Set Your Company Up for Marketing Success by Working Backwards from 15 Million Blog Visits
A company blog with 15 million visits a year will make your business. That’s the content marketing goal you need to work towards.
After spending a lot of time digging into how SaaS companies are doing marketing, one key pattern that emerges is that founders and marketers get too focused on short-term tactics that lead to temporary spikes in traffic which look good on paper, but don’t move the needle for consistent month-over-month growth that will compound.
What you want is to win and to win big in the long term. The only way to do that is to work backwards from a clear picture of where you want to be, and identify the steps you need to take to get there.
I’ve gathered data on the traffic sources for 15 different blogs, and organized them according to traffic volume and the different stages in a blog’s life. By working backwards from massive websites with millions of visitors to those that are just starting out, we’ll walk through the steps a company needs to scale from each stage to the next.
8M to 15M Yearly Visits: The Momentum Stage
Software blogs that have built huge traffic of 8M+ yearly visitors have done it by winning with organic search. They receive at minimum 3x the traffic from organic search than any other channel of traffic.
In contrast, a big media site like Buzzfeed gets 5x more social traffic than search traffic because Facebook is dominated by news and entertainment content. Personal blog C gets about half of its traffic outside of search.
But software blogs aren’t places that people habitually go to on their own, nor does SaaS content really fit with what people want to read when they’re hanging out on social media. Rather, SaaS blogs get large-scale traffic when people look up specific problems on Google and find that the company blog has the answer.
“In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.”
Over the long term, Google weighs the value of the content on your blog. If, over the years, it’s grown heavy with meaty articles, dense networks of backlinks, and droves of satisfied readers, then you’ll tip the scales and Google will send even more traffic your way.
To set yourself up for organic search, here’s how you need to prepare:
- It’s all about quality. Quality content is critical because it naturally builds up the views and backlinks you need to win with search over the long term. With a lot of good content that ranks well, you lay the groundwork for more search-related optimization tactics later.
- Land and expand. Don’t get confused when you open up HubSpot’s website to find that they cover anything related to marketing. You don’t get to that point by trying to do everything at once. Instead, focus on increasing traffic and organic search around a narrow niche. Once you’ve nailed it, you can expand outwards.
- You can’t trick Google. People try to juice search traffic with blackhat SEO techniques that violate Google’s terms of service. While this sometimes works in the short-term, it’s not a long-term winning strategy because Google constantly updates its algorithm and will heavily penalize you for even small violations.
1.5M to 3M Yearly Visits: The Growth Stage
There’s one simple thing that sets up a website in the growth stage for organic search and a broader audience— publishing more content. Companies that publish over 16 blog posts per month get 2.3x traffic compared to companies that only publish 4 to 5 times per month.
Every time you publish a new blog post, you give Google another page to index and set yourself up to transition from the growth stage to the momentum stage. Contrast that with community site B and personal site D which rely heavily on email and social. In those channels, the incremental benefit of an additional post is less because you can only broadcast so often.
For SaaS blogs, content doesn’t just mean more traffic. It directly translates to a higher quantity of leads. Companies with 401+ blog posts get 3x the number of leads compared to companies with 0 to 100 posts. This is crucial because at the end of the day, your blog will only make it to 8M+ visits if the blog drives revenue growth and the business behind it is thriving.
At this stage, focus and:
- Double down on the content that’s working: Use your Google Analytics data to inform what quality looks like to your audience. The beauty of content is that it can be repeatably produced and distributed. That creates more data that you can use to better inform what your reader wants to learn about.
- Build a machine for content production. To scale your content production, you need to break down your process into a series of steps. Systematize the amount of time it takes for that blog post to get from one step to the next. This allows you to make it run faster and helps you produce more content without sacrificing quality.
- Beef up the middle of your funnel. Your top of funnel is now driving enough volume that it’s worth investing in solidifying and optimizing the middle of your funnel where visitors are turned into leads. This will prove the value of content to the rest of the team to make sure that your blog gets the investment it needs to 5x.
150K to 1.5M Yearly Visits: Product-Market Fit
In the product-market fit stage, you want to see whether you’re bringing in a significant portion of your traffic via direct. For both software blogs B and D, direct is just about the second biggest driver of visits after search.
You’re not hitting product-market fit with your blog if you get a massive bump in referral traffic because you hit the top of Hacker News or a big press mention in Lifehacker. That’s not reproducible in the long term. Instead, you need to be achieving steady, month over month growth in visits.
Direct, unattributable traffic comes from people who visit your site without a clear reason. These are people who are visiting your site because they heard about you from somewhere, likely via word of mouth from more than one friend. Direct traffic is as critical, and an early indicator that you’re building a strong brand.
In the Product-Market fit stage, you begin to pull in a steady flow of traffic, month after month. It’s at this point that you can start to figure out how to juice this traffic for a higher yield. The best way to do so is to look at incoming direct traffic.
Work backwards to this stage by doing the following:
- Talk to your readers. Direct traffic is notoriously difficult to source through quantitative analytics data. Luckily, you can just talk to your customers. Use a survey tool like Qualaroo to gather qualitative feedback by asking direct visitors one simple question: “What brought you here?”
- Reverse engineer quality. You don’t have enough of your own data to inform what quality means to your readers. Instead, figure out what’s working for others. Imitate it but don’t rip it. Tools like BuzzSumo and Ahrefs allow you to look at what content is performing well for other companies in your space.
- Grow an email list for your biggest fans. Hitting product-market fit and building a word-of-mouth machine with your blog means making 100 readers really happy rather than 1,000 people kind of happy. Your 100 passionate readers will join your email list, comment on every article, and tell their friends about your brand. That’s why email is such a significant driver of traffic for consumer brands like blog C and the same can be true for early-stage blogs like software blog B.
Fewer Than 150k Yearly Visits: The Starter Blog
The charts above are the most colorful of any stage because starter blogs hustle to get traffic from wherever they can get it. Software blog C is doing a huge amount of social traffic and it’s the only software blog at any stage with less than 50% of its traffic from search.
Sharing content to social networks like Facebook or Twitter is a good way to get incoming traffic to your website by tapping into your existing personal network. Supplement that by posting on community websites like Hacker News or Inbound.org. This allows you to reach outside your own network and start building a broader audience.
Even if the returns aren’t immediately obvious, what’s important is that you start to get your name out there. You begin to get back data for what channels work and which ones don’t. You start to focus your marketing strategy, double down, and improve.
In the early days of your blog:
- Focus on producing high-quality content. At this stage, it’s premature to optimize around search, although you should keep it in mind. You lay the foundation for organic search down the line by producing quality content that your audience will love and share.
- Do whatever it takes to jumpstart distribution. When you’re starting out, one post to Hacker News might give you a huge spike in traffic. That’s great—but don’t get addicted to it because that traffic is low quality and will disappear just as quickly as it appeared. Create a diverse portfolio of content with some aimed at quick wins and others meant to be evergreen.
- Don’t spend too much time looking at traffic. People often lose focus and try to optimize conversions or run A/B tests too early-on. At this stage you don’t have a big enough sample-size to run meaningful tests. You should be 100% dedicated to just getting more traffic.
Working Backwards Resources
Even if you don’t have a website or a domain name yet, you should never be starting from zero with your content marketing.
Existing content is available to anyone with internet access, which means that you can measure it. If you can measure it, you can reverse engineer it. This kind of scientific thinking and a mindset of working backwards will give you a headstart with content, and help you scale your marketing at every stage of the business.
Here’s a list of tools that will allow you to reverse engineer your marketing:
Reverse engineer search
- Ahrefs: Analyze how your competitors are winning with search
- OpenSiteExplorer: Research backlinks and find opportunities for organic search
- Google Keyword Planner: Find out what keywords your competition ranks for
Reverse engineer quality
- BuzzSumo: Research which content has the most shares for any given topic
- Qualaroo: Talk to your readers
- Compete: Find which sites in your segment are driving the most traffic
Reverse engineer production
- Trello: Track your content pipeline so that you can measure it and remove bottlenecks.
- Process Street: Create content checklists to make it easy for freelancers to execute on your process.
- Wonder: Outsource research and other low-context portions of the pipeline.