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10X-ing traffic: how one ambitious tech startup leveraged SEO content strategies for incredible growth

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“The general industry consensus is that SEO takes a long time for results so you should always manage your clients’ expectations that they won’t see immediate results. But from my experience…you can actually 10X your traffic in less than a month with Semrush if you take full advantage of the functionality!”
Michelle McClure, Founder of Hoojy and CMO at LiberEat

About LiberEat:

LiberEat was launched in 2016, initially as a direct-to-consumer startup offering a unique food allergen detection technology. LiberEat’s consumer-facing app enables users to scan barcodes in groceries, find suitable recipes and restaurant chain menus that suit their dietary requirements. Now, in 2022 their B2B SaaS technology offering works to detect allergens or errors present in foods, labels and restaurant menus to lower risk for food businesses. LiberEat has expanded its audience to support food businesses earlier on in the food safety chain, to become a leading SaaS product for B2B customers—food producers, caterers, and restaurant chains.

Business challenge: sustainable and ever-expanding user acquisition

As an initially bootstrapped startup, LiberEat had one key business, and hence, marketing goal—to quickly ramp up app user acquisition at the lowest cost possible. 

In October 2020, the company came to Michelle McClure, a seasoned digital marketer and owner of Hoojy. Prior to that, LiberEat’s marketing efforts were fragmented, so Michelle agreed to take matters into her own hands and serve as the brand’s strategic marketing lead, as CMO. 

LiberEat’s Founder gave Michelle one objective at the time—to grow their user base. Her agency’s job was to create a roadmap for sustainable yet notable growth and implement it. Spoiler alert: Michelle achieved 1000% organic traffic growth for LiberEat in three months

The company’s advertising efforts resulted in significant user acquisition at an optimized cost per install but without a continuous and large budget, this channel wasn’t sustainable for growth - they identified the need for other cost-effective options.

Solution: research, then action with a strong SEO content marketing focus

It was clear that LiberEats’ reliance on advertising wasn’t serving as a great foundation for long-term sustainable user acquisition.

Michelle decided to place its bet on SEO-minded content creation—a strategy that, done right, would help the startup get a constant stream of new users through organic search, as well as get valuable opportunities that would only strengthen the brand’s online presence (through backlinks and brand awareness).

The first and pivotal step to success was comprehensive research.
 

1. Running preliminary market research

The initial analysis started with understanding the competitive and consumer landscape, using Semrush alongside consumer research surveys. For additional data, Michelle turned to the Semrush Market Explorer tool.

The tool reflected LiberEat’s competitive landscape along with an overview of the typical marketing strategies across the market, showing whether rivals typically focused on SEO, paid activities, social media, or any other traffic sources.

Market Explorer tool data

This helped to pinpoint where LiberEat was standing in relation to the key market players.

Semrush Market Explorer tool data

As LiberEat didn’t really have any direct competitors due to the unique technology, Michelle started exploring key players in terms of content competition.

They were tackling the same keyword base so she had to find out what it was that got them ranking high in search, or unearthing keyword gaps.

2. Tackling content competitors through keyword research

With the initial scope of competing websites in hand, Michelle went deep into keyword research to highlight the general keyword portfolio for their market, and identify the low-hanging fruit, aka keywords they could realistically target.

The first step was to run the competitors through the Organic Research tool—to take a look at their keyword strategies.

Current keyword rankings of a competitor domain

“Using Semrush is like sitting around a table playing a game of cards with your competitors. You can suddenly freeze everyone and take a glimpse at everyone’s cards, so you know the strategy you need to win. This gives you the intel that helps to play the game better. It’s like having access to competitors’ Google Analytics and internal teams’ strategies.” 

Taking a few initial ideas from the competition and knowledge of her target customer personas, Michelle decided to take her keyword analysis to a more granular niche level.

Hours of seed keyword research through Keyword Overview and Keyword Magic Tool helped to narrow down the broader keywords into an actionable list.

Semrush Keyword Magic tool

Based on a few factors like search volume (a metric that helps to assess the popularity of a given search query in your geo-location market) and keyword difficulty (how hard it is to organically rank for the given keywords based on competition level), Michelle came up with a list of keywords that needed some great content around them.

“We tend to avoid working with keywords that have a keyword difficulty above 50%, as it will be difficult for a young site to rank for them. We use a conscious  balance of reasonable search volumes with lower keyword difficulty—all to come up with a list of realistically achievable targets.”

Keyword intent now plays a role in keyword choices. When writing website copy,  keywords with a transactional or commercial intent would be prioritized—because the target of that strategy was to bring in users who were purchase-ready or in a commercial mindset. Hence, informational keywords get a secondary preference or are saved for blog posts. It really helps that Semrush’s keyword tools reflect user’s intent.
 

3. Using keyword research for unwrapping users’ preferences

Analyzing keywords, however, didn’t just lead to content.

Keywords also reflect trends, and in particular, consumer demand trends and building a greater understanding of your addressable audience.

“Google is a Q&A machine so I wanted to give the best possible answer to the questions our target audience is asking. And that includes understanding what questions actually pop up around a certain topic”.

The Questions filter in Semrush’s Topic Research tool helped Michelle to unearth what consumers actually care about. This helped the LiberEat team make sure there were no missed opportunities.

Top this with consistent monitoring of TikTok trending and viral content and other platforms that reflect trends, and you get a list of topics that lead to the most resonating, helpful, fun, and interesting articles that drive traffic.

4. Creating content that resonates with humans and search engines

“One thing I’ve learned in SEO is to write for the human, but don’t forget the machine”.

Once the initial keyword list was all ready to go, it was time to actually sit down and create the best possible content.

Hoojy creates content hubs where they’d create a key SEO-rich page that would get links from all the smaller pages on related topics. This would open up an opportunity to rank for all the surrounding keywords and the key search terms that matter.

As a direct-to-consumer brand, it was clear that LiberEat had to translate a more light-hearted approach to all things related to dietary requirements (vegan, gluten-free, etc)—so the content had to be trending, interesting, and very exciting.

For LiberEat’s B2B audience, which includes Food Safety professionals in food businesses, the content is all about serious and safety-driven topics that are always backed up with reliable and authoritative sources. 

Regardless of the tone of voice shift between the two audiences, the algorithm behind content creation remained the same—in-depth keyword research (a healthy balance of search volumes and keyword difficulty) that turns into great content. 

“We are currently ranking organically for 6,700 of our target keywords, and 782 of these keywords are in top ten positions on Google”

The initial target was to create 16 articles a month that would bring 10% traffic growth month-over-month (MoM). But what Michelle achieved instead was mind-blowing. 

5. Turning keywords into content that brought 1000% organic traffic growth in 3 months

The keyword research per one article took less than an hour of work. But once this was taken care of, it didn’t actually take too much time to write the content.

Once the writer delivered the first draft of the piece, Michelle would make sure it goes through additional quality checks:

  • Grammarly Pro helped to finesse the grammar and stylistic matters. 
  • Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant (SWA) helped with the final optimization. And each piece of content published on LiberEat’s site goes through SWA no matter what.
     
Semrush SEO Writing Assistant

“The benefit of the SEO Writing Assistant is that it ensures you use more than a single keyword, using all of the relevant keywords to your topic that you know have your goal search volumes and keyword difficulty from your research.

The tool also makes sure you aren’t missing any related keywords. But it’s not just about SEO. It says when your sentences are too wordy or you’re using language that’s too complex or easy for your target audience. So it helps to keep the balance between writing for the machine and the human. 

We really like the ‘Originality’ checker, because we know how much the search engines hate duplicate content. Plus, there’s nothing better than seeing that content score go up as you run your edits. All our writers love this self-competition feature! We aim for the perfect score”.

Three months into this strategy, Michelle managed to 10X LiberEat’s traffic, overachieving its initial 10% MoM growth target.
 

6. Delegating content tasks

Since content played a central role in Michelle's strategy, they attracted a lot of side resources to help out with actual content creation.

Michelle put in her time and expertise in educating numerous interns and freelancers in SEO content writing and Semrush basics.

Whenever she outsources writing, she always uses SEO Content Template — a tool that lists all the SEO requirements for a content piece based on the target keyword and location—to deliver an actionable brief to the writers and make sure they create content that has what it takes to rank high.

Results

The most overwhelming result was that Michelle managed to exceed its own expectations regarding the impact of its strategy. 

Only three months of publishing the new content (Nov 2020 - Jan 2021) led to 10X more organic traffic for LiberEat.

But with the goal of customer acquisition in mind, the results went beyond traffic:

Organic conversions (app downloads) grew 25% in the same period.
Finally, this content strategy helped LiberEat achieve sustainable growth.

Having pages that feature high-ranking quality content means that organic traffic just keeps coming—and you can’t turn it off like an ad campaign. So this bet on organic strategies helped to futureproof LiberEat for consistent growth of site visitors who will eventually convert.

Michelle, however, shared that the best result wasn’t just commercial. 

“Usually, saying to clients that you want a focus on SEO content marketing is a hard sell—it requires resources, expertise, understanding, and doesn’t often bring immediate results. 

But these results can shift perceptions of business leaders in terms of the value and impact of SEO content strategies. Barry, the Founder of LiberEat has loved learning about content marketing and Semrush because he’s seen the tangible results. For LiberEat, we grew traffic by 1,000% in a few months.”

“We were delighted with the results of Michelle’s SEO improvements. The benefits were better and materialized more quickly than we had expected from the process. To get the sort of growth that has been achieved organically, we had expected we would have to spend very significant amounts on digital ads,” shares Barry Leaper, the Co-Founder & CEO at LiberEat. 

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