The client struggled with other agencies for years, without getting any results. Once I took over, I managed not only to increase the organic traffic by five-fold and leads by ten-fold, but also to rank them in the top three for competitive keywords like “wedding photography” after six months
The event in this story take place in February, 2019.
As a sidekick, I brought a client with me from Sydney who runs a wedding photography business. It has been around for years, and they have tried many SEO agencies, with little to no success.
In this post, I will explain the project, what we did, and what kind of impact I managed to achieve in a few months. Despite the low budget, the impact was tremendous, and we finally lifted their organic traffic by five-fold and leads by ten-fold in just a few months.
Whether you are a local small business owner who is just starting out, or have been around for a while and nothing seems to working with your organic traffic, keep reading.
Jeff (the client) is just like any business owner who runs a wedding photography studio. He relies on his website to to generate queries from prospective clients.
Aside from other channels, such as referrals, word of mouth, networking, and social media, SEO is the main free channel that connects him to his audience without constantly draining his budget with ads.
Think about it—if you need to hire a photographer, you either ask someone to recommend one, or search for one yourself—and that where search engines play a major role.
To unlock your organic traffic, you can either do it yourself, or hire a consultant or agency to help you with it.
Doing it yourself takes time, and when you are running a creative business, the last thing you want is to worry about a time-consuming task like SEO, where the success rate is often low.
Hiring someone else to do it also carries its own risks, and depends highly on luck.
Jeff was struggling with optimizing his website for the search engines, and hired few agencies back in the days before Google was as smart as it is now, and ended up not only losing money on a monthly retainer, but the site also got penalized by Google for violating its terms of service.
The bottom line is that the site got hit with a penalty, and after that, no matter what he did, the traffic remained at a monthly average of 80–100, and no page one ranking at all.
In 2017, the site got another penalty, and another agency was hired to remove that one. That’s why a huge drop in referring pages can be seen, starting in early 2018. The Traffic is still the same—although the penalty was removed many of the bad links have become obsolete, there have been no changes.
Besides the penalty, the site was outdated, slow to load, the content was not structured, the pages were not organized, and it was not a nice user experience that would encourage the traffic to be converted into queries.
In summary, the challenges he faced were:
- Frustration with agencies that showed him reports on a lot of things that he didn’t understand, with little to no impact on the issues he was facing.
- The site was filled with spammy, low-quality links and that reduced the site’s E-A-T score (page quality) even more.
- No page 1 ranking for any high-intent keywords (even writing the brand name won’t show the site on the first page of results—yes, it is that bad).
- No outcome; no return on investment (ROI).
In the end, what he wanted were simple things,just like any local business owners—queries and bookings. That’s the only thing that would have an impact on his revenue.
The goals were simple:
- Increase traffic 10-fold within the first 6–8 months (from 100 to 1000)
- Page 1 ranking for all selected high-intent keywords that are more likely to result in conversions (priority keywords)
- Page 1 ranking for all selected indirect keywords (vendor-related keywords, general wedding keywords, etc.)
- Increase leads/queries from 4–5 leads per month to 20–30 leads per month
The numbers might not be ambitious enough, since they start from pretty much nothing, but we were limited by the budget, and hitting those goals in year one will give us a healthy momentum.
Whenever a website fails to generate traffic, especially after some time, there can be several reasons:
- The E-A-T score is low (page quality is not high enough for Google to take the site into consideration)
- Not enough fresh content being published, and the site is pretty much a one-way side street (only takes, does not give back value to users)
- Technical issues (problem with the site that prevents the crawlers from accessing it)
- Bad user experience (the pages have no clear purpose, causing visitors to go back and search for better options)
I love how Marie Haynes defines the E-A-T—I learned it from her the first time, and it completely changed my approach to SEO. She defines it as “E-A-T in SEO stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. This concept is discussed in great detail in Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines. Demonstrating good E-A-T both on and off your website can help improve the potential of your site’s Google rankings.”
Google’s algorithms have changed throughout the years, and it’s no longer a link numbers-game, it’s a combination of many things that cause the algorithm to pick one site over the other.
The key to hacking the Google algorithm is by understanding its purpose and optimizing around that.
If the purpose of Google is to serve users with the best quality content that is relevant to their queries, there is a better chance of increasing your ranking if your site is aligned with that goal.
Anyway, back to the case study.
The strategy we that we worked on is pretty basic and simple. User first—no cheating.
Let’s look at what we did:
Keywords and content mapping
Content mapping is finding the keywords that your target audience uses on search engines, and fulfill those queries with valuable content that answers in the best way possible.
So this is what we did:
1- Found the keywords with the highest intent (people who are actually looking to book a wedding photographer in their local city) and map them to the service pages or highly optimized landing pages, such as: wedding photography, wedding videography, pre-weddings, wedding pricing).
2- Found the keywords with indirect intent and map them to optimized blog posts. For example, let’s say someone is looking for affordable wedding venues, or wedding catering services—all those queries are indirect, but relevant (same industry, different stage in the buying journey).
The content mapping stage is vital to success—if this step is done wrong, everything can collapse later. There is no SEO without content—always remember that.
Now that we have a good content mapping and know the direction we want to take, the next natural step is the website. In this step, we usually analyze the site first to see what’s wrong, then fix those issues one by one, but in this case, revamping it will cost less and take half the time, so we decided to do that instead. Here is why:
Sometimes, it’s impossible to fix a site. If the site was built wrong and the core code is corrupt, has dozens of plugins that are slowing it down, has a messed up hierarchy, and so forth—fixing it will require more time, and we will end up only partially satisfied.
Revamping can get expensive as well, if you are building everything from scratch—but we found a solution to that!
We used a fantastic WordPress page builder with an elegant theme, called Divi, that is easy to use and requires no coding. We ended up revamping everything with fresh content in just a few days.
With the right hierarchy and content mapping, we managed to build a fast site with clean code, optimized to welcome any crawlers with open arms.
Not only that—it also welcome users by giving them a great three-second impression and guiding them through until they book a meeting.
A site designed for the users first.
We also changed the hosting provider from Bluehost to SiteGround for faster upload time, and optimized the speed so that it loaded in less in three seconds.
A common mistake by many local businesses, especially wedding vendors, is that they focus on a set of keywords that everyone is gunning for, and end up putting all of their budget into rankings for few keywords, instead of looking at the bigger picture.
Rankings should never be the main goal—traffic growth and leads are the main goals.
For that reason, we moved beyond the typical ranking goals, and shifted our focus to traffic—not just any traffic, but traffic that converts into bookings.
This is where we activated the blog to rank for keywords that fall beyond our high-intent targets, in order to further expand the traffic growth. It also sends a great signal to Google that we are constantly producing fresh and valuable content every month and promoting it on all of our social media channels.
Here is what we did to the blog:
- Thanks to our prior content mapping, we managed to find out what our target audience wants, and we even mapped out their entire buying journey. With that in mind, we pre-planned our blog calendar to cover it all—with fresh topics that focus on delivering value to the readers first.
- To keep it consistent, we committed to posting at least four times a month, and sticking to it for at least a year.
- We actively promoted the blog posts on social media, and ran a few link-building campaigns to build links for some of the blog posts.
Link building campaigns
Finally, we come to the fun part—link building!
In our strategy, we committed to only building “white hat” links from reputable sources and used a customized outreach for that; and we managed to do it with a hybrid strategy.
The strategy depends on guest posting and custom outreach.
This is a summary of what we did:
1- We reached out to local vendors and worked out a deal that would add value to both. It could be something as simple as, “I write for your blog, you write for ours.” This strategy works so well because of its unique nature. It is also fun, and creates referral opportunities.
1- We reached out to a well-known local wedding band and made a collaboration deal with them that results in value for both.
2- We reached out to authoritative wedding magazines, such as Honeyfund, WithJoy, Marriage.com, Polka Dot Bride, Easy Weddings, and others, by offering guest posts written by our client, from his own area of expertise. This strategy helped build up the E-A-T score, since most of those blogs are wedding-specific blogs and are considered authoritative in the wedding industry.
3- We constantly submitted real wedding stories to secure feature posts. This strategy added exposure and traffic to the site from highly-qualified visits.
We also did dozens of local directory listing campaigns, and a bunch of other link-building tactics, like finding broken pages and offering alternative content.
Automation with ActiveCampaign
Fast-forward a few months, and we started to get a lot of traffic—and this is where things begin to get messy.
Most of the leads coming from the organic traffic were pricing queries, and the conversion rate was low.
We noticed that most of the couples would ask about prices first, then write them down on a list, and move to the next photographer.
This is typical behavior for most couples, since budget is one of the factors influencing their choices. Another factor is emotional reaction,, and that can be triggered by watching a video, a testimonial, or a similar wedding from the photographer’s portfolio.
We wanted a solution that would automate this process and further nurture the leads with email campaigns and follow-ups—and that’s where we decided to use ActiveCampaign.
We switched to ActiveCampaign, and immediately automated the pricing page and set up lead forms.
We also set up a few “funnels”:
1- Nurture funnel (following up on email campaigns).
2- Pricing-inquiry answer funnel (automatically replying and answering pricing-related questions).
3- Offer/discount funnel (we used the opt-in monster and offered winter season discounts and pre-wedding discounts, and linked them to the nurture funnel).
We also wanted to keep the human touch, so that they could get in touch with the photographer directly by booking a meeting.
Remember the goals that we set early on? We managed to hit most of them!
We managed to hit all the goals we set out to hit in just one year, by employing a “user-first” strategy that puts the user at the top of the algorithm and ranking system.
SEO is a great way to optimize your site if you are just starting out. It’s organic, free, and available—and you know that users are trained to skip ads and scroll down to find organic listings.
Why? Because we trust Google, we know deep down that it is damn hard to win Google’s trust with the most competitive spots on the internet. Winning them is not an easy task, and winning them naturally takes real, hard work.
If you have a business similar to the wedding industry and want to grow your traffic, or if you have been around for a while but have had no growth in your organic traffic or leads, fill out the form below, and I will tell you exactly how to increase your traffic growth ten-fold, without breaking the bank!