So, after reading Backlinko’s case study on viral marketing a few months back, I began brainstorming and thinking about how I could simulate the effects of viral marketing without needing to do any outreach.
This post is going to show you how I reached the top 5 (and still climbing) for a competitive SEO keyword.
Before I jump into the intense stuff, let me explain why “viral” marketing works for SEO.
Why Does Viral Marketing Work (for SEO)?
The reason why it works is actually pretty simple:
highly valuable piece of content + real social shares + authoritative links over time = increased rankings
If you’re missing one of these elements, you won’t see the ranking improvements.
Keep in mind, the type of “viral” I’m talking about is essentially building authority and trust for a resource overtime. When Google sees that links are consistently hitting a resource and there are social signals to back it, the algorithm is going to strongly believe that the resource is of high value.
Like some of my other experiments, I decided to test this one on my own blog.
For this test to be successful, I had to use an article that is popular on my blog and know that it would continue to gain traction over time.
The post that fulfilled this criteria was my anchor text article. Obviously, I was wanted to rank this post for the keyword “anchor text”, which gets around 1,900 searches per month.
On the surface, this isn’t a ton of volume, but A) it’s in the competitive SEO industry and B) I knew that the article would rank for long-tail keywords as well, which would boost the overall search volume.
Keep in mind, I wasn’t doing this experiment as way to explode traffic to my site. I was doing it because I wanted to see the ranking effects. If it worked, I could then use the same exact strategy on my personal and client’s websites.
So, HOW did I do it?
How I Simulated Viral Marketing?
The simulated process was broken into six elements:
- Content Analysis
- Link Analysis
- Content Development
- Social Signal Attraction
- Link Acquisition
- Link Strengthening
The most important part of this process is in the analysis. After reading Backlinko’s case study, I immediately began my analysis of the site that achieved “viral” rankings. I started by looking at this content.
Element #1: Content Analysis
I quickly analyzed the content of the viral article and it wasn’t text heavy at all. So I knew my longer text-based post would perform better in the SERPs for both my main keyword and long tails.
Some other important things I saw were that he was linking out to several relevant authority sites, which establishes the article as a “resource” to Google.
Another important aspect I analyzed was keyword density. For “free stock photos” the density was around 1.52%, which is actually higher than I expected, but that’s mainly because the article wasn’t text heavy. Either way, keeping the density below 2% if usually a good rule of thumb and that’s exactly what I did for my article as well (it’s around 1.91%).
Also, he had one internal link in the article going back to his homepage – personally, I’m not a fan of linking back to the homepage because there is way more potential to build the overall authority of your site if you use a silo structure.
Either way, since my article is 6,000 + words, I knew there was going to be a lot of opportunity to link to some of my other resources.
Lastly, he used tags, which I won’t be using because they have ZERO impact on your rankings and produce unnecessary duplicate content on your site.
Element #2: Link Analysis
After analyzing the content, I knew I could produce something of equal value, and all I needed to do was analyze the links he acquired. I immediately tossed his site into the big three link analysis tools: Ahrefs, Majestic, and Open Site Explorer.
There are three important factors I was looking for when analyzing his links:
- link velocity
- link authority
- anchor text diversification
I personally prefer Ahrefs for analyzing the velocity of links. In seconds, I was able to see that his velocity was natural and easily something I could replicate in that same amount of time.
So, in around 8 months, he acquired 90 + referring domains. I knew I would only need half or less than that amount because I was going to be in direct control of the links.
Next, I had to analyze how authoritative his links actually were. For the most part, the majority of his backlinks were coming from social bookmarking websites.
He did have a contextual link from Backlinko, which will obviously help to maintain his rankings because Brian’s site is very strong.
But besides that, there were probably 20-30 contextual links hitting his resource. The other referring domains were the result of social shares and bookmarks.
Both things that I could easily create artificially if necessary.
The only thing I really cared about in his link profile were the contextual links, which are obviously the most difficult to acquire.
Anchor Text Diversification
I was now pretty confident that I could replicate his link profile after my analysis, and the last thing I had to do was analyze his anchor text diversification.
And just like I expected, it was extremely unoptimized.
The majority of his anchor text consisted of variations of his title, naked links, and only a very small amount of exact or partial match anchors. One important thing to keep in mind is that his target keyword is in his title, so whenever it is used as an anchor it is boosting the articles authority for that keyword.
As I explained in case study #3, you don’t need to use many exact match anchors to rank.
So, the strategy I was going to implement was simple: I was going to use many variations of my title and naked links as anchor text.
Element #3: Content Development
I’ve kind of already hit on the content development portion of this project, but let me explain a little more. So I took my original article about anchor text that was around 1,500 words and turned it into a massive resource of nearly 7,000 words. I knew this would be more than enough to have success in the experiment. More importantly, for the content to attract social shares naturally, it needed to be unlike anything else.
Element #4: Social Signal Attraction
So, this article naturally acquired a decent amount of social shares and continued to do so, but the way I really got my social shares to climb was by first promoting it on Twitter and Stumbleupon, and then using a social locker to block off some of the valuable content. I’m no longer using the social locker because the article has a sufficient amount of shares.
Element #5: Link Acquisition
Okay… now the part you’ve been waiting for…
How did I simulate a similar viral effect without needing to reach out for links?
This is going to be a crazy revelation for you, so please fasten your seat belt….
I used my money and gave it to someone to get my links.
The real magic is what TYPES of links I went after. I wanted the majority of my links to live on sites with a DA above 30 and I achieved that pretty well.
Here are the metrics for the sites I’ve acquired links from:
Here are the anchor text variations for those that are more detail orientated:
100% of the links I acquired were contextual and within decent quality articles relevant to the topic.
Element #6: Link Strengthening
After I felt the tier one links hitting the article were pretty solid, I started to build a small amount of tier two links.
My weapon of choice?
I actually only hit one of the articles with a PBN network and it boosted the page’s PA to 62. If necessary, I’ll build more T2 links to other articles, but right now it’s not looking like I need to.
You know I hate theory, but I can make conclusions based on this test and others I’m currently doing.
First, the weight of good content continues to increase in importance. Yes, links still matter for giving the resource valid “votes”, but it seems that when the content is long, unique, and has social activity, Google doesn’t need as many links to “prove” that it’s a strong resource.
Secondly, contextual links from authority sites are the only way to go. Don’t waste your time with sites with a DA below 15 when going out for links.
Lastly, I’ve said this once and I’ll say this again, social signals act as a verifier of your links.
My rankings wouldn’t be as high without them.
Some Other Factors Effecting My Rankings
Aside from all the goodies I explained above, there could also be some other factors effecting my rankings including internal links throughout my site that are funneling authority to the page, and also the fact that my domain strength has risen.
What Happened, What Now, and What Should YOU Do?
Well, what happened is exactly what you can expect: I’m currently ranking between #4 – #5 for “anchor text” and will probably reach the top three soon. Prior to this little experiment, I was ranking around #40 or so. It only took a few months for me to reach the top 5 with this “viral” marketing technique.
It actually proved to be a lot easier than I expected because I didn’t even need that many links or even that many social shares.
So, what now?
As a rule of thumb, once one of my sites or client’s sites reaches the first page, I decrease the intensity tenfold. And once they reach the top 5, I generally won’t build many more tier one backlinks.
Because I know that the resource will now do its own marketing and get links and social shares naturally. IF for some reason this doesn’t happen, I will build additional tier two links to boost the rankings further.
Obviously, you can could build more tier one links and get it ranking higher, but I just prefer keeping more links down on the second tier.
Alright, so this information is probably pretty cool to learn, but what you should YOU do now?
Here’s exactly what you need to do:
- Create super resources (quality over quantity)
- Build contextual authority links to the resource at low-medium velocity
- Provoke social shares by using a social locker and just having good content
Not to sound all white hat guru on you, but valuable content is really the key to this viral marketing technique to work for SEO.
Please don’t think this only applies to resources.
These same exact principles can be used to rank any website.
Since the article in this case study is so long, I wanted to help people navigate through it more easily and so I decided to install this awesome free plugin, Table of Content Plus.
It allows you to create table of contents just like Wikipedia.
Now there’s more to this strategy than meets the eye. First, Google LOVES it because it’s helpful for users reading the article. Secondly, people will actually link to specific sections of the article, which obviously increases the authority, and is once again helpful for the person clicking through on the shared link.
Lastly, the best part, if Google really like your resource (and your site), it will give you preferential treatment in the SERPS.
Check this out:
So whenever someone searches variations of the “anchor text” seed such as “variations of anchor text” or really anything close to my headings in the TOC, it will show that little section link in the SERP description.
Anything like this that gives you a CTR advantage in the SERPS is well worth it.
Moral of the story: install this plugin if you have long articles!
I hope you enjoyed this little case study and I’ll have some other cool ones coming your way this year.
Do you have any questions about this article?
Leave a comment below, so others can learn from the responses as well 🙂
Thanks for reading!