work? Let me think… No? I guess!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Gabriel. You’re right: this works really well in the SEO niche. But it can work in almost every niche. Every niche has content that’s performed well and could use an update or improvement.

  4. Extremely smart way of generating compelling content, obtaining high quality links and helping to establish both yourself and your website as an authority source!

    1. Thanks Nathan! This post was pivotal in establishing us as an authority in the employee wellness/engagement space. As we’ve done more and more high quality posts like this, our audience has grown tremendously and get more natural shares/links without us having to do as much promotion.

  5. Thanks for this. Please could you explain how to use “Check My Links” more. Just say for instance that I have a great article that I want to promote and I am looking to do this by suggesting it as a replacement for a broken link (as described in your article above.) How do I find relevant web pages that might have relevant (but broken) links? Thanks.

    1. Sure thing, James. That’s actually the hardest part of broken link building. One way is to find resource pages in your niche (because they tend to have a lot of links and therefore are more likely to have a few broken ones). When you find one, run Check My Links on it.
      Another strategy is to take a site in your niche and run it through brokenlinkcheck.com. That will show you all of the broken links on a site without having to use Check My Links.

  6. There are so many to do as a SEO these days. Back in the old days, all we do is track competitors’ link profile and build slightly better links than them. Now, we need to post extraordinary content, reach out industry influencers, help others find broken links, etc. Some say the method you mentioned in this post is simple; I don’t think so. You need a lot of creativity to pull this one off; and creativity is not something you can learn by working hard.

    1. Thanks for your insights, Jerry. Good stuff 🙂 I also remember the days of “match and exceed” SEO. You’re right: Richard definitely put a lot of creativity into his guide. And his success was due to a combination of creativity and hard work.

  7. This is killer as always Brian! Seriously, with your blog posts and link building course I’ve learnt and successfully implemented more in the last month than I have this whole year. One day when I’m rich I’m gona buy you a shiny red race car to say thanks 🙂

    1. That means a lot to hear, Glen. I work really hard on my blog post and course content, so it’s great to know that you’re getting so much value from it 🙂

  8. Great article and well done Richard.

    Tbh, The SEO community is usually very willing when it comes to outreach (for obvious reasons). In some niches it can be a lot harder to gain rapport with industry influences that are willing to share your content, But still that’s nothing to take away from the hard work and persistence put into this.

    Well done Richard.

    1. That’s a good point, Martin: not all industries are receptive to outreach. I’ve found that the SEO community is a mixed bag. On one hand, there are a lot of people in the community really open to outreach (as you pointed out). The flip side of that is that they know every trick in the book. So have to be REALLY creative to get your links.

    2. Thanks a lot Martin!

      I’ve indeed found the SEO community to be an amazing group of people. The support I’ve had from outreach has been phenomenal. A few people even went the extra mile and helped nudge some of their friends to get a response back to me 🙂

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