Can You Grow Your Organic Traffic Without Generating Content?

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Growing Your Organic Traffic Without Content? | SEJ

Did you know that the average web page that ranks on page 1 of Google has at least 2,000 words of text?

That means if you want more organic traffic, you have to create tons of content, right?

What if you don’t have a content bone in your body—does that mean that you are out of luck when it comes to your rankings?

There has to be another solution…

Luckily for you, there is. Before we get into that, let’s first dispel the myth that you have to generate more content to grow your organic traffic.

Does More Content Mean More Organic Traffic?

When you think of the best ranking sites on the web, which ones come to mind? Sites like Wikipedia, The New York Times, Huffington Post, and Mashable, right?

The reason all of these sites rank so well is because they have thousands—if not millions—of pages with unique content. In general, if you create more content, you’re giving search engines more keywords that will help them rank your site.

Growing Your Organic Traffic Without Content? | SEJ

If you look at the image above by SerpIQ, you’ll see that the average web page that ranks on page 1 of Google contains at least 2,032 words. And when you look at the top three positions, you’ll notice that those web pages have at least 2,400 words.

When you start dissecting the keywords that most of these content-rich sites rank for, the majority tend to be long-tail keywords. Just look at Quick Sprout: 91% of my organic traffic is generated through long-tail terms due to the fact that I write content on anything related to marketing.

Growing Your Organic Traffic Without Content? | SEJ

But that doesn’t mean you can’t get rankings if you don’t produce content. Take UpWorthy as an example: they get millions of visitors from search engines when they rarely write more than 100 words of content on a page.

If you search for the phrase “unrealistic bodies,” you’ll see UpWorthy with the first spot on Google.

Growing Your Organic Traffic Without Content? | SEJ

What’s even more impressive is that the body of the post contains only 55 words.

You may say that “unrealistic bodies” isn’t a popular search term. And it isn’t. But UpWorthy is competing with 19 million other web pages that also rank for that term. Which means they must be doing something right.

Plus, it’s not the only search term they rank for. They rank for 17,112 more popular terms according to SEMrush. And some of these terms are indeed popular such as “Rosa Parks” or “Robin Williams.”

But UpWorthy Still Generates Content

I know what you are thinking, UpWorthy only gets organic traffic because they generate content. And sure, they may not create as much content as Wikipedia, but to some extent they still create text-based content.

Airbnb, on the other hand, also generates millions of organic visitors a month, and they rank for competitive terms like “vacation rentals.”

If you look at Airbnb’s home page, what don’t you see? You don’t see much content.

Growing Your Organic Traffic Without Content? | SEJ

Even when you look at listing pages, the only content you see is short descriptions and reviews, both provided by users. The user-generated content might be helping them rank, but it doesn’t perform as well as it would if it were Airbnb generated content.

Just look at this warning I got from Google last year

Growing Your Organic Traffic Without Content? | SEJ

It shows that Google knows the difference between user-generated content and content created by the website owner. Still, Airbnb ranks for long-tail terms like “Brookstone apartment by Central Park.”

Growing Your Organic Traffic Without Content? | SEJ

And if you want to see a site that ranks well but contains little to no content, check out WhitePages. Just perform a search, and you’ll see that their listing pages contain little to no content, yet they rank for competitive terms like “people search.”

So, what’s the secret to ranking high if you don’t want to focus on content generation? It’s backlinks.

Do Backlinks Help With Rankings?

What Upworthy, Airbnb, and WhitePages have in common is they have a lot of natural backlinks pointing to their websites. When I compared them to using my analyzer tool, I saw that both sites have more organic traffic than Quick Sprout even though Quick Sprout contains web pages with more in-depth and longer content—over 2000 words per page.

Growing Your Organic Traffic Without Content? | SEJ

If that doesn’t help convince you that links are important, consider this: Moz asked 120 search marketers what they felt impacts a site’s ranking on Google. Can you guess which factor they listed as most important?

Growing Your Organic Traffic Without Content? | SEJ

As you can see from the chart above, links are the most important factor. Twelve out of the top 15 ranking factors were all link-related.

When you look at these popular sites that contain thousands of backlinks and little to no content per page, you’ll also notice that they have something else in common.

They have a lot of web pages indexed. Airbnb has around 45 million pages indexed; Upworthy has close to 10,000; and WhitePages has 105 million.

So, how can you grow your organic traffic without generating more content?

How to Grow Your Organic Traffic

Just like Airbnb, Upworthy, and WhitePages, you can get hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of organic visitors per month as long as you do the following:

  • Build more pages – whether your pages are content-rich or not, you need more web pages. The more pages you have, the higher your probability of ranking for more long-tail terms.
  • Make your pages count – if Google doesn’t like the content quality on your web pages, you will get slapped with a Panda penalty. To avoid this, you want to utilize technology that helps you create valuable web pages, like White Pages has done. Or you can choose to focus on creating user-generated content such as reviews, like Yelp and Airbnb have done.
  • Press builds links – UpWorthy, Yelp, and Airbnb all did a wonderful job of getting media exposure. By getting mentioned on sites like The New York Times, not only were they gaining traffic but they were also building up their backlink profiles, which helped their search engine traffic. To get media exposure, you can either hire a PR agency or use a free service like HARO.
  • Be proactive – there are dozens of ways to build links if you are willing to put in the time. This article I wrote recently breaks down seven tactics such as leveraging Quora or using broken link building.
  • Be patient – if you aren’t writing in-depth articles, your search traffic won’t grow that quickly. In the long run, you can still gain organic traffic, but don’t expect miracles overnight. I remember when I first started checking out Airbnb, they were getting over 100,000 visitors a month from search, and most of the organic traffic came from people searching their brand name. Things are different now, but it took time.


You can grow your organic traffic without generating content. It won’t be as easy as leveraging content marketing, but it is still possible.

Just look at companies like Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon. They all receive millions of organic visitors a month, and none of them truly focus on blogging. Instead, they focus on creating great products or services.

If you want to grow your organic traffic and you don’t want to create content, focus on building backlinks. It’s the best way to generate more search traffic, even though it is hard work.

How many backlinks does your site have?

Editor Note: Neil was the opening speaker for our SEJ Summit in Santa Monica this year. Want to learn more from speakers like him at our Summits throughout the year: in NYC, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Miami, and London? Sign up for a FREE ticket, covered by our partner, Searchmetrics.


This post originally appeared on Quick Sprout, and is re-published with permission.

Neil Patel
Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. Neil also blogs about marketing and entrepreneurship at... Read Full Bio
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  • I originally read this post at QuickSprout! So nice to see it here. It was a nice refresher on the other kinds of content you can have, as well as the importance of growing the number of backlinks to your site.

  • Great article, building Backlinks Help With Rankings like this one could naturally achieve many links fast and best way to generate more search traffic.
    Thanks a lot for sharing these tips.

  • Darren Vrede

    What exactly will the external sites be linking to your site for if you do not have any valuable content on it?

    In your conclusion you are basically saying that a small to medium sized business would first need to create a new smartphone(to compete with Apple), create a new computer operating system or you have to be one of the biggest online retail stores in the world to get natural backlinks(If you are not creating good content, which then argues the entire point of this post)

    Your suggestions in your post about being “proactive” to get links shows some extremely dodgy ways to acquire links. Reverse engineering your competitors? Please confirm that you mean that we should aggressively target sites that links to our competitors and send them multiple mails explaining why they should link to us as well? This seems very “year 2000” to me and also extremely unnatural.

    I believe that the content on your pages should be of good quality even if you do not need it(the content) to rank highly in search engines. What is the point of ranking high in a search engine if the page/result you provide users with has nothing valuable on it? I reckon there would be high bounce rates to follow shortly after that.

    Overall I do believe that backlinks are important but creating good content(whether text based, infographics, videos) should be the reason you are receiving those backlinks. Emailing somebody to simply tell them about a good piece of content you have written vs. emailing somebody simply because they link to a similar page of your competitor, would reap much greater long term rewards for your website.

  • This is a very in-depth and helpful post. I appreciate the time you put in to sharing examples of how larger brands (including yourself) are growing traffic organically.

  • As usual great post Neil!

    It’s amazing how every SERP is different and has another factor/indicator that wins top positions. I wonder if every category/niche has it’s own ranking algorithm… Think about it, some categories/industries are more likely to have more text than others and some are more likely to have higher grade Fletch scores (Medical Site vs. Restaurant Site). I know it would be hard to measure something like this but it would make sense if it were the case.

    However, after reverse engineering about 1000 serps, I know for a fact that links are the most important part of an SEO plan.

    It’s like a presidential election, whoever gets the most votes wins!

  • Yes quality backlinks are working until now also more effective for Google ranking.

  • Herdian Angga Utama

    Hi, thanks for sharing
    On your opinion which is better: backlink to homepage or banklink to any post/page?
    Thank you in advance

  • jackrabbit

    I find it interesting that in an article about increasing your traffic without creating more content your first step it to build more pages.

  • Finally some truth about SEO pushed here. Blogging and creating content is nice, but getting backlinks is even more important.

  • Meghan Cahill

    Neil, do you think these statistics are still accurate? Take the first sentence and anchoring point of the article, for example. The one about long-form content and page copy being at least two thousand words, from the study done in 2012. Do you suppose hypothetical ranking factors from 3+ years ago are still factual?

    Just curious…

  • Finally some research and facts behind a link-building article. Sure the focus is constantly changing, but if you have a strong and solid foundation with fundamental SEO elements in place (such as link building), rather than selecting a few, then you should get results.

  • Hi Neil,
    It’s quite interesting and surprising to know that someone can generate organic traffic without having to create much content but any brand having quality renowned products and high brand awareness like Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon do not have to do any type of seo according to me as they will be searched by people worldwide.
    Challenging task for SEO executives is to generate organic traffic for start-ups facing high competition with limited sources. Please do let us know if you have any smart work tips for such SEO executives.

  • thanks for this article Neil. Backlinks are still ruling search engines this is proved from MOZ ranking factors sheet & your analysis on Upworthy, Airbnb, and WhitePages.

  • On my website, the user creates a list from any site that includes a link back to the product page for purchase. Are these user generated links valuable for page rank?

    Thank you

  • Client review can be great source of content.