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How We Used a Video Course to Promote Ahrefs (And Got 500K+ Views)

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How We Used a Video Course to Promote Ahrefs (And Got 500K+ Views)

Creating and selling educational courses can be a lucrative business. But if you already have a product to sell, you can actually use courses as a marketing tool.

Back in 2017, about two years after joining Ahrefs, I decided to create a course on content marketing.

I had a very clear understanding of how an educational course would help me promote Ahrefs.

  • People like courses – Folks like Brian Dean and Glen Allsopp were selling theirs for $500 to $2,000 a pop (and rather successfully). So a free course of comparable quality was sure to get attention.
  • Courses allow for a deeper connection – You would basically be spending a few hours one on one with your students. And if you managed to win their trust, you’d get an opportunity to promote your product to them.

That was my raw thought process going into this venture.

And I absolutely didn’t expect that the lifespan of my course would be as interesting and nuanced as it turned out to be.

The lessons of my course have generated over 500K+ in total views, brought in mid-five-figures in revenue (without even trying), and turned out to be a very helpful resource for our various marketing purposes.

So here goes the story of my “Blogging for Business” course.

1. The creation

I won’t give you any tips on how to create a successful course (well, maybe just one). There are plenty of resources (courses?) on that topic already.

All I want to say is that my own experience was quite grueling.

The 10 lessons of my course span some 40K words. I have never attempted the feat of writing a book, but I imagine creating such a lengthy course is as close as it gets.

Scripts of the course in Google Docs.

I spent a tremendous amount of time polishing each lesson. The course was going to be free, so it was critical that my content was riveting. If not, people would just bounce from it.

Paid courses are quite different in that sense. You pay money to watch them. So even if the content is boring at times, you’ll persevere anyway to ensure a return on your investment.

When I showed the draft version of the course to my friend, Ali Mese, he gave me a simple yet invaluable tip: “Break your lessons into smaller ones. Make each just three to four minutes long.”

How did I not think of this myself? 

Short, “snackable” lessons provide a better sense of completion and progress. You’re also more likely to finish a short lesson without getting distracted by something. 

I’m pretty sure that it is because of this simple tip that my course landed this Netflix comparison (i.e., best compliment ever):

2. The strategy

With the prices of similar courses ranging from $500 to $2,000, it was really tempting to make some profit with ours.

I think we had around 15,000 paying customers at Ahrefs at that time (and many more on the free plan). So if just 1% of them bought that course for $1K, that would be an easy $150K to pocket. And then we could keep upselling it to our future customers.

Alternatively, we thought about giving access to the course to our paying customers only. 

This might have boosted our sales, since the course was a cool addition to the Ahrefs subscription. 

And it could also improve user retention. The course was a great training resource for new employees, which our customers would lose access to if they canceled their Ahrefs subscription.

And yet, releasing it for free as a lead acquisition and lead nurturing play seemed to make a lot more sense than the other two options. So we stuck to that.

3. The waitlist

Teasing something to people before you let them get it seems like one of the fundamental rules of marketing.

  • Apple announces new products way before they’re available in stores. 
  • Movie studios publish trailers of upcoming movies months (sometimes years) before they hit the theaters. 
  • When you have a surprise for your significant other (or your kids), you can’t help but give them some hints before the reveal.

There’s something about “the wait” and the anticipation that we humans just love to experience.

So while I was toiling away and putting lessons of my course together, we launched a landing page to announce it and collect people’s emails.

The landing page of the course.

In case someone hesitated to leave their email, we had two cool bonuses to nudge them:

  1. Access to the private Slack community
  2. Free two-week trial of Ahrefs

The latter appealed to freebie lovers so much that it soon “leaked” to Reddit and BlackHatWorld. In hindsight, this leak was actually a nice (unplanned) promo for the course.

4. The promotion

I don’t remember our exact promotion strategy. But I’m pretty sure it went something like this:

I also added a little “sharing loop” to the welcome email. I asked people to tell their friends about the course, justifying it with the fact that taking the course with others was more fun than doing it alone.

Welcome email with a "sharing loop."

I have no idea how effective that “growth hack” was, but there was no reason not to encourage sharing.

In total, we managed to get some 16,000 people on our waitlist by the day of the course launch.

5. The launch

On a set date, the following email went out to our waitlist:

Course launch email.

Did you notice the “note” saying that the videos were only available for free for 30 days? We did that to nudge people to watch them as soon as possible and not save them to the “Watch later” folder.

In retrospect, I wish we had used this angle from the very beginning: “FREE for 30 days. Then $799.”

This would’ve killed two birds with one stone: 

  1. Added an urgency to complete the course as soon as possible
  2. Made the course more desirable by assigning a specific (and rather high) monetary value to it

(If only we could be as smart about predicting the future as we are about reflecting on the past.) 

Once it was live, the course started to promote itself. I was seeing many super flattering tweets:

We then took the most prominent of those tweets and featured them on the course landing page for some social proof. (They’re still there, by the way.)

6. The paywall

Once the 30 days of free access ran out, we added a $799 paywall. And it didn’t take long for the first sale to arrive:

This early luck didn’t push us to focus on selling this course, though. We didn’t invest any effort into promoting it. It was just sitting passively in our Academy with a $799 price tag, and that was it.

And yet, despite the lack of promotion, that course was generating 8-10 sales every month—which were mostly coming from word of mouth.

A comment in TrafficThinkTank.
Eric Siu giving a shout-out about my course in TTT Slack.

Thanks to its hefty price, my course soon appeared on some popular websites with pirated courses. And we were actually glad that it did. Because that meant more people would learn about our content and product.

Then some people who were “late to the party” started asking me if I was ever going to reopen the course for free again. This actually seemed like a perfectly reasonable strategy at the time:

7. The giveaways

That $799 price tag also turned my free course into a pretty useful marketing tool. It was a perfect gift for all sorts of giveaways on Twitter, on podcasts, during live talks, and so on.

Giving away the course during a live talk.
Me giving away the course during a live talk.

And whenever we partnered with someone, they were super happy to get a few licenses of the course, which they could give out to their audience.

8. The relaunch

Despite my original plan to update and relaunch this course once a year, I got buried under other work and didn’t manage to find time for it.

And then the pandemic hit. 

That’s when we noticed a cool trend. Many companies were providing free access to their premium educational materials. This was done to support the “stay at home” narrative and help people learn new skills.

I think it was SQ who suggested that we should jump on that train with my “Blogging for Business” course. And so we did:

We couldn’t have hoped for a better timing for that relaunch. The buzz was absolutely insane. The announcement tweet alone has generated a staggering 278K+ impressions (not without some paid boosts, of course).

The statistics of the course announcement tweet.

We also went ahead and reposted that course on ProductHunt once again (because why not?).

All in all, that relaunch turned out to be even more successful than the original launch itself. 

In the course of their lifespan on Wistia, the 40 video lessons of my course generated a total of 372K plays.

Play count from Wistia.

And this isn’t even the end of it.

9. The launch on YouTube

Because the course was now free, it no longer made sense to host it at Wistia. So we uploaded all lessons to YouTube and made them public.

To date, the 41 videos of my course have generated about 187K views on YouTube.

"Blogging for Business" course playlist.

It’s fair to mention that we had around 200,000 subscribers on our channel at the time of publishing my course there. A brand-new channel with no existing subscribers will likely generate fewer views.

10. The relaunch on YouTube [coming soon]

Here’s an interesting observation that both Sam and I made at around the same time. 

Many people were publishing their courses on YouTube as a single video spanning a few hours rather than cutting them into individual lessons like we did. And those long videos were generating millions of views!

Like these two, ranking at the top for “learn Python course,” which have 33M and 27M views, respectively:

"Learn python course" search on YouTube.

So we decided to run a test with Sam’s “SEO for Beginners” course. It was originally published on YouTube as 14 standalone video lessons and generated a total of 140K views.

Well, the “single video” version of that same course has blown it out of the water with over 1M views as of today.

I’m sure you can already tell where I’m going with this.

We’re soon going to republish my “Blogging for Business” course on YouTube as a single video. And hopefully, it will perform just as well.

The end

So that’s the story of my “Blogging for Business” course. From the very beginning, it was planned as a promotional tool for Ahrefs. And judging by its performance, I guess it fulfilled its purpose rather successfully.

A screenshot of a Slack message.

Don’t get me wrong, though. 

The fact that my course was conceived as a promotional tool doesn’t mean that I didn’t pour my heart and soul into it. It was a perfectly genuine and honest attempt to create a super useful educational resource for content marketing newbies.

And I’m still hoping to work on the 2.0 version of it someday. In the past four years, I have accrued quite a bit more content marketing knowledge that I’m keen to share with everyone. So follow me on Twitter, and stay tuned.



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7 Steps to Grow Your Traffic & Sales

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7 Steps to Grow Your Traffic & Sales

Content marketing has become one of the best (and most cost-effective) ways to get traffic to a website. When done right, the traffic keeps coming long after you stop actively promoting it.

If you own an e-commerce website and want to learn how to utilize blogging to grow your brand and increase your sales, this is the guide for you.

I’ve personally grown blogs to over 250,000 monthly visitors, and I’ve worked with dozens of clients in the e-commerce space to help them do the same. Here’s an overview of my seven-step process to starting and growing an e-commerce blog. 

But first…

Why start a blog on your e-commerce site?

Creating a blog has a whole host of benefits for e-commerce websites:

  • It can help you move visitors along your marketing funnel so they eventually buy.
  • You’re able to rank highly for keywords on Google that your product pages could never rank for but that are still important for building brand awareness and finding customers.
  • It can help you grow your email list.
  • You’re able to continue to get traffic without constantly spending money on ads.
  • It provides many opportunities to link to your product and category pages to help them rank better on the SERPs.

If you don’t know what some of these things mean, don’t worry—I’ll explain them along the way. But for now, let’s take a look at some e-commerce blogs that are working well right now so you can see the end goal.

Examples of successful e-commerce blogs

Three of my favorite examples of e-commerce websites using blogging are:

  1. Solo Stove
  2. Flatspot
  3. v-dog

Solo Stove comes in at the top of my list due to its excellent use of videos, photos, and helpful information on the blog. It also does search engine optimization (SEO) really well, bringing in an estimated 329,000 monthly visits from Google (data from Ahrefs’ Site Explorer).

Overview of Solo Stove, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

In fact, it’s grown its brand to such a level of popularity that it even created search demand for keywords that include its brand name in them, then created blog posts to rank for those keywords:

Ahrefs' keyword report for Solo Stove

But that’s not all it did. Its blog posts also rank for other keywords in its marketing funnel, such as how to have a mosquito-free backyard or how to change your fire pit’s colors.

E-commerce blogging keyword examples

Then on its blog posts, it uses pictures of its fire pit:

Solo Stove blog post example

Ranking for these keywords does two things:

  1. It introduces Solo Stove’s brand to people who may eventually purchase a fire pit from it.
  2. It gives the brand the opportunity to promote its products to an audience who may not have even known it existed, such as the “mosquito free backyard” keyword.

Moving on, skater brand Flatspot also does blogging well, with a cool ~80,000 monthly visitors to its blog just from search engines.

Overview of Flatspot, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

One of its tactics is to piggie-back on the popularity of new shoe releases from major brands like Nike, then use that traffic to get readers to buy the shoes directly from it:

Flatspot promoting Nike SB shoes in blog post

Finally, let’s look at v-dog—a plant-powered kibble manufacturer that gets ~8,000 visits per month.

Overview of v-dog, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

My favorite post it’s done is its guide to making wet dog food at home, which ranks for the featured snippet for “how to make wet dog food”:

Google search results for "how to make wet dog food"

This guide directly promotes v-dog’s product to make wet dog food. So people who search the query will be introduced to its brand and potentially buy its product to make their own wet dog food at home.

And there you have it—three examples of blogging for e-commerce that’s working right now. With that, let’s talk about how you can start your own blog.

Seven steps to start and grow an e-commerce blog

In my 10+ years as a professional SEO and freelance writer, I’ve worked with over a dozen e-commerce stores to help them grow their website traffic. I’ve also run several of my own e-commerce websites.

In that time, I’ve distilled what works into an easy-to-follow seven-step process:

1. Do some keyword research

I never start a blog without first doing keyword research. Not only does this make coming up with blog topic ideas much easier, but it also ensures that every blog post you write has a chance to show up in Google search results and bring you free, recurring traffic.

While we wrote a complete guide to keyword research, here’s a quick and dirty strategy for finding keywords fast:

First, find a competitor who has a blog. Let’s say you’re selling dog food just like v-dog—if I search for “dog food” on Google, I can see some of my competition:

Google search results for "dog food"

At this point, I look for relevant competitors. For example, Chewy and American Kennel Club are good competitors for research. But I’ll skip sites like Amazon and Walmart, as they are just too broad to get relevant data from.

Next, plug the competitor’s URL into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and click on the Organic keywords report to see the keywords its website ranks for on Google:

Organic keywords report for chewy.com

In this example, it has over 700,000 keywords. That’s way too many to sort through. Let’s add some filters to make things easier:

  • First, set the KD (Keyword Difficulty) score to a maximum of 30 to find easier-to-rank-for keywords.
  • Then we can exclude brand name keywords using the “Keywords” dropdown, set it to “Doesn’t contain,” and type in the brand name.
  • If the website has /blog/ in its blog post URLs, you can also set a filter in the “URL” dropdown to “Contains” and type “blog” in the text field. In Chewy’s case, it doesn’t do that, but it does use a subdomain for its blog, which we can search specifically.

When you’re done, it should look like this:

Ahrefs keyword filters

In the case of chewy.com, this only shaved it down to 619,000 keywords. That’s still a lot—let’s filter it down further. We can apply the following:

  • Minimum monthly search volume of 100
  • Only keywords in positions #1–10
  • Only show keywords containing “dog,” since my example website only sells dog food, not all animal food

Here’s what it looks like with these new filters applied:

Filtering down Ahrefs' Organic keywords report

Now I can find some more related keywords like “what to feed a dog with diarrhea” or “can dogs eat cheese.”

Data for keyword "what to feed a dog with diarrhea"

In addition to picking interesting keywords, you can also get an idea of how to become a topical authority on the topic of dog food by searching “dog food” in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

Overview for "dog food," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

This keyword is extremely difficult to rank on page #1 for. However, if we go to the Related terms report and set the KD to a max of 30, we can see keyword ideas that are still relevant but may be easier to rank high in the search results.

List of keywords related to dog food

Go through and click the gray + sign next to any keywords you may want to target to add them to your list of potential article ideas. 

2. Create templates for future blog posts

One of the first things I do when I create a new blog is to establish a repeatable template that I use for every post. Typically, it looks something like this:

Blog post template example

It has breadcrumb navigation to help with SEO and navigation, the article title and the date it was last updated, then a short intro with an image on the right to make the lines shorter (and easier to skim). Finally, I include a clickable table of contents to help with navigation, then get into the article.

Within the article itself, I will use headers (H2s) and subheaders (H3s) to make my content easier to skim and to help Google understand what each section is about.

You can make templates for every kind of post you plan on creating—such as list posts, ultimate guides, tutorials, etc.—and reuse them for every post you ever create. It’s a huge time-saver.

While you’re at it, you should also create a standard operating procedure (SOP) that you go through for every article. This could include writing guidelines, what to do with images, formatting, tone, etc.

3. Outline your article

I never dive into writing an article without outlining it first. An outline ensures the article is well structured and planned before you start writing, and it bakes SEO right into your writing process. It’s another big time-saver.

Typically, you want this outline to include:

  • Potential title or titles of the article
  • Target keyword
  • Brief description of the article angle
  • Links to competing articles on Google for research
  • Headers and subheaders, with brief descriptions of the section as needed

Here’s a look at part of an example outline I’ll either send to my writers or write myself:

Content outline example

I wrote a guide to outlining content, which you can follow here for the full step-by-step process.

4. Write, optimize, and publish your post

Next up, it’s time to write your article. As you write more articles, you’ll find what works for you—but you may find it easier to fill in the sections then go back and write the intro once the article is finished.

Here are a few writing tips to help you become a better writer:

  • Ditch the fluff – If a word isn’t needed to bring a point across, cut it.
  • Keep your paragraphs short – Two to three lines per paragraph is plenty, especially for mobile readers where the screen width is shorter.
  • Use active voice over passive voiceHere is a guide for that.
  • Make your content easy to skim – Include photos and videos and make use of headers and bulleted lists to share key points.

Once you’ve written your article, do some basic on-page SEO to help it rank higher in search results:

  • Ensure your article has one H1 tag – The title of the article.
  • Have an SEO-friendly URL – Include the keyword you’re targeting, but keep it short and easy to read.
  • Link to other pages on your site using proper anchor textHere’s a guide for that.
  • Ensure your images have alt text – This is the text Google uses to read what the image is about, as well as what is shown to readers if the image can’t render.

Finally, publish your post and give yourself a pat on the back.

5. Add product promotions, email opt-ins, and internal links

Before you promote your content, there are a few things you can do to squeeze more ROI from it—namely, you should add a way for people to either push them through the funnel toward purchasing a product or subscribe to your email list. I’ll give an example of each.

First, Solo Stove wrote an article titled “Ambiance Is A Girl’s Best Friend,” where it promotes its tiny Solo Stove Mesa as a way of improving a space’s ambiance: 

How to promote your products in a blog post

Beyond directly promoting your products in the articles, you can also add email opt-ins that give people a percentage off their orders. You may lose a little money on the initial order. But once you get someone’s email address, you can promote to them again and get multiple orders from them.

For example, Primary sells kids’ clothing and uses this email pop-up to promote money off its products after you spend a certain amount of time on its website:

Email opt-in pop-up offering a discount on first order

Just make sure your discount code only works once per unique IP address. You can learn more about how to do that here if you use Shopify.

Finally, when you publish an article, you should make it a point to add internal links to your new article from older articles. 

This won’t be as important for your first few because you won’t have a ton of articles. But as your blog grows, it’s an important part of the process to ensure your readers (and Google) can still find your articles and that they aren’t buried deep on your site.

Refer to our guide to internal linking to learn more about this step.

6. Promote your content

At this point, your content is live and optimized for both conversions and search engines. Now it’s time to get some eyeballs on it.

We have an entire guide to content promotion you should read, but here are some highlights:

  • Share the article on all of your social media channels
  • Send the article to your email list if you have one
  • Share your content in relevant communities (such as relevant Reddit forums)
  • Consider running paid ads to your article

There’s a lot more you can do to promote a piece, including reaching out to other blog owners. But I won’t cover all of that here.

The other important piece of promoting your content is getting other website owners to link to your new articles. This is called link building, and it’s a crucial part of SEO.

There are many ways to build links. Some of the most popular include:

Link building is an entire subject on its own. If you’re serious about blogging and getting search traffic, it’s a crucial skill to learn.

7. Scale your efforts

The final step in blogging for e-commerce is scaling up your efforts by creating repeatable processes for each step and hiring people to do the tasks you yourself don’t need to be doing.

You can hire freelance writers, outreach specialists, editors, and more. You can put together a full SEO team for your business.

If you’re not in a place to start hiring, there are still things you can do to squeeze more output from your time, such as creating the SOPs I mentioned earlier.

Final thoughts

Blogging is one of the best ways to increase your e-commerce store’s traffic and sales. It costs less than traditional paid advertising and can continue to provide a return long after a post has been published.

This guide will hopefully help you start your e-commerce blog and publish your first post. But remember that success with blogging doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it takes three to six months on average to see any results from your SEO efforts. Keep learning and be patient.

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The 5-Step Formula To Forecasting Your SEO Campaign Results

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The 5-Step Formula To Forecasting Your SEO Campaign Results

Looking to launch a successful digital marketing campaign for your business?

How do you select the best SEO keywords to expand your brand’s reach?

What can you do to determine the most effective ways to allocate your marketing budget?

Facing these tough decisions can put you on your heels if you’re not equipped with the right information.

Luckily, there’s a new way to leverage your company’s data to estimate your ROI and take the guesswork out of your next campaign.

With a simple mathematical formula, you can predict the amount of traffic and revenue you’ll generate before even setting your strategy in motion – and you can do it all in just five steps.

Want to learn how?

Join our next webinar with Sabrina Hipps, VP of Partner Development, and Jeremy Rivera, Director of Content Analysis at CopyPress, to find out how to analyze specific keywords and forecast your SEO results.

Not too fond of math? Don’t worry – we’ll provide access to free tools and a downloadable calculator to help automate this process and save you time.

Key Takeaways From This Webinar: 

  • Learn how forecasting your SEO can help you build better campaigns and choose the right keywords.
  • Get step-by-step instructions to predict revenue and website traffic for your next SEO campaign.
  • Access a free handout, resources, and online tools that will save you time and supercharge your content strategy.

In this session, we’ll share real-life examples and provide guidance for the decision-makers within your organization to start getting the most out of your marketing efforts.

By better understanding the market potential of your product or service, you’ll be able to make more informed decisions and effectively maximize your ROI.

Sign up for this webinar and discover how you can secure a sufficient marketing budget and use SEO keywords to forecast the results of your future content campaigns.



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Google SEO Tips For News Articles: Lastmod Tag, Separate Sitemaps

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Google SEO Tips For News Articles: Lastmod Tag, Separate Sitemaps

Google Search Advocate John Mueller and Analyst Gary Illyes share SEO tips for news publishers during a recent office-hours Q&A recording.

Taking turns answering questions, Mueller addresses the correct use of the lastmod tag, while Illyes discusses the benefits of separate sitemaps.

When To Use The Lastmod Tag?

In an XML sitemap file, lastmod is a tag that stores information about the last time a webpage was modified.

Its intended use is to help search engines track and index significant changes to webpages.

Google provides guidelines for using the lastmod tag, which could be used to alter search snippets.

The presence of the lastmod tag may prompt Googlebot to change the publication date in search results, making the content appear more recent and more attractive to click on.

As a result, there may be an inclination to use the lastmod tag even for minor changes to an article so that it appears as if it was recently published.

A news publisher asks whether they should use the lastmod tag to indicate the date of the latest article update or the date of the most recent comment.

Mueller says the date in the lastmod field should reflect the date when the page’s content has changed significantly enough to require re-crawling.

However, using the last comment date is acceptable if comments are a critical part of the page.

He also reminds the publisher to use structured data and ensure the page date is consistent with the lastmod tag.

“Since the site map file is all about finding the right moment to crawl a page based on its changes, the lastmod date should reflect the date when the content has significantly changed enough to merit being re-crawled.

If comments are a critical part of your page, then using that date is fine. Ultimately, this is a decision that you can make. For the date of the article itself, I’d recommend looking at our guidelines on using dates on a page.

In particular, make sure that you use the dates on a page consistently and that you structured data, including the time zone, within the markup.”

Separate Sitemap For News?

A publisher inquires about Google’s stance on having both a news sitemap and a general sitemap on the same website.

They also ask if it’s acceptable for both sitemaps to include duplicate URLs.

Illyes explained that it’s possible to have just one sitemap with the news extension added to the URLs that need it, but it’s simpler to have separate sitemaps for news and general content. URLs older than 30 days should be removed from the news sitemap.

Regarding sitemaps sharing the duplicate URLs, it’s not recommended, but it won’t cause any problems.

Illyes states:

“You can have just one site map, a traditional web sitemap as defined by sitemaps.org, and then add the news extension to the URLs that need it. Just keep in mind that, you’ll need to remove the news extension from URLs that are older than 30 days. For this reason it’s usually simpler to have separate site map for news and for web.

Just remove the URLs altogether from the news site map when they become too old for news. Including the URLs in both site maps, while not very nice, but it will not cause any issues for you.”

These tips from Mueller and Illyes can help news publishers optimize their websites for search engines and improve the visibility and engagement of their articles.


Source: Google Search Central

Featured Image: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock



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