How A Reluctant Client Went from 0 to 30,000 Visitors in 9 Months
Patience is more than just a virtue; it can be extremely profitable. This is true for the farmer and the small business owner. I’ll be covering a case study of how you can go from zero to 30,000 visitors a month with no advertising.
Many people think they can master content marketing and turn a healthy profit in a month or two. When I work with clients who want to handle their own online marketing, they often back off when I tell them the truth. The stories you read about overnight successes are usually just stories. Are you a small business owner who wants to get rich from digital marketing? You’re better off playing the ponies.
Digital marketing is about steady growth; just like farming. When pitching my training program, I usually use the analogy of farming because it’s very appropriate in this field.
I’m going to tell you the story of one client who left us in the middle of a campaign. He went from being a client to my student. Within eight months, he could build a very profitable website. I’ll often touch bases with him to see how things are going. Ron (not his real name) now considers himself a damn good farmer.
Clients Can Be Stubborn in Good and Bad Ways
Ron was a new client acquisition in a service business. During our first interview, I asked Ron what his impression of digital marketing was and how it related to his business. He knew all the buzzwords and could give me a reasonable idea of what he expected. We agreed on terms and so our relationship began on grand terms. It’s often hard to see the oncoming train wreck when were filled with optimism.
There was no sign of conflict when we laid out the content marketing schedule. Since I’m very upfront about timelines and benchmarks, there was a general confidence in our communication. I wasn’t teaching Ron the four-phase process we work with, but I assumed that the outline of our marketing program was enough to build trust in the system since he had a good idea of how SEO works.
When you’re working with small business owners, it’s different from working in the corporate arena. Often, the scales are different by several zeros on the monthly charge. If you’re an agency and you work with both mid-sized and small business clients, it’s important to keep that in mind. Often, a midsize company can absorb the marketing expense of a 6 to 8-month project. Many small business owners have to take that investment seriously and exercise patience during the planting season (there’s that farming analogy again).
Ron was a busy person. He understood the core concepts involved in the content marketing campaign. The first month was probably the busiest as we created the infrastructure. This usually meant doing a lot of the keyword research, a lot of marketing analysis in determining which outlets would be appropriate for reaching a target audience.
Although you will be tired of the farming analogy by the end of my story, it’s important to the process. Farming isn’t just about throwing some seeds into the ground and waiting for the harvest, there’s a lot of prep work involved in the front-end. Digital marketing is the same in that respect. It’s important to know the type of people we intend to reach and seek to understand how they think and what they want.
The first two months we’re reporting our activities weekly; however, there was insignificant movement to show for it. This is often where we get very nervous clients asking us “how’s it going, guys?”. Even though we present a credible ROI (return on investment) during the marketing plan, some folks become very nervous when the money is being spent.
The End of the First Quarter and The Test of Stamina
Month three is where we usually see the cracks form. This analogy applies both to agency client relationships and the progress of our campaign. Usually we’ll see the movement in the direction we are looking for, but it’s often just enough to get some people excited and others very nervous. There are tricks to get around this process (I’ll get to that later). Right now, let’s look at what usually happens in a content marketing program by the end of the first quarter.
Infrastructure for content marketing:
_ Keyword research established identifying 200 to 300 long tail keywords associated with the business niche.
_ Competitive analysis completed.
_ Social media assets created, including identification of key influencers related to the target audience.
_ Content creation and publishing calendar established.
_ Sales and marketing funnels created.
_ Email marketing system established.
_ Email marketing sequences developed.
_ Publishing schedule started.
_ Ongoing link building and search engine optimization.
_ Existing website optimized.
_ Google My Business profile optimized.
_ Core content creation begins.
As you can see from the above list, there is a lot of work going on when building the infrastructure for a content marketing campaign. There is also a lot of initial expense baked in. If you’re a small business owner looking for quick profits from content marketing, that’s a very unrealistic expectation.
To be fair, when you’re staring at a spreadsheet that details the process and the statistics for conversion, most of the times people are looking at that field displaying the expected (but theoretical) income. The extra zeros added to the annual income can be very seductive.
“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals & happiness.”
I love a good Thomas Jefferson quote. I also love quotes from Benjamin Franklin, the creator of the Poor Richard’s Almanac. Regardless of what we may think of them, considering their respected biographies, they understood profits come from patience.
Traditional farming requires that we work with the seasonal transitions afforded us by mother nature. We are forced to be patient. Unfortunately, many small businesses run on razor-thin margins and very little capital. There is very little room for experimentation or long-term strategies.
Long-term strategies such as content marketing often get tossed aside during the inevitable hiccups of small business growth. A farmer can prep the soil at the right time of the year, then plant the seeds. They’ve done the research on the proper nutrients, soil composition and watering schedules to apply. They also understand that nature can throw a curveball. Their job is to be paying attention and make adjustments if necessary to ensure the survival of their crops. Sometimes, things go disastrously wrong.
The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men Often Turn to Crap
When Mike Tyson was asked by a reporter whether he was worried about Evander Holyfield and his fight plan he answered; “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
I know you were waiting for the train wreck. That’s what you came here for. Well, I won’t disappoint. At the end of month three, several interesting things occurred seemingly all at once. We were reporting an increase in traffic to the website. This led to an increase in prospects through the lead generation funnel. The numbers weren’t that great yet; we went from 300 visits a month to an average 150 a day. That’s the good news.
That week, Google decided that SEO practitioners were getting too comfortable. They executed another round of algorithm changes. That has never been good news in the middle of a new campaign. Ron called me to let me know they were canceling the program. Since the agency had a contract for the first three months and monthly payments with no commitments after that time period, we agreed to stop and were ready to do a postmortem with the client.
Although things were going according to the plan, the result wasn’t producing enough profit for the owners. Ron was feeling the heat of the budget on his bottom line. Our policy is to avoid any hard-sell tactics. We don’t dissuade clients from leaving. We had our final meeting for a hand-off.
Economic anxiety and the capricious nature of Google can really do a job on small business owners at this stage of the game. When we have a good rapport with the client and they’re looking to quit before the end of term, we usually go through a questionnaire together. This is how we identify the actual reasons for quitting and how to help them through it.
We can find out from the questionnaire whether their traffic expectations were too high at this stage. Sometimes it’s a matter of conversions to traffic ratio. Some businesses will get lucky and see an amazing boost within three months. Others may have an impediment to success at the front desk. During Ron’s tenure with us, we weren’t in charge of tracking calls yet. We were more focused on driving targeted traffic to the offer. These offers included freebies as inducements for sign-ups.
Ron’s office was staffed by an assistant who was not too keen on “freeloaders”. We discovered much later on that even though the calls were coming in as expected, the person handling the calls lacked any enthusiasm for the campaign. At the end of our questionnaire, we usually ask the client if they would prefer that we train them to handle their own content marketing. Converting our clients to students offers many small businesses the opportunity to grow their initial investment through sweat equity. We usually offer this option when there is a good rapport.
Since Ron was familiar with content marketing and what it could do for the company, he agreed to become a student. We made him aware of the time investment involved, along with the training fee. He felt it was a good way to keep the ball rolling. The coaching fee was a lot less intimidating than the monthly agency expense. But it meant doing an awful lot of work over and above his day job.
Ron spent nine months working with us. The infrastructure for his content marketing system was built in the first three months. By the end of month six, Ron was producing 30 articles and blog posts a month. Each month, six long form articles ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 words were created. Six supporting articles connected to the main long form articles were created ranging from 500 to 700 words. These were distributed as blog posts or articles on the website.
Ron didn’t consider himself a natural writer. It took a while to convince him that although hiring a great copywriter is effective, information is far more believable when it comes from the horse’s mouth. He gained more confidence in his material by using our templates and swipe files. One of his challenges was search engine optimization. When he was paying for the service, it was easy to overlook. When you’re diligently and painstakingly linking articles and optimizing them for search engines, it can be agonizingly boring.
During the six months as our student, several interesting things happened to Ron. He discovered the joys of watching the rise of traffic and keyword ranking. He found have writers’ voice. Our ace student also endured the frustrations of seeing his hard work backslide for absolutely no logical reason. Watching SERPS statistics is very much like tracking the stock market; it can exhilarate and frustrate the viewer.
By the end of his tenure as a student, Ron was getting an average of 34,000 visitors a month. He also removed the bottleneck from the process and replaced the person at the front desk. There is an automatic call tracking system and the front desk person receives a bonus based on monthly conversions.
Since he was also maintaining the sales funnel, all the expected conversions from leads to prospects were in his email marketing pipeline. The company could continue to develop a relationship with the prospects to realize the expected conversion rate.
Facebook and Google advertising allow for a short-term growth spurt while the labor-intensive long-term plan is in progress. The investment is much larger, but a company can realize gains more rapidly. Later, as the organic traffic grows and stabilizes, there’s less dependence on advertising and even the content creation process can taper off a bit.
The first six to nine months are critical depending on the market and the niche competition. The first three months are the most crucial for establishing the foundation. After the campaigns are executed and the results are in, there’s still a lot of work to be done. However, if the foundation is built properly, there isn’t as much expense or labor involved as in the initial stages.
That’s the difference with advertising. Advertising dollars that are spent on sales conversion will continue to be needed for more sales conversion. Content marketing and SEO continue to grow traffic long after the expenses are paid.
When a sales funnel is used along with email marketing, you have a system for harvesting leads and cultivating them into customers. These leads can be approached long after their initial contact. Ron understood that and is still benefiting from that knowledge.
To be honest, it doesn’t always work out this way with students. We may provide the training and the tools, however we can’t provide the perseverance and determination. Grit and patience are two winning factors in both SEO and business. Farmers understand that instinctively, it seems.
“He that can have patience can have what he will.”
― Benjamin Franklin