While many cling to paid advertising, organic traffic is the holy grail of marketing.
Stop paying for clicks, and guess what happens? Sales stop.
If your company was solely dependent on organic traffic, how would it perform?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of organically getting people to see your website without ongoing paid advertising. And although it’s not an overnight solution, the advantages of investing in SEO are well worth it.
In this case study, I will explain how we grew JCS Refresh, a pressure washing and exterior cleaning company’s website, from 0 to 20K organic visitors within ten months.
Remember, JCS Refresh organic traffic was built:
- Solely through a strong content strategy
- On a fresh, brand-new domain
- With very little link-building
Let’s get started.
Phase 1 – Developing a Content Strategy
Like many things, having a confident plan makes all the difference.
The Hub and Spoke Strategy
To better understand the hub and spoke strategy, imagine a bike (this is your website); the wheels are content categories. Your ‘hub’ article covers one main topic, while the ‘spoke’ article covers subtopics—all link together, increasing authority and relevance within a niche or industry.
In the pressure washing and exterior cleaning industry, there are several core categories:
- Pressure Washing
- Soft Washing
- Moss Removal
- Gutter Cleaning
- Spray Paint Removal
These are all services or related topics that someone might search for when learning about pressure washing.
When building authority, it’s best to cover each category, publishing as many articles as possible.
Doing so tells search engines like Google, “Hey, I’m an expert on this topic. Look at how much great content I have for visitors. Can you rank my articles so people can find them?”
Keyword research and content strategy is an art— everyone has access to the same tools, but how you use them is up to you.
So, when doing keyword research, diving into each category and identifying sub-groups is essential. These subcategories act as spokes.
For example, within pressure washing, we have:
- And so on.
Each of these subcategories contains a handful of blog topics, and it’s fair to assume that if someone is researching “how to pressure wash a house,” they might be interested in learning more about “what does pressure washing do to shingles?”
Our roadmap takes shape as we go down the rabbit hole and continue our keyword research.
In the picture below, you’ll notice that our ‘hub’ article is “how to pressure wash a house,” and the ‘spoke’ topics relate to pressure washing a house. Even within spoke categories are mini groups, such as ‘brick.’
Moreover, we can see volume (the number of average monthly searches in the US) and keyword difficulty (how hard it is to rank on the first page of Google).
Below is another example within the “how to use a pressure washer” hub.
Once our keyword research is done, we can quickly get a 30,000-foot view of the following:
- The number of content hubs
- The number of topics within a hub
- The difficulty of ranking our topics amongst competitors
- How many people are searching for phrases per month
Using this information, we can:
- Forecast the blog’s content budget
- Forecast the project completion date
- Know how many writers we need to hire
- Start planning writer briefs and outlines
It’s worth noting that the hub and spoke content strategy works best when blogs are written (and published) in order of importance. Importance, in this case, can mean competition or relevancy.
For example, with JCS Refresh, the company’s core offering is pressure washing, so it wouldn’t make sense to write ‘gutter cleaning’ content first. Instead, we segmented the pressure washing hub by topic relevance and competition, then set out to write each subcategory, start to finish, in order.
Phase 2 – Writing Content
While keyword research and content planning are fun, there’s nothing like seeing a strategy come to life.
With our roadmap in hand, we began organizing writer briefs and outlines. For this project, we chose a “sprint strategy,” meaning our goal was to create as much content as quickly as possible. We hired five writers for JCS Refresh and planned to write 20-30 monthly articles (depending on length).
Lots of articles meant lots of article outlines, so we went to work.
Article outlines (or briefs) must be targeted, optimized, and informative for writers. Each is a puzzle piece vital to your SEO strategy’s success.
When designing briefs, we consider things like:
- User experience (UX)
- The primary keyword
- Secondary keywords
- Length of the article
- Competitor articles
- Topic relevancy
To streamline this process, we use Ahrefs, an SEO tool that allows our team to analyze competitor articles and keywords they rank for. Using this information, plus a little detective work of our own, we start designing briefs.
With Ahrefs, we also use SEOwind, a content brief generator that uses AI to optimize keywords, headings, keyword clusters, and more.
Taking a few extra moments to research competitors and do secondary keyword research is a winning recipe. More often than not, many rush to publish content and then question why their article didn’t perform well.
Our take is simple: since content (and SEO) takes so long to perform, ensuring briefs are strategically designed is well worth the time investment.
SEO is a game of delayed gratification— work smart in the early stages, and you’ll thank yourself later.
Working With Writers
When working with writers, describing our vision for each piece of content and how that fits into the overall strategy is essential. In these cases, we use content briefs to outline brand tone, messaging, and reading level.
Although content must be SEO-friendly, it must also be written for humans (not robots). Many strategists forget this and mistakenly write content for the algorithm rather than visitors.
After a writer has completed the draft, we review it and ensure it meets our quality threshold.
During this process, we ask ourselves:
- Did they follow the brief?
- Is there unnecessary fluff?
- If images were added, are they copyright-free?
- Are sections answered concisely yet to completion?
- Did the writer add several links to credible sources?
If, for any reason, they missed the mark, we worked with them on edits toward a final draft.
Phase 3 – On-page SEO
The next phase is uploading articles to the site and optimizing each with on-page SEO fundamentals.
What is On-page SEO?
On-page SEO refers to the practices and strategies implemented directly on a webpage to improve its visibility and ranking on search engines like Google.
The primary goal of on-page SEO is to ensure that the webpage is optimized for a specific keyword or set of keywords, making it easy for search engines to understand and index the content.
Here are the main components of on-page SEO:
- Title Tags: This is the clickable headline on search engine results pages. We always include the main keyword and accurately represent the page’s content.
- Meta Descriptions: This summarizes a page’s content displayed under the title tag in search results. While not a direct ranking factor, a compelling meta description can improve click-through rates and tell Google more about the page.
- Headings (H1-H6): Using header tags helps to structure content and emphasize main topics and subtopics. The H1 heading is usually reserved for the page’s main title, while H2-H6 tags are used for subheadings.
- URL Structure: Clean and concise URLs that include the target keyword are more user-friendly and help search engines understand the page’s content.
- Keyword Usage: Integrating relevant keywords naturally throughout the content can help search engines understand your page’s topic.
- Internal Linking: Linking to other pages on your website helps distribute “link juice” and can guide visitors to other relevant content, improving user experience. Internal linking is one of our strengths and is a core reason why content ranks so well. When a search engine can effectively crawl your content, they understand it better and rank everything accordingly.
- Content Quality: Producing high-quality, original content that provides value to readers is essential. Search engines favor content that satisfies user intent. Plus, no one likes reading a lousy blog.
- Image Optimization: Images should have descriptive filenames and alt tags to help search engines understand their content. Properly optimized images also load faster, improving site speed, which is a ranking factor.
- Responsive Design: With the rise of mobile browsing, ensuring your website is mobile-friendly is crucial. Google uses mobile-first indexing, so this aspect is essential for SEO.
- Site Speed: Faster-loading websites provide a better user experience and are favored by search engines.
In essence, on-page SEO focuses on optimizing individual web pages so they rank higher on search engines and attract more relevant traffic.
This optimization encompasses the page’s content and the HTML source code.
Let Your Content E-E-A-T
E-E-A-T is one of many guidelines Google uses to determine whether content is valuable. Don’t ignore this little acronym.
Here’s what it means:
- Does content demonstrate experience?
- Did you actually travel to the place?
- Did you actually use the product?
- Did you actually do the thing?
- Is the information correct?
- Do you know about the thing?
- What career experience proves this?
- Does your site have niche authority?
- How many backlinks do you have?
- Are they relevant to your niche?
- Are they from trusted sources?
- How about testimonials?
- This evaluates credibility + reliability
- Can people contact you quickly?
- How do you handle user data?
- Are URLs using HTTPS?
Although Google has officially noted that this is not a direct ranking factor, it does gauge good content from bad. And when it comes to SEO, better content = better rankings.
We considered this while building JCS Refresh’s blog.
Two ways to build E-E-A-T into this content strategy were:
1 ) Start each blog with a welcome message from the author
- Outline who they are with a short bio
- What expertise do they bring to the topic?
- Include links to social media
2) Include branded photos of the author to support content
- If possible, this is a massive win
- People are bored with generic stock photos
- Add pictures of the author to boost credibility
Combined with the list of on-page SEO strategies above, these methods make for a great combination.
However, we continued optimizing JCS Refresh and had a few more tricks up our sleeve.
Hub Pages & Site Structure
Aside from the edits inside each blog, we optimized JCS Refresh by creating ‘hub pages’ and prioritizing site structure. Let me explain.
Regarding our hub and spoke model, hubs are “pillar” pieces of content or the primary topic. As shown in screenshots of the spreadsheet(s), some hubs, like “how to pressure wash a house,” comprise several spoke articles. Spokes link to hubs like a tree’s roots.
After internally linking the article, we also created pages to group pieces of content together, making it easier for people to navigate the site.
For example, we built a “deck cleaning” page, which housed all content related to deck cleaning. Then, once it was designed, this page linked to the navigation menu and footer.
Moreover, we also created an “Explore” page, which acted as a front-facing site map for visitors and linked that to the menu. The Explore page was sectioned into various categories and contained every URL on the site.
Having the Explore page and other hub pages linked within the navigation menu and footer meant they are always available for visitors and Google access, which certainly helps.
Phase 4 – Off-page SEO
In addition to on-page SEO and all of the “magic” behind the scenes, off-page SEO is an integral part of any strategy.
However, we did very little off-page optimizations for JCS Refresh and still saw incredible growth.
What’s Off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO refers to all the activities performed outside of your website to improve its visibility and ranking on search engines. It’s about building a strong reputation and authority in your niche.
Here are a few main components:
- Backlinks: Attracting links from reputable websites. These links’ quantity, quality, and relevance are significant in ranking.
- Social Signals: Engagement on social media platforms like shares, likes, and mentions.
- Guest Blogging: Writing content for other blogs to gain backlinks and exposure.
- Local SEO: Listing in local directories and managing reviews.
Off-page SEO helps search engines understand how the world perceives your website.
Since we prioritized quality content (and lots of it), we didn’t spend too much time on backlinks.
JCS Refresh was a local service company, so we did a few PR articles (~5 in total), which helped with local awareness. But this wouldn’t move the needle very much at the end of the day.
Plus, although the news publications had strong domain authority, Google often considers these less valuable than getting a link from a global brand or government publication (for example).
In addition to this, we also set up local directory profiles and enlisted JCS Refresh with about 50 free options. For local SEO, directories are a must.
Next was setting up and optimizing our Google Business Profile (GBP), recently known as Google My Business — another must for any local business. One aspect of the Google Business Profile that we leveraged quite a bit is the “Post” feature.
Each Google Business Profile can post updates or written content about anything current in the business, similar to a short blog. We used this feature to distribute all blog content, which many don’t incorporate into their strategy.
Here’s how that process works:
- Publish a blog on your website as normal
- Write a 200-300-word unique summary of the blog
- Create a cover image for the summary (SEO optimized)
- Include a link to the blog within the post
- Publish 3-5 per week from your Google Business Profile
We saw this as an opportunity because Google likes it when you use their tools, and we could sprinkle in some links for it to crawl.
Lastly, we also steadily published content on Facebook and Instagram for a few months but eventually stopped because there were more pressing strategies to assess, like optimizing the website.
Phase 5 – The Results & Data
Growing organic traffic on a new domain is one of the most challenging tasks in SEO. Not only does it take a lot of content to get the ball rolling, but it also requires patience.
For example, in many cases, a new website won’t get traffic for six months after the first blog is published (best-case scenario).
Why? Because of the Google Sandbox.
The “Google Sandbox” is an informal term used by SEO professionals to describe a theory or observation that newly registered domains and websites may experience suppressed rankings in Google search results for a specific time.
JCS Refresh Growth
After launching JCS Refresh, generating decent traffic took several months.
The image below shows the total number of users from October 1st, 2022, to July 1st, 2023.
Then, in May 2023, JCS had its largest month, with 7,100 organic visitors.
When we cross-analyzed Google Analytics data with data from Google Search Console, we saw that click and impressions data was consistent with organic visitors.
As shown in the image above, JCS Refresh generated 1,620,000 impressions in 10 months and 17,800 clicks — an incredible success for a new site with almost no backlink profile.
Taking this one step further, we consistently monitored keyword rankings in Ahrefs. We saw that JCS Refresh was securing most of the top 10 and top 3 keyword positions we targeted.
Moreover, the graph below shows how quickly we were able to index content in Google (yellow line) and how long the average organic traffic took to register (orange line).
This data is an excellent example of the Google Sandbox — content was submitted to Google months in advance, and it took nearly seven months for traffic to peak in May.
It’s worth noting that the average traffic numbers shown by Ahrefs are lower than what is displayed on Google Analytics because Ahrefs uses estimations, whereas Google has direct data.
We use several tools to map various metrics against each other and ensure no anomalies exist in the data.
Wrapping Things Up
Since the pressure washing and exterior cleaning niche is highly seasonal, we expect rankings to decline in the fall and winter and pick back up in early spring and summer.
That being said, we are thrilled to see how well JCS Refresh has performed thus far.
This case study shows the power of TrioSEO:
- Solid Strategy
- Strong Writers
- Smart Software
Want help growing organic traffic for your website?
Apply to work with us, and let’s get started.