Case Study: How a Media Company Grew 400% and Used SEO to Get Acquired


Disclaimer: I’m presently the Director of Demand Generation at Nextiva, and scripting this case research autopsy as the previous VP of Marketing at Sales Hacker (Jan. 2017 – Sept. 2018).



Every B2B firm is investing in content material advertising proper now. Why? Because all of them need the identical factor: Search site visitors that leads to web site conversions, which leads to cash.

But right here’s the problem: Companies are struggling to get traction as a result of competitors has reached an all-time excessive. Keyword issue (and CPC) has skyrocketed in most verticals. In my present area, Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS), a few of the CPCs have practically doubled since 2017, with many key phrases hovering shut to $300 per click on.

Not to point out, natural CTRs are declining, and zero-click queries are rising.

Bottom line: If you’re not creating 10x high quality content material based mostly on strategic key phrase analysis that satisfies searcher intent and aligns again to enterprise targets, you’re utterly losing your time.

So, that’s precisely what we did. The final result? We grew from 19ok month-to-month natural periods to over 100ok month-to-month natural periods in roughly 14 months, main to an acquisition by Outreach.io

We validated our exhausting work by measuring natural progress (site visitors and key phrases) in opposition to our e-mail checklist progress and income, which correlated positively, as we anticipated. 

Organic Growth Highlights

January 2017–June 2018

As quickly as I used to be employed at Sales Hacker as Director of Marketing, I started making SEO enhancements from day one. While I didn’t waste any time, you’ll additionally discover that there was no silver bullet.

This was the results of day by day blocking and tackling. Pure execution and no progress hacks or gimmicks. However, I firmly consider that the homepage redesign (in July 2017) was a super enabler of progress.

Organic Growth to Present Day

I formally left Sales Hacker in August of 2018, when the corporate was acquired by Outreach.io. However, I assumed it could be fascinating to see the lasting influence of my work by sharing a present-day screenshot of the natural site visitors development, by way of Google Analytics. There seems to be a dip instantly following my departure, nonetheless, it seems like my predecessor, Colin Campbell, has picked up the slack and bought the prepare again on the rails. Well achieved!

Unique concerns — Some context behind Sales Hacker’s progress

Before I dive into our findings, this is a little context behind Sales Hacker’s progress:

  • Sales Hacker’s weblog is 100 p.c community-generated — This means we didn’t pay “content marketers” to write for us. Sales Hacker is a publishing hub led by B2B gross sales, advertising, and buyer success contributors. This will be a blessing and a curse on the similar time — on one hand, the location will get a great deal of superb free content material. On the opposite hand, the posts usually are not even shut to being optimized upon receiving the primary draft. That means, the editorial course of is intense and laborious.
  • Aggressive publishing cadence (four–5x per week) — Sales Hacker constructed an unimaginable repute within the B2B Sales Tech area of interest — we turned often known as the go-to vacation spot for unbiased thought management for practitioners within the area (consider Sales Hacker because the gross sales equal to Growth Hackers). Due to excessive demand and recognition, we had extra content material accessible than we might deal with. While it’s a good downside to have, we realized we wanted to preserve transport content material so as to keep away from a content material pipeline blockage and a backlog of sad contributors.
  • We had to “reverse engineer” SEO — In brief, we bought free community-generated and sponsored content material from prime gross sales and advertising leaders at SaaS corporations like Intercom, HubSpot, Pipedrive, LinkedIn, Adobe and many others, however none of it was strategically constructed for SEO out of the field. We additionally had contributors like John Barrows, Richard Harris, Lauren Bailey, Tito Bohrt, and Trish Bertuzzi giving us a treasure trove of fantastic content material to work with. However, we had to collaborate with every contributor from starting to finish and information them by way of your entire course of. Topical ideation (based mostly on what they had been certified to write about), key phrase analysis, content material construction, content material sort, and many others. So, the actual secret sauce was in our editorial course of. Shout out to my teammate Alina Benny for studying and inheriting my SEO course of after we employed her to run content material advertising. She crushed it for us!
  • Almost all content material was evergreen and extremely tactical — I made it a rule that we’d by no means agree to publish fluffy items, whether or not it was sponsored or not. Plain and easy. Because we didn’t enable “content marketers” to publish with us, our content material had a optimistic repute, because it was coming from extremely revered practitioners. We centered on evergreen content material methods so as to gas our natural progress. Salespeople don’t need fluff. They need actionable and tactical recommendation they will implement instantly. I firmly consider that reaching viewers satisfaction with our content material was a main think about our SEO success.
  • Outranking the “big guys” — If you have a look at the highest-ranking gross sales content material, it’s the standard suspects. HubSpot, Salesforce, Forbes, Inc, and many different websites that had been way more highly effective than Sales Hacker. But it didn’t matter as a lot as conventional SEO knowledge tells us, largely due to the truth that we had authenticity and rawness to our content material. We realized most gross sales practitioners would fairly learn insights from their friends of their group, above the standard “Ultimate Guides,” which tended to be a tad dry.
  • We did VERY little handbook hyperlink constructing — Our hyperlink constructing was actually an e-mail from me, or our CEO, to a website we had a nice relationship with. “Yo, can we get a link?” It was that easy. We by no means did large-scale outreach to construct hyperlinks. We had been a very lean, distant digital advertising group, and subsequently lacked the bandwidth to allocate sources to hyperlink constructing. However, we knew that we’d purchase hyperlinks naturally due to the recognition of our model and the extremely tactical nature of our content material.
  • Our social media and model firepower helped us to naturally purchase hyperlinks — It helps A LOT when you have got a widespread model on social media and a well-known CEO who authored a necessary e-book known as “Hacking Sales”. Most of Sales Hacker’s articles would get extensively circulated by over 50+ SaaS companions which might assist drive pure hyperlinks.
  • Updating stale content material was the bottom hanging fruit — The greatest chunk of our new-found natural site visitors got here from updating / refreshing outdated posts. We have particular examples of this developing later within the publish.
  • Email checklist progress was the “north star” metric — Because Sales Hacker isn’t a SaaS firm, and the “product” is the viewers, there was no want for aggressive web site CTAs like “book a demo.” Instead, we constructed a very relationship heavy, referral-based gross sales cadence that was supported by advertising automation, so checklist progress was the metric to concentrate to. This was additionally a key part to positioning Sales Hacker for acquisition. Here’s how the e-mail progress development was trending.

So, now that I’ve set the stage, let’s dive into precisely how I constructed this SEO technique.

Bonus: You can even watch the interview I had with Dan Shure on the Evolving SEO Podcast, the place I breakdown this technique in nice element.

1) Audience analysis

Imagine you’re the new head of promoting for a well-known startup model. You are tasked with tackling progress and want to present quick outcomes — the place do you begin?

That’s the precise place I used to be in. There had been a million issues I might have achieved, however I made a decision to begin by surveying and interviewing our viewers and clients.

Because Sales Hacker is a enterprise constructed on content material, I knew this was the best selection.

I additionally knew that I might have the option to stand out in an unglamorous business by speaking to clients about their content material pursuits.

Think about it: B2B tech gross sales is all about numbers and promoting stuff. Very few manufacturers are actually taking the time to be taught concerning the forms of content material their audiences would love to eat.

When I used to be asking individuals if I might speak to them about their media and content material pursuits, their response was: “So, wait, you’re actually not trying to sell me something? Sure! Let’s talk!”

Here’s what I set out to be taught:

  • Goal 1 — Find one main model messaging perception.
  • Goal 2 — Find one main viewers growth perception.
  • Goal three — Find one main content material technique perception.
  • Goal four — Find one main UX / web site navigation perception.
  • Goal 5 — Find one main e-mail advertising perception.

In brief, I achieved all of those studying targets and applied adjustments based mostly on what the viewers instructed me.

If you’re curious, you’ll be able to take a look at my whole UX analysis course of for your self, however listed below are a few of the key learnings:

Based on these outcomes, I used to be ready to decide the next:

  • Topical “buckets” to deal with — Based on the commonest day by day duties, the info instructed us to construct content material on gross sales prospecting, constructing partnerships and referral packages, outbound gross sales, gross sales administration, gross sales management, gross sales coaching, and gross sales ops.
  • Thought management — 62 p.c of website guests stated they stored coming again purely due to thought management content material, so we had to double down on that.
  • Content Types — Step by step guides, checklists, and templates had been extremely desired. This instructed me that fluffy BS content material had to be ruthlessly eradicated in any respect prices.
  • Sales Hacker Podcast — 76 p.c of respondents stated they might hear to the Sales Hacker Podcast (if it existed), so we had to launch it!

2) SEO website audit — Key findings

I can’t absolutely break down how to do an SEO website audit step-by-step on this publish (as a result of it could be method an excessive amount of info), however I’ll share the important thing findings and takeaways from our personal Site Audit that led to some main enhancements in our web site efficiency.

Lack of referring area progress

Sales Hacker was not ready to purchase referring domains on the similar charge as opponents. I knew this wasn’t due to a hyperlink constructing acquisition downside, however due to a content material high quality downside.

Lack of natural key phrase progress

Sales Hacker had been publishing weblog content material for years (earlier than I joined) and there wasn’t a lot to present for it from an natural site visitors standpoint. However, I do really feel the model skilled a exceptional social media uplift by constructing content material that was useful and partaking. 

Sales Hacker did occur to get fortunate and rank for some non-branded key phrases by chance, however the quantity of content material revealed versus the quantity of site visitors they had been getting wasn’t making sense. 

To me, this instantly screamed that there was a problem with on-page optimization and key phrase focusing on. It wasn’t anybody’s fault – this was largely due to a startup founder occupied with constructing a group first, and then bringing SEO into the image later. 

At the top of the day, Sales Hacker was solely rating for 6k key phrases at an estimated natural site visitors value of $eight.9k — which is nothing. By the time Sales Hacker bought acquired, the location had an natural site visitors value of $122ok.

Non-optimized URLs

This is widespread amongst startups which might be simply wanting to get content material out. This is only one instance, however fact be instructed, there was a entire mess of non-descriptive URLs that had to get cleaned up.

Poor inner linking construction

The inner linking focus was poorly distributed. Most of the fairness was pointing to a few of the lowest worth pages on the location.

Poor taxonomy, website construction, and navigation

I created a mind-map of how I envisioned the brand new website construction and inner linking scheme. I wished all of the content material pages to be organized into classes and subcategories.

My targets with the brand new proposed taxonomy would accomplish the next:

  • Increase engagement from pure website customer exploration
  • Allow customers to navigate to a very powerful content material on the location
  • Improve touchdown web page visibility from a rise in related inner hyperlinks pointing to them.

Topical directories and class pages eradicated with redirects

Topical touchdown pages used to exist on SalesHacker.com, however they had been eradicated with 301 redirects and disallowed in robots.txt. I didn’t agree with this configuration. Example: /social-selling/

Trailing slash vs. non-trailing slash duplicate content material with canonical errors

Multiple pages for a similar precise intent. Failing to specify the canonical model.

Branded search issues — “Sales Hacker Webinar”

Some of the location’s most essential content material isn’t discoverable from search due to technical issues. For instance, a seek for “Sales Hacker Webinar” returns irrelevant ends in Google as a result of there isn’t an optimized indexable hub web page for webinar content material. It doesn’t get that a lot search quantity (zero–10 month-to-month quantity in accordance to Keyword Explorer), however nonetheless, that’s 10 potential clients you might be pissing off each month by not fixing this.

three) Homepage — Before and after

Sooooo, this magnificence proper right here (screenshot under) was the homepage I inherited in early 2017 once I took over the location.

Fast ahead six months later, and this was the brand new homepage we constructed after doing viewers and buyer analysis…

New homepage targets

  • Tell individuals EXACTLY what Sales Hacker is and what we do.
  • Make it stupidly easy to join the e-mail checklist.
  • Allow guests to simply and shortly discover the content material they need.
  • Add social proof.
  • Improve inner linking.

I’m proud to say, that all of it went in accordance to plan. I’m additionally proud to say that as a consequence, natural site visitors skyrocketed shortly after.

Special Note: Major shout out to Joshua Giardino, the lead developer who labored with me on the homepage redesign. Josh is one in every of my closest pals and my advertising mentor. I might not be scripting this case research at this time with out him!

There wasn’t one tremendous measurable factor we remoted so as to show this. We simply knew intuitively that there was a optimistic correlation with natural site visitors progress, and figured it was due to the interior linking enhancements and elevated common session length from bettering the UX.

four) Updating and optimizing current content material

Special observe: We enforced “Ditch the Pitch”

Before I get into the nitty-gritty SEO stuff, I’ll inform you proper now that probably the most essential issues we did was blockade contributors and sponsors from linking to product pages and injecting screenshots of product options into weblog articles, webinars, and many others.

Side observe: One factor we additionally had to do was add a nofollow attribute to all outbound hyperlinks inside sponsored content material that despatched referral site visitors again to companion web sites (which is now not relevant due to the acquisition).

The #1 criticism we found in our viewers analysis was that individuals had been getting irritated with content material that was “too salesy” or “too pitchy” — and rightfully so, as a result of who needs to get pitched in any respect day?

So we made all of it about worth. Pure schooling. School of exhausting knocks model insights. Actionable and tactical. No fluff. No nonsense. To the purpose.

And that’s the place issues actually began to take off.

Before and after: “Best sales books”

What you might be about to see is basic SEO on-page optimization at its best.

This is what the publish initially regarded like (and it didn’t rank properly for “finest gross sales books).

And then after…

And the consequence…

Before and after: “Sales operations”

What we observed right here was a crappy article trying to clarify the position of gross sales operations.

Here are the steps we took to rank #1 for “Sales Operations:”

  • Built a tremendous optimized mega information on the subject.
  • Since the outdated crappy article had some first rate hyperlinks, we figured let’s 301 redirect it to the brand new mega information.
  • Promote it on social, e-mail and regular channels.

Here’s what the brand new information on Sales Ops seems like…

And the consequence…

5) New content material alternatives

One factor I shortly realized Sales Hacker had to its benefit was topical authority. Exploiting this was going to be our secret weapon, and boy, did we do it properly: 

“Cold calling”

We knew we might win this SERP by creating content material that was tremendous actionable and tactical with examples.

Most of the competing articles within the SERP had been definition model and theory-based, or low-value roundups from domains with excessive authority.

In this case, DA doesn’t actually matter. The higher man wins.

“Best sales tools”

Because Sales Hacker is an aggregator web site, we had the benefit of simply out-ranking vendor web sites for finest and prime queries.

Of course, it additionally helps if you construct a tremendous useful mega checklist of instruments. We included over 150+ choices to select from within the checklist. Whereas SERP opponents didn’t even come shut.

“Channel sales”

Notice how Sales Hacker’s article is from 2017 nonetheless beats HubSpot’s 2019 model. Why? Because we most likely glad consumer intent higher than them.

For this question, we discovered that customers really need to learn about Direct Sales vs Channel Sales, and how they intersect.

HubSpot went for the generic, “factory style” Ultimate Guide tactic.

Don’t get me fallacious, it really works very properly for them (particularly with their 91 DA), however right here is one other instance the place nailing the consumer intent wins.

“Sales excel templates”

This was pure lead gen gold for us. Everyone loves templates, particularly gross sales excel templates.

The SERP was simply winnable as a result of the competitors was so BORING of their copy. Not solely did we construct a higher content material expertise, however we used numbers, lists, and energy phrases that salespeople like to see, corresponding to FAST and Pipeline Growth.

Special observe: We by no means used lengthy intros

The one development you’ll discover is that each one of our content material will get RIGHT TO THE POINT. This is inherently apparent, however we additionally uncovered it throughout viewers surveying. Salespeople don’t have time for fluff. They want to minimize to the chase ASAP, get what they got here for, and get again to promoting. It’s actually that simple.

When you determine one thing THAT essential to your viewers, (like preserving intros brief and candy), and you then repeatedly leverage it to your benefit, it’s actually highly effective.

6) Featured Snippets

Featured snippets turned a large a part of our quest for SERP dominance. Even for SERPs the place natural clicks have lowered, we didn’t thoughts as a lot as a result of we knew we had been getting the snippet and free model publicity.

Here are a few of the best-featured snippets we bought!

Featured snippet: “Channel sales”

Featured snippet: “Sales pipeline management”

Featured snippet: “BANT”

Featured snippet: “Customer success manager”

Featured snippet: “How to manage a sales team”

Featured snippet: “How to get past the gatekeeper”

Featured snippet: “Sales forecast modeling”

Featured snippet: “How to build a sales pipeline”

7) So, why did Sales Hacker get acquired?

At first, it appears bizarre. Why would a SaaS firm purchase a weblog? It actually comes down to one factor — group (and the leverage you get with it).

Two learnings from this acquisition are:

1. It could also be price buying a area of interest media model in your area

2. It could also be price beginning your individual area of interest media model in your area

I really feel like most B2B corporations (not all, however most) come throughout as solely making an attempt to promote a product — as a result of most of them are. You don’t see the vast majority of B2B manufacturers doing a good job on social. They don’t understand how to market to emotion. They utterly ignore top-funnel in lots of instances and, as a consequence, get minimal engagement with their content material.

There’s actually so many areas of alternative to exploit in B2B advertising if you know the way to leverage that human emotion — it’s simple to stand out you probably have a soul. Sales Hacker turned that “soul” for Outreach — that voice and group.

But one ultimate cause why a SaaS firm would purchase a media model is to get the sting over a rival competitor. Especially in a area of interest the place two giants are battling excessive spot.

In this case, it’s Outreach’s good outdated arch-nemesis, Salesloft. You see, each Outreach and Salesloft are combating tooth and nail to win a new class known as “Sales Engagement”.

As a part of the acquisition course of, I ready a deck that highlighted how useful it could be for Outreach to purchase Sales Hacker, purely based mostly on the site visitors benefit it could give them over Salesloft.

Sales Hacker vs. Salesloft vs Outreach — Total natural key phrases

This chart from 2018 (knowledge exported by way of SEMrush), shows that Sales Hacker is rating for extra complete natural key phrases than Salesloft and Outreach mixed.

Sales Hacker vs. Salesloft vs Outreach — Estimated site visitors value

This chart from 2018 (knowledge exported by way of SEMrush), shows the price of the natural site visitors in contrast by area. Sales Hacker ranks for extra industrial phrases due to having the very best site visitors value.

Sales Hacker vs. Salesloft vs Outreach — Rank zone distributions

This chart from 2018 (knowledge exported by way of SEMrush), shows the rank zone distribution by area. Sales Hacker ranked for extra natural key phrases throughout all search positions.

Sales Hacker vs. Salesloft vs Outreach — Support vs. demand key phrases

This chart from 2018 (knowledge exported by way of SEMrush), shows help vs demand key phrases by area. Because Sales Hacker didn’t have a help portal, all its key phrases had been inherently demand centered.

Meanwhile, Outreach was principally rating for help key phrases on the time. Compared to Salesloft, they had been at a huge drawback.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t be scripting this proper now with out the assistance, help, and belief that I bought from so many individuals alongside the best way.

  • Joshua Giardino — Lead developer at Sales Hacker, my advertising mentor and older brother I by no means had. Couldn’t have achieved this with out you!
  • Max Altschuler — Founder of Sales Hacker, and the person who gave me a shot on the massive leagues. You constructed an unimaginable platform and I’m eternally grateful to have been a a part of it.
  • Scott Barker — Head of Partnerships at Sales Hacker. Thanks for being within the trenches with me! It’s a pleasure to look again on this wild experience, and marvel how we pulled this off.
  • Alina Benny — My advertising protege. Super pleased with your progress! You got here into Sales Hacker with no concern and seized the chance.
  • Mike King — Founder of iPullRank, and the person who gave me my very first shot in SEO. Thanks for taking a probability on an unproven child from the Bronx who was all the time late to work.
  • Yaniv Masjedi — Our phenomenal CMO at Nextiva. Thank you for all the time believing in me and encouraging me to flex my thought management muscle. Your help has enabled me to actually develop into a high-impact progress marketer.

Thanks for studying — inform me what you suppose under within the feedback!



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