SEO is tough.
I’ve worked on countless projects where the company has seriously underestimated the resources needed for an SEO campaign.
More often than not, they’ve read a case study online where someone has scaled up their organic search traffic from zero and is now bringing in hundreds of thousands of visitors to their website each month.
“Well, if they can do it, why can’t we?”
They see the same things being mentioned by “SEO experts” that guarantee success:
“Create lots of great content, and it’ll start to rank. Google loves fresh content, so the more the better.”
The chart below represents how a lot of people imagine SEO gains over time: a nice steady upward trend of traffic.
The reality is that it’s more like this:
Organic traffic growth is often unpredictable. You might find yourself doing SEO for quite some time with very little to show for it — then, suddenly, one of your pieces of content gains traction. Once it starts ranking, it has a knock-on effect to a few more of your pages, and you start to then see hockey-stick growth.
Even during this period, it just takes one of your big traffic-driving pages to slip down to page 2 of Google, and you’re back where you started.
I’m sure a lot of people reading this right now have experienced this very thing. This is how even some of the most successful SEO campaigns pan out.
Contrary to popular belief, great content isn’t enough.
Without doubt, the biggest cause of failure with SEO campaigns is the assumption that simply creating great content will get you results.
Yes, your content needs to be great. Yes, it needs to resonate with your buyer persona. Yes, it needs to be aligned to the keywords that you want to rank for.
All of the above is true, but if you don’t have great promotion, too, then that content will end up gathering dust in the nether regions of Google’s search results.
Nick Eubanks wrote a great article recently titled, “Content is Queen.” He described the very thing that I’m talking about and showed a number of examples where “great content” has completely failed to deliver results.
Here is one of the examples that Nick talked about:
A lot of time and effort has clearly gone into this piece of content, which sits at nearly 7,000 words total. It’s actually full of useful stuff and is what you would class as fairly “linkable content.” But if that’s the case, then why has is only earned four backlinks from two websites (including Nick’s)?
The reason is that this content hasn’t been promoted well. The only evidence of this piece of content being promoted is on the brand’s Facebook, SlideShare and Pinterest presences.
It’s common for a large proportion of your overall organic search traffic to come from a very small proportion of your overall content.
Here’s some data from a study that my colleague, Pam Vaughan, did across the HubSpot blog. We found that 46 percent of all of our blog leads came from 0.5 percent of our blog posts (just 30 posts out of nearly 6,000!). Considering most of our leads come from organic search traffic, you can see how this can reinforce the point I’ve made above.
Don’t worry if this is the case with your own website. My advice here is to dig into what’s making the small number of posts so successful and see if you can “reoptimize” your underperforming content accordingly.
More importantly, don’t just tear down a piece of content and start again if it doesn’t perform as well as you had hoped. There are lots of ways to leverage or repurpose existing content, some of which I’ve described in detail in my huge SEO tips guide.
This one can’t be stressed enough: Backlinks matter.
If you think that big websites online with a ton of “authority” don’t need to worry about links, then you’re mistaken.
Backlinks are probably the single most important factor toward ranking for competitive search terms, and they matter just as much to established websites as to brand-new ones.
I ran a huge study into the performance of the content on the HubSpot blog and found that there was very strong positive correlation between our top-performing content within organic search and the number of backlinks that content had.
Even for a website as authoritative as HubSpot.com, we still need to have a backlink strategy to ensure that our content ranks well.
If you really want your campaign to be successful, plan for the worst, focus as much of your time as possible on the promotion of your content, and don’t make assumptions before you’ve actually gathered data.