Case Study: Simple Article Wins $15,900 in Monthly Traffic Against Gorillas

Today’s case study is an example of what happens when your content does a great job answering the searcher’s question. 

Here we have a simple 1,891 word article targeting the following term: 

how much to contribute to 401k

Which is managing to hit these impressive numbers (data courtesy of Ahrefs): 

  • Ranking for 1,700 keywords in Google’s Top 100 search results pages
  • Attracting 2,800 in monthly visits from Google
  • With a monthly traffic value of $15.9k
  • And 17 backlinks from 14 referring domains

Best of all? 

It’s a really straight forward article that anyone reading could put together. 

Dive into this case study to see: 

The keywords it ranks for that’s attracting $15.9k / month in search traffic

So first let’s check out the keywords that this article is ranking for:

👉 Check out the spreadsheet here. 👈

The keywords being ranked for all revolve around this tight topic, ‘how much to contribute to 401k’. 

The keyword difficulty is ‘hard’, with an average keyword difficulty of 34.3 for the top 10 keywords. 

And it’s definitely a 90/10 rule in play, with the top 10 keywords driving $11K in search traffic value, or 69% of total traffic value coming from the top 3% of the keywords.

In a situation like this where the topic is tight, it’s important not to keyword-stuff. You don’t want the article to appear like spam. Instead, just focus on writing naturally in a way that best answers the user’s search intent.  

We can see the search intent come through some of these keywords by age. For example: 

  • how much to contribute to 401k in 20s
  • how much should i contribute to my 401k at age 25
  • how much should i have in my 401k at 30
  • how much to contribute to 401k in 30s
  • how much should i have in my 401k at 50
  • Etc.

In writing the article, the author has done a great job matching these up to sections in the content (improving usability). 

Have a look in column J, the SERP Features: these outline the types of content blocks found in Google’s Search Results Page for each keyword. 

You’ll see ‘Featured snippet’ appearing often – this is important and actually crucial to this article’s performance (more on this in the competitive review below). 

Before we look at that, let’s check out the article and I’ll comment on what it’s done well to earn this performance. 

What does this article do right?

Ok let’s check out the page itself: 

Here are my comments on this page:

Above the fold: 

The image at the top of the article, in my opinion, doesn’t add much value. Instead it takes up the whole page, forcing the user to scroll to start reading the article. I would lose this image here. 

Table of Contents:

There’s a handy table of contents, but only if you click it will it expand:

I’d prefer to see this fully expanded, as a table of contents is always a great idea for usability. 

Readability

If you checkout the article, it’s really really easy to read:

  • Featuring large, simple headlines
  • Large body copy that’s easy to read

I ran the content through Hemmingway and it got a Grade 5 (that’s good).

Twitter Callout

In general, anything you can do to stimulate users to share the content is a great idea. However, this Twitter callout kind of implies the author knows how addictive cocaine is, and not sure it’s the sort of thing readers will want to tweet publicly and have others think about them. 

Newsletter Signup

This is a nice feature used in the middle of the content, to drive newsletter signups. If you wanted to optimise this further, you could offer a Lead Magnet here that’s directly related to the topic of the article. 

Imagery

Simple charts that convey key points are really effective in personal finance content. This article could use more of them!

Links

This article probably over does the number of links. As above, in just 2 paragraphs we have 4 links. It appears a bit spammy.

Instead for the whole article I’d shoot for: 

  • 2-3 internal links to valuable resources
  • 1-2 external links to authoritative web pages   

Now there’s one other very important factor which is really supporting this article’s performance. 

Can you tell what it is? 

Let’s move onto the next section, where all will be revealed…

A competitive review of the main keyword

When looking at the organic performance of an article, it never happens in a vacuum. 

It’s forever competing against other articles and websites, and fresh new content is always being added to the mix. 

So to properly assess this article (and how it’s sitting at #1), we need to check out the competition.  

Here’s Ahref’s assessment of the main keyword:

‘how much to contribute to 401k’

Note: Ahrefs indicates the keyword difficulty as ‘Hard’. 

Ahrefs estimates that you’ll need backlinks from ~43 websites to rank in the top 10 search results. 

But our article has less than 20 backlinks and it’s at #1. 

How is that? 

Let’s dig deeper into Ahref’s SERPs overview: 

This tables gives us valuable information about the competing domains. 

For the top 5 ranked competitors:

  • The average Domain Rating (DR) is 88.8
  • The average number of backlinks is 185
  • The average number of referring domains is 87

So again, how?

How is our article ranking at the top of the stack with the lowly DR of 62, 17 backlinks and 14 referring domains? 

The answer is Google’s Featured Snippet. 

Here’s what the search looks like it the wild: 

Because Google has listed the ‘Featured Snippet’ #1, then the ‘People also ask’ feature #2, this article pretty much captures the majority of above-the-fold search traffic without competition!

Why is Google featuring the Featured Snippet?

Now this is the $17.9k/month question. 

Wouldn’t it be great to always have Google pull your website for it’s Featured Snippet, and thus outperform many stronger websites?

Well, we can’t always guarantee that, but here are some tips that are generally agreed within the SEO community: 

  • Answer specific questions: Google usually pulls snippets for question-based searches (how to?, how much?, when is?, what it?)
  • Answer comprehensively: Give the best overall answer that comprehensively answers the user’s search question

In our example, the Featured Snippet contains detailed information and numbers that answer the question really specifically. 

If you compare this to the top 2 competitors (both NerdWallet web pages): 

  • NerdWallet’s 401(k) Calculator: this doesn’t give specific answers (although it’s a great example of how effective calculators are at getting backlinks! – 431 backlinks thank you very much!)
  • NerdWallet’s How Much Should I Contribute to a 401(k)?: This does give a similar level of information, and it’s definitely a threat to our article. 

👉 Takeaway: This article’s performance (and Featured Snippets) is due to the author focusing on best answering users’ search queries. Question and Answer format posts, incorporating ‘Related Searches’, and ‘People Also Search For’ are great ways to write content that will naturally get picked up by search engines. 

What can be done to get better results

We can see that the organic search traffic is really being boosted by the Featured Snippets. 

In fact, the Search Results from the article’s top 16 keywords ALL include Featured Snippets.  

But they’re not always guaranteed to show. 

Things evolve in organic search.

We can see that the article’s search traffic was even better in the past:  

Which was reflected in its traffic value: 

Traffic value peaked on August 29th at nearly $40k/month! (it’s now at ~$15k). 

So organic performance is in constant flux, due to competitors making changes to their content, their backlinks, and their overall websites. 

Plus changes on Google’s end, as their machine learning algorithms and RankBrain tweaks the way the search results are calculated.

So in my opinion, what to do here depends on potential ROI. 

Sure there are a number of things you could do:

  • Build a 401(k) calculator that’s better than all the others
  • Develop comprehensive skyscraper content to answer all the possible questions by age range, giving actionable steps for each
  • Invest in a link building campaign to bolster up the page authority 

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best business decision to do so.

If I was managing this page, I’d like to get an idea of:

  • The associated revenue attached to this page.
  • The potential uplift expected from higher rankings based on the suggestions above.
  • And the cost to implement. 

Ultimately, competing in SEO is a numbers game, and all business owners need to be driven by ROI.

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