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Case Study: Building a high organic traffic website from scratch

Introduction

I’ve been an SEO consultant for over 10 years, getting great results for clients in all kinds of niches.
I’m going to share with you how we took a brand new website, with no authority and zero traffic, to becoming a serious player in a very competitive pet niche on its way to dominating the search engine results using techniques you can apply to your own website.

As this was a brand new project we were involved from the very beginning, from start to finish, managing everything from website design, web development, content strategy, SEO and much more to ensure this site could start to rank for hundreds of keywords as quickly as possible.

Here’s a look at the growth chart. Next, we learn how we did it…

Table of Contents

Project brief

Working on a brand new website project is vastly different from being asked to improve a websites existing content position in the search engine results (SERPS).

A client might ask us to explore why their existing content is not ranking. They may approach us to help them create a content strategy or develop a roadmap to help them get a specific result. However, before we dive into this kind of project we have to take a step back and look at the whole picture.

A bit like taking your car to the garage, you might suggest to the garage what might be wrong with the car, but if it’s a good garage they will first diagnose the issue before carrying out any work to understand what is really going on.

From that baseline, you can decide on the best course of action to fix the issues and get where you need to be.

This project was vastly different as the client was coming to us with a bunch of ideas whirling around their head for a new website they wanted to create that would attract high volumes of traffic and later be monetised with affiliate links and ads.

They had not even registered the domain name, created branding or thought about the content they wanted to write!

Actually, this was perfect. We could have a hand in everything, from branding to content strategy and even website hosting.

By being in from the start we could ensure that every aspect would be covered right from the off, and mean we wouldn’t have to diagnose or unpick any previous work that had been carried out.

Expectations

So, while we had a blank canvas to work on, we still had a few hurdles to get over.

Most notably was the client’s expectations on time scales.

Attracting traffic to a website takes time and patience, doing the same for a new website on a brand new domain takes even more time and patience.

Google is not going to rank a new website, especially in a competitive niche, any time soon without first proving itself as a serious source of information.

This process takes time and dedication.

You have to earn the right. Google wants to know you are legit. An authority and trustworthy before they place your site ahead of other sites that have already proved their worth.

Any brand new domain has to go through a period of time with little to no traffic while Google gets to grips with working out who you are.

Some refer to this as the Google sandbox. A period of time you serve before Google takes you seriously.

With this explained to the client and expectations set we were ready to get started.

Project kick-off

The website was to be about a specific dog breed, with the aim of being a go-to resource for people looking for information on the breed.

The long-term goal was to monetise the website with affiliate links and ad placements.

Before you can even think about things like keyword research, content planning etc you need to get the basics in order.

Branding

We started by creating the brand and associated assets.

It’s always good to make the name brandable, and include the main keyword in the name, but in a natural, un-spammy way.

Remember Google needs to trust you and hates spammy practices. Keep it authentic.

On the subject of branding, many of my designer friends will probably disown me for saying this, but don’t spend too long on your branding.

Sure, you want a nice logo, clear and concise messaging but you don’t want to get stuck here, procrastinating for days on end.

That is time you won’t get back and time you could have to spend creating content!

You don’t need to spend a small fortune on a logo either.

You can get a decent, well-priced logo created on platforms such as Fiverr, Wix logo creator and many others.

Domain name

While choosing a brand name you will need to check if the domain name is available.

If the domain name is available you will need to check it has a clean history, has never been used in a spammy way, has google penalties against it or be part of a private blog network (PBN).

You can check the history of a domain by using The Wayback Machine (https://archive.org/web/) to see the history of the domain.

If it has no history or history that looks like it was legit then you’re good to go.

Website

Perhaps the most time consuming, and highest expense is going to be your website.

The process of building a website is several blog posts in its own right, so I’ll cover a few of the basic must-haves.

An affiliate site is all about the content. The design needs to be clear and easy to read. It’s not about flashy design elements. The content should be easy to consume and easy to navigate. Think newspaper rather than a glossy magazine.

Speed is super important. So, no over boated themes. A lean theme will be quicker to load, which keeps more users on the site for longer.

If you are building out a blog with the intention of monetising then I would highly recommend the super fast and lean theme from The Income School.

The theme, called Acabado is purpose-built for affiliate style blogging. It’s inexpensive, easy to set up, well supported and has all the features needed for a content-rich website.

Hosting

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect when setting up a website is what hosting to use.

Most people dive straight in and buy cheap generic hosting, a decision that could seriously hamper their SEO efforts before an article is even written.

Your hosting needs to be quick, and I mean really quick.

If your web pages take even a fraction of a second too long to load users will leave before they even read the first paragraph.

If your site is slow, someones else’s website will get your traffic. It really is that crucial.

The best website hosting I have ever used is from WPX Hosting. Their support is fantastic and the sites are the quickest I have ever tested.

Pair WPX hosting with the Income School theme and your site will be lightning fast!

Keyword research

With a fast website and fresh branding in place, we can now get down to the nitty-gritty.

It’s time to plan what content we need to create in order to satisfy Google that you are an authority in your niche and provide the type of content your target audience wants to read.

If you are building a site from scratch this process is pretty simple, but not necessarily easy or quick.

It’s worth noting that if you are trying to grow traffic for an existing website then you will need to check for gaps in your existing content compared to your competitors and also audit and optimise all of your existing content.

Depending on the size of the niche you are operating in you may need to break down your niche further to help organise your content into relevant topical clusters or silos.

A silo is a group of content that is all relevant to each other and linked internally to each other.

A silo shows the search engines that you have covered a topic with not just one piece of content, but several or enough to cover every aspect of that particular topic.

For example, in the pet breed niche site we built, one of the silos was about dog food.

We researched every topic conceivable that people had or might search for and written a post to cover those topics then linked each post to another relevant post within the silo, further showing that we had covered the topic thoroughly.

This level of topical relevance proves to Google that you are the best resource for that subject.

All too often I see websites that have one article, no matter how long and thorough about a specific topic that gets very little traffic.

If you have one piece of content about a topic, and your competitor has 5 or 6, super relevant, and each linked out to the other relevant content, all done in a natural way, which do you think google will show to users?

Let’s cover how to go about keyword research. While paid tools like Ahrefs are really helpful, much of this key preparation can be done for free with the tools Google and others give us all access to.

As this is an article to help you get traffic yourselves, I’m going to presume you don’t have access to expensive paid tools and instead focus only on methods that are free to use by everyone and not just SEO experts.

Finding keywords

Before writing any content the very first step is to work out what keywords and topics you want to target and write about or create content for.

Without knowing what keywords people use to search for your products and services you are just hoping for the best every time you create a new piece of content.

Having a list of keywords relative to your audiences search habits will take away the guesswork and also provide you with enough inspiration for topics to write about, which is crucial as to become an authority in your niche you’re going to have to create a lot of high quality, relative content.

Many think that finding keywords can only be done with expensive SEO tools. However, not only do you not need expensive tools, you can actually get a huge list of keywords with a few free tools.

Note – Many pro SEO tools will provide search volume for keywords but be warned, these figures are not always accurate and could lead you to make the wrong decisions on which keywords to target.

On many occasions, I have plugged a key phrase that I know to be profitable for a client into a keyword research tool only for the tool to tell me there are less than 10 monthly searches for that keyword.

Now, if I didn’t already know that keyword was vital for attracting new leads for my client I would have dismissed it out of hand because of the reported low number of monthly searches.

In reality, there is no such thing as accurate search volumes, there are simply too many variables. So, while tools can help, they should not be taken as the gospel truth.

If you want to know more about keyword traffic estimation, Ahrefs have an excellent article about keywords.

With that said, how should you go about choosing the perfect keywords to rank? Read on to find out.

Google autocomplete

A powerful and completely free way to find keywords is available by tapping into features available to everyone direct from Google in any browser.

Autocomplete is a feature from Google designed to make it faster to complete searches that you’re beginning to type.

Google autocomplete predicts what you are trying to search for.

How does autocomplete work?

If you were to type ‘best MTB for’ into Google search a drop-down would appear with Google’s best predictions of what you might be searching for.

using Google autocomplete to find keyword ideas
Using Google autocomplete is a great way to find keyword inspiration
If you take the below screenshot you can see the autocomplete in action. It’s worth noting the autocomplete are predictions, not suggestions. Therein lies the magic. Why is this important in your keyword research phase? In Google’s own words-

How do we determine these predictions? We look at the real searches that happen on Google and show common and trending ones relevant to the characters that are entered and also related to your location and previous searches.

Google

Google is basically saying that the autocomplete is their best prediction of what you are about to search for based on real, previous searches that have already taken place on the Google search network!

Every single one of those autocomplete suggestions is a topic waiting to be written.

So, how do you know how many people are searching for those keywords?

You don’t. However, you can be assured there is enough search traffic to get excited about.

There is only so much space allocated for those predictions so you are only seeing those with enough data for Google to call on.

Remember these are predictions based on previous real searches already taken place on Google.

Alphabet Soup method

To add some structure to how you collate these predications there is a neat little process called the Alphabet Soup Method.

I picked this great technique from the Income School (link).

Take your main keyword, in our case ‘Best dog food for’ and type it into Google followed by the letter a.

Google autocomplete provides a tonne of keyword ideas and topics to write about

Grab all the autocomplete predictions and drop them into a spreadsheet.

Do the same again but this time for the letter b. And so on.

By the time you get to the end of the alphabet, you will have dozens, if not hundreds of ideas for articles to write about for your main keyword!

Pro tip – There is an online tool called Answer Ther Public (link) that listens to the autocomplete data from Google, and turns the results into useful phrase and question format that people are asking around your keyword, giving you hundreds of new keywords to write about. It’s free to use and you can even download the results!

People also ask

You might be thinking that the autocomplete way to grab those crucial keywords would be it. However, Google has another trick up its sleeve in the form of ‘People also ask’.

Let’s say you have your keyword phrase, in our case, best dog food for allergies. Pop those keywords into Google and right below the very top section of results (usually paid ads) there’s a section called people also ask.

These are questions that are related to your main search, that others have also searched for.

You can take these questions and use them to build out the content for the main keyword.

For example, our article about ‘best dog food for allergies’ would also have sections within that include the questions within the people also ask section.

People also ask is a great to ensure you cover every topic related to your main keyword

By including these in your content you are giving the user everything they need to fully answer the search query, giving you a better chance of ranking high in the search results for the keyword ‘best dog food for allergies.

Keywords everywhere

Another useful tool that builds on the people also search for is a plugin that can be installed on either Chrome or Firefox called Keywords Everywhere.

Keywords Everywhere will provide data for a number of useful keyword research metrics including;

  • People Also Search for data along with volume metrics
  • Long-tail keywords
  • Historical search volume
  • Page & Website level traffic metrics

The data appears in your browser after you have typed in the main search query.

Keywords Everywhere data appears oposite the main search information

It’s worth knowing that some of the volume metrics and other data is only available if you buy ‘credits’. In my experience, there is no need to buy credits and just use the freely available tools.

Competitor Analysis

Now armed with a huge list of keywords, all with the potential to play a crucial part in your awesome content. What next?

You need to know what you are up against. If you’re looking to do SEO at a high level, it is important to constantly be reviewing your competition. Lots of best practices get ignored in the top positions, but the devil is in the details.

  • What type of content has the competition produced?
  • How many words does the content contain?
  • What are the subheadings?
  • What other keywords do the content rank for?
  • How many backlinks do they have?
  • By analysing the competition you are building up a picture of what needs to be done in order to replace them in the SERPS.

Without this knowledge, you are hoping for the best and probably just wasting your time.

You can collect this data manually. However, it can be very time-consuming.

Sifting through dozens of websites is not a great way to utilise your time.

There are a number of tools that can help you with this task. Ahrefs is a popular tool but is relatively expensive and so feature-rich that it could be overwhelming for non SEO geeks.

A tool we use and highly recommend is Surfer SEO.

If you are serious about creating high-quality content that will outrank the competition then Surfer SEO has all the features you need.

Not only does it have some fantastic features, but it also has a built-in editor where you can create content while scoring the quality against the competition against all the criteria mentioned above, and much more!

You can check out all the ultra-useful SEO features here.

Content Strategy

So now you have your keywords and a deeper understanding of what is needed to outrank the competition you need to plan what type of content you need to create to satisfy Google that your content is worth showing over the competition.

User intent

So what does this really mean?

Google breaks search queries into three categories:

  • Transactional search queries
  • Informational search queries
  • Navigational search queries

To answer each of those queries requires a slightly different approach when creating the content to answer the specific query.

Transactional search queries

A transactional search query is a type of query engaged in when looking to complete purchase-related transactions, such as making payments for flights and hotels.

Some of these search queries include words like “buy,” “purchase,” and “order.”

Informational search queries

Search queries related to broad topics are considered informational searches.

When someone conducts an informational search query, they’re searching for answers to a question.

This search type is called the “Know” search because people are looking for helpful information.

This type of search is what most people looking to build a large authoritative website will target with their content.

Navigational search queries

The navigational search query is a navigational search term because it typically seeks to find a specific website.

Navigational queries have a clear search intent. The user is searching for a business website by typing the brand name into the search bar.

You can only really optimise for this kind of search query if you are the brand the user is trying to find.

Searching for BBC Sport has a very clear intent and the first result will always be the branded BBC website.

Knowing the search intent is crucial so that you produce content that is relative to the users intent.

A common mistake people make when creating the content is how much information to include.

You need to match your content with what Google is already ranking.

There is no point creating a 5000-word article if the top 10 results are all short-form answer articles of around 600-1200 words, while the reverse is also true.

Another example of matching user intent would be people looking for holiday destination inspiration.

They are likely looking for plenty of images for inspiration before booking their dream holiday.

There’s no point trying to target those people with long text-based articles, it’s not what they are looking for at that moment in their search journey.

Content organisation and distribution

Once you start creating content it’s crucial you stay organised.

Remember the spreadsheet you created for your keyword research? Add an extra column where you can add the type of content to create for each keyword.

Add a column for urgency. Which pieces of content are likely to give you the quickest win, or move you along the path to your goal? Some keywords will be ultra-competitive, and are probably worth avoiding, at least at the beginning while you build up authority in your niche.

Now get to work creating content to amaze your audience! Remember to tick them off your list as you go along.

EAT and YMYL

Google’s EAT acronym stands for three high-level factors that Google takes into account when evaluating the quality of a page: expertise, authority and trustworthiness.

EAT is especially relevant for YMYL sites, YMYL stands for “Your Money or Your Life”.

Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) content is the type of information that, if presented inaccurately, untruthfully, or deceptively, could directly impact the user’s happiness, health, safety, or financial stability.

The stakes are high with this type of content. If you create a YMYL page and give bad advice or information, the consequences could have an adverse effect on someone’s life, well-being, and livelihood.

Google has very stringent quality standards for content it deems to be a high-risk audience, like children. Expertise in the subject matter plays a vital role in writing this kind of topical material.

If your niche is in a YMYL sector then you are going to need to be an expert in the field with plenty of evidence scattered around the web to back up your credentials.

Link Strategy

In the world of SEO link building is one of the cornerstones of any SEO strategy.

Essentially you are wanting other people to link back to your content from their websites and to a lesser degree from social media.

The number and quality of backlinks is another signal to Google that you are an authority in your niche, that your content is relevant and that people find it useful. However, Google actually stipulates that you should not try to manipulate rankings by obtaining unnatural links.

You see, for many years SEO’s have tried to bend the rules, buying links, usually from dodgy sources to try and convince Google how popular they are.

Google is aware of these kinds of black hat practices though, so be warned if you think this is a route worth pursuing.

Here’s what Google have to say about link building;

Avoid buying links at all costs, at some point your site will be penalised for those unnatural links, which can be devastating for the rankings of a website.

Here is a link to an article from Google explaining more.

Time to be controversial

Now, I’m going to go against the grain here and say that for a brand new site that you shouldn’t worry about link building. Not yet anyway.

Why? Sure, by getting links you could speed up how quickly your site exits the Google sandbox (for a new site). However, legitimate link building is either expensive or time-consuming, often both!

In my experience, it’s much better to take that time and money and create content, lots of content, and even more content, and more after that. Did I mention you need lots of content?

If your site doesn’t have the required amount of content to show its authority, then a few backlinks are not going to make that much difference to the amount of organic traffic you are likely to get.

If someone tells you you can’t rank content without backlinks, they are wrong.

The image below shows the clicks a brand new site received within 12 months without a single backlink request.

If you write enough quality content that is highly targeted to the user’s search intent, show patience and you will still rank for your keywords.

It’s worth noting that if you are operating in an ultra-competitive niche then backlinks are helpful and likely to be necessary in order to replace the existing websites in the SERP’s. Then again, I’d be questioning if you should be targeting such a competitive niche in the first place.

Internal links

Internal links are the glue that holds your website together.

They’re what connect one page to another, telling Google and visitors alike which content is important and worth exploring. And yet many websites have an embarrassing lack of internal linking structure: some pages don’t link to any other pages at all!

Word of caution. Don’t just link out to any old page on your site.

Think about what the user would like to do next (user intent).

If they landed on your page to find images to inspire them for their next holiday, what’s their next step?

It could be to read a review or a specific place, or maybe check out prices.

By creating this supplementary content you now have several articles all relating to the initial search query, not only will your user find that super helpful it shows Google just how much of an authority you are for that search query.

By linking these articles together you are creating silos or clusters of content that are hyper-relevant to each other.

An example of a small content silo we created for a client. Each content piece would be linked to the next logial piece in the silo, creating a topical cluster.

Pro tip – Don’t use the anchor text of your link more than once on your website. This leads to keyword cannibalisation, a sure-fire way to dilute the effectiveness of those internal links.

Results

Organic traffic

The first milestone for this particular pet niche website project was to create 30 high-quality articles split into silos, optimised and published within the first month.

We then published new articles on a regular basis.

Note the very low traffic numbers from January when the site was published, until May when it started to climb. In that 5 month period, there were just the original 30 articles on the site.

Once out of the 5-month sandbox we started to see steady growth in organic traffic.

Not bad results from a brand new domain in a competitive niche.

Keyword gains

Starting from scratch gave us the opportunity to scrutinise every piece of content which meant we were targetted with our keywords, concentrating on clusters of topics.

We started to see a climb in the numbers of keywords around May 2021 which coincided with a renewed push on the creation and publication of fresh content.

Conclusion

For many business owners and entrepreneurs, SEO seems like an impossible task.

An industry full of expensive, yet necessary tools, a million and one ways to get the job done and no clear direction of how to achieve your goals against a sea of tough competition.

Thing is, SEO really doesn’t need to be over complicated. You just need to be dedicated and patient and have an eye for details.

Always have in mind to create quality, relevant and optimised content and you won’t go far wrong.

If you are short on time, or just want someone else to handle your SEO then why not drop me a direct message, see how we can help smash the search engine results.

How can we help you?

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