SEO was a word I associated with bullshit artists. Now, SEO is not only generating leads for our SaaS company but is part of my process to the extent that I can’t tell where it starts or ends. What changed? Higher targets and a simple clean strategy that works, for anyone.
Essential resource: If Every Other Note Taking App has Failed you. Try Roam.
The 9 stages of evolution from hating SEO to a working strategy
I work at a SaaS company, Upscope.io, which is no-download instant screen sharing for SaaS. Yup.
I do marketing. Previously I did dev work.
It was a humbling transition.
I had to learn to do all the things I previously despised.
Below are the key stages of the journey and proof of results.
“That SEO stuff is for cowboys”
This is back when I ignored any incoming email or blog post that mentioned SEO because I associated it with cowboys.
If someone said they were an SEO agency, I would think
If you’re that good at it, why didn’t you build a big giant business with those skills?
Yeah, I was an arrogant fool.
I mean, of course, some people are bullshit artists but even basic practitioners can help educate us, if not get us the results we want.
“My marketing is not working so let’s see what this SEO stuff is”
When my content did not magically take off and go viral, I started wondering if there was something to this SEO stuff.
But all I took from reading was…
‘the title should be good and include some of the keywords’.
“Some of my content worked, screw SEO!”
By creating good content and posting it to sites like growthhackers.com, I gained some big wins.
Suddenly, I believed everything was about good content and posting it to Growthhackers and other distribution fire hoses so screw SEO
The entire process became about creating 5X or 10X content which was hit or miss.
“We need more traffic for sales. We have a target. SEO, I NEED YOU!”
Everything changed when I sat down, drew up a real target which other companies were appearing to achieve and realised that the current random posting plan would not make it.
Content could not be just hit or miss. Every action needed to count.
I began to seriously research SEO but still only applied it in short random bursts.
There was no strategy so it all felt like guessing. Everything was confusing.
“Topic cluster is the strategy for people who hate SEO. It’s the answer to everything.”
I came across the topic cluster model used by hubspot.
Yes, it really has been the answer to everything. This is your dumbass simple strategy if you hate SEO.
What is the topic cluster strategy?
If you write multiple articles about one topic and link it together then that proves to Google you might be for real.
Let’s say the topic was ‘customer success’.
The main central topic (also known as pillar page) would be ’21 ways to do customer success better’ or whatever.
Then, each of those 21 points would link to an individual article that goes into depth about that point.
All those articles would link to each other internally and back to that main pillar page.
That’s the topic cluster.
Google sees that topic cluster and sees that people read them and click from one to the other so ‘yes, they must be for real, lets put this on page 1’. (well, sometimes, see stage 6)
This topic cluster model sat with me perfectly because:
- I didn’t feel like I’m doing bullshit work that disappears into a hole.
- Every article, even average ones, were part of a bigger plan.
- It’s an easy structure to grasp and get started with.
We built topic clusters for Upscope by targeting topics like Intercom, live chat, customer success and more.
Did it work for us?
If you search for "Intercom pricing", you’ll see Upscope appear on the first page (as of time of writing).
We're also on page 1 or 2 for a number of other intercom related searches that matter to us like "intercom integrations".
People read those articles, we mention Upscope in those articles, people visit Upscope, some of them sign up, some of the people who sign up go on to buy. It's like a frikkin merry-go-round that keeps going even when we sleep.
Read more on topic clusters.
“So that’s how SEO keyword analysis and topic clusters fit together”
I signed up and paid for SEMRush.com and a new world opened up for me.
It gave keyword analysis for terms and showed gaps and even showed popular blog posts. There’s so much to it that I could write for days, so I won’t.
SEMRush helped understand what people search for.
I mean, that’s the point of it right?
If lots of people are searching for Intercom onboarding templates then create an article showing them Intercom onboarding templates.
Topic clusters using SEMRush require some thinking:
- Is this keyword a topic pillar page or part of the cluster?
- Is it a weak keyword that we can tackle.
- Do we have something to write about this topic that is worth writing?
Also, SEMRush helped us find good titles and keywords for every individual article. We could see some of the top ranking posts for each term. We could see related keywords.
All our stats improved. Articles we wrote stopped dying and disappearing.
EVERYTHING felt like it was part of a plan.
“So that’s why copywriting and on-page optimisation matters”
I understood topic clusters and I thought I just needed to write good articles.
I’m a good writer right?
Nope, I know nothing.
I was still writing school essays. I should have been writing for the web.
I came across Neil Patel and Brian Dean’s blogs and they both write in a very strange style with lots of one and two line sentences.
Brian Dean was using a formula for writing titles called the APP formula. He used things called ‘Bucket brigades’ to keep people reading and which helped the page rank.
If you take nothing else from this article, make sure you read: All the advice on APP and bucket bridges
What I also learned is that my on-page optimisation is still weak. My anchor links are weak (like the one just above), my internal linking is weak.
“We have a strategy. We have a structure. It works. I could get paid for doing this stuff. I could become what I despised. We can now set targets and reach them.”
If you hate SEO, then a topic cluster is the dumbass simple structure you need to love SEO.
You can really sit down and write without having to imagine a 1000 hacks.
We might have weaknesses but using topic clusters, better on-page optimisation and classic copywriting methods have resulted in a doubling of traffic for the blog (not yet the main site as we forgot to actively plug our own product. Yeah. Dumb. However, sign ups increased… strange).
For the upscope.io blog, December was double of November. Jan was double of December. Feb was double of Jan.
We know that if we put in X work, we will get Y result. Our main concern now is efficiency and creativity.
I feel a lot more free to write knowing that at least the direction is set. I know a post won’t fall into the abyss. The post will have its use at some point if not today. It’s part of a plan.
“I know nothing”
I was reading about how Neil Patel researches and writes a blog post in 2 hours which would take me a couple of days.
I clearly have a lot to learn.
There might be some SEO cowboys out there but there are guys who really did the work and know their stuff.
I’ll keep my sense of judgement but I won’t judge them if you know what I mean?
What I do know is that I know nothing.
A beginner mind is best.
Read next? Each day I think of blog ideas, bucket list ideas, books I want to read, podcasts I need to listen to and then I forget it all. Every other note taking app has failed me but I started using Roam Research. It works.
I hope you enjoyed this, it covers the learning experience I went through for Upscope Co-browsing which is for seing what your customer sees, instantly. Give it to anyone on your team chatting to customers.