Just don’t call it “free.” Please. Organic traffic takes hard work to earn, and a funding model to resource that hard work.
To give you ideas for improving your own organic efforts, in this article we bring you, examples from a tech publication, partner ecosystem platform, and B2B e-learning platform.
This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.
“Your real danger lies not with your competitors. Your real danger lies with calcification, with hesitation, and with isolation,” Flint McGlaughlin said in The Way of the Marketer (in Chaos): A Path through the complexities of the AI Revolution.
He was specifically referring to the impact on marketing and business of artificial intelligence. But the same holds true for everything you do in marketing. We can be blinded by the glare of the competition. Instead, we should do more soul searching into our own funnels, to see how to improve our own work to better serve the business and our customers.
To help you do that, today we bring you case studies from your peers focused on three essential elements of SEO and content creation:
Chrome Unboxed started as a YouTube side hustle in 2015, with founder Robby Payne – web developer/tech head and professed fanatic of all things Chrome OS – unboxing Chromebooks and tinkering with them on his kitchen floor – and filming his discoveries. His colleagues at the digital marketing firm where he worked at the time, Joe Humphrey and Gabriel Brangers, soon joined in collaborating for hours every day after work.
“We have built an incredible community of people who love Chromebooks and ChromeOS, and we found that they are also interested in other Google services like Android, Pixel and other things Google does. So, we have also been branching out in hardware to all of the Pixel, and Google-made products,” said Joe Humphrey, Partner, Chrome Unboxed.
Today, Chrome Unboxed draws over 1.6 million visits a month from readers interested in all things Chrome OS, Chromebooks, and Google.
In this case study, we’ll show you some of the monetization tests they ran to give you ideas for your own site. But before you can monetize, you need something to monetize – enticing content and a strong platform to publish it on.
The team has published nearly 200 podcast episodes and has weekly newsletters going to 40,0000+ subscribers. “In addition to our podcasts and continuing to use YouTube, we realized we can leverage video on the site, controlling the process and uploading content versus relying solely on YouTube to do it,” Humphrey said.
“We also started using SEMrush to identify keywords for SEO and SEO strategy six months ago. You plug in your URL and core topics, verticals, and it makes recommendations based on search volumes on Google, certain keywords and article ideas, that we can turn around and write about,” he said.
The focus on SEO has helped them shift from only focusing on news to creating evergreen content as well. “An article on ‘How to install iTunes on your Chromebook,’ for instance, continues to get page views over time,” says Humphrey.
“We certainly have a niche community of hard-core ChromeOS followers who are super into it, too. We want to be true to our audience and not get too into the weeds; we want to stay focused on Google’s ecosystem. We understand we have this broad audience of people interested in tech and Google. It’s figuring out the balance between the two—between general tech news (that’s Google and Pixel related) and getting out all of the news and articles on Chromebooks and ChromeOS,” he said.
“We use the Genesis framework to build on top of WordPress. It’s super clean and good for SEO, serves the site up for Google and other search engines, gives us the pieces needed for Google to recognize certain things, such as meta tags, structured data, etc.,” says Humphrey.
Another lesson Humphrey and his partners have learned about in the last six months is the importance of good website hosting.
“If your website is taking two to four seconds to load, which ours was in some cases, you are losing so many people. They will click away, and not wait for your article to load,” says Humphrey. “We knew our host was not quite up to speed with our growth and where we were; we had been getting by with the provider we had before…we found a new partner in Kinsta. We made the switch. It was a super easy process, and the website is so much faster.”
Of course, all of the above tactics require a budget. A critical aspect to be able to expand Chrome Unboxed to a subject matter authority and support them financially, the founders soon realized, was monetization with programmatic ads.
Initially, the three founders were using AdSense on YouTube and on their site, getting little return and not enough to substantiate full-time work. “AdSense was able to provide some general advertising but not super exclusive advertising,” according to Humphrey.
The trio decided to use a machine learning and AI-powered advertising platform to enable marketers and publishers to streamline implementation, optimization, and testing of ads and ad partners.
“The biggest benefits that Chrome Unboxed has seen in utilizing machine learning for ad placements is the ability to improve the user experience on their site without sacrificing revenue. This allows them to focus on creating content, developing engaging articles and videos to increase traffic, drive the business forward and deliver on what their readers are looking for,” said Iona Lofrano, Customer Success Manager, Ezoic (Chrome Unboxed’s AI-powered ad platform).
“Ezoic is able to get top-tier Google ads through its network, such as ads for Best Buy, Samsung, and other big manufacturers, placing much higher bids than we could get on our own,” according to Humphrey.
Here are a few examples of tests the team ran on its monetization efforts.
During the Covid pandemic, when ad rates declined, earnings were not meeting the team’s expectations, so they decided to explore running a test for a top-of-page ad to run on the site. A top-of-page ad was added to the site on April 20, 2020.
In the first 2.5 months, Chrome Unboxed saw a 10% improvement in desktop EPMV (earnings per thousands of visitors), and 31% improvement in mobile traffic. Additionally, engaged pageviews per visit and time per visit also improved exceptionally well. “Although a lot of people think a top-of-page location is bad for UX, we actually saw a decrease in bounce rate for mobile after adding in this unit,” Humphrey said.
AI is used to factor in thousands of data points to ensure that the site is balancing user experience and revenue uplift. That way, the publisher is making more money, without sacrificing visitors.
“Chrome Unboxed automatically optimizes the best placement and number of ads for each visitor every time its website loads using AI and machine learning technology. The technology adapts to the individual and inventory, helping to optimize ad placements and the user experience, and increase revenue to enable Chrome Unboxed to focus on producing great content,” Lofrano said.
The team started testing the removal of AMP around August 30, 2021. “AMP is a framework built by Google that is supposed to be very fast but has limitations when it comes to functionality and advertising. It’s well known that AMP does not monetize well and was no longer allowed to be a ranking factor for Google,” Humphrey said.
AI was used to determine the optimal types of ads with a given size to show visitors in specific locations.
After removing AMP, Chrome Unboxed’s EPMV saw a 106% increase. It also saw a decrease in bounce rate.
The team added in sidebar locations and updated the appearance of the entire domain on February 12, 2022. By adding in a sidebar, the goal was to create a profitable location for ads on the site.
Once Chrome Unboxed added in the sidebar, the AI tool added in placeholders for the ads, which were then factored into its machine language algorithm to determine the optimal ad types, layout and presentation to display for each visitor.
In the first ~75 days, EPMV (earnings per thousand visitors) increased by 7.5%. Sidebar advertising currently accounts for 15% of total revenue for the site. Engaged pageviews per visit and time per visit improved by 40% and 21% respectively.
“It’s a balance. We are providing free content, no paywall, no subscription cost, and ads are a part of that exchange. We want to optimize for revenue and user experience. We have tested many options over the years. Over time, we have found the balance…the middle ground between those two… Monetizing our website has allowed us to focus on the content and write about Chromebooks and nerd out on it. From a revenue standpoint, it has been instrumental. It’s allowing us to scale so much more than before and gave us the ability to turn our side hustle into a full-time job,” Humphrey concluded.
The team at PartnerStack ran an A/B test on its demo signup page to test the social proof used to support the call-to-action.
The original landing page used a testimonial to the right of the form. The testimonial read:
“If you're thinking about making the move, then don't hesitate. Grab a demo with them, and take it from there. I had a ton of questions in the initial stages, and they were there with all of the answers. These folks know their stuff.”
Here is a look at the landing page…
“The testimonial version was performing well, so it was valuable. But we came across people in our space (Chili Piper and Powered By Search) who had tried ‘Recent Client Wins’ as social proof to support their contact us form and saw a lift,” said Joe Kevens, Director of Demand Gen, PartnerStack.
The treatment landing page replaced the testimonial to the right of the form with the following copy…
ð 18% Of New Trials Driven by Partnerships (Teamwork)
Here is a look at the treatment landing page…
Note that the G2 badges used in the A/B test were the same for the control and treatment. They are only slightly different in these screenshots because Kevens needed to use the Wayback Machine to find a higher-resolution version of the original.
The treatment, which used recent client wins as social proof, saw a 12% lift in demo requests.
Over the course of a year, this lift would translate into the following pipeline results:
“There are no sacred cows with A/B tests. The champion should be challenged,” Kevens said. “The testimonial did a very good job of providing the voice of the peer to vouch for the value of the demo. But the value of the results that peers saw was even better at getting people to request a demo.”
There are several times I’ve talked to companies that said they needed help with their email marketing. It was underperforming. They needed better copy. When I understood their strategy more, I had to come clean – I’m just not that good of a writer. I’m not a good enough writer to overcome that fact that they were just spamming people. They didn’t need better copy – they needed a better strategy.
I know, it seems impossible when you’re stuck in that cycle of e-blasting for leads and dollars, and just need to hit your numbers. But it is possible. So when I saw this next case study come across my desk, I thought it was worth sharing with you.
My Learning Hub is a B2B e-learning platform. Before early 2022, it relied on cold outreach that would bring more than 60% of demo bookings. Increasing the number of leads meant increasing the number of sales developments representatives (SDRs) and, thus, monthly costs as a result. So the team wanted to diversify its lead gen with other channels, making it more scalable and sustainable in the long run.
While the company didn’t completely pivote from cold outreach, the team did decide to invest in a content-driven, SEO strategy to not only create awareness online but build credibility and trust during the sales process as well. “That’s when a prospect would look us up on review sites like G2 and compare against our competitors. So we had to build our credibility through customer reviews alongside presence on Linkedin and case studies,” said Alina Veselaya, Marketing Manager, My Learning Hub.
Here’s a look at several checklists they used (that you can repurpose for your own inbound efforts):
“Charles Kettering, Head of Research at General Motors, famously said almost a hundred years ago: ‘A problem well stated is half solved.’ As with anything you start doing in business, you first have to study the ‘average room temperature’ of your industry,” Veselaya said. After finalizing a shortlist of competitors, the team analyzed competitor content with Ahrefs:
The team ran a similar analysis once a piece of content was published to inform backlink building. “Again, Ahrefs offers a detailed overview of referring domains and backlinks to the top results for a selected keyword,” Veselaya said. “The more authority our website has, the better it is for the Google algorithm.”
Once they had an understanding of what competitors were doing and where the opportunity was, they took steps to discover what content topics to focus on using Ahrefs:
“Clustering is easily done with the help of SE Ranking,” Veselaya said. Once the keywords were clustered into potential topics, the team assessed:
Upon selecting a topic, they analyzed the top 10-20 articles for a selected keyword, and identified the content type for the articles, for example, evergreen content, how-to articles, comparison articles, or top lists.
But they didn’t only create keyword-driven articles based on competitive research, because they wanted to differentiate their content on some level as well. For example, inspired by a freshly released film, they wrote an article on what training managers can learn from King Richard, which wasn’t particularly set for SEO but got clients and partners commenting on how entertaining it was to read.
“Google loves it when website content remains updated,” she said. So the team worked with different writers to achieve a regular, consistent posting cadence. They started with an average of eight articles (each around 1,000 words) per month defined through this clustering and selection process.
Based on keyword research, clustering and backlink analysis, they SEO-based writer briefs included:
Creative Sample #5: SEO-driven writer brief for “10 Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance” article, part 1
Creative Sample #6: SEO-driven writer brief for “10 Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance” article, part 2
Before publishing, they wanted to make sure their website was structurally optimized for SEO.
The team added metadata to product pages. “This way Google indexes (or reads) your metadata fields, therefore, displaying it in search results,” Veselaya said.
And they made the following additions to their blog posts:
“Using Google Analytics and Google Search Console and having regular report meetings with our SEO team helped us track progress and keep an eye on how our content was performing – against previous results and our competitors as an ambitious benchmark,” she said.
Over the last year, the team has reached 75% of demo bookings coming from organic search, diversifying lead generation channels and optimizing customer acquisition cost as a result.
“Eventually, this process led to more educated, proactive prospects that would often be easier to convert than those coming through cold outreach,” Veselaya concluded. “More educated clients mean better product functionality that responds to their needs, smoother onboarding and implementation — it’s a win-win for all.”
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