The SEO Impossible Experiment
Why is this project marked: running?
I started this experiment on October 22nd, 2016, right before the release of the Spruce App. This project was designed to help promote Spruce. Since the app is not really for the public, this experiment has been put on hold.
This is the first “experiment” on Money Lab. I’ve focused on money-making challenges, but now expanding into experiments.
My rule for conducting a “Money Lab challenge” is it must have a tight deadline with the goal of making money. Experiments, on the other hand, can be ongoing and don’t have to make money directly.
This experiment is to prove we can rank on the first page of Google for a highly competitive keyword simply by creating the best web page on that topic. That keyword being “email marketing.”
According to SEMRush.com, “email marketing” has a Competition score of 85 out of 100, which means VERY competitive. A lot of pages rank for it (63.7 million), and sees close to 15,000 searches a month.
What We’re Starting With
I know a lot about SEO (search engine optimization). I studied it for over 10 years and been hired by companies to improve their rankings. I also own three websites that rank for highly competitive keywords.
For example, Jason and I have a web page that ranks #1 for “podcast promotion.” When I wrote that article, I was trying to rank for that keyword. As a by-product, we also rank number one for, “how to promote your podcast” and “podcast promotion tips.”
My strategy for accomplishing this in the last 5 years has been: make the BEST web page on the topic you’re trying to rank for. And I know how to optimize a page for the best chance of ranking.
I also know how to design and code a web page from scratch, which will be the primary focus of my work on this experiment. Both Jason and I will be writing the words (which he is MUCH better at than me). His other job will be making design choices and be the overall project manager.
How We Plan To Prove That “Epic” Content Actually Works
The online entrepreneur and blogging community talks about creating “epic” content, but what does that mean? Long articles or well-designed infographics?
We believe it’s creating a one-stop-shop for solving a particular problem. In our case, that problem is email marketing, which can already be solved by Googling to find the right articles in the right order.
But what if one web page contained all the information you need in an easy-to-read format with lots of visual aid and downloadables?
We’re assuming that creating this web page will:
- Allow us to share it on popular Facebook groups and not get banned because of self-promotion. If the content is over-the-top excellent, it wouldn’t be considered self-promotion. It would instead be a great resource to help the community. This happened with our Podcast Promotion article. Not only did we share it and not get banned, but other people shared it again in the same group. And they continue to share it when it’s found in Google.
- Help us build lots of backlinks naturally. When you make something incredible, people share it and link to it on their own websites. This means we don’t have to do any manual link building to rank. However, according to Open Site Explorer, our podcast promotion articles doesn’t have any backlinks and STILL ranks.
- Get readers to bookmark it and refer to it often. I’m not sure if this helps SEO, but it helps actual humans.
- Reduce “pogo sticking.” In the SEO world, the act of pogo sticking refers to clicking back and forth between results to find what you need. Apparently, Google penalizes sites that get pogo sticked a lot. Meaning, people click on it and hit the back button quickly when they realize it’s not what they’re looking for.
- Go viral when we first share it. When you create something so good and outside the box, the community will share it like crazy. And since the topic is something tight-knit internet people will love, that sharing happens more often.
And because of all these benefits, we’re hoping Google rewards us for the effort of creating the best content on the web for email marketing. Hands down.
NOTE: I understand that SEO is a touchy subject in a large industry. I never speculate or assume what goes on behind closed doors at any search engine like Google or Bing. So again, this is all speculative and based on well thought theories. Our assumption is that you can rank any web page, regardless of authority, with great writing and design.
1. Create a Massive Outline
We started with outlining the content. We shared Google doc and started asking questions we both wanted to know about email marketing. Once we our questions, we searched for questions we hadn’t thought.
We included links to our competition and design inspiration. The color coding is for writing assignment. Orange is for me, blue is for Jason.
2. Start Writing As Much As We Can
We both start writing our assigned sections. This took three full days of non-stop writing. Then, we’ll do a quick round of self-editing. We also migrated our outline to Asana for better tracking:
The next step, which is still to come, is sending it off to a professional editor for another round.
NOTE: Editing will be non-stop. Even after it’s been published, we plan to continue editing the words and updating the content as the industry changes. This will make the content “evergreen” – a dumb internet marketing term for timeless information.
3. Collect An Insane Amount of Researched Data
To create a one-stop-shop, we have to cover all the bases in email marketing. This means collecting a ton of research and data to make sure we cover everything.
For one of the sections we’re writing, I Googled the phrase “how to grow your email list.” I copy-and-pasted every tip from every article on the first page of the search results. I ended up with 265 tips.
Then, I pruned the list by removing duplicate tips and condensing the phrasing. We’ll pick the best and most timeless tips to include in the web page.
We can also include bonus content that can be downloaded or hidden from view unless clicked. These are things that would be hard to do if it was just a written blog post on a WordPress site.
The design and organization will lend to the “epic-ness” of the page.
4. Just Start Designing
Meanwhile, I’ll be working on the design and user experience of the page. Jason and I agree that designing while writing and editing will help inform better content.
For instance, I make layout a section with nice graphics that might work for another section we haven’t thought of yet.
I’ve already started designing the page. I’m doing all the coding on this site in a secret page. If you find it, you win! Once it’s all done, we’ll move the code to SpruceMetrics.com.
Here’s a quick attempt at the title of the page:
The main reason I’m not coding directly on Spruce is because I want Jason to see design changes in real-time.
I created a floating “Table of Contents” on the left side of the site that will allow users to jump around the content quickly.
5. Collect Real User Feedback
We can make guesses, but if people find it hard to consume, then we need to adapt. It’s like building software. We’re creating something that people will use and they should have a great experience.
We’ll send a semi-completed version of the page to a handful of people. This will most likely be roughly 25 people, including trusted friends and family. We’ll record their feedback and make changes to the page if needed.
We can continue to collect feedback when the page is live. We’re not planning on adding a comment section, but there will be an email button if people want to comment and get a response.
6. Share and Promote Like Crazy In a Single Day
Our theory is that we’ll only need a jumpstart. We won’t need to tweet it multiple times a day or add it to an autoresponder. We can just spend a day promoting it as best as we can and let it take off from there.
Here are some things we can do:
- Send it to the MoneyLab.co and JasonDoesStuff.com email lists: about 20,000 people.
- Share it in Facebook groups about internet marketing. Personally, I’m part of about 10.
- Share it ONCE on other social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
- Personally send it to a couple of high-profile entrepreneurs (about 25) who might appreciate it.
- This article might help it, too.
Other than that, it should take a life of it’s own pretty quickly. Then, it’s a matter of waiting and sharing the results as it climbs in ranking.
The Only Traditional SEO Tactics We’ll Be Using
SEO might be a mystery to you; it should be. It’s even a mystery to people who study it professionally. So we’re just gonna stick to what we assume works.
These are tactics I’ve used for over 10 years. They don’t go out of style, and most importantly, they help the reader.
1. Title and Description
I spend a lot of time crafting the headline/title. First, I come up with a title that feels natural. Then, some research to make sure I’m using the right keywords.
I also use a free tool called Headline Analyzer by CoSchedule. Having a catchy and descriptive headline helps people choose your link in the search results. This is also why the description is important.
The title of the page will be the only H1 tag. Then, each section of the web page should have it’s own H2 headline (which we can use the Headline Analyzer tool for) and H3 tags to further breakdown content.
Apparently, having headlines that break up your content wrapped in these tags helps with on-page SEO. But it also helps make it easy to read, which is more important.
3. Responsive Design
Google has made it clear in the past that they reward sites that work well on mobile. So it’s important that it’s responsive.
Plus, the page should be easy-to-read no matter what device or browser you view it on. The goal is to help the reader in the end.
Google has also made it clear that they reward fast websites. This makes what we’re doing a bit challenging because the page will be massive in content.
To solve that, we have to use every tool at our disposal to make the web page fast. That includes:
- Combining multiple small images and compressing them using Tiny PNG. This means less individual images to load.
- Forced caching so every element doesn’t load each time a single user visits.
- Using a CDN for serving images and other files if needed.
There are some more tricks we might end up using, like beefing up our server. But this is a good start.
5. Off-Page SEO
We won’t be building backlinks. Our effort will be focused on the content itself and how the page is designed.
The only off-page SEO plan is to do a single day of promoting and sharing. We’ll send it to about 20,000 people via email and publish it on our social media accounts, including Twitter and some Facebook groups.
We’re hoping that this little jumpstart is all it’ll need.
Getting The Content Organized
Jason and I went on a 4-day write-a-thon. Everything is written in a single Google Doc (which right now is taking FOREVER to load).
Currently we’re at 38 pages and over 10,000 words. Not too bad for 4 days; that’s like a 1/5 of a novel.
We will be editing as we start to put the page together, but first we organized all the sections in an Asana Project:
NOTE: There are some sections marked with a green label called “In Progress.” These are mostly research-based topics that need to be cleaned up. Everything else is marked with “Editing.”
Our original plan was to get a big Google doc written and send it off to a professional editor. But because I MUST do EVERYTHING myself, I opted out of that.
Instead, I rather start putting words to paper (or in this case, text to screen). I figure we can edit as we go over each and every sentence once it’s up on the website.
First Look At The Design
Before we had any words written, I started designing the concept of the page (which I talked about earlier). I already have a color scheme because we’re building this on SpruceMetrics.com.
The Header Redesign
I started with the header. The early version you saw was crude. Here’s what the updated header looks like:
I used a seamless icon pattern generator for the background and added some slight drop shadow. Also, when you hover over the envelope icon, it rotates 30 degrees. Trust me, it’s cool 🙂
The Software Comparison Chart
I spent a lot of time designing the chart using all DIVS instead of a classic table. I wanted it to be responsive in the future so this seemed like a better option.
I took the time to look through every single comparison post I could find from 2016 and kept track of my findings in a spreadsheet.
Then, I designed the outcome using only the most mentioned software on the internet:
This is just one section of the post that breaks out into a full width and hides the floating navigation bar behind it.
Under the chart, I included three ideal situations for what software to use. I’ve personally used three of apps mentioned, and it was easy to pick the top two. The internet could not stop saying amazing things about Mailchimp. And I happen to agree.
Moving To WordPress While Keeping It Custom
We decided to move the entire marketing side of Spruce to WordPress. That includes our main sales page, support pages, and epic content (like this email marketing post).
My intention was to host everything on Heroku (where the app itself is hosted). But we decided to split things up to make it easier to work on the marketing side of things without interfering with the app production.
If you’re having trouble following, I get it. Just keep in mind I’m now building this page in a WordPress custom page template.
The Benefits of WordPress
We’re hosting it on WPEngine. I pay $600/month for this dedicated hosting service and it’s worth every penny. I never have to worry about my sites going down and the customer support is excellent.
Benefit #1: We get a free SSL Certificate
Google has made it clear that they reward sites that are protected with an SSL cert. All that means is you use https instead of just http. Every major site now has an SSL cert with https.
WPEngine includes this with their service through Let’s Encrypt. I was going to pay for a cert anyway, but free is always better.
Benefit #2: The WPEngine servers are super fast!
This is because I pay that extra money for a dedicated server. This server allows me to have 25 WordPress installs, and I’m currently using six of them.
They even have a built-in page speed analyzer that let’s me know ways I can improve the speed. And speed is VERY important for SEO. Not just for Google, but for users.
Benefit #3: A motherfucking CDN
What’s a CDN? It stands for content delivery network, and it makes your pages fast as balls!
WPEngine makes this very easy with just a click of a button. Boom, we’re serving images with a CDN and we’re caching, too. WPEngine has excellent caching; great for page speed.
Benefit #4: Built-in SEO power
Wordpress has been doing this a long time. The guts of WordPress are SEO-friendly. And I use a popular plugin called Yoast SEO, which handles all the extra SEO goodies.
It allows me to customize everything within WordPress instead of hard coding in the page. Makes it a lot more flexible for future posts.
Benefit #5: I know WordPress like the back of my hand
Learning Ruby on Rails these past few months has been interesting, but I’m still very much a novice. This learning curve was killing my productivity in something I’m very good at.
Moving to WordPress speeds up my production time because I don’t have to look up how to do things. I know WordPress well and my other sites have been hand-coded by me on WordPress.
Going Into Design Mode at Mock Speed
Again, I can start moving faster now that the page is on WordPress. As you can see by our Asana projects, things are really crusing:
All of the tasks marked in red as “Review,” means I’ve finished designing them. They’re assigned to Jason so he can review and catch mistakes.
The purple task is marked as “Designing.” That’s what I’m currently working on as I write this update. As for the rest of the design elements, let’s walk through some of them.
The Custom Bulleted List
When you have full control of the HTML and CSS, you can do interesting things within a post. I took a basic bulleted list and made it graphical. Turning this…
- A lengthy video course
- A multiple day email course
- A well-designed PDF reference guide
The “Versus” Section
We wanted sections where we pit two idea against each other. I built a section called the “Versus” section. It’s all done with CSS:
You may notice my use of icons. I’m using a service called Font Awesome. All their icons are served on a CDN and I use for it every website I build.
They’re currently doing a Kickstarter campaign (as of November 9th 2016) for the release of Font Awesome 5, and you MUST watch this video. It’s hilarious:
The Power of SVG Graphics
Any website designer worth his or her salt would probably punch me when they found out that I just learned about SVG graphics today (November 9th 2016).
NOTE: For those of you who are in the same boat as me, SVG stands for scalable vector graphics.
I don’t own a “Retina” or a 4K display. Nor did I know I had to care about those sorts of things. But apparently technology has surpassed me.
Jason told me I should be making the graphics retina-friendly. I didn’t know what that meant, and so, I got angry.
When I started Googling, I got REAL angry. How the fuck did I not know about this?! This whole time I’ve been using rasterized PNGs like a dickbird thinking I was ahead of the game!
So, I experimented and made all my vector graphics SVG files. Unfortunately I can’t tell the difference on my computer, so I have no way of testing. Looks like I’ll be getting a new Mac for Christmas. Thank you, Santa, in advance.
I made this as one big SVG image as part of the Email Segmentation section:
I thought it would be cool to recreate Gmail within the page. It’s is just for fun and serves no real purpose. It’s also very underwhelming, but I pretty proud of myself 🙂
Instead of taking a screenshot, I shot a quick video scrolling through what I’ve built so far and how the Gmail interactivity works:
This was meant to showcase what a subject line looks like in Gmail account. You can click the buttons, but they do nothing. It’s the little things, ya know?
Things are really starting to come together. The page is lightning fast even though it’s getting bigger.
For the next few days I’ll be working solely on this project. I would love to have it finished by the weekend.
Meanwhile, I want to know what you think so far. Do you think this has potential to be something to topple the email marketing rankers?
We Took An Extended Break On This Experiment (from Mid-November 2016 to Mid-January 2017)
I’m kind of bummed because I was excited about launching this project, but we took a break because we needed to rebuild Spruce Metrics.
The point of this project is to promote Spruce. And since it’s not ready for the public, neither is this experiment.
The good new is the page is pretty close to being finished. I’ve completely designed it and Jason has edited it. Once we get back on schedule, we’ll both take another pass at it and I’ll update the progress again.
We’re hoping to have the new and improved version of Spruce ready in mid-to-late January 2017. Then we will finish this project and continue to update this post as the numbers roll in.
In the meantime, I apologize for the hold up on this experiment. Bear with us 🐻.