August 10, 2014
On Sunday August 3rd, I noticed a significant spike in traffic to my beard website. Traffic leaped by 2,000 visits that day. I was thrilled, but didn’t think much of it. Until the next day beat my all-time traffic record.
As the days ticked on, my traffic appeared to be leveling out at a new, much higher level than before. And the traffic stuck. On average, each day my site was getting around 2,000 more views.
Naturally, I started to search for a cause. I didn’t have any new social media or email campaigns running. I wasn’t paying for ads. I finally noticed that I was getting a meager amount of traffic from The Huffington Post.
I followed the traffic source and discovered that The Huffington Post had published a post on August 1st about beard oil, and they gave me a tiny, itsy-bitsy, minuscule link at the end of the document. Apparently, my article on beard oil had been part of their research.
I was pretty thrilled. It’s big stuff for a humble blogger like me to get a backlink from The Huffington Post. But this didn’t explain why my website was suddenly getting thousands of more visitors each day. After all, HuffPo only sent 20 visitors my way.
So I fired up good old reliable Google Analytics and took a look at the traffic to my beard oil page.
Jimminy Crickets. After months of plodding steadily along, the page got a most welcome spike, which has stuck around. But where did it come from? It didn’t come from HuffPo (they only sent me 20 visits). So I filtered my landing pages by organic traffic only, and saw this:
Good gravy. The page (nearly) doubled in traffic overnight, going from 133 visits the previous day top 216.
Now, this page has been a work-in-progress for me for quite some time. Anyone in the beard-care-and-grooming world knows that taking the top place for “beard oil” is like striking…oil. Beard oil is “in” right now with the hirsute among us, and it is one of the most popular beard grooming products around.
My page, however, has never ranked. I put a lot of time and care into it, but Google never rewarded my efforts. Perhaps they felt it read too “optimized”. Or perhaps I linked to Amazon too often. Whatever the reason, I had given up on Google ever ranking it.
These new findings made me go and check to see if my page was ranking yet. And I found this:
Yahoo! There I am on page one, spot six, for beard oil (incognito window, logged out of Google). Now, my position has oscillated up and down a lot since then (the highest I’ve seen it is 5), but I’ve maintained a 1st page listing.
To demonstrate just how drastic this move was, here is my Moz keyword tracking report for “beard oil”. It has been invisible for years.
I’m convinced that the single unsolicited backlink from HuffPo to my beard oil page is solely responsible for bumping this page from obscurity to a first-page result.
The savvy among you have been conjuring up other possibilities this whole time. (Please, let us not use the words “correlation” and “causation” in the same sentence. I just ate.) And yet, there are probably many other explanations for this dramatic move.
New Content = New Traffic
You may have noticed, in my first screen-grab from Google Analytics, that I record a new post published the day before this significant boost in traffic. For some time now, I have been meaning to write an article exploring the idea that Google rewards blogs the instant they discover new content on them. I have noticed that, soon after publishing a new piece, my blog will get a boost in organic traffic, even if the new page I created doesn’t get any of it. Clearly, publishing new quality content encourages Google to reward you.
Indeed, HuffPo published their article on beard oil–with a tasty backlink to me–on August 1st. But my site didn’t get a boost in traffic until August 3rd–one day after I published my article on summer beard growth, on the 2nd.
While this looks convincing, it doesn’t explain why my one page, beard oil, is the recipient of so much of that new traffic. I inspected my top-10 landing pages, and while almost all of them received a small lift around the same time, none of them got as much traffic as beard oil. Here are two examples.
Organic traffic to my article on beard length
Organic traffic to my article on beard thickness
Notice that both pages received a minor boost around the same time–August 3rd–and yet these lifts pale compared to my beard oil page.
Additionally, while my beard oil page got a big boost, it didn’t get a 2,000-new-visitors-a-day boost. I think the backlink from HuffPo not only bumped my beard oil page to page 1 of Google, but also slightly lifted all content on my website, which adds up to about 2,000 new visitors a day. My Moz keyword tracking reports confirm this.
In one week, my keywords ranking 11-20 decreased by 9, those ranking 4-10 increased by 6, and from 1-3 increased by 3. 9 of my targeted keywords jumped from from page 2 to page 1.
Some Random Google Experiment
Still, I could have this backwards. It could be that Google re-evaluated my website (due to some experiment they are running) and decided to bump up my content–especially my beard page. It just so happened that HuffPo decided to link to my article around the same time. This might explain how HuffPo found my article on beard oil to begin with. After all, if it wasn’t ranking before the backlink, how did they find it? They would have had to have discovered my wesbite some other way, and stumbled upon the beard oil article from there.
And that leaves us…where?
So yes. There could be any number of explanations for the data I have presented. Fine. I still think the data is more convincingly explained by attributing this boost to the power of an unsolicited backlink from The Huffington Post. And, if true, this demonstrates just how important backlinks still are. My take-aways from this experience are:
1) Backlinking is a waste of my time. I know that sounds odd, because this whole post is about how powerful 1 backlinks is. My point is that, even though I have not done a shred of backlinking to any of my websites to-date, I still managed to get a nice one from HuffPo, and will probably get even more in the future. I don’t have the time or energy to solicit people for backlinks. Instead, this experience has proven that people link to compelling content, and so my focus will be on creating it.
2) Compelling content is rewarded. I know that many SEOs will spew poison when they hear the words “content is king” (as anyone sick of cliches rightly should). But from my personal experience, my websites get new organic traffic whenever I publish new compelling content, even if that content is not successful.
3) A content schedule is a waste of my time. Despite the power of compelling content, I write new content for my beard website once or twice a month. I don’t have an editorial calendar, and I don’t write consistently. I write when I am inspired to write, and when I have a lot to say on the topic. I feel that kind of content is the stuff Google rewards, not the stuff I feel obliged to write because I have a due date coming up. For me, deadlines build anxiety which leads to quick, shoddy work.