When you’re trying to grow your business, you’ll probably make a lot of bad decisions. The internet is strewn with ‘5 of the biggest mistakes to avoid when [insert just about anything here]‘ articles. For this article, we wanted to share the story of the best decision we made to grow Cascade – and how you can apply the same to grow website traffic by 1,000%.
Back in early 2015, we were getting around 1,000 unique visits per week to our website. Not bad, but certainly not enough for a scalable SaaS business. We had a few spikes here and there when we managed to get articles published in TechCrunch, PC World and the like – but those spikes quickly returned to that baseline 1,000 p/w figure.
At the end of June, we decided as a team to fully embrace the principles of online content marketing – specifically, we launched our blog. Why? Well frankly, we didn’t have any other choice to grow website traffic. Without the marketing budget to spend on paid traffic and the lack of sustainability coming from the PR we’d gained, content marketing seemed like the only option to grow.
We’re now 1 year on from that decision, and here are the results:
The even better news? Not only did we see a 1,000% growth in web traffic, we saw an even bigger increase in the number of users starting free trials, and converting to paid customers. We’re not pretending to be experts in the content marketing space, and the methods we’re sharing below might not even be the best – but they worked for us.
Lesson 1: What you’ll need
There are two main things that you’ll need to launch a successful content marketing strategy: time and tools.
Time: We probably had anywhere between 0.5 to 0.75 FTE dedicated to content marketing. This included everything from writing content, to setting up tools, creating the graphics for the website, etc. It’s not a lot, but it’s still a pretty big commitment if your team is less than 10 or so. I genuinely believe that your success would scale proportionally if you were able to throw more at it, but that’s not something we’ve been able to prove just yet.
Tools: Over the past year, we’ve chopped and changed between a bunch of different tools to run our content marketing programme. If you’ve got some cash in the bank, you could go for an all-in-one solution such as HubSpot or InfusionSoft (both products I’ve played with, and both very solid choices). But if you want to go the scrappy boot-strap approach, you’ll probably need the following as a bare minimum:
- A content / blogging platform (we went with WordPress)
- An SEO / keyword research tool (we went with Moz, supported by the WordPress plugin Yoast)
- A CRM (we went with AgileCRM, but I must admit I think we can do better)
- An email solution (we went with MailChimp)
- Something to link them all together (we went with Zapier)
And that’s about it. If you go the boot-strap route, all of the above should cost you no more than a couple of hundred dollars per month. Oh wait, one more thing: you’ll need someone who can write. At the end of the day, a good writer can be the difference between success and failure. Mind you, we’re not talking about Shakespeare here – just someone who is reasonably articulate, succinct and can write in a tone that matches the image that you want to portray of your organization.
Lesson 2: Content is king
Sometimes, the world is a seriously unfair place. Sometimes it’s surprisingly fair. In the world of content marketing, thankfully the latter is true. Poor quality content just won’t cut it. Even if you manage to attract people to your site with a click-baity headline, if the article is garbage or poorly written, they’ll just bounce and you’ll never seem them again.
We have over 50 pieces of content on our blog, but the vast majority of traffic comes from just 2 (the classic 80/20 rule):
The lesson here was one of quality over quantity. There is absolutely no point in churning out 10 blog posts a week – focus on writing 1 or 2 really high quality pieces instead. But what does ‘good content’ actually look here – here’s what we’ve learned:
- Give people a solution to a problem – don’t just talk around your subject matter, give people a clear set of steps to take-away and implement for themselves. This won’t always apply to your subject matter, but practical hands-on blog posts have proven better than theoretical ones every single time for us.
- Keep it short and sharp – Aim for an absolute maximum of 2,000 words. Once you’ve written the first draft, go back and delete 30% of what you’ve just written. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
- Reference stuff – where you share a stat or quote an article – reference it! Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it adds credibility and confidence to your content. Don’t worry about people wandering away from your post by clicking a link – they’ll be back if what you’re giving them is genuinely useful.
- Don’t get too caught up in SEO and keyword stuffing – SEO is important to grow website traffic, but don’t let it compromise the quality of your article – our best articles rose to the top of Google without ever being reviewed for SEO!
Lesson 3: Promoting your content matters
Writing good content is just the beginning. You need to get it out there for people to see. There are plenty of good articles about promoting content, so rather than rehash those, we’re going to focus specifically on sharing our own learnings about what worked and what didn’t.
No doubt about it, organic search is the single best source of traffic you can get. It’s free, it’s repeatable, it’s low maintenance, and the quality of Google’s search algorithm means that if you play things right, the people who find you will be interested in what you have to say.
Check out this great post over at moz.com for a full step-by-step guide of how to optimize your own content for organic search. For us, one of the big wins in our organic search rankings came when we started getting links to our content from the likes of hbr.org, as well as various universities and institutes. It’s hard to give advice about exactly how to get these back-links – but it’s certainly worth approaching relevant websites directly and inviting them to link to your content. If it’s good and your timing is lucky, they probably will.
Truth be told, I don’t think we’ve done a great job of promoting our content on social media. It just hasn’t been a huge source of traffic for us thus far. I’m convinced that it can be – but we’ve found that without a dedicated internal resources to post, share, tweet etc – it’s hard to maintain momentum. One thing that has worked for us is LinkedIn Groups – the nice thing about these groups is that you have a set of like minded people who have already expressed interest in a given topic. A word of caution though – you cannot do anything that resembles spamming to these groups. Not only will you be banned, you’ll also destroy your credibility with some of your most potent potential customers. Instead, start debates and answer questions on a regular basis – if it makes sense, link an answer to a blog post that you’ve written on the topic. Don’t push it!
The point of this post is to offer an alternative to paid advertising, so I’m not going to dwell on this as a technique to grow website traffic. However I will share that when we’ve tried to do this using Google, LinkedIn or Facebook – it simply hasn’t worked. Note that I’m talking specifically about advertising our content here (not our product – that can actually work quite well). The ROIs that we saw on these channels when promoting content just weren’t good enough. More recently, we’ve been experimenting with Outbrain, which is specifically geared towards paid advertising for content marketing. It’s cheaper than the rest (for now) and we’re seeing some good early conversions to our mailing list – but it’s too early to say for sure that this will work for us.
Lesson 4: The art of conversion
At the end of the day, why do we even want to grow website traffic? It has to be to grow your underlying business. But finding the right balance between pushing for a conversion and being generous about giving away genuinely useful advice is hard. We’ve made mistakes on both ends of that spectrum. Some of our posts failed because we tried too hard to get people to signup for a free trial, whilst some succeeded in getting loads of traffic, but 99% of it bounced away without a conversion.
The first thing you need to do is to define your funnel. Ours looks something like this:
Website visitor >>> Mailing list subscriber >>> Free trial customer >>> Paid customer
Getting people to move one step in the funnel is hard – so we had to be realistic about the fact that not many people were going to jump straight from Website visitor to Free trial customer – why would they? Set realistic definitions of what a conversion actually is. For us, if we get someone to sign up to our mailing list from a blog post, we consider that a conversion.
What is a good conversion rate? I honestly don’t know – but I can say that we convert around 15% of our website visitors based on our own definition of a conversion. That feels pretty good and certainly makes the effort we put into the process pay-off when we run the numbers through our own business model.
Here are our top tips for driving and managing your conversions:
- Reference your product in your blog post – but do it in a way that’s meaningful and relevant. For this post, it makes sense for me to reference Cascade Strategy so that people can identify any similarities with their own product.
- Respect people to make up their own minds – if your product is a good solution to the problem your blog post is trying to address, offer it up, but don’t be afraid to state that other options exist too – people respect that and will judge you on the basis of the quality of your solution.
- Make conversion easy – If you want people to subscribe to your newsletter, make it a single-entry form (just the email address) – place it conveniently, but not intrusively. If you want people to start a free trial and they’re already on your mailing list, use URL Query Strings to pre-fill the signup form with their data.
- Be clear about your offer – Don’t just say ‘signup to our mailing list’ – tell customers exactly what they’ll receive and when. If you already have a fair few subscribers to your list, quote that number to give credibility to what you’re offering.
- Setup analytics – Google Analytics works just fine.
A last word on conversions – don’t be afraid to try and fail. You won’t get it right the first time around – so experiment with different headlines, different call to actions and different placements of your signup forms. Just make sure you have your analytics in place first!
Get started & grow website traffic
The best way to get started with content marketing is in our experience, simply to dive in. Before you do anything else – write a blog post. Choose the topic that you feel the most empowered about – the one where you genuinely believe you have knowledge or experience that puts you in the top 1% of your field (no matter how niche that may be) and write about it.
If you’re not ready to setup all of the tools just yet, try publishing it on LinkedIn Pulse instead and see how the world reacts. If you’re new to writing blog posts, you’ll probably find that your first few will kinda suck. So plan for that, and don’t assume that you’ll get success right away. Hone your technique and writing skills and more importantly read other people’s blogs to get a sense for what works well and what doesn’t. Our team love the blog posts written by Alex Turnbull over at the GrooveHQ Blog – in-fact this very post was inspired by a similar one he wrote for their business.
We’ll be writing more on this topic over the coming months – so if you enjoyed this post and want to ensure that you don’t miss out on the follow ups to help you grow website traffic, sign up to our newsletter below 🙂