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Dec 02, 2021

Startup SEO – How I Reached 35k Monthly Visitors in 1 Year

AUTHOR
author

Nicholas Rubright

EDITOR
author

Nathan Winfrey

When I was in college, I attempted to launch a Spotify competitor.

It ended up failing.

However, in the process of attempting to drive signups for that business, I built a blog, which I grew to 35,000 monthly visitors in a little over 1 year.

From this traffic, I was able to generate over $2,000/month in revenue from affiliate program commissions. Mostly from Amazon’s affiliate program.

Keep in mind that this was affiliate revenue. For my category (music), the commission rate is 3%.

This means that if I was making $1,700 in commission payments from Amazon, then my content was driving over $55,000/month in sales for Amazon.

Here’s the exact content and link building strategy I used to pull this off, step-by-step.

Step 1: Choose the right keywords

When you’re running a startup, you need to be careful where you put your budget.

In SEO, this means you need to choose keywords that are going to drive some type of long-term performance for you.

This doesn’t just mean going after sales-focused keywords, though. All of your competitors are focused on “money” keywords (like “CBD oil” for a CBD company, or “acoustic guitars” for a guitar company). There are many different types of keywords, each of which drive SEO value in different ways.

However, for my purposes, I focused on types of keywords that attracted audiences with very specific intentions:

  • Solution-focused keywords: These are keywords like “how to copyright a song” or “music licensing” where the searcher is clearly trying to solve a problem related to my affiliate offerings.
  • Link-intent keywords: These are keywords that, once you rank for them, attract backlinks passively over time.
  • Top-of-funnel keywords: These are keywords like “music marketing” and “how to promote your music” that don’t have much monetary value due to their information-seeking nature, but they built trust over time as my users started seeing me in Google for other things. Linking to the content pieces built off of these keywords helps improve the perceived authority of your site overall, contributing to EAT factors with effective internal linking.

Let’s go into how you can find each of these keywords.

How to find solution-focused keywords

The purpose behind a solution-focused keyword is to find content ideas where you can position your product as a solution to a problem the reader is facing.

For example, my article about how to copyright a song makes money through my LegalZoom affiliate link because people read the article, don’t want to spend the time to figure it out, and buy the copyright service from LegalZoom.

You can do something similar with your business by finding solution-focused keywords that are related to your product or service.

Let’s use LegalZoom’s copyright offering as an example for this.

To find solution-focused keywords that can help drive sales for this product, we can use Ahrefs’ keyword explorer and enter a verb related to the product.

In this case, that verb is “copyright” because this is the action a buyer would take when making a purchase.

From here, scroll down to “terms match” and click “view all.”

From here, we can use the filter to find solution-focused keywords by filtering for phrases like “how to,” “why,” or “when,” depending on the nature of your offering.

In our case, we’re going to use “how to” because LegalZoom offers a sort of “done for you” solution, and the value of their offering is the convenience they offer.

All of these ideas look good because they:

  1. Fit into the problem/solution framework we’re looking for.
  2. Have a CPC, which means advertisers are bidding on these keywords.
  3. Have a search volume that’s worth the effort and risk (this is up to you to determine, but I like taking big risks 😉).

From here, we can go through the list one at a time and choose the ones that are worth going after based on the business. For me, I chose “how to copyright a song” because it made sense when considering my audience of musicians.

How to find link-intent keywords

Link-intent keywords are the ones that are searched by bloggers and journalists when they’re writing content and looking for things to source.

In most industries, bloggers and journalists link out to information to back up a point they’re trying to make or to reference something that will give more information on a sub-topic they need to mention but don’t want to get into.

There are tons of ways to find link-intent keywords, but more recently my approach has been to use “seed” keywords like these to find very focused opportunities:

  • Statistics
  • Average
  • Data
  • Study
  • Case study

With these keywords, we can use Ahrefs to find link-intent keyword ideas.

To do this, we plug one of the keywords into Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer.

Then, scroll down to “terms match” and click “view all” to see all of them.

After that, filter for a broad term that aligns with your niche. For us, “music” results in some good starting points for idea generation.

Finally, we want to make sure the top ranking pages are attracting backlinks passively over time.

For example, this page that ranks #2 for “apple music statistics” got an initial influx of links in the beginning, likely from email subscribers and initial content promotion, but continued to gain links over time.

This is evidence that people are finding the article through search and linking to it on their own.

By finding keywords that are proven to attract links passively, you can build a passive link building strategy that exponentially improves link acquisition for your site as you scale.

How to find top-of-funnel keywords

Top-of-funnel keywords are basically the super-broad keywords in your niche that your audience would search. Your goal with these keywords is to get your brand on the radar of searchers in your niche, increase awareness, and build trust.

Finding these keywords is less analytical and more creative, but a good place to start is to look at the keywords your SERP competitors (the other websites competing for a keyword position) are ranking for.

We can use Ubersuggest for this. Check out this guide to Ubersuggest if you want a deep dive.

For example, in my niche, I considered DIY Musician from CDBaby a competitor since they cover similar subject matter.

So to find keyword ideas for my site, I’d enter the DIY Musician URL into Ubersuggest, then comb through the huge database of keywords and pick out ones that I could write helpful content for.

When choosing top-of-funnel keywords, make sure you choose keywords that have an SEO Difficulty score that’s lower than your website’s domain rating.

You can check the SEO Difficulty of a keyword in Ubersuggest by clicking on any keyword and looking at the score on the Overview page.

As your website moves up in authority from earning backlinks, you can go after more difficult targets.

Step 2: Build over-the-top content

Too many marketers focus on building “better” content.

This is content that’s made “better” by adding more information, making it more up-to-date, or otherwise bringing content up to what should be considered today’s internet standard.

The problem with this approach is that you end up building a “better version” of what’s out there, so users ultimately feel indifferent between your content and your competitors’ content.

“Over-the-top” content is something that’s built with the intention of entirely solving the user’s problem. It involves an extremely narrow focus on the hyper-specific needs of the person behind the keyword.

In other words, aiming for “better” content forces you to focus entirely on what your competitors are doing, while aiming for “over-the-top” content forces you to leverage existing content to understand and help your audience in your own way.

In my case, when I searched “best acoustic guitar for beginners” I noticed that the competing content was almost entirely made up of top 10 lists, like this one from Guitar World.

There was nothing particularly special about any of the reviews either. This one from Guitar Junkie, for example, jumps into the review pretty quickly without explaining how the list was built.

To compete for this term, rather than making my list longer or including more details that might not even help my users, I decided to legitimize my list by interviewing YouTube’s top guitar teachers.

The idea was to ask each of these guitar teachers the questions that beginners would.

So to start with, I used the subject matter covered in competing articles to come up with this list of interview questions:

  1. What should a beginner guitarist look for when shopping for an acoustic guitar?
  2. What should a beginner guitarist be prepared to spend on an acoustic guitar?
  3. What would you say is the best acoustic guitar for beginners and what makes it awesome?

From those questions, I cold emailed some of YouTube’s top guitar teachers about what I was trying to build, gathered responses from about 10 of them, and compiled their responses into an interview-style roundup post.

Their responses helped me build the best article on the internet (at the time) about the best acoustic guitars for beginners.

Note: Being able to include “as recommended by YouTube’s most popular guitar teachers” definitely gave the piece some built-in social proof. 😉

Because the content was so good in the eyes of Google’s users and the other pages on my site were pulling in backlinks, the article ranked for “best acoustic guitar for beginners.”

Even though the page itself had zero backlinks!

This experience taught me that quality is all that matters.

Quality content, quality backlinks…quality everything.

When I stopped focusing on vanity metrics like cost per word and articles per week and instead started focusing exclusively on working to create the best content I can for the keyword I’m after, whatever it takes, things took a turn for the better.

Step 3: Regularly chase backlinks

While content takes up a majority of Google’s ranking considerations, backlinks are still a factor. Google makes this very clear.

The first thing I leveraged for earning backlinks for my site was guest posting. I basically kept doing guest posting forever and changed the pages I linked to in my articles as my rankings fluctuated.

I also conducted outreach using modified versions of other link building techniques, such as resource page outreach and the skyscraper technique with super-personalized outreach emails.

Link building is one of those things that you just have to put time into. There’s no easy way to win backlinks. The hard way is the only way.

And no, you can’t just buy backlinks.

At the time, I couldn’t find an agency or freelancer who could execute link building campaigns the right way, so I built one. If you need link building services, check it out.

However, if DIY is your thing, here are some resources that I learned link building from:

We post a lot of stuff about link building on our blog too. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Whatever you decide, make sure you’re always running and optimizing link building campaigns to help move your content up in the SERPs.

How much would this cost to do (and at what ROI)?

The cost of this is hard to estimate because given that this was my first website, there were lots of noob mistakes that were made along the way.

However, given what I know today, the total cost of the pages I still would have built would amount to about $42,525 over 1 year if it were done via our managed SEO content creation services.

To get the backlinks I did for this project via link building, it probably would have cost around $51,700 via our link building services.

This is based on a $700 cost-per-link estimate. Keep in mind that the music industry is relatively easy to get backlinks in. Outreach didn’t take too much creative thinking, and at the time, I was even able to use templates I found online and get results from my outreach.

Here’s a page-by-page breakdown of where those costs would have gone in these SEO-focused pieces from Dozmia:

Article

Content Asset

Content Cost

Backlinks Earned

Link Building Cost

Goal

Result

https://blog.dozmia.com/how-to-start-a-band/

5,000 words

$2,500

No link building

N/A

Build top-of-funnel traffic

It didn’t work.

https://blog.dozmia.com/find-band-members/

3,500 words

$1,750

8 backlinks

$5,600

Sell a “Join My Band” T-shirt

It didn’t work.

https://blog.dozmia.com/10-best-acoustic-guitars-under-300/

2,500 words

$1,250

No link building

N/A

Attract conversion-ready traffic

Drove some sales, maybe enough to eventually cover the investment had I continued working on the website.

https://blog.dozmia.com/best-acoustic-guitar-under-2000/

2,500 words

$1,250

No link building

N/A

Attract conversion-ready traffic

Held its place in position #4 for the main keywords (it still does, even being out of date), but it did bring in 1-2 big sales each month that contributed to the revenue. This one definitely returned the investment, maybe more.

https://blog.dozmia.com/best-acoustic-guitars-under-1000/

3,500 words

$1,750

No link building

N/A

Attract conversion-ready traffic

Never made money aside from maybe 1-2 sales.

https://blog.dozmia.com/top-10-best-acoustic-guitars-under-500/

2,500 words

$1,250

2 backlinks

$1,400

Attract conversion-ready traffic

Made around $500/month for me.

https://blog.dozmia.com/best-electric-guitar-for-beginners/

2,000 words

15 hours of outreach to get influencers involved, $2,500

1 backlink

$700

Attract conversion-ready traffic

This one was hit or miss each month.

https://blog.dozmia.com/best-acoustic-guitar-for-beginners/

2,500 words

15 hours of outreach to get influencers involved, $3,000

3 backlinks

$2,100

Attract conversion-ready traffic

Earned me $1,000-$1,500 each month.

https://blog.dozmia.com/best-electric-guitar/

4,000 words

15 hours of outreach to get influencers involved, $3,500

1 backlink

$700

Attract conversion-ready traffic

This usually didn’t sell anything, but would occasionally bring in around $100 per month when it did.

https://blog.dozmia.com/how-to-trademark-a-logo/

1,500 words

$750

No link building

N/A

Sales

It never earned any SEO traffic, but I got 1-2 sales from this from people finding it on the site and buying the trademark.

https://blog.dozmia.com/social-media-promotion-for-musicians/

2,500 words

$1,250

2 backlinks

$1,400

Top-of-funnel traffic and a linkable asset

This campaign failed.

https://blog.dozmia.com/how-to-get-a-record-deal/

3,000 words

$1,500

No link building

N/A

Top-of-funnel traffic

Did well and ranked in the top 5 for “how to get signed” at the website’s peak.

https://blog.dozmia.com/band-artist-bio/

1,500 words

$750

1 backlink

$700

Top-of-funnel traffic

Did relatively well and ranked for some long-tail keywords like “how to write a music bio” when the site was actively managed.

https://blog.dozmia.com/places-to-upload-your-music-online/

1,000 words

$500

3 backlinks

$2,100

Conversion-focused traffic to get musicians to upload their music to my app

We got to the top 5 but never reached top 3. It did pull in a sizable amount of long-tail traffic.

https://blog.dozmia.com/how-to-get-a-upc-code-for-album-single/

250 words

$125

No link building

N/A

Top-of-funnel traffic

This pulled in a few visitors each month and still ranks in the top 5 for “what is a upc code for music.”

https://blog.dozmia.com/best-acoustic-guitar/

5,500 words

$2,750

4 backlinks

$2,800

Conversion-focused traffic

This page brought in between $250-500 each month.

https://blog.dozmia.com/how-to-trademark-a-band-name/

1,000 words

$500

5 backlinks

$3,500

Conversion-focused traffic

This page didn’t bring in any significant revenue, but in some months it would result in commission payouts of $200-500.

https://blog.dozmia.com/ascap-vs-bmi-vs-sesac-vs-soundexchange/

1,000 words

$500

2 backlinks

$1,400

Top-of-funnel traffic

This one did well for long-tail traffic and still ranks for keywords like “soundexchange vs bmi.”

https://blog.dozmia.com/songwriting-tips-techniques-ideas-exercises/

500 words

40 hours to collect roundup responses, $4,000

4 backlinks

$2,800

Top-of-funnel traffic

This was one of the top performing pages on the website.

https://blog.dozmia.com/how-to-copyright-a-song/

1,000 words

5 hours to reach out to a lawyer to review the content, $1,000

10 backlinks

$7,000

Sales-focused traffic

This article brought in $500/month for about 6 years.

https://blog.dozmia.com/promote-your-music-online-free/

4,000 words

$2,000

2 backlinks

$1,400

Top-of-funnel traffic

This one didn’t do well.

https://blog.dozmia.com/reddit-music-promotion/ 

1,000 words

$500

No link building

N/A

Top-of-funnel traffic

It didn’t do well.

https://blog.dozmia.com/get-your-music-heard-noticed/

1,500 words

$750

3 backlinks

$2,100

Top-of-funnel traffic

This was one of my best performing pages for that.

https://blog.dozmia.com/get-radio-airplay/ 

1,500 words

$750

6 backlinks

$4,200

Top-of-funnel traffic

This was also a top-performing page.

https://blog.dozmia.com/music-marketing-tips-ideas-strategies/

5,500 words

$2,750

10 backlinks

$7,000

Win top-of-funnel traffic and use this to get backlinks

This was one of my top performing pages.

https://blog.dozmia.com/13-common-questions-about-music-licensing-for-businesses/ 

1,500 words

5 hours to reach out to a lawyer for help, $1,250

8 backlinks

$4,800

Link bait and long-tail traffic

This was one of our top 10 pages and worked well at attracting backlinks passively.

Total calculated content cost: $42,525

Total calculated link building cost: $51,700

Total cost overall: $94,225

So if we look at the above and ask “is SEO worth the investment?” the answer depends on the perspective.

If I asked myself, as the entrepreneur who built the site and made $2,000/month after a year, whether I would spend this amount on a return like that again, absolutely not.

However, turn to Amazon, who made $55k/month in sales after this?

Or LegalZoom, who made thousands off the referral traffic I sent them from 3 different content pieces?

If I were either of those businesses, I’d do this as many times as I could.

In any case, we had to build the pages on the site and get the backlinks well before we could see any returns.

The pages have to be built, the backlinks have to be earned, Google has to index all of that, then we may need to make further optimizations based on where we land.

This is the true meaning of “SEO takes time.” We have to invest time in SEO stuff. It’s not a waiting game.

Hopefully this gives some perspective into the possible ROI of SEO.

If you’re curious, here are the traffic stats for the top 20 pages from August 2017 to August 2018.

You may notice that some of the URLs above aren’t in the articles I budgeted for.

That’s because they were guest posts from freelance writers or writers at other websites who reached out to me asking if they could write for my site.

I said yes because, why not? It’s free content!

So many writers want to land guest posts on publications outside of their own, mainly for backlinks, but letting good ones write for you is a great way to get free content that can contribute lasting SEO value to your website if it’s good.

How long does it take to start seeing results?

This is such a hard question to answer because, from an SEO perspective, “results” mean new data points to work off of and further build the campaign, which can come in within the first 3 months.

However, what entrepreneurs and investors are usually asking is, “How long until this starts turning into some sales?”

This is a long and complicated answer because there’s no way to tell for sure, and that’s why a common answer is “12-15 months.”

For brand new projects, it’s this way for a number of reasons:

  1. SEO professionals need time to run into new problems unique to your business. When you hire an SEO professional, you aren’t hiring someone who can see the definitive path to success for you, but you’re hiring someone who’s found it before for others.
  2. SEO professionals need to build up a database of influential contacts and relationships for backlink acquisition and content marketing partnerships.
  3. In some niches, like CBD, health, gambling, legal, finance, and porn, it’s hard to build links, so it can require more time to develop lasting link building outreach campaigns.
  4. Good content pieces can take up to a month to build and another month to be indexed by Google.
  5. Backlinks can take up to 3 months to acquire. Longer if the email copy or outreach targets require frequent adjustments.
  6. Google can take as much time as they want to see any of this work and assign impact. Sometimes it takes an additional 3-12 months for them to see and count backlinks to new websites after you’ve earned them, for example.
  7. Different links have different impacts, so figuring out what types of backlinks work to improve rankings for your website will take time as well.

Let me walk you through how long it took for some of the content pieces of this website to gain traction to help you understand why it’s so much harder in the beginning but gets easier over time if you do things within Google’s guidelines.

Initial content took over 12 months to start bringing in significant traffic

To illustrate what I mean, here’s a breakdown of the music marketing tips article above that mapped to a cost of $7,000 for creation and promotion that I used to inflate my domain authority with link building.

Basically, I built this page to be of value to bloggers in my niche so I could pitch it out to them for backlinks.

First, let’s look at the turnaround time to build the content and get the backlinks.

The article is nearly 5,500 words and contains tons of visuals.

With this, it likely took me at least a month to finish the article. So I probably started writing it in June 2016.

The article was published at the end of July 2016.

Even though the link building work (building the outreach list) really started before I wrote the article, the outcome from that didn’t really come in until October.

Rankings and traffic started to come in May 2017, but peaked in January 2018.

So if we look at all things considered — content creation, outreach for link building, and waiting on Google to find all of that stuff — it took about 12 months for a new website to start seeing increases in traffic.

When the site was somewhat established, content took 6-8 months to start bringing in traffic

The idea of waiting an entire year for results can be discouraging for entrepreneurs and people investing in SEO for their business.

They’re thinking, “I don’t want to invest $7,000 into this every month just to wait 12 months to see ROI!”

While I understand the fear because I experienced this (and still do in some projects), in my opinion, this is misguided thinking.

See, with content creation and link building, as your domain authority rises, it becomes easier to rank.

For example, let’s look at the “how to copyright a song” article, one that actually brought in sales that was published on Nov. 3, 2016.

After being published, I started the link building outreach. In December, we got 10 links.

Link building turnaround improved because, at this point, I had a much better understanding of the audience I was reaching out to, so I front-loaded a lot of the effort and sent my emails faster.

I also had existing relationships with bloggers from previous outreach for some quick wins. Building these relationships is part of the long-term nature of SEO.

That said, even after getting links soon after publishing the article, it only started getting traffic in April 2017, which only became significant and drove sales in July 2017, and didn’t reach peak performance until February 2018.

So results can come in 6 months, but this usually means you have all of your audiences already figured out and your website has some established authority in the eyes of search engines.

With time, it gets easier…

When your website becomes very well-established in the eyes of search engines, your content starts to rank much faster. Especially for easier keywords.

This is where the early investment in content creation and link building really start to show their worth.

For this example, because my domain authority was inflated so much by the other 2 pieces above, the “best beginner acoustic guitars” article that I published on Nov. 17, 2017, started bringing in sales-focused traffic within just 2 months after being published, and reached peak performance in month 7.

Luckily, this page didn’t need any backlinks to rank because the domain already had existing authority from previous pieces that earned backlinks from all of the work put into that music marketing piece.

Had it needed backlinks, however, I have a backlog of contacts from prior outreach efforts I can reach out to.

Want this done for you? Hire us!

While link building is what we’re mostly hired for, we can do all of the above for any website in any niche.

From previous freelance experience, I’ve learned that the SEO process is pretty much the same for any business.

The difference is in the team, and I’ve built a powerful one at this agency that allows us to replicate the actions above for all our clients with narrowly strategic focus.

If this interests you, fill out the contact form at the bottom of this page and let’s talk. 👇

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