How We Built a 6-Figure Blog in 8 Months with SEO/Organic Traffic

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make serious money with your blogWhoa, talk about an awesome post here! Ben Huber, from Dollar Sprout, got into the nitty-gritty details of building up SEO (search engine optimization) and attracting organic traffic. And we all know, the more traffic you’ve got, the more money you’ll make with your site! In his case, it was  A LOT more money. Get out your note pad and get ready to learn! It’s time to make serious money with your blog!

Life rarely goes as planned. You make decisions you think are in your best interest only to find out later this isn’t always the case.

Take college for example. You graciously accept what often amounts to six figures of debt under the premise that it’s a non-issue and you’ll have it all paid off, and more, with your shiny new post-grad job.

I know, speaking for myself, that the thought of debt didn’t even cross my mind. I just knew my closest friends were all going to the same school I had gotten accepted to, and that was that.

Fast-forward ten years, two bachelors degrees, and $130,000 in student loan debt later and I realized the prospect of paying back those loans was a major roadblock in my path to financial independence.

And not just any roadblock. This was more like a pothole the size of Montana. I was grossing $36,000/year (Registered Nurse), barely making ends meet, and my loan deferral period ran out.

Clearly just living frugally and slashing my expenses wasn’t going to cut it. Furthermore, I didn’t yet have the luxury of choosing between an executive career, and a job that enabled more freedom, but less pay. I was stuck working an entry-level job with few options for advancement.

That’s when a college buddy of mine and I chose to start our own business (of sorts).

We enjoyed investing, wanted to write about it, and explored the ways we could make money by doing it. In the process we discovered affiliate marketing and blogging, and off we went.

How to Make Serious Money With Your Blog – A True Story

…That was back in late 2014. We then spent the next 18 months writing about higher-level investing concepts, and made $0.29 (no really, we made exactly $0.29). Want to make serious money with your blog? Don’t do what we did during those 18 months…which was write articles, have absolutely no plan, and just hope that we’d eventually make money.

Now you’d think that two fairly intelligent guys would get the hint a little sooner that things weren’t working quite the way we had planned…but we didn’t. So much for a side hustle that was going to help pay off that student loan debt.

But like any good entrepreneurs, we finally sat down and took the time to refocus and reflect on all that we had learned during those 18 months.

And then we decided to start over.

DollarSprout.com SEO Case Study

If you have a blog, business, or an otherwise similar side hustle, and you’re not employing an effective search discovery campaign, you’re missing out on thousands of free readers itching to become your next customer.

After months of preparation, we launched DollarSprout.com in October of 2017 with exactly one idea in mind:

When it comes to readers with ‘purchase intent’, Google is king.

In layman’s terms, it means that users coming to our site from Google were more likely to make a purchase from us, or through us (affiliate marketing), than through any other source of traffic (Facebook, Pinterest, etc.).

They were staying on the site longer, engaging with our content more, and in the end, becoming our fans (and customers). Furthermore, Google wasn’t the only one sending us these types of readers.

All the search major search engines were:

  • Bing,
  • Yahoo,
  • Ask.

You name it, they were sending them – even to our poorly optimized site about entrepreneurship and investing.

This phenomena, if you will, formed the basis of my obsession with surfacing in search engine results pages (SERPs) and its practical application to drawing in readers and converting them into customers.make serious money with your blog - total clicks

Eight months, a multiple six-figure income, and one massive SEO case study later, I’m sharing insight into how we did it, and how you too can utilize SEO techniques to grow your blog or online business. Want to make serious money with your blog? Here’s the step by step plan to do it.

(Don’t have a website yet? Get started with iPage for just $24 for your entire 1st year! Click here to sign up, and here’s the tutorial I created if you need help!)

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What is Search Engine Optimization? The Basics

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of helping search engine crawlers read and better understand what a webpage is about.

It involves properly structuring a page’s URL, meta-data, and body text (among hundreds of other variables) so that search engines can quickly and easily determine the quality of a website’s contents.

Each particular search engine will typically use several quality-based indicators, often in the form of an algorithm, to match user searches with the most appropriate content on SERPs.

And while it’s super important to remember that we’re creating content for humans to understand, not computers, there are some basic steps we can take to achieve both.

make serious money with your blog - on page seoOn-Page SEO

AKA the easy stuff.

In a nutshell, your ultimate goal is to structure your articles in a systematic way, each and every time. It doesn’t mean your content has to be even remotely similar (although search engines like when your website has a central theme), you just need a process for how you create, structure, and market your content – and you need to do it the same way every time.

Search engines need to trust that you, as a content creator, are going to be giving them “the goods” each time they choose to index one of your articles.

Fortunately, on-page SEO is super straightforward and fairly easy to implement.

A good ten-minute read to help familiarize yourself with the concept can be found at BackLinko, here.

Without diving too deep into on-page SEO, I do want to share with you a few principles that have helped make DollarSprout as successful as it is today:

1) Be meticulous.

If you’re not a detail-oriented person, SEO won’t be for you. It will add hours of work time into your content creation and hours more when we get the link building aspect of it. Read the Backlinko article mentioned above, study it, and then read it again.

2) Good keyword research.

Search engines operate on a fairly black and white level. They match a user’s search query with a database of articles that closely resemble that search query. Good keyword research technically happens before on-page SEO/any writing is done, but having a good primary keyword selected ahead of time is paramount in getting your on-page SEO right.

Do yourself a favor and take the time to research keywords that are getting good search volume, but aren’t so competitive that you’ll never rank on page 1 for the term.

a) We used KWFinder to do our keyword research.

Prior to launching, we wrote 15 articles.

– 5 articles with a hyper-competitive primary keyword and high search volume (50k+ monthly searches),

– 5 medium-competition long-tail keyword based articles with medium volume (10k+ monthly searches),

– and, 5 low-competition long-tail keyword based articles with smaller volumes (500-3k+ monthly searches)

I’ll get back to this later, but for now, just understand that there’s a huge difference between picking popular keywords that get large search volumes versus keywords you actually have a chance to rank for.

Furthermore, all the on-page optimization in the world won’t do you any good if Google (or a search engine) can’t match your content with a keyword in their database.

3) Create a detailed outline.

The first step for every single article we write is to create a detailed outline for the piece using the keyword(s) we identified. I say “keywords” because after using an affordable keyword research tool to find a primary keyword, we then use it to further identify 4 other latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords.

These “LSI” keywords (a fancy way of saying 4 related keywords) help search engines better understand what our article is about, and provide a net of additional search queries by which a user might find our article.

Example: Let’s say I was considering writing an article about investing.

A crude example of one of my outlines would look like this:

I. Headline (focus on human engagement with a title that contains your keyword)

a. URL slug that contains primary keyword (shorter URL is better)

II. Introduction

a. Contains primary keyword early on

III. Keyword-rich Header 1

a. What is investing?

i. Text

b. Types of investing

i. Text

IV. Keyword-rich Header 2

a. How much money do I need to invest?

i. Text

b. What kind of return can I expect?

i. Text

V. Keyword-rich Header 3

a. How can I get started investing?

i. Text

b. What are the best platforms for investing?

i. Text

VI. Closing Paragraph

To put into perspective just how important LSI keywords are, consider this:

Our most popular article received 41,707 sessions last month.

make serious money with your blog - LSI keywords

Our primary keyword only accounted for 1,668 of them.

make serious money with your blog - primary keywords

For those of you keeping track, that only amounts to 4.00% of the total viewership of that article.

Humans type in all sorts of bizarre search queries. Appeal to as many of them as possible by strategically placing multiple variations of your researched keyword (LSI keywords) into your article.

4) Post long content.

Search engines have a clear affinity for long-form content. The article in the first position of any search query typically averages 2,000 words or more. If you’re writing short, 300-word articles, don’t expect search engines to show you any love (if you’ve made it this far, we’re already at 1,745 words).

Be an authority on the topic you’re writing on. Research what the other page 1 articles look like for your target keyword and build on them. You have to produce better (or at least better optimized) content than your competitors.

If you want to make serious money with your blog, on-page SEO is a must. Want to make a six-figure income? Then it’s time to do more.

Off-Page SEO and Link Building

Ah, now the hard stuff.

If you were overwhelmed by the on-page SEO side of things, your head will start spinning now.

Just kidding, it’s not that bad. It is worth noting, however, that one without the other (on-page and off-page SEO), is effectively worthless.

Let me say that again. On-page SEO, without off-page SEO, is effectively worthless (and vice versa).

Think of it this way:

With on-page SEO your goal is to tell search engines what your content is about. Off-page SEO is all about telling them how credible it is.

You can write the most beautiful, credible content someone has ever laid eyes on, but if Google’s crawlers (or any search engine for that matter) can’t crawl and figure out what your page is about, they’ll never index it. Or if they do, it will be buried 48 pages into the SERPs.

On the flip side, you can write the greatest search-optimized post of all time (perfect on-page SEO), but if Google doesn’t trust your site, or see you as an authority in your niche, they’ll never reward you on SERPs.

To make serious money with your blog, you’ve got to get good at both.

Trust, Authority and Back Linking

If you’re familiar with SEO at all, these are terms you probably see a lot.

They’re ambiguous, intangible, and confusing. Ironically, not even search engine optimization specialists (SEOs) all agree on how they tie together in a hierarchy of importance.

That being said, there are a few universal factors that are likely to give credibility to your website:

  • A consistent history of newly published, quality content.

    • They don’t want to see static, stale content that’s never updated.
  • Usage of critical pages:

    • About
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Service
  • A logical site architecture.

    • Easily accessible homepage with thematically relevant categories and subcategories.
  • Citation/use of other high-quality resources.

    • For example, citing MayoClinic.org or a peer-reviewed journal when writing an article about diabetes.
  • Branding and social media presence.

    • Moz estimates that nearly 16% of a page’s ability to rank is affected by domain-level branding and social metrics. While Matt Cutts (former head of the web spam team at Google) has said social shares don’t play into page ranking, it’s been shown time and again that their algorithm clearly has some sort of affinity for a brand’s overall web presence.
    • Don’t spread yourself too thin by being on too many social media platforms at once, but understand that it’s important to eventually emulate a larger brand in your niche…and that typically includes having a sizeable presence on a large social platform.
  • Actively and passively acquiring high-quality back-links to your site.

    • Link building is still the most important variable when it comes reaching your SEO goals (as with any algorithm, this may change down the road).
    • Quality > quantity
    • DollarSprout has less than 200 external domains pointing towards us but we have high-authority links from Discover, LifeHacker, GoBankingRates, MSN Money, Entrepreneur and Moneyish (among others).
    • These authority links have our Domain Authority (according to Moz) at somewhere around 27/100 at the time of writing this article (although I suspect our true number to be somewhere in the 40’s once Moz’s index updates to reflect all of the links).make serious money with your blog - domain authority
    • This “baseline” DA, although a superficial metric, allows us to get a general idea of how search engines may view our site. As a very general rule of thumb, an article with a baseline DA 20, PA 0 will let you begin to compete for Page 1 rankings for low-competition, long-tail keywords (without a single backlink). Each credible back-link you’re able to secure to a specific article will help boost the “page authority” of that page. If a credible website with a high(er) DA links to you from a page that also has a high PA, it’s likely that link will do more for you from an SEO perspective. A single high-authority link can provide more value than hundreds of lesser, easily attainable links. Create epic, quality content and authoritative sites will be more likely to link to it.

How our knowledge of SEO affected our site design (and launch)

When we set out to launch DollarSprout, we knew we were competing with some of the largest personal finance brands in the entire world.

Not only were we competing with massive banks with massive budgets, we were competing in an industry where keyword competition is fierce and CPC costs are astronomical.

We knew we had try to syphon away but a small part of the market to make a considerable income, and we aimed to do that by providing a better user experience for a few hyper specific keywords that we knew our competitors couldn’t match.

That meant creating lightning fast content optimized for a perfect few, lucrative keywords.

Site Design Optimization

We had our developers custom design a WordPress theme that:

  • Stripped out any superfluous code
  • Reduced reliance on external JavaScript (i.e. plugins).
  • Looked beautiful but was equally focused on compression
  • Was super light/fast overall

From there, we worked with our hosting provider on ways to affordably deliver the content even faster. From minimizing redirects and reducing our time-to-first-byte (TTFB), to prioritizing visible content and mobile optimization, we tinkered with ways to deliver our awesome content as fast as possible.

Some neat tools to test how well your homepage (or individual articles) are optimized, you can check out GTmetrix, Pingdom, and Google’s Lighthouse.

Content Selection

Like I had mentioned earlier, we tried to pick a sampling of 15 pieces of content that would all target keywords with various levels of competition.

We used free tools like BuzzSumo to identify popular topics in our niche and then found keywords that made sense for those topics. By choosing 5 low-competition keywords, we were able to start getting lucrative organic traffic, faster – after securing only 5-10 total backlinks from middle of the rope type sources. It was the additional 30 or so backlinks that we secured from super high-authority pages that vaulted us up the rankings for hyper-competitive keywords.

make serious money with your blog - linking domains by DA

By pre-writing all the articles before launching, we were also able to go back through and interlink all of our content. This provided crawlers with an easy way to index and cover our site (as they seamlessly could move from page to page), ensuring nothing important was missed.

Interlinking is also super important for increasing user dwell time and reducing bounce rates (two important variables search engines take into consideration when judging the quality of your content).

Lastly, we performed a site-wide SEO audit to ensure there weren’t copious errors present when we went to launch.

This meant checking for the presence of broken links (or 404 errors), render-blocking scripts, crawl warnings/errors, or anything else that would negatively detract from a human reader (or crawler) getting the full experience of our site, error free.

On-Going SEO Auditing & Maintenance

SEO Audit

Not everyone has the luxury of starting over, and that’s totally fine. In fact, for many, it isn’t the correct option at all.

If your domain is well-established, you’re likely much better off doing an SEO audit of your own and cleaning up things where needed. Make serious money with your blog by starting simple. Check your Google Search Console if you’ve neglected it for a while (you do have your site connected to Search Console, don’t you?).

  • Clean up any crawl errors and make sure you’ve got a working Sitemap submitted. Check to make sure your pages are indexing at all, if there were any huge drops in the number that are indexed (Google penalty?), and to make sure you don’t have hundreds, or even thousands, of HTML improvement suggestions.

make serious money with your blog - url errors

  • For those of you that thought that installing Yoast and using it was “doing SEO,” well we’re not in Kansas anymore, folks. Yoast is great, and it’s a useful tool for assisting on-page SEO, but if you’re wondering why you’re not getting search traffic and you have hundreds of errors in Search Console, well, we have a problem. 😉
  • Lastly, check your backlink profile. Are you surprised by what you see? Do you have hundreds of links from sites that look like they’re straight out of an adult film? You may want to look into disallowing them (Caution: This should only be done if you’re fairly certain they’re impacting your rankings. You should consult an expert in SEO before doing this).

Tips for Further Optimizing Pages That Are Ranking Well

Let’s say you finally have an article that hits the bottom of Page 1 on a SERP. Congratulations, you’re now getting like 1% CTR to an article in the 9 position, but you could be getting like 20% if you could only move up to the third position. What’s an SEO to do?

Optimize further, of course.

Have you tried turning off ads that you may have on the page? This reduces the number of http lookups, removes ad-loading JavaScript that’s almost certainly slowing down the page, enhances user experience, and makes just about everyone (including search engines) happier.

What about trimming some of the plugins you have running? Do you really need all of them or could you maybe live without one or two. What about having too many email opt-ins? Think about all the things that are sloowwwwwwinnngggg down your loading times (uncompressed images…) and get rid of them!

Have you ever even heard of AMP? If not, you’re behind. But not embarrassingly so. Accelerated mobile pages (AMP) are essentially pages that load instantly (or close to it). They’re stripped down versions of a normal webpage designed to load quickly.

Why, you ask? Because people love fast loading websites. And if you’re on mobile, it’s an absolute necessity. No one wants to wait 42 seconds for a page to load when they’re stuck on 3G. Fast page loading = reduced bounce rates.

Make serious money with your blog by getting leaner…consider AMP.

Making a Commitment

SEO is a process. If you implement dozens of changes and expect immediate results, you’re going to be left feeling frustrated.

Think of SEO as a part of the content creation process. If you follow the same “X” step process every time when it comes to outlining, drafting, and creating your content (on-page SEO), and then spend the time necessary to build links back to your highly-optimized, branded site (off-page SEO), the results will come.

For those of you that already have established sites in a certain niche, the results can come even faster.

Stay true to your SEO audits and actually take the time to implement the changes that are recommended.

If you don’t pay attention to details, Google won’t pay attention to you.

Want to make serious money with your blog? Follow the steps above and you’ll certainly be headed in the right direction!
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