Let’s face it.
Getting traffic, maintaining traffic, and creating content they come back for—and keeping that cycle thriving for years—is hard work.
Yet this is something we’ve been able to achieve successfully, day in and day out, at Express Writers.
We’re a content writing agency that does what we do best for ourselves, before we sell it to others—creating winning online content that brings revenue, markets a business, and informs and helps an audience.
Since I launched my website with a $75 investment in May 2011, Express Writers has relied on creating content for ourselves and publishing it online, organically, as the #1 source of all our leads, marketing, and revenue. We’ve focused on creating content without a thought to a sales funnel: and we’ve never paid a penny to advertise our services on Google. (You heard that right. We’ve never, once, invested in PPC. And the publications I write content for, guest blogs, don’t pay me a direct paycheck.)
Instead, we’ve just focused on writing and publishing useful, outstanding content, on our site, consistently. Consistent guest blogging. Creating a Twitter presence that rocks out organically.
Call me crazy, untypical, you-name-it… but it’s worked for us—extraordinarily well.
I’m about to reveal it all to you, in a case study I sat down to create across a five-week span.
We Are Our Own Success Story: How We at Express Writers Dominate Online & Outrank Competition Through Our Content
Our major form of marketing is the actual service we sell: well-written, engaging, optimized online content.
And for the first time, I’m pulling back the curtain in a major case study where we’ll reveal exactly where we stand with content, how we fare against our biggest competitors, and much more. (I’m using a pro account at SEMrush to pull every analytic.)
Here’s a quick table of contents, so you know what’s coming:
Ready for this? Sit back—you’re in for a ride!
What does our organic online presence look like vs. competition?
A five-year-old company (launched May 2011), we outrank our major competitors on average by 5% on Google. Check out this graph:
We’ve climbed to over 4,100 total keyword rankings in Google. Our estimated worth of traffic and rankings is at $13,200 (what we’ve have to spend to achieve these rankings through sponsored ads).
(Don’t worry about that dip in traffic. I have an upcoming post, How I Lost 30% of My Organic Rankings & Traffic (On Purpose) & Added 25% Additional Monthly Revenue By Going After the Traffic I Wanted, coming out soon to explain.)
Over 300 keywords are indexed in the top 10 of Google (example in point, this is from the bottom of page 3, 100 results per page, in SEMrush):
Back to our competitors. Here’s what a real-life look at our keywords vs. theirs look like—on Google, two out of four of our competitors don’t even have a presence for the keywords we rank #1 for:
Overall, at first glance it looks like there is an extremely oversaturated market if you Google “writing agencies,” but only a few are worth really comparing ourselves to.
Their funding: One of our two major competitors gained $700,000 and another $4.5 million for funding since launching in 2011; and the second competitor has been around for over 16 years, raising a private amount of seed funding in 2011.
Our funding: We have zero investors. We don’t have a penny in outside funding. Yet we’re doing big things. I started Express Writers in May 2011 with a pocket investment of $75. It was a five-minute business idea born from a huge load of personal freelance writing I didn’t want to turn away. I learned how to code my first website; today, Josh McCoy leads our branding, building, and all our new upcoming development has been personally funded by ourselves. And without any outside funding, we’re launching a custom-built, 200% more efficient Content Shop that we’ve developed from scratch—coming out end of 2016/early 2017. Hand-in-hand with this will be the launch of custom writer team room systems we’ve built as well. (Get on the notification list for the upcoming launch!) And Josh is knee-deep in launching a boon to all content creators, Copyfind, which will offer the deepest content checking search for originality that’s on the web. (Get on that notification list here!) Yes, we have a lot about to launch. 😛
Today, we serve more than 1,000 clients worldwide, and we easily handle 300 pages in a given week. And we outshine most of our competitors’ quality because of a very personal, one-on-one mentoring environment we’ve given our writers—and because of incredibly dedicated, uniquely qualified experts I’ve been able to hire for our management staff.
I won’t lie: to stay personally funded, I’ve put in many an 80-hour work week on my part, and invested 65% to 100% sometimes of our net profits from the company back in. It’s been hard to find good people, but thankfully, today I have just those people. It’s all been worth the intensive hard work to see growth happen this way. Organically, from hard work, without a huge million-dollar bank account solely responsible for and behind the growth—as is the reality with many, many other VC companies.
How does our content perform?
We have over 785 published blogs on our site, with the first one published live on our WordPress site in September 2012. The average word count of each is 1,500 (with the highest blogs at 3,700 words, and the lowest around 500—we’ve actually been working on adding more content to the shorter ones now). Our two most-shared posts are a blog published in December 2015, on how to do a website audit—coming in at 1k shares. An episode on my podcast with Sujan Patel, published in March 2016, coming in at 800+ shares. (But I don’t think shares mean everything! Here’s why.)
The traffic, lead, and conversions that subsequently happen from our organic rankings bring in 90% of our company revenue. That’s right. That’s a six-figure gross yearly amount. The other revenue is brought in through cold lead outreach, a unique strategy I’ll be unveiling soon in another guest blog. We’ve seen five-figure clients (including big brands) walk in through our door of organic rankings in Google; we’ve created client relationships through organic connections on social media, and have seen four-figure client conversions come in without sales pressure from those that have read my guest blog content.
We’ve never bought a single PPC ad, we’ve never relied on sponsored content, and I’ve never created a single sales funnel—instead, our organic content presence brings in thousands of clients to Express Writers every year.
You might call me crazy for not making sure a sales funnel exists, but here’s the thing: I’m so busy creating relationships and the content that is behind those relationships, that I don’t have time or even need to worry about making sure a marketing or sales funnel process is there. My blog CTAs are as simple as a unique, well-written text link back to our Content Shop on the end of a blog post.
Curious as to how we do it?
Here’s the organic content marketing process I’ve followed, fully unveiled for the first time!
Our #1 Source of Marketing & Traffic Is In Consistently Creating a Ton of In-Depth, Long Form Content
Full disclosure here. We create a lot of content to win in content marketing. The majority is on our site, but our publishing schedule includes guest platforms that I blog on, too. Let’s look at how and where we’re publishing content, and where it’s gotten us.
A Split-Focus and Total of 32 Long-Form Pieces/Month Across the Web: A Huge, Consistent Amount of Quality Content (Quality over Quantity)
For the creation part, I write over 30 blogs monthly (average of each post is 2,000 words) with the help of some of my best team members, who guest author on our site. Primarily, 20 of these blogs go to our site. (You want your best content to be on your own real estate!) The other 10-12 get spread across various high-quality, large audience guest blog networks.
In-depth, specific research is key to a great topic and a great piece, and the actual writing requires time and team effort.
For the research part, I’m always on BuzzSumo, and looking up keywords in SEMrush and KWFinder to see what’s being talked about and asked the most (questions on Quora) in our industry, consistently. I’m also in Twitter chats to see what people talk about and ask each other questions on. I use all this community/research activity to find the best questions, create blog topics and then focus on highly in-depth blogs that fully answer the question in the topic.
Here’s what our EXACT content amounts and publishing times look like:
1. 20 Blogs/Month: How We Publish Content on Our Own Site (A Blog A Day, Except for Weekends)
We publish a content piece every day on our site except for weekends (5 blogs/week). Every post goes live at midnight (00:00 on WordPress scheduling) the day of. Here’s the kinds of content that involves:
- I post 2-3 times a week on our own blog, with posts that range from 1,500 words minimum to 4,000 (with custom created visuals, screenshots, and even GIFs included in each). Each post I write takes about a week. I backdate my content and stay a week ahead by devoting one full day just to writing, planning, and creating content. I start a whole line of new posts instead of just writing one, and flip back between documents to pen down a flow of ideas that should go in various channels. I type fast, so I can finish up to five half pieces in a day, then wrap them all up the next full day of content creation. (Sound scary? This is a unique process that I’ve found that works for me—after five years of blogging every week. My typing speed is 150 wpm.)
- We just opened our blog to internal team member guest authors only (no outside bloggers). We feature 1-2 intensive guest blogs weekly from our full-time copywriters, social media managers, and strategists.
- Once/week, Rachel creates and posts our Twitter chat recap. It’s always near 1,000 words. Keep in mind it’s full of tweets, which are already indexed in Twitter.
- You’re already heard about our organic presence with our site, but here’s a recap: we’re at 2,600+ organic visitors monthly from 4,100 keywords, more than 300 of which are in the top 10 of Google.
- I audit and review our content in the rankings weekly. Once a week, I pop in to SEMrush and check out what ranks, for what keyword. If the content is at all crappy, it gets an update! (Case study coming out soon on how I’ve been successful at auditing old posts.)
2. 12 Content Pieces/Month: How We Rock Out Guest Blogging (The ROI Is Greater Than A Paycheck)
If you would have told me “blogging for free” was worth a TON of money, in the beginning I would have laughed at you. Because I needed the paycheck then, not the exposure.
But today, the exposure is worth far more than a paycheck.
And that’s why I guest blog for free. A lot.
Personally, I limit myself to about 12-13 pieces per month. I may take on one or two more channels next year, but not many more. I’ve learned that a guest blog on an amazing platform like Search Engine Journal (with nearly a million high-value, relevant readers) is worth more in potential leads that will buy our services, than if I dilute and post five blogs that week among other channels like Social Media Today, Business 2 Community, etc. And if I tackle more, I easily get overwhelmed and lose sight of devoting quality on each one.
Here’s where I currently guest blog—I recently got accepted to the HuffingtonPost, and go live on Copyhackers in October!
- Search Engine Journal: 1/week
- SiteProNews: 2/week
- HuffingtonPost: 1/month (I just got accepted this May)
- Business.com: 2/month as an ongoing contributor
- SocialMediaToday: 2/year
- Content Marketing Institute: 1 piece/quarterly
- Social Media Examiner: 1 piece every other quarter (I’m working on improving that, a new piece here is coming out in October)
- Grammarly: I guest blogged here twice. Didn’t see results from the audience at all, despite high shares (not a marketing audience), so I stopped last year.
- Copyhackers: My first blog will be live in October!
The Life Cycle of One Impactful Piece of Content
To emphasize just how impactful online content really can be, I’d like to walk you through a real lifecycle of one organic piece of guest blog content I published. This piece of content returned 100x on the content investment.
Before I show you this, keep in mind one thing: my guest blogging isn’t just a one-time post, but most of the time, it’s an ongoing column. That’s preferential for me, because of the opportunity an ongoing presence affords: a much more sustainable, long-term way to build reputation, traffic, and leads, as you’ll see from this very example.
Let’s take a look at a $5,000 sale that happened five days after someone read my column at SiteProNews.
January 1, 2015: my article How to Create Shareable, Likeable and Organic Content goes live on SiteProNews.
2:25 PM: We received this contact form. (Names blurred out. We’ll call our lead Dave.)
By January 26, after several email conversations and custom project bids from our staff, Dave purchased expert copy, our content planning, and enough content for several sites at a worth of $5,000!
A Success Story or Two: How We Implement Our Own Success Strategies for Our Clients’ Content
The content success strategy I use for our own content marketing is something I take to the bank, teach my writers, and implement for use in writing our own clients’ content.
We write everything, from bulk SEO content for agencies to resell to their clientele, to expert copy for niche firms. And in every piece we create, we implement these strategies: I teach every single writer in my team with internal, exclusive guides at Express Writers built by my staff and I the essence of great online content. From writing a meta description that reads as well as an online ad (because hey—it’s the organic PPC of Google!), to writing a blog that is oriented to the audience and uses the keywords naturally. We don’t fail: we have a 99% success rate because of the exclusive, personally mentored quality of our writers and their content. I can bet you anything that no other agency treats their writer base like we do ours.
And it’s not just a nice theory. We hear time and time again from our own clients that the content we write for them returns on investment.
Here’s a success story from one of our clients, Tom Dean, IT at www.andersonhemmat.com. For this Colorado based attorney website, we wrote brand new site pages to refresh their site; blogs; and press releases. Their results after we rewrote their content? They went up ten pages in the SERPs! With the blog posts we wrote, they also saw steady and increasing rankings in the SERPs. Our content made a tremendous difference!
“We’ve seen a huge jump in web traffic because of the great content you’ve done for us. We’ve gone from page 12 organic to page 2 organic since the site update. The main reason I find the content a successful investment is ROI. It costs very little to have you guys write something but in the long run if it’s on the web and written with SEO in mind it will help our rankings and possibly go viral.”
SnapInspect was another client of ours. By starting their brand new blog out with a consistency of two blogs per week minimum across six months, we were able to help them grow from a zero presence on Google to a subscriber list, active readers, social media followers, and a presence in the top five pages of Google.
There you have it! Our own clients are succeeding online with the content we write that is specifically targeted to perform well. Not just in the SERPs, but with readers.
Now, how have we been able to be successful with our content? I’m going to delve into a few strategies before revealing the last part of how we dominate online—on social media, specifically Twitter.
How to Be Consistent with Great Content
I’ve heard an echoing statement among bloggers that consistency is hard.
But the key in all of this is staying fresh, being relatable to the audience in your industry, and being consistent.
Never publish rushed, but publish as much as you can while staying within quality.
Time is what you need. If you don’t have time, a resource you can trust.
Spend the extra day to proofread, if it’s late at night and you just aren’t proofing it as thoroughly as you’d like. I’d describe my consistency of publishing as a careful balance between two constant thoughts:
- The Thursday I don’t publish content is a missed content opportunity. (Thursday is one of our best posting days: early in the morning, a lot of people seem to be reading blogs.)
- The Thursday I publish rushed, non-proofread content, is the Thursday I should not have published content.
What has significantly helped me in creating amazing content is to set aside one day called my “content” day. Seriously. If you are a blogger or online content marketer, you need to do that. There’s no other way.
Till the day you can hand the process off to a trusted resource, you need to allot one day to content creation. Plan your topics then. Finalize drafts. Create new drafts. Never create and publish one piece in one day. You can take breaks and create new pieces of content to break it up, but never, ever write and publish one whole piece in one single day. I never knew how much a fresh eye really mattered till I spent four weeks on one piece of content! (This piece you’re reading—six weeks. Probably my longest to-date.)
How Do We Successfully Guest Blog? 4 Simple Strategies
How do I pitch to the right platforms, and perfect the right customized content for each one?
My “secrets” to guest blogging are fairly simple. It’s a novel in and of itself, but to sum up, top strategies:
1. Less is more: I’ve noticed that if I focus on less channels, I can present better quality on each. Plus, a few top channels are worth their weight in gold, and sometimes that’s all you need to bring in serious ROI from the blogging you do.
2. Find platforms that align with who your ideal online customer is: It’s all about the right platforms—find ones with a huge audience, and readers that align with your ideal lead demographic.
3. Make a relationship with the right person: This is key in actually getting through and being published on your ideal guest blog. Think of the blog as a person you need to connect with, not an entity. This is how I made all of my guest blog spots happen (all!), from my CTO Josh personally finding Kelsey Jones, myself being invited on the #MarketingNerds podcast, and getting invited to write for Search Engine Journal, to connecting with Joanna Wiebe by offering her a podcast spot, and then getting a “yes” on the guest blog draft I sent her.
Never put time and effort in a contact forms—always find a person to contact! Sometimes starting the relationship can be as simple as finding the right “managing blog editor” to contact, following them on Twitter, and tweeting or DM’ing.
4. Always give your best, most in-depth, most useful content, oriented to the guest blog audience: If you’re writing for Business Insider, for example, you don’t want to be as conversational and story-like as if you were pitching to the Huffington Post. A technical voice might do better there. Find the guidelines for each platform, and follow them to a T. Go beyond by using the right tone that fits their audience! When making points, use screenshots. Don’t short any point you make. Be as in-depth as you can!
#2 Major Way We’ve Built Up Our Online Reputation: Domination on Twitter With #ContentWritingChat, Joining Other Chats, & My Best-Selling Book
Besides content creation, which is truly our fundamental source of valuable rankings and organic traffic, we maintain a strong presence on social media, specifically on one of my favorite social platforms of all time—Twitter.
Back in January this year, on the very first Tuesday in January, I made a resolution to launch a Twitter chat. I researched a hashtag for my chat, settled on #ContentWritingChat, and registered the hashtag to @ExpWriters Twitter handle on Twubs. I created a Twitter chat account specifically for the chat, @writingchat, as well, and started following everyone I knew, as well as major influencers, from that account. My key strategy was to a) hire help! I have had a social media manager run the chat since I started it, from @ExpWriters account. Our current one is Rachel. She’s been with me since the first month of the chat! b) remind everyone who is interested, via Twitter. Rachel takes care of that as well. Reminders are a huge way to get people to hop in your chat!
The serious evolution of our graphics, which you might notice—check out the first chat graphic, and then our last one in October with Joe Pulizzi—is because I was doing them in Canva at the beginning. Now, we have an amazing in-house graphic designer who creates our weekly featured Twitter chat graphics and the blog recap graphics. Our Social Media Specialist, Rachel, creates the Tuesday questions (eight total) on writing-related imagery backgrounds in Canva.
Here’s a short timeline of the fast-track success we’ve seen happen from it:
- #ContentWritingChat day 1, month 1: we climbed to #42 trending on Twitter!
- Month 6: we were trending at #9 and #11!
- Month 7: we were #4 on Twitter! Major influencer Brian Fanzo said yes to guest hosting one session this month.
- Month 9: Major influencer Joe Pulizzi from Content Marketing Institute joined our chat to guest host!
- Month 9: We pulled in a sponsor! I traded a live sponsored spot during our Twitter chat for extensive discounts on tickets to a Search Engine Journal event.
We’re at 1,000+ tweets from people around the globe during our live hour now! Want to learn more about my Twitter chat strategy? Listen in to the podcast I recorded about it with our Social Media Specialist, Rachel.
A Presence in Other High-Ranking Twitter Chats Brings in the Leads
Another way we’ve significantly grown our presence is through joining other Twitter chats. Check out the guide from Rachel with 8 chats that we love. One chat that has a huge presence is Madalyn Sklar’s #TwitterSmarter. We’ve received offline chat messages from interested people clicking through to our site, like this one, from our participation in her chat:
Get in Twitter chats, if you’re a marketer! Or pay your social media person to join for that live hour. You might just find a potential client relationship. It’ll be worth your time.
How Do We Fare on the Other Platforms?
I won’t lie. Our Facebook is a bit dead: I’ve often considered following in Copyblogger’s steps of killing their Facebook page. I still might do it unless we can hand it over to someone who revives our Facebook. We occasionally get the interested writer and client who messages here, so I don’t want to entirely kill it yet. However, I do have a Facebook group, Learn Online Writing, which I’ve grown to just under 140 members. It’s a tight-knit community that mostly comes from my book readers, staff and writers.
Our Instagram, @expwriters, has grown significantly since I created it in August of 2015. We have over 1,800 followers, and we get about 50 likes and 3-5 comments per post. A lot of the traffic on Instagram comes from our Twitter chat followers! Rachel does a great job at summarizing our blogs with unique <100 word summaries and posting that in a new Instagram post, with a themed blog visual specifically made for Instagram, created by our lead designer.
How Publishing My Book Brought Us Organic Leads
I spent literally a year of my life (all of 2015) writing a book that’s out on Amazon, So You Think You Can Write? A Definitive Guide to Successful Online Writing. It’s maintained #3 bestseller in it’s category since it launched mid-April, 2016—a feat because I haven’t been able to advertise it outside of emailing my list, sponsoring one tweet, and telling my social platforms about it!
Here’s what I’ve seen come through the forms… “I want Julia to write my content. Can I get her? She wrote her book really well and that’s why I’m here at Express Writers. I want her to write my book.” After a good chuckle, I told the lead he was in the best hands possibly with our mentored, trained writing staff! He was very pleased with the content results. We’ve had other leads that turned into clients because they read my book and were impressed, as well as writers come in to apply after reading and learning from my book. I’ve also used it as education among our own team writers.
I also have a podcast out, but it’s been hard to quantify results. I’ve had 4,000 downloads since launching it as well in April. I’ve had several appearance and interview opportunities occur because of it, and have gotten on the radar of some of my favorite influencers (an episode with Mark Traphagen will go live this October, and I’ve had the chance to interview Joanna Wiebe, Sujan Patel, and Steve Rayson)! If anything, podcasting has been a major tool in connecting with influencers for me.
Have We Spent a Penny on PPC Ads?
Not one. Ever.
We just started delving into Facebook and Twitter ads for the first time ever and have barely spent $75. (We’ll spend more when I launch our first-ever webinar, coming up soon.)
I belly laugh every time I think of the $75 we just started spending on ads, versus the huge organic results we’ve had so far.
Here’s what I’m going to tell you that’s solid advice to achieve a solid, strong customer base out of your online presence: it really isn’t about advertising anymore. It isn’t about creating a funnel and a sales process on rinse and repeat.
It’s about relationships. Creating meaningful content. Building a community, over time. Answering questions. Helping people.
And that’s what we’ve managed to focus on, and grown to be successful in, here at Express Writers.
Time, effort, and people (amazingly creative people) to help you out—these are the major tools you’ll need to replicate my process.
Want to get started in creating and distributing great content? Let us help you today.