The Best SEO Case Study You'll Find Online
Let me guess, you’re a business owner or marketing manager who’s taken the leap into SEO (search engine optimization) and it went poorly. Or you’re yet to dip your toe in the SEO water.
All are welcome here–even if the above doesn’t describe you.
But how did you land here?
Probably because we’re here to tell you this is the most transparent and best SEO case study you’re likely to come across.
Because it’s a case study of an actual SEO company.
That’s right. This is our case study and it’s the the story of how Agency Jet:
- Started with zero visits from organic traffic
- Turned that zero into over 1300 monthly searches in a year and a half
- Went from a strictly outbound marketing agency to a strictly inbound marketing agency in 8 months
- Tripled sales in 2 years, with 9 out 10 sales coming directly from our website
The above sounds too good to be true.
Everything you will read about our personal journey–our testing, our tweaking, our failing and our succeeding–are all techniques that we’ve used to not only see success for us, but are techniques we now apply for all of our SEO clients.
In short, we’re putting all the blood and guts of our personal journey out there because we’ve seen it benefit our current clients, and we know it can benefit others too.
If you’re interested in how a team of just 4 people can go from zero web traffic to getting over a $1 million in sales in two years, simply by investing in their website, read on.
If you’re curious how to use SEO techniques to turn your website into your #1 employee, read on.
If you are a digital marketing agency that doesn’t believe us, read on (and don’t forget to comment).
This may seem like a personal story of Agency Jet, and it is some of that, but what this case study truly shows is that focusing on your website can truly turn it into your #1 salesperson and project manager and it’s not nearly as complicated as you’d think.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Who is Agency Jet?
To know why this case study exists is to know Agency Jet. We started as a small team, getting clients from word of mouth and telemarketing. And for 3 years, that’s exactly what we did.
But telemarketing is a slog. You try calling a bunch of strangers.
So 3 years into Agency Jet’s history, we decided to make a change.
And it was a major one.
We decided to do a complete 180. We were going to abandon our former work. We were going to leave our Wordpress site that served as nothing more than a billboard behind, and we were going to invest in our website as much as we’d invested in our clients’ websites over the years.
How’d we do that?
We bought into the HubSpot way of doing things.
But we had no idea how that worked.
So we read a HubSpot review, sent one of our employees to a 3 day HubSpot training course in Chicago and threw up a template website on agencyjet.com to get the ball rolling.
In short, this digital marketing company was stepping into the unknown.
Now, did we have the initial goal of becoming a strictly inbound marketing agency?
Eh, not really?
We simply knew that our website was a tool that this scrappy upstart of a few employees had never really put our full attention on. So we thought “GO BIG OR GO HOME” and changed our whole approach on how we were going to market ourselves.
Where did it all start?
This project of finding out what HubSpot could do started on August 16, 2019.
Remember how we said that we had zero traffic? Well, that’s kinda true. It’s not that we had zero traffic to the site ever. We’d actually had a handful of people visit our site in the first three years.
But that was traffic that showed up simply because we had a website.
So, the crazy people that we are, decided to start back at zero.
We weren’t getting business from the website anyway.
We stripped all of our old work, on and off-site, and migrated our Wordpress site onto a new template on the HubSpot CMS.
Here’s the proof:
That’s a big fat 0 traffic according to SEMrush.
In other words, we intentionally made it so there was only one way to go.
It’s also good to know exactly what the Wordpress version of agencyjet.com looked like before we launched this project.
Behold, a forgettable template.
On August 16, 2019 we decided to launch this version of the website.
We’ll call it a semi-customized template (is that a thing?) that we put together using HubSpot’s CMS. Remember, we were doing something we’d never done before.
It was certainly an upgrade from our original Wordpress site.
And with that, we dove into the unknown world of HubSpot’s topic clusters.
What is the topic cluster model?
That’s what we were aiming to find out. Remember when we said we sent one of our employees to Chicago to learn all about HubSpot?
With the help of 3 days of stellar training by our HubSpot rep, we were not only able to understand what a topic cluster was but how it would help and we even came up with a few plans to implement our very first topic clusters on agencyjet.com.
So what is a topic cluster?
HubSpot explains: “The topic cluster model, at its very essence, is a way of organizing a site’s content pages using a cleaner and more deliberate site architecture.”
In the past, Google was more concerned with long tail keywords and a quantity of backlinks to rank your website content.
But the modern Google is ranking content much more contextually. In other words, it’s resource-based and the more resources around a single topic you can supply that answer questions and help consumers, the more powerful your content will be.
The way we saw topic clusters was simple: if you have a really strong idea, support it with a bunch of nuance to explain every angle of that idea.
Here’s what it looks like in a really illustrative way.
What you see there is a topic cluster.
Pillar content is that big idea. You can also think of it as your key product or service.
Many times the pillar content will be a page on your website.
The cluster content is what supports that page. These are often blog posts that are talking about detailed topics that correspond with your big idea; your pillar content.
How does the cluster content support the pillar content? With hyperlinks, of course.
In each of the cluster blog posts, you’ll have a hyperlink pointing back to the pillar content page. By doing so, you’re creating a superhighway of high quality content talking about a topic that’s valuable to you.
Google loves this method because it funnels everything back to the source.
Here’s what we did
Agency Jet got started right away on creating our own topic cluster.
One of our big ideas was to break down “what is SEO” to consumers without trying to sell them something.
Here’s exactly what our topic cluster looked like, pulled from the backend of our site.
As you can see “what is SEO” was our big idea and the pillar content was our SEO services page.
That pillar is surrounded by 8 blog posts. Each is a detailed account of items explaining what SEO is like:
- What does it mean?
- How long does it take to work?
- What does it stand for?
- And more
Every single one of those cluster content posts had a keyword focus of their own.
For instance we titled one blog “Customers From The Couch: Defining Local Search Engine Optimization Services” for the keyword “local search engine optimization services”.
Here’s what that blog post looks like.
One thing that you may notice from this blog right away is that it’s long. Over 1500 words long.
That was intentional too.
The average page one result is 1,447 words long. So we knew that Google prioritized robust, resourceful content.
Each content cluster blog post in our “what is SEO” topic cluster featured at least 1000 words and all of them pointed back to our SEO services page via a hyperlink.
We published these 8 blogs weekly or bi-weekly from August 20 to December 25, 2019.
We also knew that off-page support was going to be a priority for us. Each of these blog posts got a handful of backlinks–almost like creating another cluster of links with each blog post being the pillar.
So voilà. Our first topic cluster was complete. Our content was out in the real world. It had been 4 months and we still didn’t have any business from our website.
Our traffic growth was minimal and we were wondering if we’d make the right choice.
But like we said, we went all in on HubSpot’s method.
At the turn of the new year it was time to find out if that method would make our website a success.
Months 1-6 of HubSpot and Inbound Marketing
We’re big goal setters here and when it came to this project of making the website actually work, we set some pretty big goals.
Internally we kept a running sheet of our monthly targets and also outlined what we were hoping to have at the end of 6 months’ worth of work.
Here’s what it looked like:
Remember, we started at 0 visitors a month.
We’ve been in the industry long enough to know that you need a bit of luck to go from zero visitors to hundreds of valuable visitors in only a couple months so we figured we’d start slow and then get the majority of these users in months 4, 5 and 6.
If we hit our targets, that is.
We also really wanted to pay close attention to the value of these visitors.
In basic terms, we knew that visitors who are spending less than 1 minute on our site, aren’t engaging with our brand and services that much.
So we’d rather have hundreds of visitors that hung around for longer than thousands of visitors that didn’t hang around long at all.
We also wanted to see how many pages organic visitors would average.
When you’re a full service digital marketing company, you can serve people in a variety of ways. So if they landed on our SEO page, we were curious if they’d land on other service pages as well.
We also were extremely intentional about telling our story, having our staff’s shining faces up on the site and utilizing plenty of calls to action.
That’s why our final goal was to see how many inquiries we could get directly from the site via two forms.
One, our contact form. And two, more importantly, our free website assessment form.
These forms getting filled out were the most vital metrics when it came to knowing if we were getting enough quality traffic. AND to see if our message, user-experience and offerings communicated well enough to visitors to make them want to contact us.
Keeping tabs on it all
As well as providing world class SEO services since day one, we also know the value of A/B testing and keeping a log of changes.
Every single change we made on the website, no matter how small, was going to be monitored and logged into a Google spreadsheet.
We kept it simple but it was pretty robust.
By the end of February we had made 71 changes to the site. This included 24 blogs over 1000 words each, alterations to company pages and service pages and testing different menu items and arrangement.
Did we get any results in the first 6 months?
Listen, we knew this was going to be slow going.
We tell every client who’s never attempted SEO before that it’s no rocket ship in the beginning. It often takes 2 to 3 months before search engines start giving you credit for the work you are doing.
And that’s pretty much what we experienced.
Our Google Analytics shows that we hadn’t had more than 10 people a week from Google organic at the start of this project and all of those people were coming from one term “Agency Jet”.
Those were people we called first and who looked us up after.
But the whole point was to change that process. People needed to find us for non-branded terms like “SEO services” for this thing to work.
And months 1-4, didn’t yield a whole lot.
As you can see from SEMrush, we went from 1 organic visitor, in the month of August, to 72 at the end of December that year.
That’s not exactly a windfall of success.
Everyone in the agency started looking at each other a little bit.
Google Analytics showed we were a bit closer and we actually exceeded our total visitors target but we fell a bit short on the organic visitors target of 800.
While everyone here knew SEO was going to take some time, there were a few questions raised about whether launching a brand new website, publishing numerous pieces of content that took hours to produce and link to, and constantly tweaking the user-experience to make it easier for users to navigate was worth the effort for only marginal gain.
Was HubSpot for us? Was it working?
We still weren’t sure but we knew we needed to continue for 3 main reasons.
- We knew this wasn’t going to be a lightning in a bottle project. It was going to take time.
- We’re endlessly curious and long term thinkers. 6 months simply wasn’t enough time to satisfy our curiosity.
- We got leads and sales.
Point 3 was the most pleasant surprise of the group.
Remember, we had a website for 3 years before this project kicked off and in that time, we’d never gotten a sale that started out as an organic lead.
We had to telemarket or rely on referrals for every single sale we’d gotten before we switched to HubSpot.
And here we were, 6 months in, not hitting our traffic, bounce rate or time on site goals yet we exceeded our goals in leads and sales. Those are the red numbers below:
This told us a whole heck of a lot though.
1. You don’t need thousands of people to get some leads.
2. We were closing at a rate of 19%.
For a company that had never experienced inbound marketing success before, we were feeling pretty good about our little test’s potential at getting us more business.
We simply had to work at it for longer.
Building on that momentum
Once we knew we were making strides, we continued along the path.
The goal wasn’t to be too reactive to the data and make a bunch of changes.
Our focus lay in consistency, quality and speaking to the user as a resource, not a salesperson.
We knew that if we could answer users’ questions about SEO, web design, Google Ads and more with our content, that Google may see fit to rank that content for those queries.
So for the next 6 months, we simply kept at it. We created more topic clusters around “local SEO” and “small business SEO” and added more and more visuals and media to our pages.
In short, the plan was to do what we did in months 1-6 but give users and algorithms even more to see.
Our blogs got a bit longer and a bit more visually appealing and we stepped up our off-page linking.
And with that, we set some goals.
Months 7-12: Turning from an outbound marketing agency into an inbound marketing agency
Before this project ever took off, agencyjet.com never achieved over 3600 visitors in a year.
And we had never exceeded 1300 organic visitors in a year.
So obviously, trying to get 10000 total visitors in a year and have 3600 of those be organic meant we were setting lofty goals.
And knowing we’d only achieved less than 2300 total visitors and only 660 organic visitors in the first six months meant we had a massive hill to climb in the final six months.
But we’ve never been afraid to set lofty goals. Just ask our clients.
While we were wary of hitting traffic goals, we were feeling pretty optimistic that if we could hit our lead targets, our talented staff would keep up their close rate.
Keeping a log (continued)
We were back at it again with the agencyjet.com activity log and in months 7-12 we completed 83 on-site actions, including blogs, pages, menu changes and more.
We also ramped up our off-site work.
In months 1-6 we completed 123 off-page links.
For months 7-12 we completed 202 off-page links.
Blogs and topic clusters being the focus
We put a heavy emphasis on our SEO services and put over 80% of our inbound marketing work into improving the visibility of our SEO offerings.
In months 7-12 we targeted the following pages as pillars:
And clustered around those pages with long form blogs like:
- The Ultimate Guide to What SEO Stands For
- Top 10 Signs You Need SEO Rehab
- The 3 DOs and DON'Ts of Small Business Search Engine Optimization
- 5 Small Steps to Rank on Google Maps for Local Business
- And over 20 others
Not only did the above blogs and pages have a ton of stellar content, they also had impactful visuals, tips and tricks for somebody who is simply curious about SEO and they didn’t include a hard sell at all.
We saw Google as an entity trying to help users learn information and get questions answered, not promote unsolicited sales.
In short, we used our content to talk about ourselves less and answer important questions more and we were curious if these methods would gain the respect of the user.
And most importantly, we’d see if it made them want to talk to us.
Results of months 7-12
When you set lofty goals, you won’t always hit them.
So how close did we get?
Our total goal was 10,000 users in year one of this experiment. We fell short by about 3300.
Our organic user goal for year one was 3600. We fell short by a little under 1400 people.
Pretty disappointing, right?
But we always say, better to set lofty goals and miss them than to set easy goals and breeze past them.
We put a ton of work in and, as you can see, we were starting to hit our stride organically with a really solid upwards trend.
But while you can see the weeks steadily growing in Google Analytics, we were also seeing some pretty big dividends on the SEMrush side of reporting.
Sure we had only 1 visitor land on our website when we started this project (according to SEMrush) and that was for our brand name.
But 1 year later, we had hit 522 monthly organic visitors and 89% of that was non-branded traffic.
In other words, we got 466 people, brand new to our site, who had never heard of Agency Jet before.
So trends were clearly forming and Agency Jet was ranking for more non-branded terms in Google than ever before.
People were finding us for the services we provide, not who we are.
But how many people?
Knowing we were behind in traffic, we were able to accept that we might not hit our lofty targets.
But if we could get people to contact us, we knew we were onto something.
We got over 100 inquiries from the website in year one and 54 of those turned out to be real people who needed SEO, a web design or pay-per-click services.
Out of those 54 contacts, our sales team closed 7 of them translating to a close rate of 13%.
We smashed our lead goal and who knows how many more sales we would have gotten had it not been for the pandemic.
Either way, Agency Jet was starting to see all that hard work pay off, smashing our leads goals and exceeding our inbound sales goals.
So did Agency Jet turn into an inbound marketing agency?
Our initial belief was that, if this worked, we’d be able to end our telemarketing efforts and focus solely on nurturing the leads coming through our website in 18 to 24 months.
But 8 months after we’d started this project in August of 2019, we ended all outbound marketing efforts and solely focused on leads coming through our website and word of mouth referrals.
What got us there so quickly?
The data told us that there was only one way to go with our inbound efforts.
Our conversations started shifting from, “We’ve invested a year into this.” to “We’ve ONLY invested a year into this and there’s so much more to gain.”
We knew that if we kept up with our consistent website efforts, we’d continue to see organic growth, lead growth and sales growth.
AND our word of mouth referrals picked up tremendously.
In quick succession, Agency Jet went from 0 non-branded organic visitors and <10 reviews to over 500/monthly organic visitors and 50+ five star reviews.
In other words, our clients played a huge role in turning us from a strictly outbound marketing agency to a strictly inbound marketing agency in under one year.
Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to have made such a dramatic shift.
But did the switch from WordPress to HubSpot pay for itself?
Look, we could have marketed our website on WordPress, and the core strategy would have likely seen similar results.
But we would have still needed a customer relationship management tool.
HubSpot not only had our web design needs and CRM needs covered, but they taught us the importance of topic clusters.
Sometimes it’s the smallest shifts in thinking that provide the biggest impact.
Agency Jet had successfully delivered SEO for years with content, linking, and technical SEO, but we hadn’t adopted the topic cluster mentality before.
By doing our same work and adding topic clusters, we turned an agency that relied on our sales staff cold calling hundreds of people a day to not having to make a single outbound call in under a year.
In 2020, our first true year of inbound marketing and the beginning of the pandemic, Agency Jet had record breaking sales.
But was the result worth the cost and effort?
What did this project cost?
We certainly bootstrapped the hell out of this project.
We had to.
But we didn’t cut any corners.
One of the most important things that propelled the success of this project was taking a training course in Chicago.
We also got a little help with the setup of our semi-themed template website with total hours, labor and resources coming in at around $5000.
On paper, starting a new website and marketing strategy for $6000 is an absolute bargain.
On top of that, we were going to be paying HubSpot for the CRM capabilities. This came in at around $1800/month.
But what are we forgetting?
Oh yeah, the actual promotion of the site.
Remember, in year one we wrote over 50 blogs that exceeded 1000 words, many of them exceeded 2000 words.
That’s a lot of work.
We also put a ton of time investment into off-page work and technical SEO.
So far and away, the largest investment into this project was the physical time it took to produce all we were able to produce in 1 year.
And don’t forget the sales staff.
Once it started working, those prospects needed to be nurtured.
Our completely free website assessment for inbound leads typically takes 2 hours to accomplish.
Should that prospect desire to continue the conversation, it’s likely another 2 or 3 hour long meeting will take place before an agreement is signed and they become a client.
So with 54 leads in a year, each getting a 2 hour assessment that’s totally free, Agency Jet’s sales staff invested over 100 hours alone with no promise of ROI.
And each blog took at least 2 hours per 1000 words.
While we can’t exactly quantify our investment on this project, we know that on top of the $6000 in actual investment to create the website and the ~$21,000 investment to use the CRM for the year, Agency Jet invested around 400 to 500 hours in doing the physical work.
That’s a boatload of belief.
So let’s answer the question: Did this project pay for itself?
When you consider that we keep clients for a minimum of 6 months and our average client contract is nearly 2 years–our gamble absolutely paid off.
With the talent of our staff, the amazing effort to spread the word by our clients and adopting topic clusters into our SEO strategy, Agency Jet more than tripled our investment.
More importantly, we learned valuable lessons about inbound marketing and SEO in general that has helped our clients achieve results in dramatic fashion.
And that’s the most exciting part. Our clients are now benefiting from those lessons we learned along the way.
Our client case studies say it all.
So what is it exactly that we learned?
To answer this, let’s approach it from 2 different perspectives.
Perspective 1: What did we learn about the topic cluster model and the HubSpot CMS vs WordPress?
We were very comfortable with WordPress but we never really gave our website a shot on the WordPress platform when it comes to marketing it.
That’s not because we wouldn’t have achieved results with WordPress.
Should we have adopted the same techniques and strategies that we did from August 2019 to 2020, we strongly believe that irrespective of the content management system, you’d see similar results.
It was simply timing for us.
We were an agency who provided a stellar service but wanted to make concrete decisions to scale and improve.
So why did we choose HubSpot vs WordPress?
Quite simply, they allowed the website CMS and the customer relationship management tool to live in the same place.
We wanted a one-stop solution for the future of our company.
What we didn’t realize was how beneficial the topic cluster model would be for our SEO strategy.
By focusing on long form content to support the pages of our site, we not only saw our pages improve in ranking for non-branded keywords, we saw our blogs hit page 1 of Google for numerous terms as well.
At the 1 year mark we’d hit 46 page one keywords in Google in the USA.
And as you can see below, a lot of our top performing pages were actually blogs in August 2020.
And as further proof, under 11% of our traffic in August of 2020 was branded.
In other words, we went from 100% of our organic visits in August 2019 being from branded terms to <11% being branded 1 year later and all with 522% growth.
We also knew that search engines would continue to give us credit and higher visibility in the rankings if we continued to work on our SEO and provide valuable information to the end user.
Translation, our 1 year results were the tip of the spear.
So we ask again? Could we have gotten similar results had we stayed with WordPress? Absolutely.
Would we have learned the topic cluster model and had our CRM and CMS all in one place? Absolutely not.
In other words, HubSpot satisfied the exact needs we had. All we had to do was put the work in.
Perspective 2: What did we learn about ourselves?
When we initially set out on this journey, we did it with a lot of uncertainty.
We were adopting techniques we’d never done before on a platform we’d never worked with before in hopes of accomplishing something we’d never seen before.
Another way to put it is, we had some things we needed to find out.
- Is HubSpot better than WordPress?
- Will HubSpot satisfy our customer relationship management needs?
- What are topic clusters?
- Do we have the capacity to write long form blogs that rank?
- Will our link strategy seamlessly work with HubSpot’s topic cluster model?
- Will our efforts turn us into an inbound agency?
With questions like this at the beginning, we were able to produce the following answers 1 year in.
Is HubSpot better than WordPress?
We can’t say for sure but the ability to have everything in one place and the trends we achieved meant it was for us.
Will HubSpot satisfy our customer relationship management needs?
It’s a costly solution but one that we still use today to assign leads, nurture prospects, create deals and communicate internally about our clients.
What are topic clusters?
Through our classroom training in Chicago, to the backend of HubSpot’s SEO section to our actual implementation, we learned a whole heck of a lot about topic clusters and their benefits.
Do we have the capacity to write long form blogs that rank?
We certainly did. We also knew that as we grew, this would have to be reevaluated as part of our ability to scale.
Will our link strategy seamlessly work with HubSpot’s topic cluster model?
Like a fish to water. Our link strategy supported our blogs and pages every step of the way.
Will our efforts turn us into an inbound agency?
Our original goal was 18-24 months to turn off our outbound efforts. 8 months in and we were exclusively an inbound marketing agency.
Agency Jet has always prided itself on being the most transparent and educational agency in the United States.
So why did we write this case study about ourselves?
Our competitors will surely look at it and form their own opinions.
But we wrote this because SEO is a process. There is always something we can learn and search engines are constantly changing.
What we know from our own experience is that if you approach your website marketing efforts with being a resource first, offering a ton of free stuff and working consistently on and off your website every single week, you’ll get found more than ever, start more conversations and, if you’re truly good at what you do, will gain some customers along the way.
We learned that taking risks, so long as you’re willing to put the work in, can pay huge dividends.
We learned that by testing out things on our brand, our clients won’t have unproven solutions but be able to take advantage of services that clearly work.
In short, we learned that there’s always more to do.
We took a leap of faith with HubSpot but through their teachings and platform we were able to transform our business, adopt new long lasting strategies and gain a foothold in a crowded marketplace.
We tried something new.
And we’re sure glad we did.
UPDATE: Agency Jet Year 2 and Beyond
Agency Jet has continued growing strictly from inbound marketing.
24 months after starting this project, Agency Jet exceeded 1300/monthly organic visitors (according to SEMrush) and nearly 100 page 1 keywords in Google.
We experienced 431% organic traffic growth over year 1.
We also had over 140 real leads come through the website and gained over 30 new clients.
That means year 2 versus year 1 by the numbers equals:
- 431% organic traffic growth
- 239% total traffic growth
- 259% lead growth
- 428% client growth
- 114% improvement in close rate by our sales staff
As you can also see from the above Google Analytics stats, we needed to hone in our messaging as our bounce rate went up and our pages and time on site went down.
In short, we’d outgrown our website design.
After year 2 of marketing agencyjet.com, we took on the project of planning for the future with a new website design.
Thus kicked off a multi-month project to rebrand ourselves, change our website design massively and do a 180 on our approach to our website messaging.
The result of Agency Jet’s inbound marketing success fueled the website you see today.
Where do we go from here? Who knows.
But we’ve got some lofty goals and we’re excited for what the future holds.