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What’s this? A guest post on our brand new shiny blog? Special thanks to Adam Smith for contributing this piece about the growth of a blog – I might just be taking his advice! Anyway, take it away, Adam!

The Five Steps to Blogging Success

In this case study I’m going to show you how a little blogspot I set up in 2009 to play around with SEO and content, grew into one of the most popular war-gaming blogs on the web.

So if you’ve always liked the idea of blogging, but wondered how to stand out from the crowd and get noticed, hopefully this should help – or at least give you some great ideas!

It’s easy to simply say “write great content”, but blogging successfully is a little more involved than that, regardless of whether you’re a little guy trying to make a some affiliate pocket money or a powerful brand looking to sell hundreds of products.

In this case, I’m a little guy writing about Warhammer 40,000. But don’t fret, because this is all about SEO, content, marketing, building a brand and beating the competition by not just doing things better, but by doing them differently.

Here it all is in just 5 sections:

1) Finding Your Niche… Within a Niche

In my first SEO job, my boss suggested I set up my own blog to better learn SEO and content.

So after two comical failures where I chased after the most competitive keywords, I created the Space Wolves blog on a partial match domain for the keyword “space wolves”, which I’d learned all about from watching affiliates.
For the uninitiated; Space Wolves are one of the most popular Space Marine armies in Warhammer 40K.

(and they look pretty awesome too)

Next, my boss challenged me that I could never get it to rank #1 in Google for “space wolves” without buying links. I think this was a cunning plan on his part to reduce our link building costs at work, but little did he know that I intended to use content marketing to make this happen.

I would make my blog a complete resource for the Space Wolves army in Warhammer 40K. That included Painting, Conversions, Tactics, Battle Reports and Army Lists. In doing so I would not only get all the traffic for “space wolves”, but mop up all the long tail that included this search term too.

Because I was very active online in the war-gaming community, I knew that in 6 months’ time a new Space Wolves range would be released. So I began creating my resource before the band wagon started rolling, giving me exclusivity and no real competition.

Right from the start the SEO focus was on keywords. I’d seen how an affiliate had very successfully optimised a blog to rank for every search term that contained their top keyword using content on their side bar, including keywords in the navigation and followed suit.

Is this spammy? Well, when a site is specifically about 1 topic, it would be impossible not to include target keywords absolutely everywhere, right? Either way, I was going to make it all look completely natural with great content…which would hopefully get me great links.

2) Creating Killer Content

Blogging is competitive, whatever your niche. So in order to stand out from the crowd I didn’t just strive to create better content that the other bloggers, I wanted to created different content as well – the kind of stuff the community could only come to me for.

Now because no one in this niche had ever created a complete resource for just 1 army, this formed the basis of my selling pitch. And because I was doing all this cool stuff anyway (it is my hobby after all), creating my killer content was easy.

So I went ahead and created absolutely everything: Step by step painting and conversion tutorials, example army lists, turn by turn battle reports (with lots of photos), interviews with the top painters and players, as well as tactical guides to optimising and using every single unit in the army.

From an SEO angle, let’s not forget that the title and intro paragraph of every single blog post was optimised for some kind of mid to long tail search term around Space Wolves. So for every blog post I wrote, the more my search engine traffic grew.

But while my readers could count on me to deliver the goods time and again, knowing when to come back for more was clearly an issue. But after some testing I settled on scheduling all my posts to publish at 19:00 GMT every Monday, Wednesday and Friday with regular features. Spikes in traffic then showed me which regular features were the most popular.

For example, there’s a comic page published every Wednesday that an awesome guy in Spain sends to me to edit every week. So there’s always a massive traffic spike every Wednesday at 7pm.

Which brings me on to how creating killer content can not only make you friends and earn you links, but also help to bring contributors on board as well…

3) Be One of the Community

One thing that always struck me about many keyword domain affiliate sites is the lack of community interaction. Believe it or not, some of these sites have some really good content and they provide a lot of great information about the new products that have just come out. So surely they would have put this knowledge to greater use by engaging with the online communities in order to generate free links and maybe even get their killer content shared?

But apparently not.

So, the first thing I wanted to do with my resource *cough* SEO keyword targeted affiliate blog *cough* was to nestle into the warm bosom of the community. So I built it in a BlogSpot, because that’s what everyone else in this niche had done. Then I got some blog roll links by registering with a couple of blog hub schemes and strived to get noticed by the bigger blogs in the niche and get on their blog rolls as well.

I was a young and naïve SEO back then, passionately believing in the quality of my content and that it would be shared, and that as other bloggers saw my amazing content on other people’s blog rolls, that they too would add my blog to their blog rolls and on and on it would go, naturally building links until I reached the top of Google!

Strangely enough, this not only happened, but also helped to get the blog to #5 in Google. I believe this was because good quality content combined with a complete resource for a single army made the blog very link worthy.

After some forum posts, blog comments and guest blog posts on the bigger blogs later, the Space Wolves blog ranked #1 in Google for “space wolves”. And not a moment too soon, because the following week the new Space Wolves army was released as rumours, causing a nice little spike in traffic from every wargamer bashing “space wolves” into Google that weekend. And now all these players knew exactly where to come back to for all the support they needed to build, paint and play their new armies.

As you may have gathered, as an SEO I have a slight obsession with links, rankings and referral traffic with little regard for more social side of the web. However, now that the blog ranked #1 in Google, it was time to build up the Domain Authority and make sure I could mop up all that long tail traffic for maximum exposure.

For the record, I only ever built links to the home page, believing that the overall relevancy of the Domain for “space wolves” would help every other page to rank well for anything Space Wolves related.

The Warhammer 40K blogosphere was growing an exponential rate and potential Space Wolves competitors were emerging everywhere with their own little blogs. Understandably, I couldn’t allow any competition to undermine the growth of my blog, so I approached each of these new bloggers in turn, praised their work and asked if they’d like to join in the spoils of writing for one of the biggest blogs that was all about their favourite army.

To my joy they all said yes! And soon we had a team of 5 people, all passionate about the topic and producing great content.

But most importantly, they became my brand evangelists and frequented numerous blogs, forums and communities, spreading the word of the blog and building lots of lovely links along the way.

To keep them happy I paid them in boxed sets every affiliate pay day (which was quarterly).

Meanwhile, a Space Wolves Facebook group had been going strong for a little while. So rather than start my own Facebook group, I asked if we could team up. Thanks to all the earlier content, good marketing and Google rankings, the Facebook group admins were big fans of the blog and the two were integrated without a fuss.

4) Sort Out Your Navigation!

If there’s one thing always bugs me about blogs it’s that you can never seem to find what you’re looking for because the tagging usually has no structure and often gets thrown in a tag cloud, which is no real help to anyone.

Similarly, the internal search function on most blog platforms is sketchy at best and no one really wants to go trawling through your Archive – although it makes a great site map for Google bot, so always have one.

So, when planning out all of the evergreen content for my blog, I set it out under different categories on the side bar and then added a link to each one on the list when it was completed.

There were two reasons for this:

  • First of all, this lets people find exactly what they’re looking for.
  • Secondly, from a sneaky SEO angle, it also helps the home page to rank for a wide range of Space Wolves related search terms because of its overall relevancy and on page content.

You could argue that despite the home page ranking #1 for a long tail search term it would be an irrelevant result as the article for the search query hadn’t been completed yet, but I wanted as much short term exposure as possible when I was starting out.

I should also mention that 1 year after the blog had been live, I suddenly got a massive influx of links and traffic began rising steadily once again.

This is because of the links to all the evergreen content on the side bar. Because people could easily find this stuff on my ‘resource’ they were actively linking to and sharing it.

Some of these links also came from people finding the content they wanted on the blog in the Google rankings. So, ranking top in Google with content certainly seems to earn you more natural links too!

It’s remarkable how something as small as sorting out your sidebar links to your best content can have such a positive impact on your blog.

5) Riding the Blogging Roller Coaster

So after all this work, you’re probably wondering how much money I made from all this? Well, I’m not Perez Hilton (thankfully!), so I’m going to have to disappoint you, because I made around £100 a month from 2 affiliate schemes and Google AdSense based on around 3,000 visits per day.

Some months were great; some months were terrible – because I was forever at the mercy of what was happening within the hobby.

For example, European retailers were suddenly restricted from selling Games Workshop products outside of the EU. So that meant no more sales to America or Australia, which made up 30% of the blogs traffic.

Then, after a year or so, the hype around Space Wolves died down a little once new armies were released and they were no longer the best army in the game. The contributors slowly stopped contributing as a result and things plateaued for the blog. Obviously, this had an impact on the revenue streams too.

The harsh reality was that the Space Wolves blog would only ever be as successful as the Space Wolves army itself. Once all the evergreen content was written and once all the long tail search terms were mopped up, the ceiling for traffic and rankings was reached. So while the blog cannot be taken any further on terms of rankings or traffic, it’s still ticking over nicely.

Conclusion

This blog case study has been a bit of a trip down memory lane for me, but what I really wanted to do was not only give you all some advice about blogging, but also give you some the detail of how I actually did it, the problems I encountered and how I resolved them.

So whether you’re already blogging or you’re thinking about it, hopefully all these insights will help you to create killer content, stand out from the crowd with a unique pitch, engage with the community and get you all the rankings and traffic you want.

This little blog was brilliant for my SEO career when I was starting out. And when you consider that in SEO ‘content is king’, then anyone new to SEO should certainly try their hand at blogging.


About Adam Smith
SEO Specialist, Copywriter and Internet Marketer, Adam Smith started life as a copywriter, but discovered SEO in 2010 and never looked back. Now he dabbles with a variety of content driven projects in his spare time while managing all of the link building, content and strategy in an agency environment.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/viola.tam.businessmum Viola Tam

    Hi Adam,

    I  am  a child in this blogging and SEO journey. You have shared so much here! I am sure to re-visit as I grow my audience :)

    I particularly like your idea of having a Wednesday cartoon blog post! Very cool.

    Some of my blogger friends did competition – giving away prize for the one who made the most comments for the month. I am sure that there are a lot more creative ideas that can be used apart from those that you have shared here.

    Thanks, Adam!

    Viola Tam