This May, we’re celebrating our 8th full year of business at Express Writers.
Looking back, it doesn’t even feel like eight years.
More like a century. (Just kidding!)
Seriously, though, I’m thankful that we’re here this May. Eight years is nothing to sneeze at. Just look at these statistics from Motley Fool:
- 80% of new businesses survive past their first year of operation.
- 50% of businesses make it to five years.
- And only 33% of businesses make it to ten years.
Considering that I started this entire operation back in 2011 with an investment of the crumbs left in my broke-college-student savings account, $75, I’m thrilled that we’ve made it this far.
With a 100% chance of failure, I rolled up my sleeves and put in many 60 and even 90-hour work weeks in the beginning. We kept chugging along, growing at incredible speeds every year. (If you haven’t seen my entrepreneurial story video on YouTube, you might enjoy it.)
As I was digging into ideas to write a blog to celebrate our eighth year here on the Write Blog, it hit me that we didn’t have any fresh case studies on our blogging traffic and analytics, which have recently been the highest they’ve ever been. It also came to my mind the current state of affairs: how many content marketers and blog publishers are still struggling to even see success from their online efforts. So, this case study is needed.
If you read one blog from me this year, make it this one.Check out @JuliaEMcCoy's new study on @ExpWriters' content success A Case Study in Blogging: 21,600 Keyword Rankings in Google and 90,000 Visitors Per Month Click To Tweet
A Case Study in Blogging: 21,600 Keyword Rankings in Google and 90,000 Visitors Per Month
Let’s dive into my blogging case study! First, let’s talk about the beginning (strategy), and the end (results).
The Power of, and Strategy Involved In, Brand Blogging that Works
Fun fact: Blogging used to be just for the people that “journaled their thoughts” on the web.
The idea of blogging online itself originated in 1994, when a college student named Justin Hall began a stint of “personal blogging” that lasted eleven years. He was enrolled at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Originally, the words “escribitionists” and “weblog” were used to describe what is now known as “blog.” Thank goodness that word evolved!
Blogging is now far more than just an online diary.
It’s a huge opportunity for businesses, brands and marketers to express themselves to their audience, grow and build a real community, and share the authentic real “human side” behind the brand.
Blogging is a #1 method for marketers and brands to add consistent new site traffic that may eventually convert and become a buyer.
At Express Writers, I’ve managed to write and publish over 1,100 blogs on our site over the past eight years, with the help of my team.
The amount of content we publish on our blog, the consistency of it, and the quality and relevancy of our blog posts are the biggest factors behind what is now 90,000+ visitors/month coming to our site:
- We have 1,188 blogs published to date since 2012, the year I began consistently blogging.
- That’s an average of 169 blogs published per year.
- Our traffic went up steadily over the years, increasing when we put an emphasis on quality over quantity of content in late 2016 and ramped up in 2017.
- Our quality > quantity emphasis that began in 2016 focused on a few things: implementing a real content strategy for the first time and going from publishing four blogs/week to 1-2 high-quality blogs/week.
The amount of content we publish on our blog, the consistency of it, and the quality and relevancy of our blog posts are the biggest factors behind what is now 90,000+ visitors/month. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
Here’s a timeline tracking our biggest historic growth points, pulled from this blog I wrote on content strategy and my masterclass on how to build a strong content strategy. Right around the time we focused on a content strategy and quality over quantity, our results started to shoot through the roof.
The data speaks. Check out how our SEO tracking in SEMrush reflects a spike in growth right around the time we built a content strategy and emphasized quality over quantity:
Last week, when I was giving a talk on content creation right here in Austin, Texas, I shared these two slides that sums up our content success story well.
The Google Analytics screenshot below was from March of this year, and this April, we had our first 90,000 traffic/month.
Smart marketers shouldn’t be too excited by these numbers until they see the conversion rate and the sales. (Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank, anyone? “Talk numbers!”)
On average, we are achieving the benchmark conversion statistic for organic search traffic. 14-16% of our leads are converting.
As Mr. Wonderful would say, “To cash flow!”
Now, here’s what our traffic numbers look like as of writing this blog over late April 2019.
Our Google Analytics:
On the right, in the blue box, you can see how 10 out of these 14 visitors are on a blog post the moment this screenshot was taken. This is very common for our traffic.
Now, check out our SEO ranking statistics in SEMrush again.
We’re at 21,600 keyword rankings in Google. I have the graph set to “all-time”, so this is going back to May 2013, when I first started a SEMrush tracking project for our site. I’m in love with the traffic growth shown in this graph that spiked beginning in 2017, which is the year we got strategic. Learn more about how getting strategic paid off for us, here.
Because of the content geeks we are and how consistent our content is, Google loves our site. Plus, everything we do is always organic, audience-first, and ethical. I never pay a dime in PPC ads, and we don’t allow advertisers to ever have access to our site or blog (even though I’m pitched at least once per day).
You can see proof of our Domain Authority with expresswriters.com in Alexa, Amazon’s pioneer in the world of analytical website insight. Alexa clocks us at being the 97,000th-most popular website in the world, which is pretty crazy given there are over 1.6 billion websites in the world (InternetLiveStats).
As for our content creation itself: everything — everything — we publish and create on our site is focused around several key things:
- Offering real value, factual and statistical (real) insights, truly useful
- Is focused on topics our audience is interested in
- Optimized at an advanced level for SEO; semantic-search-friendly
- Great writing is #1
- Consistency in fresh, great content every week
I believe one of the main factors behind our success is that we’ve blogged once a week, minimum, for 8 years. Consistency pays off. We took it to the next level in 2016 when we added a focus on the strategy behind and quality of content.I believe one of the main factors behind our success is that we've blogged once a week, minimum, for 8 years. Consistency pays off. We took it to the next level in 2016 when we added a focus on strategy and quality. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
We constantly gauge things by will our human audience like this? Will they feel at home with this? Does this make me/she/he uncomfortable or turned off? If the answer to that last question is no, we never publish. I have barred dozens of writers from writing my content for these reasons. If my content borders anywhere near fluff, my audience might be lost and never want to come back.
Maintaining these standards is key.
Plus, it’s important to note that no “paid tactics” will ever get in the way of our core, human-centric mission and organic marketing focus: delivering great content consistently to our human audience.No 'paid tactics' will ever get in the way of our core, human-centric mission: delivering great content consistently to our human readers. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
What’s Your Content Schedule?
Now please don’t go and copy my schedule. But, because I’m always asked, here’s what our content publishing amount and velocity looks.
Fact: Your content schedule should be up to you, your team, your audience, and your goals. But you need to get one put in place. (Keep reading for more advice about that.)
- 1 powerful Write Blog post every Tuesday morning: These blogs have to fit in the category of SEO goals, thought leadership, or brand awareness, and be a minimum of 1,000 words and a maximium of 5,000. Learn more about content goals here. One amazing blog per week is what we are able to commit to.
- Bi-weekly and once-a-month: A new YouTube video with recap posted as a blog (see an example), and a recap by our social media manager Rachel of our monthly #ContentWritingChat (example).
- Once/quarter: Product updates and stories about our clients or team (here’s an example). (These are usually once per quarter or less).
- 1-3 email campaigns/week: Sent in tandem with the new content we create to our list. We use ConvertKit.
- Guest blogs: I write once/month and once/quarter for several publications to drive more traffic to our site, including Search Engine Journal, Content Marketing Institute, Thrive, and less often, MarketingProfs, MarTech, KissMetrics, SiteProNews, and a few other random ones.
- Once-a-month: Content on my other sites, including The Content Strategy & Marketing Course blog, and soon, my new personal brand Content Hacker. These typically include links back to Express Writers.
What Are Your Tools & Process?
I love Airtable for at-a-glance blog topic tracking and publishing. My social media manager, Rachel, and my team editor, Danielle, are both collaborators on the Write Blog calendar. My designer is also an Airtable collaborator and uploads header sets and CTA images once I have a topic and a date nailed down. We communicate through our teamroom, which Josh, our CTO, set up years ago for our internal workflow inside our website.
Here’s a sneak peek at the Write Blog calendar in Airtable. We’ve set up our calendar entirely custom to us and our workflow. This isn’t based on a template. For us, these custom and specific columns work best because we have collaborators that help me with the blog: editor, designer, social media manager. The designer has a column where she can upload header sets and CTAs after she knows what blog to produce them for. Up at the top, you can see all the tabs we have — a tab just for ideas, a tab for content that’s been scheduled, a tab for the content we’re updating or rewriting, a tab for our Twitter chat, and more.
Sidenote: I can’t recommend Airtable enough – in fact, I teach how to use it to my content strategy students. I’ve tried many editorial calendars, and this one is the best. Sign up to a free trial of Airtable here.
My blogging process looks a little like this:
- Stage 1: Ideation. I have an ‘ideation’ day, which is typically Monday and sometimes Friday, if Monday was dry. This is a day devoted just to producing ideas that will work for the Write Blog and my YouTube channel, as well as guest publications. I research each and every idea for SEO keywords or data-backed topic velocity using tools like SEMrush and BuzzSumo, or I map my content to a non-data-centric goal (i.e., recapping an event for my audience that I was at or spoke at, sharing product updates). Since I look at this as a ‘stage,’ I batch. I typically come up with 5-6 great ideas from a few hours just in brainstorming.
- Stage 2: Creation – Outlining & Delegating. Once I have a data-backed idea that will work, I produce a topic and outline, and hand it off to one of my three dedicated writers in Express Writers. These specific three have been handling my content tasks for years now. Since I came up with 5-6 ideas, I’ll assign all of those at once with different due dates in the ‘delegation’ or ‘creation’ stage. Sometimes, I’ll write the whole thing myself. For example, this blog is 100%, fully written by yours truly.
- Stage 3: Editing & Scheduling. This is a full stage in and of itself. After the content piece is fully written, I carefully review, add my own thoughts, rewrite where necessary, and add personal case studies. I request an image set from my designer, and plan out any content upgrades (lead magnets) we’re going to create CTAs for. Then I hand it to Danielle, my Write Blog editor, for proofreading and uploading/formatting inside WordPress and our Write Blog. Then, I review again (yes, I’m a blogging Nazi). Finally, we schedule and Danielle makes sure it’s live.
- Stage 4: Promotion. At this stage, Rachel, our social media manager, pulls the data from Airtable and anything else I’ll Slack or email to her, and she writes and schedules shares for our blogs across all our social channels: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I personally write and schedule my own tweets and posts across my platforms and personal profiles, as well. I also share individual snippets to my Facebook group and Instagram stories.
It took years to get this process down, and I will say that a process and especially the delegation of creation is what makes me a ‘content boss’ – p.s. that’s what others have called me, not what I’ve called myself.
My best piece of advice for incredibly consistent, high-quality content production? Get your process down, delegate the meat (but not the ideas), and you’ll be off to content rockstar-dom. Psst… did you know we handle full-circle monthly blogging plans for our clients? Your only responsibility — ideation.
Which Blog Posts Can You Tie to Revenue — and Which Ones Fell Flat?
Ah, great question.
I definitely have examples of blogs that won and blogs that fell flat on their faces — and I’ll pull a few, but it’s important to make a disclosure first.
Today’s buyer journey is NOT predictable.
I repeat: today’s buyer journey is not predictable.
Essentially, the old funnel developed in the 1920s for ‘salesmen’ is dead. I wrote about a Marketing Lifecycle concept on the Write Blog a few months ago that shares some insights into this.
Andrew and Pete, two rockstar content marketers, made this analogy in one of their YouTube videos. It’s a terrific analogy of today’s (REAL) buyer journey.
Our Buyer Journey: In Short, It’s Completely Unpredictable
I have seen our buyer journeys go into a multitude of areas. Here are a few pathways our leads have taken.
- Finds us in Google, downloads this lead magnet after reading this blog -> They’re enrolled in my 5-day sequence on why and how SEO writing skills are more than just ‘one item’ to learn and the story behind why I built my Expert SEO Content Writer Course -> They buy the course on the second day.
- Same pathway as above, but they unsubscribe and leave instead of buying the course.
- I wake up to a $999 course sale from someone. I research them, their name, and there is nothing. No data. They aren’t on any list I have. I have no idea where they came from. I’ll ask, and it’s a random “My boss found you and we decided to enroll because we really need the training.” (Which is awesome!)
- A subscriber for 3+ years reads this blog on how long should a blog post be -> They book a call with our Strategist, John -> They buy over $1,000 in content services that Friday.
- A marketer finds our blog posts in Google and reads one, gets familiar with us -> follows me on Twitter -> Scrolls through Twitter one night, reads one of my tweets on content marketing that is intriguing to them, checks out my profile, hops over to @ExpWriters from my Twitter bio, follows a tweet of a blog post to our blog, schedules a call with our team leader -> Says they’ll invest in content when they’re ready -> That’s fine – we leave them alone -> They subscribe to the Write Blog newsletter -> They read every new blog I publish -> Four months later, they load a cart and buy their first content service from us late at night when we’re asleep.
- No matter how many times I optimize our Write Bot (Drift chat), I still see this one: Person starts chatting with the Write Bot -> Was instantly annoyed it was a bot -> left and never came back.
And these are just the known pathways. What clients have told us (word-of-mouth data), and what I’ve seen from my own lead magnets and sequences that I’ve personally set up. There are many other pathways I can’t even put a finger on. For example, someone buys our services or my course, no discount code, $1,000+ — and they weren’t on my subscriber list. I’ve never interacted with them once. Where did they come from? God knows. And if I ask them, they might not even remember the first time they saw my content (I’ve gotten this before: “Oh, some guest blog somewhere!”). That’s the best, right? Of course, that doesn’t happen often enough. You can’t just build up random expectations on random purchases. 90% of our leads and purchases do come from strategic content that was created around a target keyword pulling in our ideal client. The other 10% is totally random and we have no idea who they are, or how they found us.
Today’s modern buyer wants to follow and make their own path, and it’s important we allow them the space and breathing room to do that. Any kind of pressure from us marketers will actually negate and spoil their journey. We might lose them before we even gain them, just from trying too hard.
What an age to live in!
Today's modern buyer wants to follow and make their own path, and it's important we allow them the space and breathing room to do that. Any kind of pressure from us could cause us to lose them before we gain them. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
Here are a few examples of real-life blog posts that have won real return and revenue for us, and a blog that has fallen completely flat.
- This one in January of 2019, How to Build a Strong Digital Content Strategy in 2019 & Beyond, is now ranking in Google’s featured snippets and top 3 for “digital content strategy.” We found that keyword in KWFinder sitting at just under 40 in KD (Keyword Difficulty). (Hey look, I practice what I preach!) We’ve gotten some Content Strategy & Marketing Course enrollments from this blog ranking already!
- This blog on How Long Should a Blog Post Be, Really? earned real responses from a couple of blog subscribers, who replied to my New Content Campaign I’d sent from my ConvertKit account. (I send all my emails using ConvertKit. Very user-friendly.) Plus, someone opened the chat and booked a call with us about ongoing content after reading it. It built trust and interest from existing subscribers and generated interest in our services.
- This one ranks #1 in Google for “funny words” and a bunch of synonymous phrases, but earns not a single lead: 34 of the Craziest Words in the English Dictionary. In fact, we get a lot of young people trying to get us to help them with their essays from this blog. (Which we do NOT do.) I’m still debating what to do with it. I’ll probably rewrite it with an angle towards marketers that need to learn how to write content and use words that fit in their target market.
Content Works – But It Doesn’t Work if You Don’t Set It Up to Work
I think I’ve written down the reality of blogging and content marketing ROI so many times in so many blog posts, I’m blue in the fingers. (That’s my synonymous analogy to speaking till you’re blue in the face, but for writers.)
Specifically, these four statistical truths:
- The average time span to see content marketing or even real blogging results is 12-18 months (Joe Pulizzi & CMI, [New Research] B2C Marketers Need to Give Content Marketing Time)
- Hubspot studied over 13,500 bloggers and found that the more blog posts published, the more inbound traffic publishers got to their website.
- An accumulation of more content brings more leads: companies that have published 401+ blog posts get 2x as much traffic as those that have than 400. (Same study referenced above.)
- The current ROA (return of advertising) is .6x, down from 11.8x in 2016. (Ad Strategist) You’re losing money, most of the time. The ROI (return of investment) of organic content is anywhere from 14-16% of traffic (conversion into sales).
But here’s the thing.
I can’t keep spewing these statistics over and over again, just to see you all out there, spinning your wheels.
That’s why I’m writing this blog today.
For those still in the rut of zero action in their content marketing.
Not getting the fundamentals of great copy on their site right, and not stepping into consistency and greatness in content production.
All the while, complaining about the things they don’t have.
Not enough leads.
Not enough sales.
Not enough people on the website.
If they just sat down and fixed these problems, which are so easy to fix — hired an educated writer to rewrite all that not-so-shiny content, bring on a website designer to finally fix their site, get a blogging plan set up and rocking…
Would come.I'm writing this blog today for those still in the rut of zero action in their content marketing. For those complaining about the things they don't have that would come if they took action: leads, sales, traffic. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
I’m tired of seeing you out there. Working your knuckles off to make those sales appointments happen.
I just need one more sale today. One more.
You think it’s a quick fix, and it’s none of these fundamentals.
And you complain about all the things you wish you could have.
Which you could have — if you fixed your content. Get your broken website rebuilt. Take another look at all that content written more than two years ago. Rethink your absence on the company blog.
I care about you, and that’s why I’m calling you out today.
Quit complaining about the leads, traffic, and sales you don’t have.
Start doing something about it.
Content marketing action-takers are the content marketing winners.Content marketing action-takers are the content marketing winners. @JuliaEMcCoy Click To Tweet
Let my case study be your inspiration.
You can do this.
And getting on a pathway to content success is as easy as 1,2,3…
I’ll even give you these three steps.
- Hire a good WordPress designer from platforms like Upwork to fix, clean, or rebuild your messy site to make it lightning-fast, Google-friendly, reader-friendly and beautiful – $30-50/hour
- Get a writer to help rehaul all your icky content, and an SEO’er to help research the right target keywords to use – psst, we do all of that!
- Plan a consistent amount of blogs to happen on your site every month – oh, we do high-quality set-and-forget blog plans, too
Don’t forget a pro photographer to take your headshots if you don’t have any on your website. You’ll need to get your social media going, too. We write the copy and create images, but you should get a social media pro to help if you don’t have one.
Really, though, this is the action you need to take — and it’s not hard.
Get a great website. (Build one if you don’t have one. Rebuild one if yours is crap. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.)
Make sure all your content is original, conversion-crafted, and beautiful — and SEO-optimized so the right people can find it.
Plan your blogs and make ’em happen.
As promised, I have a special announcement for you.
My all-new content marketing brand, Content Hacker™, is coming out to play this June.
You can sign up to hear about the launch here: contenthacker.com.
With this brand, I want to grow a community of smart content marketers and offer tools, resources, training, and education that will give every single budding marketing smarty the chance to really make a difference.
Build content that resonates. That returns. That earns.
And of course, I’ll still be here, leading operations at Express Writers — if you need custom content, all you need to do is holla… we’re your team.
Let’s do this.
Build profitable content that delights our audience, and exceeds every goal and expectation.
“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!” – Audrey Hepburn