chapter-4
Content Marketing

Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

One of the first things all new and prospective clients want to know is how long it take for a content marketing strategy to see real organic results on Google (yes, I know they aren’t the only search engine). Some want to know how long it will take to get from zero, as they don’t have a website  or have as few as 100 unique relevant search visits daily. For others, they have a bit of history and want to step it up.

I know the answer for what happens when we content marketers start from zero, too.

The vague answer is: it depends on how hard your client wants to work, meaning how much real and relevant content can be created and how much competition there is for their key word phrases. Also, how big is their niche? If no one would ever search for their desired niche, they may never be found. And if they don’t have time or desire to work hard, it depends on how much money they have to invest in their content marketing team.

A concrete answer:100 unique organic visits daily in almost any niche topic can be acquired in about three to four months.

A Course in Content Marketing

Background

In January of 2013 I knocked on the door of a Dean of a graduate school in Silicon Valley. I asked simply, “Can I teach a class here on Marketing with Social Media? I want to prove that content marketing works. I will teach the class for free.”

“…..” was the stunned reply.

After haggling a bit, the school insisted on paying me anyway and more than 70 students signed up for my class. It was clear in the syllabus description of the course, but I am equally sure most of the prospective students didn’t read the syllabus and just thought they were going to be able to play around in the social network for a semester and think they were doing some marketing. They were wrong.

10 students didn’t show up. Another 10 students just plain didn’t want to work and I had to throw them out. A third 10 students cheated and I threw them out and had to clean up their mess. That left me with 40-ish students who did what I told them to do… more or less.

The students were required to purchase a domain and basic self-hosting if they didn’t have one already. Some wanted to work from existing sites. We (my staff)  installed WordPress for them and the students worked off the 2013 WordPress default template. No more, no less. I had access to their WordPress dashboards to make sure they did the assigned work and we installed Google Analytics to track the results.

One last thing – each student was permitted to decide on a niche topic of their own choice – health, nutrition, sports, dance, travel, technology, entertainment – one even wrote in Chinese!

The Results

Following are three screen shots from Google Analytics of students in each of three niches. If you want to see even more results, there are some on my website: content marketing case studies.

The key to looking at the screen shots:

1. Starting Point - Note the flat line. This is because the sites did NOT exist before Feb 11. It is NOT because that is when Analytics was first installed.

2. Reference Line for Traffic – From 100 – 250.

3. Metric – Visits

4. Time Frame – First 6 months of the new site.

5. Traffic Source – Google/organic, Google referral for the same time frame.

6.  Unique Visitors – 1 month’s traffic in the 4th – 5th month from when the site was born.

7. Time unit – 1 month.

Travel Niche

Zeroto313 637x279 Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

Case Study in Travel Website

Zeroto31 637x313 Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

Case Study in Travel

Zeroto312 637x266 Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

Case Study in Travel Site Growth

Health/Nutrition Niche

Zeroto3a1 637x304 Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

Case Study in Health

Zeroto3a21 637x291 Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

Case Study in Health

Zeroto3a2 637x274 Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

Case Study in Health

Entertainment Niche

Zeroto3d3 637x255 Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

Case Study in Entertainment

Zeroto3d1 637x301 Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

Case Study in Entertainment

Zeroto3d2 637x271 Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

Case Study in Entertainment

In each of these 3 very different niches, the students were able to go to 3,897, 7,052, and 7,528 total unique visitors, mostly via organic search, in a 30-day period just 4-5 months after the site was launched, from zer0 = see the flat line.

Each site had an incubation period before it caught on. Each caught on. And this was just three out of the group of 40-ish.

The Method

I hate to sound like a broken record but I applied the strategy I articulated in an earlier article here at SEJ – 4 Steps to Beat Any Website in Any Niche Topic.

The Advantage

Most people have to find a rhythm. I got the students into a rhythm of writing regularly quickly. Their grade depended on it. They balked, screamed, whined, even threatened to get me fired by taking their case to the dean to get me booted out. I held my ground and the results bore me out.

Quality articles – no junk. Solid stuff that ‘added to the discussion’ of whatever niche they were in. I will dive into quality in future articles here. They guest wrote on one another’s site when there was an obvious connection. And they reached out to others in their niche outside of the class structure. The learned to write anchor/pillar/evergreen (what every you call them) posts. And I did NOT send them out to get ‘social signals.’ That’s another topic I will dive into that in a future article as well. Nor did I require them to do keyword research. My instructions were to write about what they love and follow the four steps.

Question: Can you get similar results in your niche, with your product or service? Can your client?

Answer: A hearty yes.

Question: Could they have gotten better results had they done extensive research on keyword phrases – what’s popular and what’s not?

Answer: You show me. Open up your dashboard and let me see how much difference it could have made.

Question: Could they have gotten better results had they written lengthy, deep, well-researched articles on a more infrequent basis?

Answer: No. I know this because I gave the students that option. Some of them tried. Their traffic paled in comparison. That, too, I will go into in a future article.

Conclusion

Content marketing done right, works. Simple as that.

Next article: What’s a better content marketing strategy – long, deep, well-researched articles or short to-the-point regular updates?

 

Image: Property of Bill Belew.
Screen Shots: Taken in Feb 2014.

billbelewlogo Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?
Professor, Speaker, Author, blogger, all-around old man. Having taught a full 48-hour MBA course in Marketing with Social Media at a graduate school in Silicon Valley, Bill delivers insights from recent, real and relevant case studies. Bill has been working in social media for more than 8 years and has more than 90 million unique visitors from organic search to his network of sites and in a variety of niches. He knows what works, what doesn't, what can kill a site, and what can cause it to grow. Bill has a network of 5000+ Meetup followers in the heart of Silicon Valley. He is a paid, professional, international, in-demand speaker.
billbelewlogo Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

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36 thoughts on “Case Study: How Long Does It Take to See Organic Search Results?

  1. “Could they have gotten better results had they written lengthy, deep, well-researched articles on a more infrequent basis?

    Answer: No.”

    This is interesting because it directly contradicts everything many “experts” keep telling us.

    1. Carlos,

      I will show you why I know my answer to be true in my next article.

      Question – the ‘experts’ who say that you need long articles… who are they? The article writers? And how do they get paid? By length.

      If they disagree with me, I ask them please to open up their dashboard and show me.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill

  2. Interesting stuff, I think we can all agree that content marketing used correctly generates traffic. I am worried though that we are moving away for traditional SEO and into more of a content marketing only role which does not address many of the fundamentals of good SEO. I imagine we will see an influx of content marketers claiming to offer SEO services with no real clue at the underlying variables.

    What do you think?

    1. Stellar,
      I have learned that there are some 220 things that an SEO might do for a client. However there are about 20 that if done correctly will get 90% of the desired results. Work the 20 I say and leave the fiddling to the others.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill

  3. This is a nice post – however I would add some other considerations:

    1. The quality of this traffic looks quite weak: high bounce rates (70-80%), and less than 2 avg pages per user. Suggests that people come, view the content then leave again.
    2. Based on above – how much of this traffic is sufficiently relevant to drive conversions?
    3. You only get paid on conversions, not traffic – so I would be interested if this generated an ROI. Perhaps a workout of ROI would be more convincing. An initial glance from my side suggests it would lose money… (welcome to prove wrong)
    4. Further to points 1 & 2 – a very low time on site from the organic traffic (30 secs in some cases) Suggests irrelevant, non-useful traffic, and therefore a waste of time.

    Happy to listen if you can challenge me

    Best

    1. Tom,

      I addressed these very questions in a previous article here at SEJ. http://www.searchenginejournal.com/hard-proof-content-marketing-works-professional-speaker-case-study/89621/

      Please take a look and if that is not convincing, let’s talk more.

      The purpose of this class was not to start businesses,prove ROI but to show that writing good stuff will get good relevant search results. And we know that relevant search results convert better.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill

      1. Hi Bill,

        Thanks for the other link. It’s a fairly impressive project – I agree. However, I would like to see the goal completions from organic traffic – as opposed to feedburner/direct. And also the quality of this organic traffic. It does look fairly credible overall though.

        You say “we know relevant search results will convert” – but need to prove it! Traffic by itself doesn’t convert – it’s gotta be the right type of traffic, and from the examples above the traffic seems weak.

        My (substantial) experience tells me the above examples would not generate an ROI – and are therefore be a lost cause. So the clients would lose their marketing spend and it would fail.

        Everyone is jumping on the content marketing bandwagon – but like mentioned in a comment above – does it detract from standard SEO/conversion thinking..?

        People see this is a the magic wand solution, as they now struggle to influence organic rankings.

        Best

    2. Tom,

      Thanks for the dialog and the contrariness. It is indeed welcome.

      Here is a link to a few more actual case studies – http://billbelew.com/case-studies/

      The only difference was more relevant content which resulted in better organic search results and in turn more conversions.

      Indeed conversion is the goal. Who cares who comes and where they came from if they aren’t buying?

      I will address traffic sources and conversion in a future article (thanks for the ideas!).

      In the meantime I am not trying to persuade anybody one way or the other. And if everybody is on a bandwagon you can be dang sure I will not get on. 8-) I am just pointing out what works for me.

      I recommend you keep doing what you do if that works for you (if it ain’t broke…) and I will do what I do. And lets compare results.

      Thanks for reading,

      Bill

  4. Thank you for that information

    Its true content writing works for SEO but
    you missed to mention the putting a smile on
    person reading it .
    Your message will last for sometime in my memory … going to the school to teach for free (catching)
    Some students against you ….(haha)

    Results from the all project

    To me i find it pure content writing fun and education
    I cant wait for next article

    1. Ronnie,

      My students against me is putting it mildly. And they really did insist on paying me and I really did what to do it for free to prove it work.

      There are three other articles here at SEJ from me in the archives. I welcome you to take a look.

      More are on the way.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill

  5. Very good article indeed Bill. You hit the nail on the head! Content marketing done in the correct way sure does work. Looking forward to part 2.

    1. Stevie, I welcome you to take a look at the several other articles I have in the archives here. Click on my name to find them.

      You are very kind with your words.

      I have much more to say on the topic.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill

  6. Good article. looking for help with our SEO. We have three sites; azgolfhomes.com, scottsdalerealestate.com, dcranchhomes.com feel free to contact me if interested in discussing

  7. Great and really informative article, Bill and now I am dying to read the next article on long. well researched or short and to the point article. But at the same time I agree with Stellar too.
    Content marketing is not about All SEO rather it is a part of SEO.
    Thanks for sharing the concept.

    1. Soumya,

      I am not an SEO. I have my own idea/definition of what SEO is or should be. I will dive into that in a future article.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill

  8. Waiting for your next article,even after working on lots of websites,I always find myself confused when I start working on a new website.

  9. Very good and informative article. I can confirm your study. In my opinion, widely confirmed by statistics from my clients sites, there is nothing as effective as quality content marketing. One of my recent German clients, targeting the German acne niche, made it from less than 100 uniques/day to more than 2000/day in four months (Oct. 2013 – Jan 2014), Looks like I guided him with similar advice you are teaching.

    It seems that for most people the problem is, like with some of your students, to provide quality content on a regular base. I am not really a writer, to be honest I don’t like writing, but I am often obliged to at least correct/rewrite the articles provided and I don’t care the theme/niche nor if it is written in English, German or Spanish language. With the right attitude regarding reseach, there is always found something to improve (SEO-wise). The traffic of the site I am referring to, consists by 90% in organic search engine/Google traffic with more than 1.000 first page rankings out of about 4.000 search terms listed in WMT, while distribution between desktop and mobile traffic is about 50/50 using a resposive design.and rankings for desk top and mobile search are very similar.

    Concerning the questions about conversion: The site I am talking about offers no own product, instead trys to monetize with related Afilliate products (Amazon, Ebook) and Adsense. Actually monthly income is around $ 1000. There is a lot to improve still as it is a newbie’s first project. This will be the tasks for the next months to come

    Regarding bounce rate and visitors stickiness, I managed to get the bounce rate below 10%, average time visitiors spend on the site is around 10 minutes, which means they actually read the articles with interest,

    1. Klaus,

      You say you are not a very good writer but you did a great job here.

      Thanks for the confirmation.

      I’d love to hear more of your success stories. Please reach out to me via the contact info here. … or email at wcbelew at gmail dot com.

      Thanks for reading!

      Bill

  10. I’m intrigued as to how long these short articles were – what’s the ideal length? Article sites want around 400 words before they’ll accept them.

    1. Joanne,

      I call them one minute posts. Long enough to read in one minute. Anything longer than that and searchers will bounce.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill

  11. Good job Bill. I have looked and don’t see where you indicated how many articles they were publishing on their blogs. Am I missing it somewhere? Can you enlighten us on how much content the students were producing?

    1. Arnie,

      The students were writing 3/day on average …. But that is not a magic number. It was just the upper limit of how much time I could expect from them based on the number of lecture hours.

    2. Arnie,

      I could get 96 hours or work out of them based on the 48 hours of lecture time. The students average abt 3 posts daily.

      Thanks for reading.

      Bill

      1. Well that’s a pretty serious number. Not many businesses can even live up to that standard. But it doesn’t change the fact that eventually it will work. Looking forward to your post on long-form.

  12. This seems incomplete case study – when i was expecting your research has been start, actually after first 4 questions/answers, its’ over. I am dissatisfied with this incomplete case study.

  13. Mr Belew,

    First off, great work publication and holding your ground against threat.

    Second, this is the best reading (no1 as well) i have ever read. Because, the “claim” is proven by substantial evidence. I’ve been doing SEO for past 7 years. And case study is something i heavily rely on to decide SEO strategy.

    I rarely look into someone’s article at SEJ, SEL, SEW etc. Because every expert has his/her own analysis style. But case study is completely different as it gives you real idea.

    At present, i am studing quality of links, dofollow and nofollow.