Often I get asked, “Hey Shane, my blog is already established, how do I grow it from here?”
“I’ve done all that I can, there’s no more room to grow this website, maybe I should sell it?”
Well that’s what this case study is about.
How I grew a home website from $30K MRR to $200K MRR in 12 months using my SEO and CRO strategies.
The same strategies I teach my clients in my Blog Accelerator program.
Specifically I’m going to cover:
- The first reports I created to help set the growth strategy for this site
- How I conducted my SEO audit to find the hidden issues plaguing the site
- How I improved the SEO to find rank/traffic “quick wins” 2x traffic in 3 months
- The CRO strategy and how we increased RPV by 30% in 2 months
- How we leveraged high quality links to power 300% traffic growth in 12 months
- What the team structure looked like to execute all of the above in 12 months
I started working on this website in May of 2020.
This was an acquisition and was the first project I helped Three Ships with during my time with them.
This was also the first acquisition at Three Ships for the team I was working with, so the pressure was on for me to make it work, which would power future deals (and there were many).
This website was in the home insurance space and generated revenue selling leads.
The previous owners of this website had started it in 2016 and it had been relatively stagnant for 18 months.
Given COVID was just starting, they wanted to offload it and stockpile a bit of cash.
Little did they know, I was about to 6x it!
The first reports I created to help set the growth strategy for this site
Anytime I work on a new site, there are 3 reports I create to help me effectively manage “what to do” and prioritize the work.
Those reports are:
- Content Log
- Content Performance
- Content Roadmap
Each report has a specific use and together helps you efficiently manage an effective SEO program.
A content log’s purpose is to document every single piece of content published on the site.
Each piece of content should be recorded alongside a target keyword, cohort, date published, and published URL.
Typically, I use a gsheet to organize this information, but you could use Asana, Clickup, Airtable, or any other tool with similar column/row functionality. The goal is just to have your hands around the “as is” for the site.
This site had only about ~65 pages, so this document didn’t take me long to create.
Content Performance Report
After the log was created I created another document I’m calling the “Content Performance Report”.
Usually this report is done monthly to review how each URL on the site is performing.
Each month, by URL, I measure:
- Rank (as of the last day in the month)
- Take Rate
- Conversion Rate
These data points helped me find where the money is being made.
Often we “think” we know where the money is coming from, but without proper page-level attribution, you’re flying blind and are lacking a key piece of information to help with keyword strategy.
As you can see, having your data organized helps to make building these reports easier to create. If you’re reading this and don’t have your data together you should start there.
Get your Google Analytics setup, setup “take tracking” and make sure you have page-level attribution.
Thankfully for this site, it had GREAT data already.
We actually had first touch and last touch attribution conversion attribution at the page-level, which helped a ton when determining which pages I needed to create next to unlock growth.
The only thing I needed to setup was “take rate” tracking, which I did with Google Tag Manager.
Now that I have a read on where the money is coming from at a page level, I spent about 1-2 days in AHREFs researching competitors, the market, reddit, yelp, etc to come up with a content roadmap.
That is, what content can we produce that will be “net new” and not cannibalize existing content but still drive new traffic to the site.
The previous owners of the site “thought” that they created all of the content they could in the niche.
I ended up creating another 100 pieces of content that added $100K MRR the following year.
How did I know that this content resulted in $100K MRR?
Because each time we published a new piece of content, it’s added to the content log (see above).
When we created the “Content Performance Report” for July 2021, we could see that the content produced in July 2020 resulted in this incremental MRR.
How cool is that?
The power of good reporting.
How I conducted my SEO audit to find the hidden issues plaguing the site
Now that the 3 key reports are done, we got into some actual SEO.
As with all new sites, you should conduct an SEO audit to get your hands around the good, the bad, and the ugly with the site.
SEO Audits are great for finding issues, but I find them to be good forcing functions to just to learn about the site.
Although… with SEO audits you can get SUPER in the weeds and spend a lot of time fixing stuff that doesn’t really move the needle.
Some diehard SEOs like to use every tool under the sun to unearth every blemish and issue with the site.
Don’t do this.
The truth is, you can 80/20 SEO audits pretty easily.
You’re just looking for big problems.
Problems that if you fix, will move the needle for your site.
Some technical SEO issues can be ignored or deprioritized for later.
For me, my preferred tools for SEO audits are ScreamingFrog and AHREFs.
Some of the “bigger” things I’m looking for in my SEO audits with ScreamingFrog:
- Are internal links going to 404s/pages that dont exist?
- Are there 301 redirect chains?
- Are the canonicals set up correctly?
- How deep does the site architecture go?
- How well are our VIP pages internally linked?
- Are topically relevant pages clustered?
Some things I’m looking for in my SEO audits with AHREFs:
- Are there links from websites to 404s on my website?
- Do my most powerful internal links point to VIP pages?
As you can see, it’s not a lot, and that’s by design.
And most of these things are spit of out of ScreamingFrog and AHREFs via pre-generated reports.
I like to focus on the inputs that drive results and not get bogged down with ancillary “nice to have” SEO fixes.
So that’s what I did for this site.
Knocked out the big stuff.
How I improved the SEO to find rank/traffic “quick wins” 2x traffic in 3 months
Now that we have all the data from the 3 reports and the SEO Audit, we can start tweaking the pages to capture more traffic.
By the way… are you starting to see a theme with how I operate?
I am a “data-first” SEO and blogger.
I don’t like to guess and just throw sh*t at the wall and see if it works.
All my SEO decisions are in some way based on data.
For this site, I immediately saw an opportunity to optimize each page for “featured snippets”.
Back in 2020, featured snippets were way more prominent than they are today, something like 30-50% of SERPs had a featured snippet.
Today less SERPs have featured snippets, but still very much an optimization I do for all of my websites and blogs.
Just by optimizing for featured snippets, placement went from <15% to 35%+ resulting in a 40% lift in traffic (10k/mo -> 14k/mo)
This was our first big win.
Intros to the content
When I work on websites, I am a big advocate for optimizing the above-the-fold experience to “hook” the reader and add target/secondary keywords toward the top of the page.
Just like YouTube videos, you need to “hook” the user into reading the rest of the content and I’ve found Google tends to place more emphasis on keywords used toward the top of the page and H1.
That’s what I did for this website.
I had a freelance writer re-write every single intro section for the content with the goal of “hooking” the user weaving in the target keywords in a natural way.
In terms of data, we were able to see this turn into a win via 7% lower bounce rate, and 4% longer session duration.
Not a huge win, but anything we can do to keep readers on our pages and minimize the dreaded “back” button, it’ll set up our pages for success.
Made the homepage a homepage
The next area of the website I wanted to fix was the homepage.
This was kind of a bigger change.
The previous owner optimized the homepage for a VIP keyword worth a lot of MRR.
Now, the logic behind this was good.
The homepage is usually the most powerful page for the site, so optimizing it for the best keyword in the niche, it makes sense.
They had another page elsewhere on the site that ranked for the same keyword.
For example, think “best insurance company” and “best insurance plans”.
These keywords have very similar intent.
They used the homepage to rank for “best insurance company” and had another page targeting “best insurance plans”.
I decided to de-optimize the homepage for “best insurance companies” so that we could make the homepage more of a hub vs a page optimized for one keyword.
We updated all of the internal links that were pointing to the homepage and had them point to the “best insurance plans” page.
Some would say risky, but it was necessary to get this page on track and let the homepage be a homepage.
We expected some short term pain as Google figured out this change, but it went smooth.
12 months later we saw us go from position 15 -> position 4.
This win alone was worth $30K MRR.
The takeaway here for you is that you should have 1 page = 1 target keyword.
If you have 2 pages targeting the same keyword, you usually have a problem.
Also let the homepage be a homepage.
The next big SEO change I made was adding hiearchy to the site via breadcrumbs and breadcrumb schema.
I’d chalk this up as a “quick win” since its generally best practice to help Google understand your site.
Now don’t get me wrong, you can get by without breadcrumbs and Google can probably figure your site out, but why leave it to chance?
Adding breadcrumbs ensures Google understands the relationship between the pages.
For example, for this site we had a bunch of state-focused pages (i.e., best insurance companies in texas, etc) then an overall “best insurance companies” page.
I wanted to ensure Google understood that the “best insurance companies” page was at the top of this silo and the location pages rolled up into it.
This was especially important given the homepage updates mentioned in the previous section.
Deleted/410’d ~20 Pages
The next order of business was pruning pages.
This site was launched in 2016, so had a fair bit of old stale content that drove <10 visits of month and very few (if any) links.
I deleted every page that had <20 visits trailing 3 months and 0 referring domains.
I redirected/combined every page that had <20 visits but >1 referring domains.
Why do this?
It ensures Google only crawls on pages that are “high value”
If your site is full of pages low quality, Google is going to waste previous crawl budget crawling those pages instead of your VIPs.
If you want to keep a page that doesn’t generate any traffic and has few if any referring domains, I would noindex it.
Otherwise delete/redirect to optimize Google’s focus.
Internal Link Audit
The last major SEO initiative was updating the internal linking for the site.
The previous owner was way too aggressive with exact match internal anchors.
Think “best insurance companies” anchor text dozens of times with little variation.
A couple times, sure, but you really want a wide variety of anchor texts.
Anchor text that is all “semantically related” but different.
This helps Google get more certainty around your pages increasing rank.
I tend to like AHREF’s “internal link” report for this.
We went through our VIPs updating all of the anchor texts for the internal links pointing to our VIP pages.
Then we did another pass adding internal links to our VIP pages from pages with high UR rating (i.e., power pages).
These are pages with lots of link equity pointing to them, so adding links from those pages to our VIP pages should help boost rank.
A lot of SEOs and blog owners neglect internal links, don’t.
The CRO strategy and how we increased RPV by 30% in 2 months
Aside from SEO, optimzing conversion rate “CRO” is a big lever to improve revenue for your website and blog.
Similar to SEO, you can spend a lot of time in the weeds tinkering and see little results with CRO.
For this website I saw quick wins by adding the following:
- More strategically placed CTAs
- Improved CTA look and feel
Strategically placed popups can go a long way in converting visitors into leads and sales.
For my jewelry site, LearningJewelry.com, the exit popup was one of the primary ways we were able to increase revenue.
For this site we found a similar result.
The key with popups is urgency and relevancy.
You want popups to include some kind of countdown clock urging the user to act.
You also want the imagery or copy to include a relavant message.
I did both for this site and saw RPV increase 15%.
When we bought the site, it came with a panel that looked like this from USNews.com
Panels are great and showcase a lot of data in an easy to consume way.
This website already had a decent panel, so wanted to add one more widget to maximize RPV.
That widget was a “podium”.
Podiums are for minimal detail but showing “who was best” at a glance.
This is what the USNews podium looks like.
The hardest things about podiums are balancing monetization and user experience.
You don’t want to just stick a podium on the top of the page to make more money.
You need to be thoughtful about its placement to ensure its adding value and not just a cash grab.
If its just a bunch of links at the top of the page pointing to affiliate partners, you may see bounce rate go up, which may affect rank and hurt your site.
For this site, I did a bit of market research to figure out the right data points to include in the podium and have it rolled out by the end of August 2020.
This increased RPV by 10%, we’ll take it.
How we leveraged high quality links to power 300% traffic growth in 12 months
Every SEO driven blog needs links.
This website was no difference.
As soon as a I rolled on, I tapped a number of relationships I had and activated linkbuilding campaigns immediately.
I specifically focused on 4 strategies:
- Broken Backlink Building
- Digital PR
If you’re not familiar, HARO or “help a reporter out” is a way to network and get in front of journalists.
Journalists submit queries, and publishers respond.
If your response is used, you stand a pretty good chance of getting a link out of it.
Even “nofollow” links via HARO tend to be great links.
HARO is a great way to build high quality links on websites like WashingtonPost, NYTimes, TheSpruce, FamilyHandyman, and others.
At this point, I have a rock solid playbook to secure HARO wins and saw this work out well for this website.
I also use a mix of vendors that I trust and internal resources here.
The other tactic I deployed here was broken linkbuilding.
In this niche, I saw a lot of old companies that have gone out of business and saw that as an opportunity.
Websites that link to the old out of business companies are likely 404ing.
We’d publish a page on our website and then pitch websites to link to our page instead.
There were roughly ~1,000 quality link prospects and saw conversion rates >10% for this tactic.
It’s not a tactic that I deploy for all sites I work on, but depending on the industry it works really well.
The thing about linkbuilding is that a few quality links can go a really long way in powering growth for a website.
Digital PR campaigns get you those “hard to build” quality links that move the needle.
Links from websites that don’t no really give out links.
Digital PR is great for that.
You create some kind of data study, piece of research, tool, etc that is unique.
When you nail it conversion rates skyrocket, but these campaigns take time.
I ran at least 1 Digital PR campaign each quarter using a vendor and scored some great links from WashingtonPost and others.
Not a ton of links, but definitely worth the effort.
The last tactic we tapped was relationships and trusted vendors.
Given I’ve been in the SEO industry for years, I’ve come across dozens of other website owners in my outreach campaigns.
I like to nurture these relationships getting to know webmasters so that we can continue working together in the future.
This is also how you get more of the “hard to get” links.
Over the years, I’ve also built a rolodex of great linkbuilding vendors I tap to help build links to specific pages.
Don’t get me wrong, there are 100s of “linkbuilding agencies” that I wouldn’t touch and may actually hurt your site as they place links from “link farm websites”.
Avoid these link the plague.
Overall, we were able to secure roughly 20 links per month from this source.
What the team structure looked like to execute all of the above in 12 months
The last area I want to cover in this case study is the team structure.
I’ll be honest, this was a very small (but mighty) team.
It was me, an intern right out of college with no SEO experience, VAs, freelancers to write content, and some vendor support.
The takeaway here, is you don’t need a big team to get big results.
You just need a good plan and identify where a little bit of input can go a long way.
I had the intern place all of the featured snippets.
I showed her how to do one and then had her roll it out to the remaining pages.
Conclusion & Next Steps
So that’s it.
With those inputs we cross the $200K MRR milestone in June of 2021.
This website is just one example of many I’ve deployed my playbook to and seen results.
And I’ve only scratched the surface with the specific things we did to get this website to 8x in 2020.
If you the full story on this site and want me to help you get similar results with your website or blog check out my Blog Accelerator program.
In it you get my playbooks for SEO, CRO, and linkbuilding.
So if you’re a business owner with a blog or use SEO to drive revenue for your business, I can help you.